When I returned to Berlin this summer, I expected the feeling of history about to happen would be gone. I had spent a day and night in Göttingen, my old university town, where, as Heine said, there is a “constant coming and going … an eternal human stream.” Fifty years after my own coming and going, I leave the city for Berlin.
The evening train is like a floating bridge from the economic world to the political one. The soft Lower Saxony landscapes and graceful wind turbines near Hildesheim fade into darkness. I sink into the traveler’s blessed bubble of reflection with a good book in the dining car.
But right on the edge of Berlin, passing through Spandau, I begin to feel the old electricity again. By the time the train glides into the glassy new Main Station, I am charged again with the familiar Berlin energy.
Real power, it is said, is life in the real economy. Political power is a sandbox created by politicians. But sometimes it is in the powerhouses of politics that life is played out.
Today Germany’s economic and political worlds are united in a joint project—salvation of the euro, keeping Germany out of debilitating entanglements with its neighbors, preserving Germany’s hard-won economic success, defining Germany’s new identity as the political powerhouse of Europe.
The upheavals of the 1960s and of 1989 were high drama, sometimes matters of life and death. The current problems seem less clear, more mundane. “Europe today is more of a muddle than a revolution, and the drama lacks all romance,” I wrote (with co-author Jackson Janes) in The New York Times last March.
In Washington, the great axis of power is Pennsylvania Avenue, the broad boulevard that connects the White House and the Congress.
In Berlin the axis of power is a crooked road connecting three impressive new buildings: the Federal Chancellery, a post-modern cube; the Bundestag (parliament), a glass box inside a stone facade; the Federal President’s Office, a shiny egg in a forest beside Bellevue Palace. I have appointments in all three.
I arrive at the chancellery just in time to learn that my meeting with Minister of State Eckart von Klaeden, one of Angela Merkel’s top four advisors, has been shifted to the Bundestag. He was suddenly called to the parliament on the next-to-last day before the summer break.
Von Klaeden awaits me on a couch in a parliamentarian’s lounge. He seems young and energetic. With Bundestag business swirling around us, von Klaeden—brown hair, rimless glasses, serious mood—describes the euro crisis. “It’s the old world’s battle for its place in the world. We can't continue on the road we’ve been on. We need a Europe that is strong enough to be both partners and competitors with America and Asia. Then we’ll be able to continue living well in Europe.”