Anna Sauerbrey

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Farewell, Angela Merkel. You Were Once the ‘Leader of the Free World.’

In central Berlin, a giant billboard shows a pair of hands, arranged in the shape of a diamond, in front of a female torso dressed in a green jacket. “Tschüss Mutti,” the billboard reads. “Bye, bye, Mommy.”

Even without a face, Germans know who’s being depicted. The diamond, the colorful jacket and the word “Mutti” are iconic, just like Angela Merkel herself.

After 16 years, Germany is saying “Tschüss” to its longtime chancellor. Across the country, the departure of Ms. Merkel has brought out affectionate nostalgia, tinged with a drop of irony. Yet there’s also fatigue, verging on irritation, a twitchy restlessness to see her off and start afresh.…  Seguir leyendo »

Germany Is in Shock. Its Politicians Are on Autopilot

Germany, unlike the United States, doesn’t really have a history of natural disasters. Blessed with a moderate climate and fortunate geography, the country knows little of hurricanes, strong earthquakes or heavy rain.

That changed last week: Floods, after exceptionally heavy rainfall, devastated parts of the country, affecting Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands, too. Villages, roads, bridges and power lines were destroyed. At least 170 people are dead, and many are still missing. Hundreds have been injured and countless livelihoods lost.

The country is in shock. Images of people waiting on rooftops for help, cars tossed around like toys by the water and entire houses turned to rubble are seared into our minds.…  Seguir leyendo »

A protester against lockdown measures in Berlin last year. Alternative for Germany has sought to improve its electoral standing by embracing anti-lockdown radicalism. Credit John Macdougall/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In November, as Covid-19 cases began to rise, thousands of people gathered in Berlin to protest against restrictions. In among the conspiracy theorists and extremists were several lawmakers from the country’s main opposition party, the far-right, anti-immigration Alternative for Germany.

It was striking to see legislators mingle with conspiracists in the streets before heading to the parliament for a debate. Yet it wasn’t too surprising. The party, known as AfD, has sought to improve its electoral standing ahead of the national election in September by associating with the anti-lockdown movement, an amorphous mix of conspiracy theorists, shady organizations and outraged citizens.…  Seguir leyendo »

Over 50,000 people have died in Germany since October. For a country that led in pandemic control during the first wave, it has been a shocking reversal. Credit Lennart Preiss/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“We have lost control of this thing.”

Those were the words of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, surveying the country’s situation in late January at a confidential meeting. She spoke with typical precision. In Germany, which on Wednesday prolonged its current lockdown until at least March 7, things are bad: Since October, cases have soared — they are only now starting to come down — and over 50,000 people have died. An atmosphere of grim resignation prevails.

But wasn’t Germany one of the global leaders in pandemic control during the first wave? Didn’t Germans enjoy a fairly normal summer of trips to the beach and meeting with friends at beer gardens?…  Seguir leyendo »

Protesters gathered in front of the the Reichstag in Berlin on Aug. 29. Credit John Macdougall/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

When the first pictures of rioters mounting the steps to the Capitol started to beam across the world on Wednesday, many Germans felt an unpleasant twinge of familiarity.

On Aug. 29, during a demonstration in Berlin against government restrictions to rein in the spread of the coronavirus, several hundred protesters climbed over fences around the Reichstag, the seat of Germany’s national Parliament, and ran toward the entrance. They were met by a handful of police officers, who pushed the crowd back and secured the entrance.

Things went differently at the American Capitol, of course. Still, even if the German protesters weren’t able to enter the building, the shock was similar: an assault on a democratically elected legislature.…  Seguir leyendo »

President Vladimir Putin and Chancellor Angela Merkel. His turn to revisionist nationalism has called into question Germany’s decades-old approach to Russia. Credit Michele Tantussi/Reuters

Germany is no longer playing nice with Russia.

In the past few weeks, Germany has helped to rescue Russia’s main opposition leader, Aleksei Navalny, and accused Moscow of poisoning him; rolled out the red carpet for Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the Belarusian opposition leader who tried to topple one of Russia’s satellite regimes; and accused the country of state-orchestrated murder on German territory. And if that wasn’t enough, it’s pushing for sanctions on Russian officials.

It all seems to add up to something close to a confrontation — and a decisive move away from Germany’s decades-old approach, which sought to gently coax Russia into a more productive relationship.…  Seguir leyendo »

A protester with a former German Empire flag during a demonstration against coronavirus restrictions on Saturday in Berlin. Credit John Macdougall/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

They’re out on the streets again.

On Saturday, around 38,000 people marched in Berlin, calling for an end to pandemic restrictions. It was a bizarre mix of people: families and senior citizens were joined by right-wing extremists, some sporting swastika tattoos. Protesters brandished signs reading “Take off the slave masks,” while others held up peace flags. Many shouted “We are the people” and others called on President Trump and President Vladimir Putin of Russia to “liberate” Germany.

