“Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.”—Otto von Bismarck

The Germans.  Always a problem.

Under the Celts, Europe was one country.  Under the Romans, under the Church, under Napoleon, under Hitler, Europe was one country.  And now, under Merkel, Europe is, for the moment, one country.

When the Celts had it, it stretched from Ireland to what is now Turkey, and it’s still basically Celtic.  The Germans—Angles, Saxons, Franks, Lombards, Goths, etc.
later settled on the Celts as ruling classes, and gene-testing is revealing that the “English,” for example, are mostly Celts, as the "French" have always believed themselves.   This is in addition to the pockets of more or less “pure” Celts that survive in the British Isles, Brittany, Belgium, Spain, Switzerland and Venice, which is not an exhaustive list.

The Romans brought North Africa and the Middle East into the mix, as later did Napoleon and Hitler.  But the Romans excluded Ireland, the Picts—and Germany.  Stay on your side of the Rhine, they told the Germans, and when they raided into Gaul the Romans retaliated by raiding into Germania (with a hard “G”), which was as far as the Romans cared, or dared, to go.

The Germans were never Romanized.  That’s why they’re like that.  And when they (or rather we—see My Racial Profile) got the upper hand, it all fell apart.

Charlemagne almost put it back together, and he did push into Germania.  But to be legitimate he had to be crowned in Rome by Pope Leo, who used him like a rook on a chess board, and influenced politics from Britain to Constantinople.  That's where the power lay, and where it stayed: seven centuries later Vasari tells us that Michelangelo “spoke to the Pope as the King of France would not have dared to speak to the Pope.”
Germania became a collection of principalities, and it is remarkable, to me at least, that this brilliant people produced no literary masterpiece for so much of the modern period.  Martin Luther was a model of German prose (“Sin bravely,” he said; I have that on a T-shirt), but he died in 1546, and until Goethe nothing literary happened, at least nothing exportable.  There had been Winckelmann, but Goethe had to tell me about Winckelmann; I’d never have known. 

Meanwhile, of course, they were writing the world’s music, if I may take the liberty of including Austria in Germania, as Charlemagne did.  Austria had been Romanized; maybe that explains something.

They are a wonderfully clean people, Germans.  In Duck You Sucker, Sergio Leone introduces a German military advisor in Mexico by showing him in his seat on a train brushing his teeth.  Exactly.  In bed with a German you can, and do, go anywhere; in bed with a French or a British person you must proceed with caution.

They do not, however, queue up.  If you’re in line for the ski lift and one or more Germans come down the slope they’ll butt right in at the front and have to shouted at and waved away.  When, in Casablanca, Carl tells Rick that he gave the Germans the best table, knowing they would take it anyway,” he’s not making rah-rah war talk, he's referring to this tendency of theirs to arrogate.
Here’s a better example: when the Nazis were advancing on Paris Clare Boothe Luce was staying at the Ritz, and as they approached, the hotel emptied out.  But she, intrepid reporter (she invented Life magazine), stayed on till she was the last one, and the concierge came up and told her to leave: “The Germans are coming!” he said.  She got out her notepad: “How do you know?”  “They have reservations!”
Ah, but now it gets heavy.  Now we must touch The Subject.  When I was a film professor a German colleague said, “Do you think the world will ever forgive the Germans?”

I didn’t have to ask for what.  I treated this as thinking out loud, and ignored it.  When he persisted I said, “No,” as curtly as I could.

“Why not?”  

“For four reasons,” I said, trying to scare him off.

Didn’t work.  He wanted to suffer.  “What's the first?”

I said.  So vague.  What we did to the Indians, what we did to Dresden, what we did to the Italian villages we bombed—Churchill said if we lose this war they’ll try us for war crimes.  But there was a case for it.  You could argue for it.  You could discuss it.  The truth about Hiroshima and Nagasaki is that we were experimenting to see what the effects would be on human flesh.  Harry Truman said we did it to shorten the war and save lives, but we could have done that by blowing up Mount Fujiyama or giving them a show in Tokyo Bay.  Still, there was a case for it.  You could argue for it.  But with the camps you gave us clarity, a relief from the ambiguity we waffle around in, something black and white.  We're not likely to let that go.”

I trusted that would suffice.  But no.  “What’s the second reason?” he said.

“It was a terrible thing you did,” I shrugged.  Why should we forgive you?”  (“You,” notice.  I knew he was standing in for his people.)

He nodded.  “The third?”

“You’ll never forgive yourselves.  Why should we forgive you?”

