It was a cold and rainy October evening when I was sitting inside the “Zur Sonne” in Marburg, Hessen, Germany. It is quite possibly the oldest restaurant in town, with operations dating back to 1569.
By chance, being here the last week of October meant being witness to some big events in German politics. And you know they’re big, because people here don’t want to talk about them.
“Who is it you say?? I don’t really know. Is the speatzli good or you need more sauce?”
“More wine, maybe.”
Both ruling parties, the SPD and the CDU got hammered in the state elections last Sunday, loosing seats in the local parliament big time.
The votes went to the Greens, which really is a voter’s parking lot, waiting for something better to show up than Alternative for Germany (AfG), which is too extreme for many.
And all this comes on the hills of elections in Bavaria, just to the south of here, which was a disaster of similar proportions.
It seems that the Hessen defeat was one too many for Chancellor Merkel and she called it quits with CDU party leadership. Now she wants to retire, which really is the end of an era in Europe.
Merkel has been the face of the European Union – good, bad, or indifferent. Germany has been the biggest economy in Europe and she has been a staunch supporter of austerity, which has caused political instability on the continent and is a critical factor behind the capital flows going to America that can push the dollar to unbelievable highs.
Let’s pause for a moment and see what had happened – the economies in the south of Europe converted their debts into euros which then doubled in value against the dollar. That triggered a crisis in no time.
In contrast, the Germans carmakers had manufacturing plants coming on line in the US and the weak dollar was a blessing for them. This makes for good business, sure, but you can’t make people dummies for too long. They will revolt.
Looking from a wider perspective, the German election was on par with the global trend that is the rising up against the establishment. Nobody will dare call it “populist” in Germany, even if it would have that label in the south of Europe in every second sentence.
I was in no rush to leave after the dinner, looking though the window and finishing a glass of house white wine. Down the old cobblestone street was the Elisabethkirche, the final resting place of Field Marshal and President Paul von Hindenburg, who was a man bigger than life, a brilliant military commander and later president of the German Reich. He agreed to appoint Hitler Chancellor of Germany in January 1933 since the young man was leader of the Nazi party, which just won the largest plurality in the November 1932 elections. Can’t argue with democracy I suppose.
Now the old marshal is the honorary citizen of the town, but people still steer at their shoes when they pass the church.
There is this unique thing about German democracy – the running parties have their programs and tell you how the others don’t know what they’re doing. Then, after the vote, the results are so fragmented that it takes months to form a coalition. Worse yet, once formed, the coalition, by necessity pursues a compromise program, which nobody voted for.
It seems to me that a moment of deflection is coming in Europe.
Call it the calm before the storm.
Tom Kubiak is the author of The Traveler