Germany. Just the name itself is enough to form an opinion. Perhaps no other country in Western Europe conjures up so many diverse and divergent opinions of what this land is. It is unquestionably, and has been for centuries, the center of Europe. And it may just very well be the center of the world.
Germany is the heart of Europe. Nothing that is important in Europe over the last 1,000 years has been decided without the Germanic peoples’ consultation, concordance or confrontation. It has been at various times an economic powerhouse, a well of enlightenment, a feared military juggernaut, and now a pacifist.
In its earliest years, the tribes that would unite to form Germany were overshadowed by the stronger, more organized Roman empire (which seems inconceivable if one looks at Italian politics today). When the Vandals (a Germanic tribe) sacked Rome in 455, the term ‘Barbarians’ had already been established. We have the word ‘vandalism’ as well. Common contemporary thinking at that time perpetuated by St. Augustine and the Catholic Church was that the sacking of Rome plunged Western Europe into darkness.
Professor George Brooks, a Medievalist from Valencia College, in Orlando, Florida, has spent his whole career trying to dispel this myth. In fact, he says, the period after the Roman Empire’s collapse was one of incredible progress. The term ‘Dark Ages’ is a misnomer. Dr. Brooks does admit that in the early years after the fall of Rome, the uncertainty surely made the population of western Europe uneasy, and for things to appear ‘dark’.
It is cliché, but Germany was forged in blood and steel
The unification of the order and structure of the Catholic Church with Charlemagne’s military might (his main palace was in Aachen) set Europe on a path which would see it eventually overcome the difficulties presented by its enemies and the elements. German armies, under the auspices of the Holy Roman Empire, would be the sword of St. Paul, while the Catholic Church would be the Bible. This continued for the next 800 years plus, until the schism created by (yet another) German, Martin Luther, tore Germany (and Europe) apart.
Luther’s questioning of the Catholic Church led to the Thirty Years War, and an almost inconceivable destruction of Germany. It engulfed nearly every country of Europe at the time, and was for all intents and purposes Europe’s First World War.
Estimates from historians Marvin Perry and Jackson Spielvogel place the total number of Germans killed at 40% of the population in rural areas, some may have even seen numbers as high as 60%. The general agreed-upon figure is about 33% of the total population. Economically, it took until the late 19th-century before Germany fully recovered.
By the time Germany recovered, it promptly embarrassed France in the Franco-Prussian War, marching into Paris in less than 10 months from the opening of hostilities. France, in a rare moment of collective clairvoyance rarely seen since the French Revolution, had attempted to stop the unification of the different German kingdoms. Perhaps it recognized the danger of a more powerful country on its eastern border or it may have been unwilling to share the globe’s colonies, which it and Great Britain had been divvying up for three centuries.
Whatever the case, France felt more than many the brunt of German steel and technical ingenuity.
Germany twice unleashed these aspects again in the 20th Century, decimating Europe. Though the reasons for the two World Wars are more complicated than most realize, Germany has been, and will continue to be, blamed for both conflicts.
After near total destruction (which is another trait of the Germans – following a path to its absolute conclusion), Germany today has reconstituted itself into a world power. But with that comes the responsibility of trying to influence others to follow your lead.
Germany is the engine of the EU
Talks of any significance between developing countries normally have a seat reserved for Germany. Germany again finds itself in the position of being the driving force of Europe, much to the chagrin of Great Britain and France. But it cannot escape this fact, though it has little desire for the limelight.
Germany’s days as a military power on the field of battle are behind it. Its battles in the future will be fought over economic, environmental and societal issues. Germany can no longer think of itself as only an economic power. It must begin to accept its role in the world as a leader. The world is looking for a counterbalance to the USA – why not one of its strongest allies?
The most optimistic forecasts have Germany at the forefront of worker‘s rights and conditions, green energies and technologies, and integrating the numerous nationalities and ethnicities that have recently made Germany their new home.
Germany, with its long and storied history is poised to ‘show’ the rest of the world how things are done. Beyond building high-end products that the world desires, Germany is trying to fashion itself as a most tolerant, organized, and (environmentally) friendly nation.
Plans for carbon neutral cities are in the works. Much work needs to be done, but stakes are in the ground.
After World War II, few would have expected Germany to have recovered so spectacularly and some, like the Soviet Union (Russia), did all that they could to keep Germany from realizing that recovery.
Germany is not heaven on earth (Bavaria is even closer), but it is better here than in many other countries. Neither Germany nor Germans would ever claim such a thing (Bavarians WOULD). Others might just do it for them.
Note: The distance from Munich to Tokyo is 9,399 km, from Munich to San Francisco it’s 9,446 km, and from Munich to Capetown it’s 9,105 km. That’s pretty damned central.