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You are the wings! You are the tree! You are Germany!

The German media has launched a massive campaign to try to get Germany out of the dumps. It's an insult to innocent TV viewers throughout the country, says Harald Jähner.

It's awful the way Germans wrestle with themselves. Worse still, when they suddenly stop. Anyone who has unwittingly fallen prey to the new campaign "Du bist Deutschland" (you are Germany) will have been reminded of this bit of folk wisdom. There you are, sleepily sprawled in front of the telly, all ready to hit the hay and then it comes: "You are the miracle of Germany", the screen blares and yes, it does mean you and me, and personally too. "Not the others, you. You are Germany!" "Take your foot off the brakes!" a child of all things exclaims, and a woman cyclist in a helmet proclaims, "There are no speed limits on the German motorway!"

"Du bist Franz Beckenbauer"

Then on comes Katarina Witt and looks you, the old couch potato, right in the eye and prompts, "What about putting some wind in your own sails again?" Err, don't think so, a voice inside you says, but there's no peace for the wicked: "You are a part of everything," the voice intones, and this everything points a long gnarled Uncle Sam finger at you, indicating cannon fodder. You just want to slip off the sofa and get out of the line of vision asap, but the voice goes on: "And everything is a part of you. You are Germany. Your will is like a kick up the arse."

But I'm not Nietzsche or Uri Geller. My will is not the spoon-bending type. "Achieve what you are capable of achieving", says the conductor Justus Frantz with the conciliatory air of a trainer tired of snapping at you all day. And celebrity after celebrity then lines up to give their tuppence: "And when you're done with that, outdo yourself. Beat your wings and uproot trees. You are the wings. You are the tree. You are Germany."

"Du bist Ludwig van Beethoven"

Then the phantom is gone. You pinch yourself to check you're not dreaming. What on earth was that? That was the start of the largest social campaign ever undertaken in this country. Twenty five media enterprises, major corporations, Der Spiegel, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the Süddeutsche Zeitung and the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, the public and the major private channels are all currently waging a campaign "Du bist Deutschland" to boost the mood in Germany. It is the answer of the cumulative power of the media to German misery. But unfortunately it's also an insult to the viewers.

There's no doubt there that the motives behind the campaign are justified. The state of the economy is dependent on the general mood in the country and confidence resources are scarcer than oil in Germany. If we worried less about the future it would probably be more certain. But which of us, informed on a daily basis how precarious the state of pension schemes is, would be prepared to rely on this supposition and abandon all worry, this poison of the economy? Industry, and the advertising industry in particular, much prefers happy, smiley people. Their sunny carefree attitude stimulates business. It's also understandable that the advertising executives involved in the campaign, from companies like Jung von Matt and kempertrautmann, lick their lips when they hear Angela Merkel say in an interview: "I cannot cover all aspects of confidence and optimism." But we, they think, we can.

"Du bist Albrecht Dürer"

Optimism and confidence are based on the principle of achievement, which the campaign constantly calls upon. People who are confident that their efforts are constructive in some way create self-confidence, they are, as the campaign demands, prepared to take risks, they are mobile and flexible. But this is an experience many Germans have been incapable of having for a very long time. The principle of achievement is being overridden. There are – as everyone knows - too few jobs which allow people to prove their mettle and move upwards. Alternative job structures are at a very rudimentary level still, aside from the black market. And even among the employed there is a widespread suspicion that the future is in no way dependant on how hard you slog. In a situation like this, a call to give yourself a kick up the arse and start ripping up trees means little more than a call to vandalism. Because ripping up trees as a metaphor for performance no longer has much currency in most people's lives.

The unsolved drama of the erosion of the performance principle cannot be helped by mental training in the fateful belief that mood determines existence. Even if this were the case, the campaign would still backfire because it triggers anxiety, not confidence. The experience of top celebrities gathering in their masses to condemn reality hardly breeds confidence. It's certainly true that Germans often expect too much of the state and are not sufficiently prepared to assume personal responsibility. Many schools would be cleaner if parents got together and did some of the dirty work themselves. But in a country that once thrived on the work ethic, this habitus is not the core of the problem.

"Du bist Michael Schumacher"

Furthermore, the results of the German election in which the far Right played almost no role at all, shows that the mood in the country is better than it is among top-ranking media executives. If the media wants to grieve over the mood of the country, it should ask itself whether its way of presenting and discrediting politics has not contributed to the Germans' loss of confidence. There's no use in demanding "that we love what we are, what we want and what we want to become." This is nothing but self-intoxication. How am I supposed to love something that I don't know, oh fellow Germans of the future?

"Du bist Max Schmeling"

In order that this rhetoric of das volk as "one body" and of pushing one's limits does not too closely resemble earlier attempts to motivate people to work their way out of the mire with boots, spades and dramatic self-love, the TV ad campaign shows someone with a speech impediment, a black guy and an obvious homosexual to intone their pious slogans from among the staelae of the new Holocaust Memorial. I, Germany, will not be duped by such tricks.


If you have the latest Flash player, do take two minutes to download the full TV campaign. It's a giggle a minute!

The article originally appeared in the Berliner Zeitung on 30 September, 2005.

Harald Jähner is an editor at the Berliner Zeitung.

translation: lp - let's talk european