For about two centuries, Germany was a land people migrated from, not to. But times have changed, and so has Germany. With a booming economy, it attracts talent from the rest of Europe and beyond. German universities are reporting more foreign students and researchers, and many of those stay and found companies – in that respect Berlin, where 43% of tech startups are launched by immigrants, is second only to Silicon Valley (46%) and ahead of London, Tel Aviv and Paris.
This trend may be surprising given the alleged barrier of “the awful German language,” as Mark Twain memorably described it, with its strange and sundry cases, genders and inflections. And yet branches of the Goethe Institute, a network of culture centers that teach German, are doing brisk business from Latin America to Asia. Something similar could be said about Germany’s awful bureaucracy (too bad Mr Twain omitted that angle). Even there, Germany has improved: several reforms have made it much simpler for German firms to recruit abroad, for example.
Many of those coming to Germany would in the past have gone to America or Britain instead. But America in the age of President Trump, with headlines full of travel bans and walls to be built, has lost some of its draw. Britain could careen for years toward who-knows-what-kind-of Brexit – especially now that it has a hung parliament. So bankers, students, artists and others look to Germany instead.
That’s why the cover of our new quarterly issue of Handelsblatt Global Magazine, published today, is only mildly hyperbolic. On it we imagine the Statue of Liberty if it were built in 2017. It has the face of Chancellor Angela Merkel. “Give me your best and brightest,” she beckons to the world. And the world takes her up on the offer.
The implications are profound, not just for the many foreigners pursuing their German Dream, but for Germany itself. Of course there are problems – with integrating the many refugees that came in late 2015 and 2016, for instance. But the opportunities seem larger. We will need to update (for the better) our projections for demographic decline, for a start.
Germans will also need to rethink what it even means to be German. That sounds hard, but it need not be fraught. Just look at the victorious German soccer teams. When the first three won the World Cup (1954, 74, 90) all the players were “Bio-Deutsche,” as Germans cheekily call people of all-German ancestry. When the fourth won the cup again in 2014, two were Polish-born and the names on the jerseys included Özil (Turkish), Khedira (Tunisian), Boateng (Ghanaian) and Mustafi (Albanian). Then again, you probably didn’t notice, amid all the celebrations in the sea of flags glittering in black, red and gold.