Hope in historyMay 6th, 2012 | By Ian Poulton | Category: International
A German friend, now in his 70s, remembers his country in the aftermath of the Second World War:
‘My father was away in the army somewhere. Perhaps in France? We did not know. My mother was trying to run the hotel.
Our village had been granted a charter as a town in medieval times, but was really no more than a village.
One day a tide of people came through the streets: thousands and thousands of them from East Prussia and other places. A huge wave of refugees, walking, tired and exhausted. They had nothing and nowhere to go.
My mother let two hundred of them come into the hotel. Some were just happy to lie on the ballroom floor; there was no other space. People just lay down.
There was an old Catholic priest amongst them, trying to look after them. We lived in a Protestant village, there were only three Catholic families. We would have gone to Mass in the next village; it was a five kilometres walk.
The Protestant pastor in our village offered his church for the priest to use to conduct Mass for his congregation of refugees. The refugees remained, the Russians had conquered the East and no-one wanted to go to live under Communist rule. In seven years, the Catholics had gathered enough money to build a church’.
The new church in that village would have been symbolic of the determination of ordinary Germans to rebuild their country, in many cases, literally from the ashes.
In twenty years, the country was transformed; Germany became a byword for prosperity and efficiency. Growing up in England in the 1960s and 1970s, Germany was a place at which we looked with envy.
No-one living in Germany in the 1940s could have imagined what would be achieved by the Federal Republic by the 1960s, yet that recovery would not have been possible without huge loans and huge investment? Had Germany been compelled to balance its budget, there would have been no recovery story, nothing to envy.
Suffering the worst defeat since 1950 in Schleswig-Holstein, facing a new French president who wants a change of direction, contemplating a Greek government that may not be able to carry through further austerity measures, Chancellor Merkel may dig deeper in her determination to see through the Fiscal Treaty, which will require balanced budgets of European governments.
Yet Germany of living memory, the Germany that was so admired by the world, was a place where spending, not cutting, brought recovery. Perhaps we need to appeal to Dr Merkel’s sense of history in the hope of stopping the drift into a deeper and deeper recession.