THE German public workers' strike left mounds of garbage on the usually immaculate streets of Bonn and Berlin and acted as a wake-up call for Germans. Reunification, sold by German Chancellor Helmut Kohl as a piece of cake requiring no new taxes, is costing Bonn $100 billion a year - not to mention the billions in aid given to the former Soviet Union. Mr. Kohl hasn't yet admitted the magnitude of this cost; he now ought to.
For the first time in more than a decade, the powerful German economy is under a considerable strain. That is creating unease and uncertainty in Germany's usually steady politics and sense of social order. At the same time, Germany is waking to the demands of a new Europe and world order that Bonn has partly been responsible for creating, and for which it must provide some leadership.
Waking up is hard to do.
In recent days, the official unofficial line out of Bonn has been: Hold everything. We are undergoing historic internal changes that are creating enormous economic and psychological burdens on us, and we need to be given some breathing space. We can't be responsible for every problem in Europe, and the West needs to take the pressure off.
Fair enough. Germany is in uncharted postwar waters. It has gone from being on the cold war front line to being on the new world front line. It keenly feels the threats of a destabilized old East-bloc.
At the same time, if Germany is setting for itself a path as a world leader - and it is - then it can't suddenly declare a moratorium on that role.
Exactly what "pressure" is the "West" putting on Bonn? Are these pressures in fact the result of facing the realities of a changing Germany, and a changing Europe? The other Group of Seven nations must not take for granted the extraordinary German undertakings; they must realize Germany can't solve all problems or pay for everything.
But with issues such as the near-terminal GATT talks, in which Bonn won't push Paris on agricultural concessions, there must be a willingness to face what a world-trade setback may mean. In the EC, Germany spearheaded a demanding Maastricht agreement on unity. Now it must bend and allow debate on it. Bonn can't just call "time out."