Frankfurt's Cathedral looks out over the Main
River and over into Old Sachsenhausen, as it has for the past 400 years – a
focus point for artists and authors, medieval farmers and merchants, Cold War
GIs, Turkish and Colombian bars and, most recently, East Asian tourists.
Deeper in Sachsenhausen, retired Germans drink Applewine out of Bembels and
munch on Bloodwirst and Handkase. Schweizer Street is lined with old traditional
Frankurt-style establishments that cater to the still rich retirees and young
professionals that have the time and money to enjoy the many-faceted leisure
options Frankfurt has to offer. Impeccably dressed and groomed, these affluent
the end of the good times, in typical pessimistic Teutonic style.
"It's all going downhill," say the old men. "We're paying for the Ossis [East
Germans], the Southerners [EU members Italy, Greece, Spain, etc.], all the
asylum-seekers and jobless, and now all us old people, too!"
A typical employee at a typical German firm will see 40% of his salary head
off through various government channels into the pockets of other people.
Germany's population is expected to grow at a blistering 0.02% in 2004 – the
median age hovers around 40 – there are just not enough young people to pay for
all the pensioners.
The young East Germans were promised jobs in
a Schroeder campaign speech, but West Germans still find themselves paying a 10%
Solidarity Tax – as much as $70 billion a year is transferred from West to East.
Germans are proud of having a welfare state in which nobody starves, but the
squeeze being put on by demographic realities and increased immigration, as well
as an unemployment rate that refuses to go any lower than 10%, is turning pride
The Euro has everybody simmering – it seems as if all the prices remain the
same, but the salaries were cut in half. "Teuro" (teuer means expensive)
describes the state of affairs in Germany these days: smokes are 4 Euro. Phone
calls are ridiculously expensive, leading to an explosion of "special numbers"
and a website that helps people
find the cheapest way to call. Everybody is feeling the bite, the German Public
Transportation used to be quite lax on "black riders" – those who did not buy
tickets but took the subway anyway. Now there are controllers everywhere and the
penalty has risen from 40 DM to 60 Euro. Big companies, claiming stiff
competition and a poor economy, are laying workers off by the thousands and
moving production to Asia. A domestic solution to Germany's economic woes is
complicated and nigh impossible: to dismantle the welfare state would mean
having millions of Germans and foreigners taking to the streets and
international speculation on the rise of the Right– an ever-present
shadow in Germany.
China, with big markets and cheap, docile workers, seems to present the only
hope for sputtering, aging economies like Germany's.
'We Don't Need a Tour Guide, We Live Here'
by Beijing to travel to Germany earlier this year – already Germany expects
600,000 to flow through this year. One can already see groups of Chinese
tourists mosey on down from Hauptwache – Frankfurt's main shopping district –
through cobblestone alleys past cafes and art shops to the Romer, where ancient
ruins and brick-and-wood Germanic buildings (including Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's
former residence) share the plaza with the art museum and yet more cafes.
When I joked to a couple of young Chinese that I could show them around my
hometown, they replied indignantly that they didn't need me – "we live here." Chinese
migration to Europe has been increasing steadily since the PRC opened its
doors – and Germany is second to Italy in the number of Chinese asylum seekers
and immigrants per year. There are more than 30,000 Chinese students in Germany
and German is creeping up on English in Chinese universities.
'China Is In'
China surpassed Japan in 2002 as
Germany's largest Asian trading partner – the two countries amassed 41.9 billion
in trade in 2003, a growth of 50.7% from 2002 and 40% of China's overall trade
with EU countries.
Germany for its part has invested $850 billion in China, including three VW
factories, the Transrapid
train from Shanghai to the Pudong Airport, a BMW factory in Beijing and
several projects in the hinterland – including a Bayer production facility,
Kempinsky Hotel and a new General Consulate in
There are more than 1,500 German companies doing business in China, including
the Frankfurt Messe, which has
been active in China since 1987. The Messe organizes more than dozens of fairs
per year in China covering the gamut of products – the Messe has an office in
Hong Kong, Taiwan and Shanghai and recently opened another one up in Beijing.
German businessmen at the Holiday Inn in Chengdu gush over the possibilities
here in China – the vitality of the people and the ability to "do anything"
shakes the German down to his very core. The situation back in Europe has
stagnated to the point that any mention of Asia in general makes everybody stop
what they're doing and listen up.
"China is in," says 60 year-old businessman Herr Jung. "I only come back to
Germany to pay some taxes and eat a rumpsteak"
Red Light Green Light
The Social Democratic Party and the Green Party
currently run Germany's government in a Red-Green Alliance. The ruling coalition
parties' economic policy has the people grumbling in the streets; the inability
of the Red-Green Alliance to pump energy and optimism into the German economy
has the opposition Christian Democratic Union on the offensive.
A bid by Daimler-Chrysler to pit
two factories against each other to cut
costs, a failed
bid to sell a
fallow plutonium plant and German Foreign Minister and Green Party leader Joschka
to China are unsettling in a time when Germany's future is uncertain and the