Yesterday, I was telling a German friend about my eight-year-old daughter's school trip last year to the Deutsche Bank of the Future in Friedrichstraße. When the teacher announced the trip, I sent an email to all the other parents complaining that a) Deutsche Bank, Germany's largest bank, is an exploitative, evil institution with much too power for its own good – and its chairman Josef Ackermann is hardly a role model; b) must our kids be subjected to the slick Deutsche Bank PR offensive of a bank showroom which has a playground, a coffee bar and a lifestyle shop? c) Eight-year-olds won't actually understand anything about banks by hanging out there, anyway.
My email was promptly met by universal ridicule from the other parents and some suggested it was important to instil a sense of saving money in kids early on. Really? At eight?
It's no secret that Germans have Freude am Sparen. Saving money as a joyful end in itself. Saving money is practically a national sport. Well-off people shop at Aldi – and are proud of it – despite all the dodgy stories coming out of that company... Booking summer holidays 12 months in advance to save a few euros is not uncommon. Why?
"Fear of starvation," my friend answered.
Ah yes, the great inflation of the Weimar years. The War. All that. Again. Even now, exactly 67 years after Germany's capitulation.
And 67 year after the war, Germany is trying to turn its fellow Europeans into Sparfüchse. Saving-foxes.
The Sparzwang – that untranslatable compulsion to save – isn't working. Sparwut – saving-fury – is devastating much of the rest of Europe – to Spain, with its 50 percent youth unemployment to Greece, which is going through a political meltdown. Because if everyone saves, no one's spending. Someone has to buy stuff. Not everyone can be Germany and sell cars and machines to China and then stash the proceeds in the bank.
Now here come the French with their socialist Mr. Hollande – with his 35 hour work week, retirement at 60, 75 percent tax for millionaires. Many Germans are baffled by France's leftward swing. Angela Merkel was able to impose Sparzwang upon Europe thanks only to her awkward alliance with the defeated Sarkozy. Merkel's allies have been quick to point out that the French will soon suffer a hangover from their revolutionary fervour after Hollande realises he can't print money endlessly to boost the economy. The socialists will soon learn to march in step with the Germans.
We shall see. Europe's had enough Sparwahn – savings-madness. Germany might just have to break open its piggy bank. Or those rainy days the Germans have been saving for might just become reality here, too.