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Opinion: Germany Needs to Open Up

Apart from economic liberalization, Germany also needs to stop bickering and engage in an open and sober dialogue about its future, according the DW-WORLD's guest commentator from a German-Jewish magazine in the US.

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Do Germans need to think outside the box more often?

Andreas Mink is an editor with Aufbau magazine in the US .

Working for Aufbau and my move from Hamburg to Connecticut in the summer of 1996 has surprisingly given me the chance to closely examine German history and current political affairs in the federal republic.

The paper was founded by German-Jewish refugees in 1934 in New York and acquired by Zurich-based Jüdische Medien AG last year. It has always focused on the former homeland of its readers. During the postwar years, it became a voice that promoted dialogue and critical discourse with Germany and has remained so to this day.

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Aufbau magazine covers

Since January 2005, the magazine appears once a month and chooses a focus for each issue. In September, Aufbau will take the election as an opportunity to discuss problems and opportunities the country is facing.

It's surprising that the election has not received much attention in the US media so far. The ongoing war in Iraq might be the reason for that, but it can't completely explain it. Our own research for the election issue has confirmed that academic circles in the US certainly notice the economic and societal developments in Germany.

Agreeing on a need for change

Talking to economic historian Harold James at Princeton University and politicial scientist Andrei Markovits of the University of Michigan, it became clear that experts from various fields of expertise agree on central observations. Both see enormous potential, dynamic companies and individuals but also blockades and a forced attempt to preserve a doomed status quo.

Markovits is familiar with the history of the German Left and the country's labor movement, and James argues more along the lines of economic liberalism. Yet they agree that economic "winners and losers" will be unavoidable, adding that a revitalization of the German economy can only happen if a comprehensive "opening" can be accomplished.

Kopftuch in Schwarz-Rot-Gold

Showing German pride, Muslim-style

By opening, they mean immigration -- Germans will not be able to avoid "getting used to neighbors who come from different cultures," according to James -- as well as longer working lives, partial pension privatization and a withdrawal of the state from the economic sphere.

James also didn't hold back with criticism of the country's banks, which show much too little willingness to support people with new ideas -- even though Germany in particular draws its strength from the entrepreneurial spirit of its small and medium-sized businesses. The same problem exists in the US, according to James, but there, a vibrant venture capital infrastructure allows for the continuing founding of new companies.

Fostering objective discourse

During the past eight or nine years, I have come to appreciate many things about Germany: a civic consciousness and the ability to find highly developed technical and intellectual solutions for complicated problems can be found in Germany much more easily than in the US. Here, the motto "the bigger, the better" often leads people to waste and fudge things.

Kompetenzteam von Angela Merkel: Paul Kirchhof, Finanzberater

Kirchhof's radical tax reform proposal has been attacked by many

At the same time, I'm personally surprised by a prevalent view that can be found in politics and society in general in Germany and seems narrow-minded, self-righteous and out of touch with reality. People constantly talk about a crisis, about sacrifices and a desperate need for reform, but once a politician -- tax expert Paul Kirchhof (photo) is a recent example -- comes out with new ideas, he or she is personally attacked immediately.

An objective and sober debate that focuses on the common good seems almost impossible. And instead of trying to understand the world of conservative chancellor candidate Angela Merkel, who is hard to understand for those that have been socialized in the western part of the country, people discuss the bickering that's been going on between her and Bavarian Premier Edmund Stoiber.

Kultur21 Merkel

"Using Germany's chances," reads Merkel's campaign poster

Aufbau is more interested in how Merkel, who grew up in East Germany, sees Germany's historic responsibility -- a term that has long become an empty mantra that couldn't prevent debates about "German victims" of expulsion and bomb terror.

In this respect, a new beginning and an opening is needed as well that will normalize relations between Germans and "non-Germans." Unfortunately, Merkel has not been able to give us time for an interview so far, but we'll keep trying.

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