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He who Brexit, owns it

Fußballmannschaft in Thailand in Höhle eingeschlossen
Source: DPA

Hard Brexit, soft Brexit, no Brexit after all: it’s hard to keep up as Albion stumbles toward its exit from the European Union. And now it’ll get even more confusing, after David Davis, Britain’s point man on the subject, resigned just before midnight on Sunday, accusing Prime Minister Theresa May of being too soft vis-a-vis Brussels. The rest of May’s cabinet (not to mention the country) is divided. So now the question is whether the softies or the hardies get the upper hand.

Brexit strife has even spread to Germany’s governing coalition, as though it didn’t have enough problems already. The culprit is — prepare to be shocked — Horst Seehofer, the interior minister, last seen a week ago almost causing a collapse of the coalition around Chancellor Angela Merkel. During the thick of that crisis, he also wrote a letter to Brussels which has now come to light.

In it, Seehofer in effect breaks with the position of the German government and of the EU. In the interest of security, he argues, Britain and the EU’s 27 remaining members should, following Brexit, keep cooperating as before. Theresa May must be delighted. Meanwhile, the German government has officially distanced itself from Seehofer’s missive. Seehofer really appears to be on a political suicide mission. Somebody should assist him.

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“The 4th Wild Boar is out of the cave,” said the Facebook posting by the Thai navy cracks who are trying to rescue the soccer team that’s been trapped for more than two weeks in a flooded mountain cavern. Eight more boys and their coach are still underground, on their dark and slippery rock, watching the menacing waters rise and fall as rain and pumps vie for their lives.

At a time when globalization is a loaded, and increasingly negative, word for many people, this spectacle has turned into a positive counterpoint. The whole world is rooting for the boys and their parents. The rescue team, too, is global. Of the roughly 90 divers risking their lives (one already lost his), more than half are from overseas, including Britain, Australia, America and China. Elon Musk, an American adventure-entrepreneur, is even contemplating drilling through the mountain to free the boys. It’s uplifting when people from different places come together, simply as humans, to solve a big problem. We should do it more often.

I’ve also been pondering the drama from a different point of view. One thing that could make the difference between life and death is how the remaining nine in the cave hold up psychologically. One of the character profiles in my book, “Hannibal and Me”, is the story of Ernest Shackleton, the explorer whose ship got crushed in the Antarctic ice a century ago. For 497 days, through the Antarctic winter of permanent darkness, the crew survived — living on moving and cracking ice floes! But it took somebody like Shackleton to keep them from going mad, turning against each other, or giving up. Few of us ever face tests of character as that on the ice then, or in the cave now. Keep it together, lads!

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This will be a week of dramatic news, with Trump descending on the NATO summit in Brussels before hopping on to Helsinki to be chummy with NATO’s adversary, Vladimir Putin. So let’s ease into that suspense on a lighter note. On Friday, I commented on that awkward cultural no-man’s-land Germans are nowadays trapped in: between the informal second-person pronoun, Du, and the formal one, Sie.

Well, lots of you have been writing in with your own anecdotes about that unique Germanic place between embarrassment and amusement, and I’d like to highlight just two more twists. A reader named Axel relates a permutation that, I hear, is common in Hamburg. Many Hanseats would apparently address me as “Sie, Andreas…”, mixing the formal you and the informal first name and thus escalating from merely partial to complete and utter confusion.

Another reader, Manfred Pühringer, adds the Viennese innovation, whereby the informal Du is paired with the formal title, as in: “Du, Herr Bundeskanzler”. Clearly, German-speakers will keep themselves, and the rest of us, befuddled, disorientated and bemused in perpetuity.

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