On the surface he was digesting all this.  “And the fourth?”

“Well, when you say the world, you don’t mean Asia or Africa.  They’re not interested—they’ve got their own histories.  You mean us—the Germanic peoples, including the blond Visigothic aristocracies lording it over the Indians in “Latin” America.  We’re Germans.  You embarrassed the family.  And in family life there’s no forgiving or forgetting.”

Now he was depressed.  I felt bad.  “On the other hand,
I said, one of the great achievements of humankind was landing on the moon, and that was accomplished by a former SS man.”
Another German friend (I know a lot of Germans; they’re going to love this piece) is a painter, an Expressionist.  (Most German artists are Expressionists; it has something to do with horror.)  He was middle-aged before he went to his father and said, “How could you do that?”  I don’t know what the answer was.  Maybe there was none.  Maybe it was unrepeatable.  What could it be?  But the sense of a curse lingers, on the people and on the land.

And Angela Merkel works under that curse.  When France and Germany conceived the Euro-dream in 1951 it was to make sure Germany wouldn’t attack France again.  Simple as that.  The aim of the Union is to put an end to war in Europe, which a glance at history will show is continual here.  Simple as that.  But once again, Germany dominates. 

The trouble is, Europeans can’t do anything.  It's endemic.  British incompetence is as monumental as it is dignified, from the top down.  A Canadian woman who transferred to the London branch of her company confessed to me, “You just want to push them!”

A Frenchwoman, lounging topless by the Greek sea, said to me, “You Americans [for her I was willing to be an American], you act [inviting me, as it were, to action]; we French are dreamers.”  Quite right.  Don’t ever try to get anything done in France.

When Portugal and Spain and France and England were young barbaric countries they conquered empires.  Those war lords Ferdinand and Isabella were burning down university towns in the suave Muslim civilization of the time, even as they were sending Columbus off to augment their holdings.  But that was then.  These days it takes a Napoleon or a Hitler to actually do something, and of course the results aren’t always ideal. 

A friend of mine—actually he’s not a friend of mine, I’m not even speaking to the son-of-a-bitch—anyway, he’s a yacht skipper.  You rent your yacht for a vacation and he brings the crew and sails it where you want to go, and when you’re out there and something goes wrong, he fixes it with tape and a coat hanger and gets on with it.  But the German clients are standing there with the manual in their hands.  “Yah, but zis iss not za right vay!  Ziss is not—”  They’re by-the-book people, Germans, and they’re trying to force their considerable will on the anarchic non-work-ethic Greeks.  The Greeks have never heard of the book.  (See Greece versus the Puritans.)

One of the problems with Merkel—one, I say, of the problems with Merkel— is that she grew up in East Germany, resisting Soviet thoughts, yes yes, I know, but the eastward look was her horizon.  The Euro-dream is a West-German dream, not a Merkel dream.  She has not explained to her voters that if they break the Mediterranean countries there’ll be no market for what they make, and the Greeks, as a matter of patriotism, are already refusing to buy anything made in Germany.  Nor has she mentioned that if they don’t pump their precious money into those countries their own euros won’t be worth much anymore.

The Greeks suspect the Germans, who, it must be conceded, rarely do anything without a plan, of forcing them to privatize their companies and sell them cheap so Germans can buy them; and to cut salaries so the new owners will have a low-rate labor force.

And the Greeks, rather than ruin themselves at German command, are playing for time—one of the things they do best.  “Wait,” they love to say.  “I don’t want to wait,
shouts the Nordic, and the German in me sympathizes.   “Wait,” they say. 

Now they will lean their chins in their hands and watch the German economy crumble.  Then we’ll see where we are.


  1. How to almost forgive Germany in two words: Elke Sommer. (

  2. Being 1/4 each English, German, Scots, and Irish I don't recognise your profiles. And really 'the Celts' are no more an ethnic group than 'the Germans'. They are language or culture groups. For the scholarly latest on the origins of both read Stephen Oppenheimer's The Origins of the British, or Barry Cunliffe's recent symposium on Celtic from the West, or a more pop book by Bob Quinn called The Atlantean Irish. The idea of Europe being pan Celtic is 19th century codology based on a muddle over archeology, though there were Celtic speaking pockets in what is now Northern Italy and Southern France. The British Isles were populated after the Ice Age by people from what is now roughly Basque country and 80% of Irish and British have those Stone Age genes - certainly not 'Celtic' ones which are unidentifiable. There was another wave of immigration to Ireland via the Atlantic from N Africa and Spain. The whole picture is being revised. Another note: between Luther and Goethe there was a huge amount of German poetry, much of it collected in Des Knaben Wunderhorn. And you might give a nod to German music...
    Tchuess! / Bye! / Slán!
    Seán Haldane

    1. I'm teachable, Seán, but, lacking your depth of scholarship, to which I defer, I have swum in the mainstream on these theories. I do declare, though, that I did (and do) give a nod to German music.