In a scene bound to be inscribed in the country’s history, a group carrying the “Reichsflagge,” the black, white and red flag of the German Empire that served as the basis for that used by the Nazi regime, broke through a police barrier and attempted to enter the Reichstag, the Parliament building.…  Seguir leyendo »

Chancellor Angela Merkel after a session at the upper house of the German parliament last week. Credit Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany is on her way out. After almost 15 years in office, the pandemic is likely to be her last great challenge. It could also be the one that seals her legacy: The virus has reconciled Germany to its chancellor.

Before the virus struck, Ms. Merkel’s final term was not going well. Though the chancellor had somewhat recovered from the unpopularity and even open hatred she faced during the migration crisis in 2015 and 2016, her party — the Christian Democratic Union — lost ground in the 2017 election and was falling in the polls.

In October 2018, after crushing defeats in regional elections, Ms.…  Seguir leyendo »

People on the Landwehr Canal in Berlin, May 9. Credit Christian Mang/Reuters

For good reason: The curve has flattened. The number of people newly infected each day is stable. The absolute number of deaths and the fatality rate remain low compared to other countries. And the reproduction factor — a key metric to measure the virus’s spread — hovers around one, meaning that on average, one infected person infects only one other person. The first wave of the virus has passed. Germany, cautiously, is reopening.

But as it gradually eases up, opening shops, schools and even museums, the country is learning a tough lesson: The way out is much harder than the way in.…  Seguir leyendo »

Soldiers of the German army at a coronavirus testing site in Sankt Wendel, Germany, on Thursday. Credit Ronald Wittek/EPA, via Shutterstock

Europe is in crisis.

Countries across the Continent are in lockdown. Borders are closed off. Health care systems are dangerously overstretched. Economies are contracting. And people are dying, in terrifying numbers.

Here is much the same. Though not in full lockdown, schools, shops, restaurants and theaters are closed; gatherings of more than two people are banned. The economy will shrink and jobs will be lost. Even Chancellor Angela Merkel self-quarantined after learning that her doctor was infected. (She tested negative.) Germany, it seems, is not immune to the ravages of the pandemic.

Except in one way: Very few people seem to be dying.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Iranian flag in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency headquarters in Vienna. Credit eonhard Foeger/Reuters

If you don’t happen to be a foreign policy wonk, you’ve probably never heard of Instex, the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges. The company, set up by Germany, France and Britain in January 2019, was supposed to enable trade between Europe and Iran in defiance of United States sanctions. Now, a year later, the first transaction is just about to be processed, according to the German Foreign Office.

All this may sound technical, and, well, wonky. I can already see you wondering: Should I really make the effort to keep reading this column? But it really is worth taking a closer look at Instex and its foibles.…  Seguir leyendo »

Audi automobiles on display at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September. Credit Alex Kraus/Bloomberg

Last month, Tesla announced it would be building a “giga-factory” just outside Berlin. The factory will create as many as 8,000 jobs and crank out up to 150,000 cars every year.

Two weeks after the Tesla announcement, Audi made an announcement of its own — albeit a less cheerful one. While Elon Musk and company are ramping up, Audi will be paring back, cutting 9,500 jobs in Germany between now and 2025.

These two pieces of news seem to confirm a narrative that is gaining traction. It goes like this: Germany has failed to embrace the future. It has been complacent for too long, economically and politically, coasting on former glories.…  Seguir leyendo »

Activists in Berlin delivered petitions calling for the local government to take over the large companies that control much of the city’s housing stock. Credit Gregor Fischer/picture alliance, via Getty Images

Is this city, the former capital of communist East Germany, returning to socialism, this time in both parts of the once divided city? From the tenor of the increasingly anxious debate around Berlin’s housing crisis, it certainly seems so: On June 14, activists handed the Berlin Senate a petition with 77,000 signatures calling for the local government to take over the large companies that control a major portion of the city’s housing stock, the first step toward a public referendum on the proposal. A few days later, the Senate advanced a separate proposal that would put a complete halt to rent increases for five years.…  Seguir leyendo »

If there is one lesson to be learned from the recent European parliamentary elections in Germany, it’s this: The era of the big-tent parties is over. Both governing parties, the center-right Christian Democrats and the center-left Social Democrats, who are currently in a grand coalition under the lead of Chancellor Angela Merkel, suffered significant losses. The Christian Democrats won just 22.6 percent of the vote, a whopping 7.5 percentage points off their results in the last European elections, in 2014. The Social Democrats fared even worse, dropping to 15.8 percent, an 11.6 point drop. Voters from both parties flocked to the Greens, who came in second for the first time in a national election.…  Seguir leyendo »

President Emmanuel Macron of France speaking at the German Bundestag in November. Credit Emmanuele Contini/NurPhoto, via Getty Images

Times are rough for the European Union. The news coming from Britain grows more depressing every day. Italy is governed by a maverick government searching for an open confrontation with France. Hungary and Poland are slowly slipping into authoritarianism. And we are headed for a European election in May that could result in further gains by populist parties.

