op_phelps2_franckreporter_brandenburggategermanflag franckreporter/Getty Images
en English

Dynamism, Innovation, and Germany’s Future

Three decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germany has become a "trading nation" with a debilitating aversion to the capitalist spirit of dynamism. Unless it can rediscover its tradition of innovation and groundbreaking contributions to the arts and sciences, it could end up falling ever further behind in the twenty-first century.

BERLIN – Germany has been celebrating the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall – and rightly so. Yet those celebrations come at a time when the country is also wondering what to do in the years ahead.

I could not be at the Wall to experience the thrilling escape of East Germans from Soviet communism. Yet, like many people around the world, I was swept away by that astonishing event. I can remember, as if it were yesterday, hearing the historic radio broadcast on Christmas Day 1989 of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, three choirs, and a quartet, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, performing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with its “Ode to Joy” in the final movement. Significantly, Bernstein had called for the word Freude (“joy”) in the chorus to be replaced by Freiheit (“freedom”), thus conveying the extraordinary sense of liberation that was felt. Still, the world had little idea of what would come next.

Bernstein himself seems to have grasped early in his career – or even earlier, in some course at Harvard University– that what a great many people come to want in their lives is not “happy pills” or endless weeks on the beach. People want to be free to create, explore, pursue initiatives, meet challenges, and imagine new things. People want to voyage into the unknown, as Friedrich Nietzsche encouraged many to do. This is the essence of modernism – and Germany was one of a handful of countries that came to embrace modern values.