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Culture

Looking at Germany From the Outside

Just in time to coincide with the German election, US philosopher Susan Neiman has written a new book about outsiders' views of Germany. She and other intellectuals draw some rather surprising conclusions.

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Susan Neiman has seen a different, modern Germany

"What if Germany is already in the middle of reinventing itself, but the process is only recognizable from afar?" That's one of the central questions in Neiman's new book.

After studying at Harvard and Berlin's Free University, teaching at Yale and Tel Aviv universities, Neiman, who has lived in Berlin for the better part of two decades. She now directs the Einstein Forum in Potsdam, which encourages the exchange of ideas in open workshops, lectures and seminars.

Her ability to look at Germany both from an insider's and outsider's perspective encouraged her to write her latest book, in which she collects views from foreign intellectuals about Germany.

Core changes

According to Neiman, three core changes took place during the last few years.

Susan Neiman, Direktorin des Einstein-Forums in Potsdam

Susan Neiman

"First, there has been a significant change in the politics of memory," she writes. "This happened over time, but has really been continuously promoted by the current government.

"The second change is a different approach towards foreigners after the new immigration law put in place by the red-green government. There's a certain cosmopolitanism that can be felt abroad. Germany is an open country.

"Third, there's the foreign policy. Schröder's rejection of the war (in Iraq) has played a big role -- much more so abroad than within Germany."

A political intervention

An outsider's perspective is sometimes useful in a democracy, where opinions and moods reign supreme. That's why Neiman has called her book, which was published in German, "Fremde sehen anders" ("Strangers See Things Differently").

Pressekonferenz Joscha Fischer und Gerhard Schröder Seebeben

Green Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schröder haven't done all that bad, according to Neiman

"The book is a political intervention, because I felt the debate surrounding the election was rather one sided," Neiman said. "I couldn't accept a consensus void of discussion that said: Red-Green will lose and people say they deserve it even though no one likes the alternative."

It's this view that Neiman wanted to question by presenting people with a mirror held up from the outside -- simply because her own circle of liberal friends and colleagues had a different perspective on German politics.

Presenting the other side

Neiman's book isn't an analysis of previous German governments. It offers voices from Africa, Britain, Israel, Sweden, Turkey and the US -- voices from people who have lived and done research in Germany.

A view from the outside is justified, but also driving by special interests, as is the case with any view.

Wetter: Sonnenuntergang, Angler beim Fischen in der Ostsee

Bright times ahead for Germany?

Neiman's collection of voices represents a resistance to any kind of neoconservatism.

"It was not my intention to present an objective review that will be always valid," she said. "I simply wanted to present the other side that never gets talked about."

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