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Issue Date: 05-03-2016

Zone: EUDE

Desk: Europe

Output on: 03-03-2016----10:07

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24 Europe

The Economist March 5th 2016

Charlemagne The end of Heile Welt


Germanys illusions have been shattered

ORE than 1m refugees arrived in Germany last year, mainly


young Muslim men. They entered a society that, relative to
other Western countries, has embraced multiculturalism only recently. Suddenly these foreigners are in co-ed schools, discos,
swimming pools, hospitals and parks. Some of their interactions
with their hosts go easily. Others do notas epitomised by New
Years Eve in Cologne, where gangs of North African men sexually assaulted scores of German women who had come to watch
the reworks.
Germans who only a year ago oozed condence about their
economy and their country are now losing faith that they can
manage, as Angela Merkel, the chancellor, likes to put it. Many
fear the crisis will render Germany unrecognisable. A sense of
loss pervades many conversations.
To grasp this trauma it helps to understand the German zeitgeist that developed (mainly in the former West Germany) in the
post-war years, and lingered in the reunited country. Germans
call it Heile Welt. The term means something like wholesome
world, and describes an orderly, idyllic state. It may connote the
nurturing environment parents create for their children to protect
them from lifes ugliness, or a private oasis of peace amid public
chaos. It was a state of mind that Germans clung to after the second world war.
Because it implies a degree of escapism, the term can be used
sardonically. In 1973 Loriot, West Germanys most incisive humourist, chose it for the title of an anthology of cartoons skewering his countrys bourgeois pretensions. In 1998 it was the title of a
novel by Walter Kempowski, set in 1961, in which a teacher moves
to an idyllic village but discovers that behind every silence and
glance lurks a demon of the Nazi past.
In the immediate post-war years, with Holocaust, rebombing, mass rape and the carving up of their nation still recent memories, Germans ocked to watch Heimat (homeland) lms.
Usually shot in the Alps or in heaths and forests, they featured
clean, simple tales of love and friendship between pure women
and men dressed in regional garb. Outside the cinemas, Germans
revelled in their economic miracle, as they rebuilt a devastated
country into a commercial powerhouse.
Foreigners were allowed into this Heile Welt, but not entirely

accepted. To man its assembly lines, Germany invited workers


from southern Europe and especially Turkey. The millionth arrived in 1964 and got a motorcycle as a gift. By the time the programme ended in 1973, 4m foreigners lived in West Germany. But
they were called guest workers rather than immigrants, on the
premise that they would ultimately leave again. Unsurprisingly,
most stayed. Yet mainstream Germany continued to see itself as
ethnically homogenousa Heile Welt in a tribal sense.
As part of Heile Welt, West Germans atoned for their past by
becoming good democrats, good Europeans and ardent pacists.
But they did so like a teenager who experiments with increasing
autonomy, condent that his uncool but protective parents are always standing by. For West Germany, dad was America, which
held its aegis over the country throughout the cold war. Mum was
France, which despite its nervous vanity gracefully accepted Germany back into the European family.
The dystopian ip side of Heile Welt was never far away. If the
cold war had ever turned hot, Germany would have been vaporised rst. (The shorter the range, the deader the Germans, missile strategists used to quip.) West Germany even had terrorism.
But its terrorists were native white leftists who killed industrial
tycoons. Ordinary Germans never felt threatened.
In their private lives Germans created micro-idylls. They kept
garden plots orderly, guarded by the requisite gnome. East Germans seeking refuge from the cynically implausible Heile Welt offered by communism retreated to the niches: private book readings among intellectuals, or nude bathing with friends by pristine
lakes. East or west, order was paramount. Visitors were impressed (if not intimidated) by how fastidiously Germans separated their white, brown and green glass for recycling.
One by one, these facets of Heile Welt are becoming brittle.
Russia is aggressive again; Germans fret that, when it comes to it,
the ageing American dad may not show up. Having cultivated
non-violence to the point of pacism, they now realise that defence of their state and their values may someday require them to
ght, kill and die again. The terrorists they now face are not German leftists, but foreigners ready to kill women and children. Globalisation no longer just means exporting BMWs, but also allowing in Muslim refugees, some of them with attitudes on gender
and Jews that Germans nd oensive.
Gnomic wisdom
Some Germans react by eeing into ever tinier Heile Welten. We
are becoming ever more like our garden gnomes, says Wolfgang
Nowak, one of Germanys most astute social observersinwardfacing rather than open-minded. Every Monday a movement
called Pegida, or Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of
the Occident, marches through Dresden. For many in the surrounding area of Saxony, these gatherings have become convivial rituals similar to American tailgate barbecues, but to outsiders
they appear xenophobic and menacing. Even moderate Germans are turning against globalisation. Many see a free-trade area
being negotiated between America and the EU not as an opportunity but as yet another threat to their way of life.
Above all, the tone of German conversations is changing. Language in the era of Heile Welt was sanitised, with political correctness often taken to ludicrous extremes. Now, in the name of telling it as it is, it is becoming coarser and aggressive. It is not clear
what kind of world will replace the wholesome one the Germans once dreamed up. But it will be a rougher one. 7