Why do Germans love and hate their country?

Rome. Italy, Italians … many German fans of this country must have gasped in the last few weeks, not just them: the Swiss and Austrians, who share the same love and dubious relationship with Bel Paez as the Germans. We are watching with bewilderment and concern what is happening in Rome at the moment.

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The 68th (68th!) post-war government was recently established in the Eternal City – and it’s not a good scene: Forza Italia boss Silvio Berlusconi touted the 20 bottles of vodka he got from his friend Vladimir Putin for his 86th birthday. Lega head Salvini wants to return to the Ministry of the Interior, the new Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has to explain to the two signs that they are “not open to black people”. And as usual, it’s about influential and well-paid government positions, never about national interests. Tragic incident.

Since the fall of Mario Draghi, Italian politics has confirmed the ever-present prejudice against Italy abroad: eternally unstable, often unreliable, occasionally irresponsible. Always walking between farce and melodrama. “Italian conditions”, as they sometimes say down in Berlin.

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Most Italians are more relaxed about this. The right’s election victory in September has admittedly confused many citizens in Italy, particularly those who have nothing to do with the winning far-right populist Melonis. But the current opinion is: they won the election, so govern for now – the divided coalition of Meloni, Salvini and Berlusconi won’t last long anyway. And in the end, the wise man in the royal palace, president Sergio Mattarella, will fix it again.

In other words, the situation in Italy is hopeless again, but not serious.

Nothing is more difficult to eradicate than bigotry and bigotry‚ÄĒespecially when it is constantly confirmed, as was the case in Rome. And there is nothing more difficult than writing about national characteristics without spreading the familiar places yourself. One thing is certain: the cultural differences between Italy and the northern German-speaking countries exceed the expectations of small geographical distances and economic and tourist exchanges. Italians mark in a completely different way in many aspects. It starts with the relationship with politics: the government and politicians are seen as alien entities, as oppressors. This leads to a defensive reaction in every situation. But at least the legislator often sets the bar very high and can slide it if necessary.

Italian life is not in a public place, but in private – in the family, with friends, in the “Bar Sport”, on the beach, in a non-profit association, on or near the football field.

The true origin of Germany’s nostalgia for Italy is probably in the family nature of Italians: the informality of personal relationships, a certain lightness of being, the art of innovation and improvisation, the generosity and openness of Italians – combined with the “grande bellezza” that the country has to offer. And then this kitchen and “There’s this climate. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe couldn’t resist the charm of “Lemon Blossoms” 200 years ago. And today, every German has a favorite Italian place where he or she can go for pizza and pasta and enjoy a little Italian for a few hours.

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At the same time, there are deep-rooted negative prejudices against Italians: many Germans see them as workaholics, corrupt and sometimes even mafia-like, despite their sunny side. “Der Spiegel” once described the Italian man as a “parasitic life” which is half surprising. What is often forgotten is that Italy pays more into the EU coffers than it gets – and the country is a net contributor, just like Germany. And there is no question of being lazy: according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation (OECD), the average annual working time in Italy is 1779 hours, while in Germany it is 1371 hours per year.

Italians especially find it insulting when their country is likened to the Mafia. Most Italians are not mafiosi, but – if they are – their victims: in decades of daring clan battles, countless judges, police officers, public prosecutors, entrepreneurs, priests, journalists and dedicated individuals have lost their lives. . In front of the current president, the brother of Sergio Mattarella, who was shot by Cosa Nostra in 1980. These heroes are Italian heroes and role models, not bosses.

Change of power in Rome: Mario Draghi hands over office to Giorgia Meloni.

Change of power in Rome: Mario Draghi hands over office to Giorgia Meloni.

In addition, there are positive and negative prejudices in the opposite direction – and the negative ones are currently being confirmed. The German government’s decision to protect its own citizens and, above all, 200 billion euros, to protect its own companies and at the same time deny the European common price ceiling demanded by Draghi and 14 other countries, is seen as lacking in Italy. collectively. Italy and many other EU members do not have Germany’s financial capacity and their companies will face a clear competitive disadvantage in the future, where they will face higher energy prices than their German competitors.

Still, in Italy’s eyes, there is a German tendency for arrogance and know-it-alls: Berlin imposes austerity laws on the poorer countries of the south, but when things get tough for Germany itself, budget rules suddenly stop. apply. Germany’s “double boom” is seen as more dangerous to EU unity than Italy’s own new right-wing government – and it gives right-wing populists an argument to rail against Germany and the EU.

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An old defensive response against “arrogant Germany”.

In the year Berlin was the first to stop sending protective masks during the outbreak in March 2020, and it is also memorable in Italy when dozens of people died from the coronavirus in Bergamo when they were taken away by truck. The EU’s so-called Corona Bonds have managed the existential crisis for months. It was a shame for the Italians that the Germans acted as the EU’s chief accountants in this tragedy. It also provoked the old defensive reaction in Italy against the “arrogant German hegemon”: the European Union is led by the will of Berlin and the common market is not the type of “Greater Germany 2.0” in the end.

Later, then-Chancellor Angela Merkel paved the way for the EU’s generous reconstruction fund and thus the controversial collective bonds – and thereby restored sympathy for Germany among Italians.

The relationship between Germany and Italy has always been complicated: mutual respect and deep suspicion at the same time. You can put it this way: Germans love Italians (for their lifestyle and beautiful country) but they don’t respect them.

Italians, on the other hand, respect the Germans (for their perfectionism and organizational skills) but do not like them.

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Paolo Valentino, a long-time German journalist for “Corriere della Sera”, recently spoke about what he experienced in the few weeks since arriving in Berlin. He went for a run in Grunewald and met a German couple there who immediately reprimanded him for running on the left side of the forest path instead of the right. The first lesson in my new home was this: you Italians don’t follow the rules – even if they are non-existent rules.

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