Adapted from the broadcast audio segment; use the audio player to listen to the story in its entirety.
Images of protestors taking to the streets in Athens didn’t play very well in Germany. Polls show that the majority of Germans were not in favor of bailing out Greece. Perhaps no one knows this better than newspaper editor Clemens Wergin. Wergin is the Foreign Editor of Die Welt, a national newspaper based in Berlin.
“When it came out that the Greeks lied about their figures for years and years in order to get into the euro, and be accepted into the eurozone, I think people just felt cheated.”
The backlash against the bailouts has been coupled with renewed cries for return to the Deutsche Mark, Germany's beloved currency. Last summer multiple polls showed that half of Germans wanted the Deustche Mark back. This sentiment has ebbed but it's still strong among the laboring class.
Sitting in a hallway above Grim Library at Berlin's Humboldt University, is a 27-year-old student, Christof Peter. Peter is currently studying to be a lawyer and says he senses a growing distance between the political class and German citizens.
“I fear that this is turning more into an elite project for the leaders for the political institutions. The gap between people and the institutions and the politicians widens more and more. That's my big fear.”
Even though the German public is unhappy with the handling of Europe's debt crisis, Chancellor Angela Merkel appears to many Germans to be doubling down on her support for the EU. In recent press interviews, she's vowed to defend the euro and has called for deeper integration.
“I love Europe. I love the idea of traveling to France without showing the passport. I spend my summer vacation with my sister so I switch back and forth between Spain and France and it was terrific,” Peter says in defense of the EU.
To be anti-EU as a politician in Germany has always meant political death. But now that politicians are faced with surging popular descent, they have to figure out a way to address it or face further alienating citizens like Bärbel Kobusstadt. In the former East German city of Leipzig, Kobusstadt waits for her bus. She's a tax secretary and she's just come from the bank where she withdrew 3,000 euros or about $4,000.
Kobusstadt says she'll hide the money. She's worried the euro might collapse. If it does, she fears she won't have the money to care for her elderly parents.
A poll out in late January shows that Kobusstadt's opinion is in line with most German citizens. Public confidence in the EU has hit an all-time low – 63% of respondents say they had little or no trust in the international institution. Ulrike Guerot, Senior Research Fellow and Representative for Germany at the European Council on Foreign Relations, says one reason for popular disaffection for the EU is that German leaders have failed to come up with a clear message about how Germany benefits from it – a message that grabs the hearts of a generation that's never known conflict, one born after the fall of the Berlin wall.
“I think in essence what has happened is like a narrative that has been lost. The whole narrative was about peace and reconciliation. That is done and achieved but achievements don’t sell,” says Guerot.
A new narrative has not yet been found but there are at least a couple of parliamentarians that are trying.
“Actually that was the reason why I decided to become a candidate. I thought it was a very lousy handling of the financial crisis in 2008,” Guerot continues.
Viola von Cramon, a Green Party parliamentarian, represents a region in central German and she's trying to change the way the EU and euro policy are communicated to citizens.
“We had a lot of discussion panels and a lot of information. We stood at the market place and talked to people and so on,” says von Cramon.
But explaining the complex workings of the EU is not easy even for a parliamentarian.
“It is also for me hard to explain why it is an asset and why it is important to stick to the European Union and to put more money. I mean it's not easy. It's not that everybody says ‘Yes, you're right and do it and this is the right direction.’ Not at all, but I think it's our job to do it,” explains Cramon.
If you ask Ulrike Guerot, getting the message right in Germany is crucial to the future of Europe.
“It’s Germany that gives critical mass to everything that is done in Europe. You know you can live with a sort of dysfunctional UK. You can live with a sort-of dysfunctional Hungary. But the heart of Europe ticks in Germany.”
– Reported by Jordana Gustafson for America Abroad