Notes from a Developed Country- Germany…
Maybe you know I am a graduate of Istanbul High School for Boys (İstanbul Erkek Lisesi). Our language of instruction was German, all courses except Turkish Literature, Citizenship, Religious Studies, National Security, Music, Painting, and Physical Education were in German, and the teachers were also German. As such, one in such an environment becomes close to German culture. I have made many trips to Germany, and we have accomplished many tasks there. Every time I go to Germany, I would remind myself, Wilkommen in die Kaserne (Welcome to the Barracks), to be able to endure…
Of course, I know about the Germans’ way of doing business, their technology, and their rule of thumb, but for a long time, I wondered about the reasons behind their success. Let’s face it, Germany is a highly successful country in many aspects, consistently making headlines on the world stage. , Knowing my interest in learning about the reasons behind Germany’s success, I was delighted when a friend of mine mentioned John Kampfner’s book “Why Germans Do It Better: Notes from a Developed Country.” The book was released in September 2021 and published in Turkey in February 2022.
Kampfner is a British journalist who has lived in Germany and worked as a journalist there. When he observed Germany’s successes during the COVID-19 pandemic, he conducted a literature review, and numerous interviews, and researched German history, culture, identity, and economy. I have quoted him as he said, with my added comments. In this article, I have quoted directly from the author and added my comments.
Maybe after reading this article, you can give me your thoughts in the comments concerning “What Turks Do Better?” How about it?
While on the topic, Germany is a federation of 16 states known as “Länder” (“lands” or “regions”). Three of Germany’s cities, Berlin, Hamburg, and Bremen, have their own territory called “city-states.” The remaining 13 regions are called “Flächenländer” (large lands with low population density) in German. The German Union was founded only in 1871.
In November 2019, millions celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. How did the Germans get half of their country out from behind the Iron Curtain? I have to look into this!
In October 2020, thirty years had passed since the reunification of East and West Germany. Half of modern Germany’s history is marked by fear, war, and dictatorship, while the other half is a remarkable story of reconciliation, stability, and development. No other country has achieved so much in such a short time.
Much of the contemporary world is falling prey to authoritarianism, and in a time when democracy is being sacrificed by a vengeful, out-of-control president in the face of the powerful and most populous country in Europe, one nation stands as a bastion of moderation and stability. This is the story of Germany that I aim to tell.”
Germany has a strong constitution; political debate in the country is more proficient, and its economic performance has been virtually unrivalled for most of the post-war period. Germany has also faced numerous challenges. Gastarbeiter, a necessity for economic development in the 1960s, and later, the influx of refugees, deepened cultural divides within the country Faith in established political parties waned. Especially in East Germany, many people turned to the simplistic slogans of extremist political movements . The country’s economy slowed down due to an excessive focus on exports, an ageing population, and deteriorating infrastructure, primarily in China. At a time when Europe and the democratic world desperately needed political leadership, Germany was reluctant to fulfil its foreign policy responsibilities.
Why Did Germany Succeed?
There are four critical years in Germany since the war: 1949, 1968, 1989, and 2015. From 1945 to 1949, after the war, a devastated and occupied country had to be rebuilt. Nearly all towns and cities were damaged, and many of them were destroyed. Millions of people were displaced. The trauma of losing the war dominated the national consciousness. The Allies, especially the Americans, helped get the country back on its feet. At the centre of all public life in Germany is the Grundgesetz (Constitution), ratified in 1949. This law provided for post-war reconstruction and rehabilitation. The law in question managed to change over time. It has been changed more than sixty times in total, with its core intact (it requires a two-thirds majority of both houses to amend it). The German Constitution is indeed a masterpiece. The political structure of West Germany created in the post-war period is one of the great victories of liberal democracy. The British played their part in this; they helped draft a constitution so successful that it would be remembered by the Germans as their greatest source of pride. Germany’s younger generation had to wait for the second key event, the 1968 riots, to confront their families about the past. They no longer wanted to accept silence, incomplete and wrongly taught narratives. The country was in danger again. Germany came to the brink of another abyss but arose from it with a stronger democracy. As German bureaucrat Thomas Bagger has pointed out, a nation’s identity, stability, and self-worth in the post-war liberal democratic order depend on the rule of law. Defeated in the war, Germany had nothing to lean on. That’s why Germans passionately care about the process of doing right, and they hate snooping. Germany has few positive reference points in history. That’s why it refuses to look back. That’s why it sees every challenge to democracy as an existential threat. The people of Germany are known for their obsession with rules… They are respectful of their surroundings. In Germany, the rule is the rule. Bureaucracy must be respected even if logic suggests otherwise. “As the German society, we have a sense of mutual obligation, joint effort, and a belief that a rule-based order is in good faith,” the Germans say, and they think that “where there are no rules, the strong exploit the weak.” According to them, the role of the state in a democratic society is to protect the weak against the strong and restore the balance between the rich and the poor. I think this is exactly the issue that we behave differently from modern Western societies; Our constitutions change frequently, and we still want them to change. We make laws according to our “desire” rather than the rule of law, and we even call them omnibus laws. In essence, our focus appears to be on laws that suit us, rather than ensuring that everyone complies with the lawWhen Germans are asked, “What Do You Do Well?” there are many who answer “punctuality, accuracy, completeness.” Others say: “We are tough but honest and candid. We keep our word”. Whether it is harsh or rude is debatable. In the 1970s, I once witnessed a German acquaintance in Zurich who conversed in German with his patients but switched to French when speaking to his wife.. He explained, “I don’t want to be rude to my wife.” As for keeping their word when I became the general manager for the first time in 1986, I asked for an unconditional bank letter of guarantee for a multi-million DM project’s performance assurance, the seller responded, “If I have to make a promise that I will keep, let’s talk again”.
