Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Germany: Unraveling an Enigma
© 2000 Paul Nees
236 pages

If you follow European news, chances are good that you’ve heard the name Angela Merkel in recent months. Chancellor of Germany, her nation is the economic heart of Europe and essential to the eventual resolution of its debt crisis. And yet, just a little over two decades ago,  Germany was a divided nation…and a generation before, it lay in ruins, largely destroyed in a war which instigated, a war which casts a shadow over all Germans, even those born today. Germany has a long, storied, and troubled past: it is the land of Beethoven and Marx,  but also of Hitler and his ilk.  Europe and the world have been ravaged by Germany’s military in times past, but buoyed by its contributions to culture -- and it will likely continue to be a major player throughout the next century. All that in mind, what makes the Germans tick?

Paul Nee’s attempt to answer that question comes in the form of a cultural analysis, an exploration of the German character which seems to be largely written for Americans interested in doing business in America, but his guide concerns Germany as a whole. Even the latter two-thirds of the book focused on business and economics -- explaining both the social market system as well as Germany business culture, exploring practices in the United States and Germany which might be at variance with one another -- are fascinating, as they build on the general themes which Nees set forth at the opening. There, he explores the German mind, elaborating on convictions that most Germans share. He not only identifies the concepts, but demonstrates how they are interwoven throughout Germany society. In the section titled "Ordnung muss Sein", for instance, he shows how the concept of good order manifests itself not only in politics, but in the way people relate to their possessions  a shoddily maintained car is unthinkable. The picture of the Germans which emerges from the book is that of a intense, serious, and passionate people.

Nees' book is similar to Sixty Million Frenchman Can't Be Wrong, which tries to explain France to Americans. Nees is (suitably, for his subject), more "solid": he concentrates on a few ideas and explores them thoroughly.  Although seemingly targeted toward businessmen, its thorough thoughtfulness recommends it to anyone with a curiosity about Germany.

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