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How Germany became 'cool'

Germany is becoming more open and diverse  

With the right leadership, it could be a model for the West

Berlin, Apr.12.– Since the fall of the Berlin Wall the Ampelmännchen, the jaunty, behatted “little traffic-light man” of communist East Germany, has escaped his dictatorial roots to become a kooky icon of Germany’s trendy capital. Tourists pose with life-size models and snap up memorabilia in souvenir shops. The Ampelmännchen’s quirky coolness is an increasingly apt symbol of the country as well as its capital. As our special report in this issue describes, Germany is entering a new era. It is becoming more diverse, open, informal and hip.

At first blush that seems a preposterous suggestion. The Germany of international newspaper headlines is a country with anxious citizens and stagnant politics. Angela Merkel is Europe’s longest-standing political leader, a woman who epitomises traditional German caution. 

Last September’s election saw a surge in support for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD); it took Mrs Merkel six months to cobble together a lacklustre new coalition. To conservative foreign observers Germany is a byword for a reckless refugee policy; to others it is the country that bullied indebted southern Europeans.

But take the long view, and the Ampelmännchen captures how Germany is changing. Post-war German history has moved in cycles of about 25 years. First came the era of reconstruction. Then, from the late 1960s, the federal republic began to reckon frankly with its war guilt. In its latest phase, from the 1990s, Germany has reunified, become a normal country again and shed some of the fetters of its past. Now the wheels of history are turning once more. The Merkel era is drawing to a close. Many of the country’s defining traits—its ethnic and cultural homogeneity, conformist and conservative society, and unwillingness to punch its weight in international diplomacy—are suddenly in flux.

Promising signals

The biggest change comes from Mrs Merkel’s “open door” policy towards refugees, which brought in 1.2m new migrants in 2015-16. This has confirmed once-homogeneous Germany’s transformation into a melting-pot ...

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