It is tempting, then, to see a ray of hope in an agreement by Germany and France, announced on Friday, for a eurozone budget, which the two countries will present to their fellow member states. Maybe, after years of delay, Paris and Berlin are finally taking the initiative to reverse Europe’s seemingly unstoppable, slow-motion disintegration.…  Seguir leyendo »

President Xi Jinping of China and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany with a military honor guard in Beijing last month. German leaders have recently become more worried about the risks of having China as a business partner. Credit Fred Dufour/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

As the trade impasse between the United States and China grinds on, the rest of the world is reduced to being anxious bystanders — and nowhere are leaders more anxious than here in Germany.

Over the last decade, Germany, the largest economy in Europe but still a middle power by global standards, has steadily adapted itself to the realities of Chinese economic dominance. We have welcomed Chinese investment, and encouraged our companies to play by Beijing’s rules to get access to its markets. At the same time, Germany has remained a stalwart member of the Western political and security alliance.

The geopolitical tumult of the last six months has led to a strategic awakening among Germany’s leaders of the risks involved in trying to play both sides.…  Seguir leyendo »

The new leader of the German Christian Democratic Union, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, on Saturday in Hamburg. She will succeed Angela Merkel. Credit Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

On Friday Germany’s Christian Democratic Union, meeting in Hamburg, elected Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer to succeed Angela Merkel as the center-right party’s leader. Given the party’s dominant — if recently weakened — position in German politics, Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer will also succeed Ms. Merkel as chancellor by 2021 at the latest.

Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer — or AKK, as she is often called, because even German tongues stumble over that name — won in a tight race against two other candidates: Friedrich Merz, who returned to the political stage after a decade of absence, and the youthful conservative minister of health, Jens Spahn.

Neither of AKK’s contenders would have radically changed Germany’s role in Europe or the world; nor will she.…  Seguir leyendo »

Chancellor Angela Merkel announced on Monday that she would not seek re-election in 2021. Political analysts say it’s likely that her party coalition will collapse even before then. Credit Markus Schreiber/Associated Press

It’s happening: the beginning of the end of the Angela Merkel era. On Monday, Ms. Merkel, the three-term German chancellor, announced she was stepping down from the chairmanship of the center-right Christian Democratic Union party, and that she would not run for re-election in 2021.

The news was not a total shock: Germans have been alternately praying for, and fearing, such an announcement since the migration crisis of 2015. The question now is whether Ms. Merkel will last her full term; most likely, the grand coalition between her party and the center-left Social Democrats will collapse before the next election.

For Germany, this may prove to be a watershed moment.…  Seguir leyendo »

A right-wing protester held a German flag during a protest in Koethen, Germany, in September. Credit Srdjan Suki/Epa-Efe, via Rex

On. Oct. 3, Germans celebrated Reunification Day, the moment when, 28 years ago, the former East and West Germany became one nation again. And yet this year, instead of celebrating our unity, there is a growing sense of estrangement. East and west are drifting apart again.

A few weeks ago, a young man was stabbed to death at a city festival in Chemnitz, a city in eastern Germany; afterward two asylum seekers were arrested in connection with the attack. Large demonstrations broke out around the city, dominated at times by hundreds of right-wing extremists. Some raised their hands in the Hitler salute; journalists and counterdemonstrators were verbally and physically attacked; a mob threw stones at the owner of a Jewish restaurant.…  Seguir leyendo »

Are Germany’s Garden Gnomes Endangered?

It’s quiet in Germany. School’s out, Chancellor Angela Merkel is on vacation and the country is recovering from the latest government crisis.

So where is everybody? Judging from my Instagram account, some Germans are hiking the Alps, or visiting temples in Myanmar. But Germany’s summertime soul is in its Kleingärten — literally “small gardens.” That’s where we are. That’s what we are. And that’s where you can see the country change.

This being Germany, what counts as a Kleingarten is defined in the “Bundeskleingartengesetz,” or “Federal Small Garden Law”: A Kleingarten (“Kleingärten” in the plural) is a garden of no more than 400 square meters that is used for noncommercial subsistence gardening and recreation; it must be part of an agglomeration of at least five gardens that also encompasses communal areas and facilities, the Federal Court of Justice has ruled.…  Seguir leyendo »