It was hard to top the sadness that permeated Germany yesterday, a day after the horrible terror attack on a Berlin Christmas market. Almost every prominent politician in the country expressed their sorrow, but none really had anything more to say. In Berlin, the powerlessness of our leadership was on full display, as the perpetrator or perpetrators remained unaccounted for and even undescribed. The police, seemingly helpless, asked eyewitnesses and bystanders to provide photos from their cellphones. “Everything is under control,’’ intoned Berlin’s mayor, the city still under shock.
On the outside, people remained calm, but inside trouble is brewing. Those who want to understand these interior monologues must understand that people tend to live in two different places: that of the real world and that of a mystical place you can’t find on Google Maps.
In the real world, things are what they seem to be: The unemployed are unemployed, the student is studying and the worker is working. This is the realm of the necessary, which is regularly captured and measured by statisticians and economists around the world.
The other place is a special world built on our hopes and dreams. In this place live the goals of better education and social betterment, and more money and greater happiness, if not simply for the sake of our children. Here resides the illusion of complete physical wellbeing and eternal freedom.
This ephemeral world is the place where politicians like to meet voters. Only here can their favorite tool, the promise of a better life, reach each man and woman. Ludwig Erhard, the father of Germany’s post-war economic miracle, and Willy Brandt, the reform chancellor of pragmatic “realpolitik,’’ were frequent visitors. So too were U.S. presidents John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and the early Barack Obama. Each knew how to couple politics with personal hopes and dreams.
But these days, in the aftermath of this horrible terrorist attack, this vibrant but fragile world of the possible is a cold and breezy place. The winds of globalization are howling through our attics. Even at Christmas markets now, we are confronted with the smell of our own decay, or so we think. In our hearts, we are finding thorns, where we used to grow roses.
In our current situation, Angela Merkel is not presenting herself as a good shepherd who will lead people to higher ground, but as a distant corporate owner of an unwanted present. Instead of offering ways out of this horror, she offers no alternatives at all. Globalization creates inequality – we simply have to accept it. Daily terror is now an inevitable part of our everyday life. Lighting up the Brandenburg Gate in the black, red and gold of the German flag is supposed to blind us to our own helplessness, and the helplessness of those who pretend to lead us. There is no great protector out there for us anymore, only our own courage and resourcefulness. Those who refuse to walk boldly through Christmas markets are traitors to western values. Our dream world is being downgraded to a tawdry status quo, and to the dirty ground beneath our own feet.
In this way, the terror attack at Breitsheidplatz is starting to seep into the realm of German politics. The chancellorship of Angela Merkel appears to be physically and mentally exhausted. The black truck that cut a deadly swath through our innocence two days ago took with it more than a bunch of wooden shacks selling almonds and gingerbread.
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