Berlin is to become the capital of Germany. Margaret Warner speaks with correspondent Andrew Nagorski, the Berlin bureau chief for Newsweek, about the present state of Germany and what this change will mean.
MARGARET WARNER: And tonight our correspondent is Andrew Nagorski. He's been the Berlin bureau chief for Newsweek since 1996. It's his second stint in Germany. He's also reported from Moscow and Warsaw, among other places. Welcome, Andy.
ANDREW NAGORSKI, Newsweek: Thanks.
MARGARET WARNER: Your new city, Berlin, is about to become the capital after decades in this sleepy little town much farther to the West. What's this going to mean for Germany?
ANDREW NAGORSKI: I think it's going to mean that Germany is going to see itself no longer as just a small part of what was a divided Europe but really the center of a united Europe. One can see this in the way Germany approaches such issues as NATO expansion to expect taking that as something that is enthusiastically support. From Berlin, it's about an 80 kilometer or 50 mile shot straight to the Polish border. It changes your outlook quite a bit. And Berlin is so much more a dynamic city than Bonn, which is a sleepy town on the Rhine. We've got--and it is a city where there was the wall, but now there's a tremendous amount of construction. There's a huge boom, as people are preparing for this change, and the Germans would like to make this not just the German capital, but really the European capital. That's what they'd really hope for.
MARGARET WARNER: What's--how unified would you say Germany feels to you, I mean, this being your second time there in the country, since, what, it's been six plus years since formal reunification between East and West, does it feel like one country?
ANDREW NAGORSKI: It's still--there's still significant differences. You can see it even in the statistics--20 percent unemployment in the former East--about 10 percent/11 percent in the former West. You have--you should also see it somewhat in the mentality of people. There are people who've done very well in this transition, both East Germans who felt in the old days in the Communist period looked. This system will support us, and we have a certain minimum. It doesn't matter. We don't have to work too hard. We've got that minimum subsistence level. Now, they sort of look to the West Germans and the new system to provide them with a new minimum and just plug into the welfare state in the West. But that problem of the welfare state is a unified German problem. It's unbelievable how much of a problem it is. People are used to taking sick leave on top of vacations and in huge amounts. People--I run into people who have been on sick leave for sometimes weeks and months at a time.
MARGARET WARNER: Are they sick?
ANDREW NAGORSKI: Not really. I mean, they're out walking their dog several hours a day. They don't seem too sick to me. There's a sense that you just sort of milk this system for what it's worth. And people have got to change that. It's--there are all sorts of rigidities in the society. A very small example--for instance, stores have mandated closing hours. When we got to Germany, it was still 6:30 on weekdays and 1:30 on Saturday, and the rest of the weekend it was closed. So you had this phenomena of people rushing into stores after work to try to get something. It's not a consumer-friendly society. I remember one woman telling me how she was inside a store and it was 6:30, they closed the door, and another woman starts knocking on the door. And the woman behind the counter says, just nods her head and says, "My gosh, she's a regular customer, she should know better."
MARGARET WARNER: And that's because the unions insist that they don't want anybody having to work in shops, is that it, those hours?
ANDREW NAGORSKI: Unions say, yes, the shop workers need their rest, they shouldn't have to work late in the evening; they shouldn't have to work on Saturday afternoon or Sunday. There's a big to do because of last year. They finally extended those hours by an hour or an hour and a half every day and every step of the way you feel this resistance to change and this feeling that we've had a pretty good life in West Germany. There was the economic boom. It still has--some parts of the economy are quite good and like we all see the export boom of German cars and in technology, but when it comes to things like services, like flexibility, it's very hard to see where the changes are going to come. And that's why they've got such high unemployment.
MARGARET WARNER: But explain that to me. If they've got over 12 percent unemployment, don't you detect in some people you know--maybe a younger generation--a sense that there's a connection there?