Unlike many countries, there are no major national day ceremonies in Germany. The only ceremonies in the country are cultural ones that belong to the locals. Germans have very little pomp that could be regarded as an obsession with royalty and fame elsewhere. The Allies supported the idea that Germany could “reset time” through denazification, demilitarization, and reconstruction. The American government provided $12 billion (equivalent to more than $100 billion at today’s prices) to eighteen European countries under the European Recovery Program or Marshall Plan. The United Kingdom and France received the most aid, followed by Germany. The USSR, on the other hand, refused money on behalf of itself and the Eastern European bloc it had just taken under its wing. In post-war Germany, many public officials were reinstated by passing the denazification questionnaire (fragebogen), and their pensions were returned. Several business leaders were able to return to their roles within companies involved in complicity.”.Only twenty-four top Nazis were tried at the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg. Twelve people were sentenced to death, while ten were hanged on the same day, October 16, 1946, in the building’s gym.
The Protestant Church, which accepted cooperation with the Nazis, confessed that “many crimes were committed through us against many peoples and countries.”
Theodor Heuss, the first post-war President of West Germany, had this to say: “We practically have only one chance, and that is to work.”
In a speech to parliament in 1985 to mark the fortieth anniversary of the Nazi surrender, President Richard von Weizsäcker (who had been in office for only a year) delivered the most explicit admission of guilt ever made by a German politician. I remember the Germans I knew at the time expressed their discontent. Germany was now able to talk openly about its own suffering, not as a means of justification, but because it could speak casually about its own guilt from the 1980s, before reunification, or even before. Zivilcourage, the courage to stand up for your own beliefs, was instilled in students at schools. Compliance with the law is one thing, but what if they lead a country in the wrong direction? Students were encouraged to think for themselves, say no, and resist when necessary. Merkel’s Embrace
The rise of Angela Merkel and the role she played in defining contemporary Germany is one of the most unusual political stories of the early twenty-first century. As a woman, a Protestant, a trained physicist, and a divorced woman, she could not seem less fit for the job. She didn’t like to talk about her gender or her past.. She socialized within the system in Eastern Germany. She was quite aware that people could betray their friends. She was rarely disappointed because she had very little expectations from people. During the first two decades of this century, reliability and prudence, as Merkel herself embodied, have been two of the dominant features of contemporary German life. German political culture was designed as a “shock absorber” for the good and the bad.
Germany’s political system has an uncanny ability to absorb rebels. The most notable transformation came from the Greens. The Greens were elected to the Bundestag in 1983. The Greens have been a major player since they got involved in mainstream politics.
Perhaps the biggest mistake of reunification was that more people from the East held senior positions and were not role models for the wider public.
One in four people now living in Germany, that is about twenty million people, have a “migrant background,” of which at least one is a non-German parent. There are over four million people of Turkish origin, who make up 5% of the population.
Germans recognize that freedom of expression is vital and do their best to encourage it, even if they grimace at what they hear. About two-thirds of immigration comes from within the EU. Unlike the Brexit UK, Germany’s population had no particular problems after doing their part with Eastern Europeans. Relations with ethnic Turks were the most difficult. But who has the right to judge that?