  3. You entertainingly (if that's a word) showed me in this post why my 401K retirement fund has not been doing well lately. Our (USA) stock market seems to be shackled to the goings-on in Europe. Every major drop in stock values here happens because investors are worried about Europe. I, for one, would like to see the European governments get their act together SOON.

    1. Thanks, Dean. Yes, we feel the same way here in Athens, where everything is on the verge of collapse.

  4. I am perfectly prepared to forgive Germany for the holocaust, since most of the protagonists are now dead and I don't believe in visiting the sins of the fathers upon future generations. But I refuse to forgive the present generation's arrogant behaviour. We have a fairly large contingent of German expats in this part of Spain and they are SO RUDE. They push you out of the way when you are queuing. One followed me into the bank manager's office once and started talking to him over my head. Another interrupted me as I was getting money from a cash machine and told me there was another machine upstairs I could use. I haven't yet met one who was nice to me. Maybe I have a biased sample but I'm not impressed.

  5. Robert, you state above, and rightly so, that the French are dreamers, but most of them seem to also be terrible isolationists and haters of anyone who is not French. At least in my limited experience in Paris. I remember standing by the bridge over the Seine, in the 1970's, in front of Notre Dame, and asking a Frenchman (in passable French) where was the Metro to the Eiffel Tower, which we could see on the horizon. He shrugged in a particularly Gallic way, and said he didn't know what the Eiffel Tower was. Never heard of it. Back then, tourists were given wooden coins at the airport to give to any Parisian who was nice to foreign tourists, or friendly or helpful. They could turn them in to some office for cash. Imagine a people who had to be paid to be human.

    1. If it's any comfort, they hate each other as much as they hate us.

  6. well, all nations have their strong and poor sides, just like every dog has its day, and then its dog day, so to speak. Germans wrote not only world's music(by the way, many of their composers weren't Aystrian), they also had great painters and started, i trust, the gothic style of architecture; they actually have done exceptionally wqell learning from Romans and perhaps bettering what they learned, in terms of material way of life. when i visited Germany and Italy in '06, i thought: Germany looms more like what i'd expect say of Roman republic/empire of the old, than Italy does.
    It also should be noted that big chunk of Germanic 'lords of North America' and even of South one, were of German descent. i hear Kansas still has German as second official language, together with English
    and going by the book, if anything, is a fundamentally good quality. i live in NYC, where hardly anything is done by the book; and i also grew up in USSR, where NOTHING was done that way; and it stinx :)
    i also fear that pushing too much of German guilt may lead not to them not forgiving themselves, but to simply shrugging this whole 'yoke' off and God forbid, starting another Holocaust-type mess. Only this time, one could not really blame them in full, cause no nation can take this sort of saddling forever, even if it has made the sind Germans are accused of( and they sure have).
    as for Merkel, i think she's gonna do fine. this whole talk about doom coming soon for the Europroject, the more it gors on, the less believable it gets, to be frank :) bad things happene usually when unexpected; when everyone is prepared, such as in '99 for the Y2K, or last summer in New York for the hurricane--the whole 'disaster' thoroughly diasspoints in its scope and impact
    After all, within EU, with their money and economic dominance, germany has a shot at the sort of dominance and influence that they could only dream of during Bismarck or Hitler times, what with all their tanks and their bombs, and their guns and all

  7. and by the way, their militant energy may be very well harnessed for positive use. like say Bundeswehr being a reliable auxiliary to main NATO armies

