German politician sleeping at the Bundestag Christian Bach/Getty Images

While Germany Slept

Many Germans may prefer the modesty and incrementalism that have characterized Angela Merkel’s past chancellorships. But a minority government forced to muster coalitions of the willing to address the critical issues confronting Germany and Europe could escape the constraints of such expectations, enabling much-needed reform.

BERLIN – Few people outside Germany are familiar with the caricature of themselves that many Germans hold in their minds. Far from the aggressive bully of twentieth-century war propaganda, the perfectionist engineer of Madison Avenue car advertisements, or the rule-following know-it-all of the silver screen, the German many picture today is a sleepy-headed character clad in nightgown and cap. Sometimes clutching a candle, this German cuts a naïve, forlorn figure, bewildered by the surrounding world.

This figure is not new. On the contrary, referred to as “Der deutsche Michel” or “the German Michel,” it was popularized in the nineteenth century as a character whose limited perspective causes him to shun great ideas, eschew change, and aspire only to a decent, quiet, and comfortable life.

But Michel has now made a comeback. And who can blame him? Germany now boasts a booming economy, near full employment, rising wages, and content unions. The financial crisis is long forgotten, public budgets are under control; and the 2015 influx of migrants has been relatively well managed.

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