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Krautsource #9 - Germans in the Magical Forest, Covid Edition

Jannis Brühl
Jannis Brühl
After a break, Krautsource is back with an issue reflecting on the ideological origins of the recent Covid-19 escalation in Germany.
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We are in trouble. Covid-19 numbers are surging quickly in Germany, parts of the hospital infrastructure are about to collapse, and strong restrictions are being imposed on unvaccinated people. This will affect millions, as the German vaccination rate is much lower than in many other western countries. Portugal has vaccinated 98 percent of its eligible population. The New York Times describes here how an admiral, always in uniform, led the vaccination campaign in the country like a war.
The Financial Times, meanwhile, has a piece including a chart that shows the curious case of Germany and German-speaking Austria and Switzerland having laughably low vaccination rates compared to their neighbors who do not speak German.
Ä, ü, ö - Is it the Umlauts’ fault?
Surely not.
But we are a civilized country, aren’t we?
Well, this issue is about Germany and civilization.
It is counterintuitive when thinking about a nation famous for its supposed rationality and its cold-blooded, perfect engineering, but Germany suffers from a bad case of “appeal to nature”: To assume that what is natural must also be good.
The low vaccination numbers show a strong undercurrent in German society that does not trust modern civilization and longs for a “natural way” of solving problems.
It is no coincidence that Germany is the birthplace of the organic food movement. My parents were among the first “bio”-consumers in the early 1980s, buying the food at an older infrastructure for the natural-minded: the “Reformhaus”, a store based on 19th century ideas about how to protect yourself from the evils of industrialization and urbanization (Ironically, the stores almost exclusively existed in urban centers).
19th century Germany, let me tell you! Around the time, Germans also invented homeopathy, which is an ineffective scam. And anthroposophy, which is a bizarre fairytale ideology some Germans mistake for the best way to live.
(Please note that I am not arguing that the pharmaceutical industry is always acting in patients’ best interest. Many companies surely are not, but that is no reason to become superstitious and believe that flowers in brandy heal cancer.)
The theory goes that the scepticism is rooted in the tradition of the German Romantic movement of the 1800s: Capitalism, liberalism and urbanization changed the face of the earth with breathtaking speed (as Marx and Engels wrote: “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned”). This was so confusing to German artists that they started worshipping the forest and nature in general, with effects on our culture up to this day.
Esoteric anti-civilizational thinking is also a rare intersection between the German Left and Right: Some high-ranking Nazis were obsessed with vegetarianism, paganism and even witchcraft - and of course antisemitic beliefs about who was “pulling the strings” behind the modern urban world they hated. And among the “alternative” movements that formed the early Green party there was a right-wing group of people who somehow managed to blend environmentalism with nationalism.
Studies on German anti-americanism and anti-semitism drill further and find a special German resistance against civilization, one of whose biggest achievements are, of course: vaccinations! (When I talk to anti-vaxxers I sometimes think: Without a smallpox vaccine back then, at least one of us wouldn’t even be here to have this conversation)
Remember that Germany was for a long time not counted as a “Western” nation in which liberalism and democracy were dominant as in France, England and the United States. This only changed with the defeat in World War II and the subsequent occupation (of the Western part) by these countries. What has survived is a believe that Germany as a Kulturnation is closer to its natural origin than any high-tech “civilization” could be - and being between “nature” and “civilization” is considered the sweet spot! The mistrust of many Germans against America is rooted in a deep conviction that the United States might be technologically and militarily superior (from the Apollo program to Silicon Valley), but that the country lacks “real” culture.
Long story short: I am ashamed that Portugal seems to be the more civilized country, while we are heading for more tension as the division between the vaccinated and the huge number of unvaccinated is only going to grow deeper.
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Jannis Brühl
Jannis Brühl @jbruehl

This is my newsletter about German politics and history for an international audience. Why stay national and not take journalism to the global stage? Expect a lot of Realpolitik, plenty of Zeitgeist and maybe even some Schadenfreude.

I have been a journalist for more than a decade, working in New York City, Berlin and Cologne, and now head the technology news team at a major German media house in Munich. I hold a Masters degree in Political Science and American Cultural Studies. And I like rap music.

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