    1. Could be. I know less than nothing. But thank you, Spikey.

  8. I forwarded this delightful piece to my friend Thorsten formerly from East Germany. Will see how he takes it.

  9. Like Sean Haldane, a mix of English, Irish, Scots and German – with a little Circassian and Italian, in other words a typical Brit. Sean is right, there's no such thing as the Celtic gene. It was a culture with as many variations as they were and are within, well, Germany for one. As a unified country it hasn't existed for all that long. Given the cultural, psychological diversity between, say, Bavaria, Prussia (as was) and Westphalia, the only real reason for unification was the desire to do so, which actually is never quite enough – as witness the current EU. In fact the various German regions have more independence than Brussels would like member states to have. . . although outside the bureaucrats and fanatics, few Europeans want full political union.
    A point about war crimes. The fire-bombing of Dresden took place to a) terrify the German population (didn't work) b) justify the Air Force as a separate military arm (jury still out) c) warn off the Russians (not exactly successful). Similarly, the main reason for the second atomic bomb was to impress the Russians and the rest of the world. . . and, and also because they had one left over and hated to see it go to waste. There's another reason, too. People, especially Americans, tend to forget, or never knew, about the long trade war in the Pacific between the States and Japan that included the two year oil and trade embargo against Japan that inevitably led to Pearl Harbour. Washington was making a statement about who was top dog in the Pacific Rim (see also Cuba and the Monroe Doctrine). With respect, Canadians have do tend to have a slightly simplistic view of world history. I can say because I have dual citizenship.

  10. Robert, my East German friend Thorsten has this to say (he's too busy to respond directly so he's letting me insert his comments here):

    "Mildly amusing.

    What I find interesting how much the crimes (war and others) of the British Empire, the Russian Communists the US and others are brushed under the table (except the most egregious ones that cannot be hidden).

    I'm not the greatest fan of Angie, by a long stretch, so anything that skewers her is ok by me...

    Anyway, when most people say "German" they think "Prussians", I'm a Saxon, we probably like Prussians even less than the rest of the world and since the kerfaffle caused by that beastly Austrian Bunch we do not like them much anymore either (Saxony and Austria/Hungary where long standing Allies against the Prussians before).

    What most people do not realise is that there are no "Germans" in that sense of the word.

    Yes, there are numerous germanic people that speak dialects of Germanic language (e.g. English, Dutch, various Germans) but due to history "Germany" is largely a fiction. It was united by "blood & steel" during the Franco-Prussian war and attempts where made to increase the Fusion during two world wars, yet the differences remain.

    I cannot fail to notice that there was a parallel effort to forge a strong centralised country out of many smaller commonwealth around the time in America (which is why both Germany and America used each other as foils in the process, with disastrous results all across the board).

    Southern Germans (Saxons, Bavarians) are probably more linked to Bohemia and Austria culturally and linguistically than to Northern Germans, who in turn have closer links to the Dutch than to the Prussians who have more links to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and German knights originally (uncouth, uncultured people at the fringe of Germanic Culture, constantly fighting and marrying Slavs).

    These really are rather different ethnic groups and 140 years of a united "Grossdeutschland" have done little to unite them, the re-divisions following WW2 into Austrians, Eastern Germans (basically Prussians and Saxons) and Western Germans (Bavarians, lower Saxons and North Germans) did little to truly unify Germany. Scratch a little and you find what is really under the "German" skin... You may find that only true "Germans" are actually the 2nd and 3rd Generation Turkish and Southern European Imigrants, who have assimilated more into a "german culture" than many actual Germans.

    Given any chance you may find that Saxony/Thuringa and Bavaria would probably vote for greater independence from Germany as would Hamburg and it's surrounding area, leaving only the western part of Prussia and lower Saxony "Grossdeutschland".

    Sadly in the East we need the remittances from the west doled out by the central government, after forty years of communist experiments and a disastrous transition to capitalism, so Saxony and Thuringa have to just shut up, Hamburg needs Germany for Trade and the Bavarians do whatever they want anyway, so Grossdeutschland endures, for now.

    Ciao T"

    1. Nice to0 get it from the inside. But why don't the Dutch understand the Deutch, and vice versa, when only a river and a vowel separate them?

  11. Oh how I have become such a fan of you. Learned men these days are hard to come by. I always enjoy your posts and as a fellow academic it is a relief to read something of substance. Thank you.

  12. Hi Robert,
    I'm East German and really enjoyed this post.
    Now I may have enough distance to be able to self-critically and with a little self-deprecation see how stereotypes work out here.
    I left Germany 14 years ago and spend most of this time in Ireland. So from the laid back Celtic culture, to non queuing German culture, from striking French Man to English non-action theorists I see a lot, but never as well put into few words.
    Well done.
    And to my fellow Germans; It's OK to smile once in a while and because other committed crimes as well does make ours go away.
    We are closer to a big Europe then we ever were. When will we be able to let history to be just this, never forgotten, but also not to stop us from going forward.

    1. Frank, I've seen your LinkedIn profile: you've become a thorough Irishman. Easier to smile that way.