Famous Chinese artist Ai Weiwei criticizes Germany as follows: “Fascism is thinking that one ideology is higher than the others and trying to purify that ideology by rejecting other types of ideology. This is Nazism. And this Nazism is perfectly present in German daily life today.”
Since the end of the war, Germans always had someone else to rely on. They outsourced their defense and security to Americans, NATO, and finally the EU. They played a loyal backup role by relaying intelligence, assisting with humanitarian missions, and siding with the allies in key votes. But they didn’t have to get their hands dirty. Germany was the protected child. For example, Germany supported the Kuwait War in 1990, but no military action was taken.
German companies may be global in reach, but their commitment is local. German bosses are socially conscious. The big difference between Germany and other countries is that the company owners here feel a strong sense of local loyalty. Those who sell their company abroad are not respected by their neighbours, and they are called cowards. Company bosses try to be part of the organization, not the best individual. They do not brag. The term they use is demutig, that is, “modest”. They acknowledge that they live well, especially when compared to the post-war generation of their parents, who had to build companies and communities from scratch.
Local companies also need to act like good citizens. Sports teams and music clubs are not thanked for sponsoring them. This is what is expected of them. In general, local companies are told to stay where you are!
Two statistics stand out. About 80 per cent of German GDP comes from family businesses. Two-thirds of the successful global Mittelstand companies (a type of SME like no other country in the world with a revenue of 50 million euros, 500 employees, with shared values and management principles) are located in and with a population of less than fifty thousand.
In many other countries in the Western world, industrial and commercial operations are concentrated and centralized in major cities, while in Germany, advanced manufacturing, international involvement, and localism go hand in hand. The most important factor that distinguishes Germany from the others is the smaller scaled companies. Half of the 2700 such companies worldwide are of German origin.
The idea of the “social market,” a term coined by Alfred Müller and Armack: A “new synthesis” of market freedom and social protection. The theory is that policymakers guide the market to produce maximum wealth, which is then redistributed in the name of social justice. Or else In other words, they make everyone feel like they are playing a role. At the heart of corporate governance is shared decision-making. It was enshrined in the 1976 law that half of the supervisory board seats of these large companies should be given to workers’ representatives, usually elected through unions. In the case of medium-sized companies, the quota is one-third. Just as workers don’t feel like strangers in the boardroom, many German bosses don’t mind eating lunch in the canteen.
What distinguishes Germany from other places is its understanding of leadership, social structure, education, and long-term thinking. Manufacturing and engineering; export; sound public finances; high skill level; social solidarity… This is the way that Germans have followed in their economy. Germans do not show as much interest in the stock market as people in other countries. They are constantly saving, regardless of extremely low and sometimes negative interest rates. Almost all of this savings goes to retirement and life insurance. More than 100 million policies are purchased, which is more than the population of the country. Value creation does not come from high-risk investments. Self-employment or entrepreneurship is considered risky by Germans and is of little interest to them. More generally, many people look down on the service industry. While the retirement age is gradually increasing to sixty-seven, some are discussing the possibility of sixty-nine.
As you can see, we have similar problems. But our suggested solutions, even our way of discussion and behaviour, are completely different!
About twelve million Germans, just over 15 per cent of the population in Germany, are classified as poor by international standards, with incomes below 60 per cent of the household average, earning less than 900 euros per month.
In Germany, some say, “What we need in the next 20 years is not stability. What worked in the last 150 years does not necessarily have to be appropriate now.”
Germans can be overly technical, excessively negotiable, and slow to embrace change, but their industrial strength, cash reserves, and highly skilled workforce have helped them catch up, and we can bet they will eventually surpass others, even in areas where they are currently lagging behind.
In 2014, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: “We cannot copy the German economy or transplant the culture in which it is embedded. But we can learn a lot from the institutions and policies that have helped produce the most successful high-wage, high-skilled economy of the modern age. The most inspiring thing about the German economy is not the policies it pursues but the reconciliation of the values on which the economy is based. Germany is a free-market economy, but a market where capitalism is organized and responsible. This “social market” is based on widely accepted rules and practices: promoting a long-term view; promoting cooperation instead of conflict in the workplace; encouraging employers to invest in the skills and productivity of their employees, and striving to ensure that well-being is available to Germans in all regions, not just in one region. Germany understood long before others that countries could not succeed unless regional imbalances were tackled.
Germans buy something when they need it. For a long time, the closing time of the stores was 18.30 on weekdays and 14.00 on Saturdays. From the 1990s onwards, although successive reforms loosened the rules, night shopping was not as popular; supermarkets may close early if there are no customers and do not open on Sundays. Here is another difference. The issue is both social and economic.
