Germany’s growing soft power means you need to understand how its firms and people tick.
The voice of Germany.
This week I had the honor of taking over as editor-in-chief of Handelsblatt Global. In the last couple of years my predecessor, Kevin O’Brien, did a phenomenal job in launching this site and gathering a team of talented and enthusiastic writers. Now we are ready for the next phase. Our goal is to become the most relevant, trusted, informative and, yes, entertaining source in the Anglophone press for news about Germany, Europe and the world – as seen from a German point of view. Our language is English. Our voice is German.
But what is “a German voice”? you might ask. Over the centuries, people outside of Germany would have given stunningly different answers. In Shakespearean times they imagined it sounding jovial and sonorous in a beer-bellied and tipsy way. In a later era it evoked enlightened tones as in the music of Bach or the thought of Kant. Later again it was the sound of wild-haired romantics doing violence to their piano keys, or wild-eyed intellectuals spinning grand theories about historical dialectic.
Another few generations on, and the voice suddenly sounded clipped and menacing, as delivered by a Prussian Junker. Next, a short interlude of decadent cabaret tones. And then: the screams of a mad and evil dictator, and the barking of his henchmen. Voices that negated humanity and civilization. Sounds that fell silent in 1945.
After this “zero hour” of the German nation, its voice became too faint to hear in Washington or New York, Moscow or Beijing. For a start, the voice splintered. Its Eastern twang became inaudible behind an Iron Curtain. Its Western cadence stayed deliberately muted. Awed by their past, West Germany’s leaders, in politics as well as business, kept their voices hushed, especially toward Israel and eastern Europe, but also vis-a-vis their Allied overlords and newfound partners and protectors in Washington, London and Paris.
But then new sounds chimed in: the clang of factories churning out VW Beetles, the horns of freighters docking in foreign ports to unload German machines and medicines, the quiet hum of Mittelstand firms making some small widget that is the best of its sort in the whole world. The money men of the Bundesbank never raised their voices but found ears among central bankers everywhere. German voices, in all their diversity, began sounding positive and confident again.
Today the German voice is thus the mentality of Europe’s largest economy; the voice of a “social market economy” that often sees itself as an alternative to Anglo-Saxon “cowboy capitalism,” the voice of sound money and hard work but also of innovation that may be less flashy than Silicon Valley’s concoctions but just as world-changing under the hood.
In recent years this trend of growing international resonance – you could call it soft power – accelerated. Today the German voice is embodied in a soft-spoken and understated chancellor who is a scientist, a woman and a product of the formerly communist East. Europe and the world increasingly look to Angela Merkel for leadership as crises buffet the continent: the euro crisis, Russian aggression in Ukraine, the rise of Eurosceptic populism, the refugee crisis, and now the challenges of Donald Trump and Brexit, negotiations for which officially began this week.
But even as international interest in the German voice has grown, the voice usually comes garbled in translation. German points of view as interpreted by the global (meaning Anglophone) media are often mere caricatures. From gatherings at the IMF to Davos, from newsrooms in America to Britain and Greece, the German voice is often heard speaking in bad English and insisting clumsily on “austerity,” as though that were an end in itself. The German voice is made to sound obsessed with inflation in an age when the right-thinking fret about deflation. During the refugee crisis it was presented as preachy and do-goody, not to mention naive. Some international media make the German voice sound evasive at a time when leadership is required, as in the Middle East. Yet others present it in the exact opposite way: as the overbearing lecturing by a power grasping once again for hegemony.
What has been missing in this international media landscape is a publication that does not infantilize or caricature the German voice but reflects it in its full and unadulterated breadth and depth. That is the role we at Handelsblatt Global will play. As the English-language sister of Germany’s main business newspaper and magazine, we draw on hundreds of reporters who have unequalled access to Germany’s board rooms, factory floors, innovation labs and government ministries. But as writers who are (as I am) bilingual and bicultural (and in some cases multicultural), we also understand what you as a non-German reader cannot know or find puzzling.
That is how we intend to earn your continuing support. Our language will be unpretentious and lucid. Our storytelling will be vivid and colorful. Our insights into German business, finance, politics and culture will be perceptive. If you want to know how Germans tick, please read us, and let us know how we are doing.
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