After years of economic stagnation, many Germans have become depressed about the future. But now leading German media organizations have launched a new initiative to help lift their spirits.
The campaign compares average citizens to famous Germans
In the largest public-service campaign in German history, 25 top media organizations last week started a 30-million-euro ($35.7-million) advertising barrage called "You Are Germany" to help raise the spirits of the country's 82 million citizens.
Amounting to a five-month nationwide pep talk, the initiative's organizers will blanket the airwaves and fill newspapers, magazines and billboards with the message that Germans need to be more optimistic about their country's prospects despite high unemployment, weak growth and a muddled political situation.
"Germany makes itself out to be worse than it is," Bernd Kundrun, board member of German media giant Bertelsmann, said while announcing the new campaign in September. "We want to do something about that with this unique joint effort by encouraging a change in consciousness towards more self-confidence and motivation."
The "Du bist Deutschland" Albert Einstein ad.
The broad media alliance -- which is donating airtime and page space -- has recruited an impressive cross-section of German society for the campaign. Besides including currently well-known personalities such as national soccer team goalkeeper Oliver Kahn and literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki, it will also feature historical figures like Beethoven and Albert Einstein. Whether on TV, in print or on the Internet, all of the advertisements try to inspire Germans to take a personal stake in getting Germany back on track.
Doom and gloom
But lifting the doom and gloom that have dominated the German public mood for years could be a tall order. A record 5 million people are jobless in Europe's largest economy and recent surveys have shown that many Germans remain fearful of the future.
The Sept. 18 general election hasn't helped either. The vote produced an inconclusive hung result that has both Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and the leader of the conservative opposition, Angela Merkel, claiming the right to lead the country for the next four years.
Jo Groebel, a psychologist and director of Düsseldorf-based European Institute for the Media, praised the new initiative for attempting to shake the country out of its current self-pitying torpor, but said the roots of the German crisis of confidence went deep.
"Germans have been lurching from one identity crisis to another for the past 150 years," Groebel said, pointing out that Oct. 3 marked 15 years since German reunification. "It's true Germans tend to yearn for stability, but that's because they haven't had it. The economic problems like large unemployment have only added to the fears that everything could collapse."
To some extent, German worries are overblown. Germany is still the world's leading exporter and the country continues to offer its citizens an extremely comfortable standard of living. But as globalization has threatened high-paying German jobs and the government has been forced to trim extremely generous welfare benefits, complaining has become something of a national pastime.
Change of mentality
Though the organizers have no illusions that the television and print ads alone can end Germany's malaise, they hope their efforts will foster the kind of can-do mentality that helped the country tackle the far greater challenge of rebuilding after World War II.
ARD TV newscaster Ulrich Wickert.
In one TV spot, Ulrich Wickert, one of Germany's leading newscasters, even borrows a famous line from former US President John F. Kennedy: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."
All major public and private broadcasters simultaneously televised that first public service announcement on Sept. 26, reaching an estimated audience of 17 million. But some German observers remain skeptical about whether it all will soothe the nation's soul.
"It's hard to say whether this initiative will mobilize people," wrote Dresden's Sächsische Zeitung newspaper in an editorial. "Of course something has to change. But the country's economic situation has something to do with the miserable mood -- whoever thinks the world will end tomorrow isn't about to spend a lot of money at a hardware store today."