For society to function properly, it must share values such as human dignity, freedom, democracy, and popular sovereignty, which are grounded in the cornerstones of individual responsibility and social participation. Community clubs are still an important part of everyday life. There are dozens of them in every town, big and small.
The education system makes early choices. Academically gifted students attend a school called the Gymnasium. Students attending Hauptschule usually stay in manual/technical jobs, while Realsschule caters to students with a middle-level academic range. The career path of a ten or eleven-year-old is not set in stone, of course, people can change direction at school and beyond, but the system is pretty prescriptive. Education policy is the responsibility of the states rather than the central government. The system varies from region to region. Some areas have comprehensive schools called Gesamtschule. Some states are adopting a more lenient approach towards private schools, contributing to the growth of the industry. In the more traditional Bavaria, religious education is given in two separate ways, Protestant and Catholic. Berlin’s curriculum is more liberal. It includes information on gender equality and democracy. European values and the European Union are taught in all schools. The low PISA results in 2000 created a shock effect in Germany, and they are constantly improving the results with the measures they take. Teachers in Germany are generally well-paid and well-qualified. Half of all school leavers in Germany go into vocational training. German universities are less autonomous and less funded but more equitable. Some are more famous than others. Being at the bottom of the league rankings is a disadvantage for English. Therefore, they oppose the ranking methodology. The value of education in Germany is high. Students can continue their education for many years by going through undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programs.
Germans are not obsessed with homeownership based on their income level. Few people buy a house before having children. They find it pointless due to generally affordable rent and well-maintained houses. Germany has the lowest rate of homeownership (owner-occupied units to total residential units) in the OECD outside of Switzerland. There is almost no talk of profits from buying and renting properties. Those who are enthusiastic about such moneymaking ventures tend not to tell their friends about it because they are reprimanded.
Germans feel comfortable talking about culture, especially high culture. The association of politicians with art is not just tolerated in Germany but also expected of them.
Frankly, there is a lot of discussion about what lies beneath the fact that post-war Germany is rebuilding itself spiritually as well as physically. Small and medium-sized towns in Germany have many museums, theatres, and famous concert halls. Arts institutions here don’t worry about whether the lights stay on every few years. Many are funded by companies and families, so their directors and boards don’t have to devote as much time to fundraising as they do in the US, UK, and elsewhere.
It is perfectly normal for a cultural figure to take a political stance and influence the government in Germany. The political and literary field in Germany is rich in debate. Like the French and Italians, the Germans are quite comfortable with enlightened figures. While its broadsheet newspapers and magazines have changed little over the years(for better or worse), diligence and intelligence are more rewarded than the pursuit of circulation.
Exaggerated journalism is seen as a threat rather than a strengthening democracy. Polls show that despite all the new trend efforts, trust in traditional media is higher in Germany than in other similarly positioned countries. The German political ethos is the art of compromise and doing what is possible.
Why Germans Do It Better
The book reveals why the Germans did it better. Huge countries struggled during the pandemic. People observed that some countries in very different situations, such as the United States and Brazil, were led by charismatic leaders. These leaders knew how to scratch divisions; they were less skilled at uniting people. Many Germans criticized their deliberative political culture as more boring. The pandemic has made them realize their advantages once again. The sense of nation that the Germans built after the war is based on the lessons learned from the horror and shame of their Nazi legacy. Values such as family, responsibility, and the role of the state were preserved.Langsam aber sicher…
Slowly but surely. This is the German way. This obsessive obsession with rules, this meticulous, cautious approach, provided Germany with protection against the shocks of four crucial periods in its post-war history. After the horrors of the Nazis, it helped rebuild the country and reintroduced democracy to the country with the 1949 Basic Law. It has been a shock absorber, from the protest movement in 1968 to the fall of the Wall in 1989, to the refugee crisis in 2015, and to the nascent challenges Germany is already facing. The Germans interviewed in the book still disagree with the idea that they are doing better in many ways. They worry about the idea that they can teach anyone a lesson. But when we look at how they deal with their recent history, their habits of doing politics, the way they do business, the way they manage crises, and their attitude towards each other and the outside world, it seems certain that the Germans are doing better than anyone else, with confident and slow steps. Especially in difficult times, as we saw in the case of COVID-19, it would be a little naive for other countries to ignore Germany’s management and emotional maturity, and resilience!
And let’s come to the question I asked at the beginning… Would you like to write “What Do Turks Do Better?” in the comments?
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