What does the word "German" mean to people? It's a popular debate topic in the country. Now Chancellor Angela Merkel has put forth her own answer. It's a typical Merkel-style response, says DW Editor-in-Chief Ines Pohl.
Expectations are weighing more heavily on Angela Merkel than on any other German politician. Ever since Donald Trump took office as US president, she has been touted as the last powerful voice of reason and guardian of the Western world. She is also considered to be the only person who can keep the EU from falling apart. With her, Germany has once again has taken on a significant role in the international community. The world is looking at Germany.
Fears are also growing as a result of the new responsibility. Old concerns that Germany will use its dominance shamelessly to further its own interests are coming back. A historical dilemma has suddenly become relevant again: Germany is too small and weak to serve as the driving force that keeps Europe running, but it is also too strong to be just one country among many others.
Germany's new global role is the focus internationally, but, domestically, another debate has taken center stage: What does it mean to "be German" in 2017? Even before the massive influx of refugees, German citizens were discussing what holds their country together. What religion is most influential? How is Islam changing Germany? What impact will the refugees seeking a new home have on the country's current and future identity?
'ABCs of Germany'
Amid this complex and highly charged debate, Merkel has come up with an almost playful proposal less than 100 days before the upcoming general election. Germany's most widely read tabloid, Bild, has published Angela Merkel's "ABCs of Germany." Readers are urged to join the discussion. It's hard to think of a more brilliant way of approaching the topic.
And who, apart from Merkel, can declare right off the bat that Germany stands on an unshakable foundation by listing Article 1 of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic, which states that "human dignity shall be inviolable." However, she also lists more banal items such as Germany's dual education system and bratwurst. In the same breath she mentions federalism, Germany's perpetual responsibility for the Holocaust and integration. Potatoes, church towers, products labeled "Made in Germany" and Muslims also all belong to life in the country, according to her ABCs.
Anyone who believes that Merkel's list is random is completely wrong. At least to me, a German who wants a liberal-minded country with all of its regional traditions, cultures and history, the most important principles come across as well-composed. Traits like curiosity, environmental awareness or diversity are just as much part of our country as are mushroom-picking and punctuality.
Of course, the shrewd politician has created her own little escape hatch by listing the risk of making mistakes in her ABCs. This way, the alphabet is more than a fun word game; it is a Merkel-style government declaration. Some of the terms in the ABCs, like commitment to religious freedom, are uncompromising; yet, together with the overall list, they are open-minded and flexible enough to address the greatest number of readers possible.
We at DW also would like to ask the question "What is German?" What can be described as German - and what can't? Feel free to use our comment section. The thread will remain open for 24 hours after publication.