ANDREW NAGORSKI: Well, younger people realize that, but many, many people in middle ages don't accept it, or they say, for instance, we'd like to have a little more flexibility and dynamism in this economy, but we don't want to have the problems say that the--the social problems the United States has. And they say, well, you have much fuller employment but you have so many low-income jobs. Well, what you have in Germany is that many people don't want to take jobs even when they are available which don't pay that well, because the unemployment benefits are so high.
MARGARET WARNER: You talked about the German leadership wanting to see Berlin as the capital of this new, united Europe. And I know that the German political leadership has been pushing very hard for currency union, which I guess is coming next year, explain why they're so bent on that, on trading in the Deutschemark for the Euro.
ANDREW NAGORSKI: It has to do with, I think, the German past as much as it does with the German future. The leadership of Germany under Helmut Kohl believes that it has to constantly prove to the rest of Europe that we're not the old Germans. We will never be dangerous to the continent again. And, as a result of that, they say they've got to keep integrating Europe further and further. And currency is seen primarily as a political move. This whole business of the past creeping up on you all the time is present everywhere in Germany. You've got to credit the West Germans. They did do a lot to acknowledge the past. They do -- children do study the Holocaust. They do study the history of World War II. They do much more. Certainly, in East Germany, none of this happened because the Communists in East Germany said we were Communists, therefore, we were the good Germans; we were the victims. And the Austrians claimed they were victims too. But the West Germans, at least, acknowledged it. But it's still a very sort of tortured thing. It's a kind of thing where I remember meeting a young woman of about 30 who was saying, "I realize we've got to face up to our past, but I know my grandfather, who I know very little about, was a Nazi in the Baltic states, and he probably did some terrible things; I could probably find out what those were, but I really don't want to know." And that's still there for an awful lot of people.
MARGARET WARNER: And yet feeling they have to compensate somehow, which is why you're saying there is this desire to sort of be part of this larger entity? Does the public, though, share that, that desire for this sort of new Europe?
ANDREW NAGORSKI: The public is much more skeptical about it. Right now, the public opinion polls show that most people don't want to give up their German Mark, the symbol of their stability, and East Germans, particularly, who just got hold of that currency, with unification, don't want to. And younger Germans say, look, we don't have to prove we're European; it's natural to us. We don't have as much of a guilt complex as our fathers and our grandfathers. And we don't have to -- we should do it if it's right politically and economically, but we shouldn't do it because of guilt. But, in effect, what the older generation is saying, is, if you don't do it, there's going to be that specter, everyone's going to start saying that the Germans are getting too nationalist again, and who knows where that's going to lead.
MARGARET WARNER: A few years ago the American papers were certainly filled with all these stories about attacks in Germany on immigrants, firebombings of immigrant housing and so on. We don't read a lot about that anymore. Has that subsided?
ANDREW NAGORSKI: There's been a general decrease in the number of attacks on immigrants. They still happen but it went down in the early 90's, when there was a huge influx of immigrants, the Germans did have very liberal asylum laws. On the one hand, they had these asylum laws because, again, of their bitter feelings about after World War II--we should be a place of refugees. But on the other hand, they deny that they are a country of immigration officially. They make it very difficult for people to become citizens. And that--
MARGARET WARNER: Even if they've lived there a couple of generations?
ANDREW NAGORSKI: Yes. I mean, there are Turkish guest workers, for instance, who were brought in the 50's and the 60's, when there were labor shortages, and their children who have been born there do not become citizens automatically. It's a very difficult process for them to become citizens. And so, therefore, the word -- for these people who live, who make up about 9 percent of the population, the people who are not German citizens -- is foreigners. And it's not immigrant. It's very, very interesting. When we were enrolling our youngest son in a German elementary school this fall and my wife asked the school principal, are there any--are there other foreigners in the school, the principal just sort of froze, because she didn't know whether we were asking are there the sort of foreigners that means immigrants, or are there people like us who just happen to be living in Germany temporarily? It's--there's a whole, whole linguistic problem, which I think goes to the heart of Germany being a more open society, but yet not quite accepting the idea that it is a multi-cultural society, and it still has a long way to go on that score.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, Andy, thanks very much. Thanks for being with us.
ANDREW NAGORSKI: Thank you.