Sunday, 23 May 2010

Berliners Dream of Return to Deutschmark

THE OBSERVER: Enthusiasm for single currency fades as resentment grows over Greek bailout

Waitress service in Berlin's Mitte district. The local joke is that the Greeks order and the Germans get the bill. Photograph: The Observer

In the back of the Berliner Republik bar on the banks of the river Spree, Matt, Otto and Christian's eyes are fixed on a screen in front of them. The names and prices of 18 German draught beers flash up, bright green on a black background, and change every few seconds, according to who has ordered what.

It's a pub game for the modern age, based on supply and demand. The trick is to buy the beer cheaply and then give yourself a pat on the back when demand pushes the price up.

"It gives a bit of a risqué edge to ordering," says Otto, a graphic designer. "But it also makes you feel strangely vulnerable."

The screen is more fruit machine than stock market, but it reflects the sense of playing a lottery common in Angela Merkel's Germany as it has pumped billions of euros into bailing out profligate Greece and propping up the single currency, without knowing whether the injection will do any good.

As the prices of the beers rise, news comes through from Frankfurt that in the real world Germany's DAX index has fallen 106.86 points, despite the €750m rescue package that the Bundestag has just narrowly approved. On Wall Street and elsewhere the markets wobbled, a sure sign that no one believed the crisis was anywhere near over.

On the pavement outside the bar, drawing on a cigarette, Pamela Schreiber pauses in contemplation. "Do I consider myself European? Well, of course, but first and foremost I'm a German," says the 33-year-old set designer with conviction.

The answer is not one that you would have expected a few years ago from a young person in Germany. This is the country where European enthusiasm has been easiest to find and where, since the war, European interests have taken precedence over nationalist ones. But, according to Schreiber, Germans feel increasingly torn over Europe.

"We always knew in our heart of hearts that the euro would never be as solid as our deutschmark, but we gave up our beloved currency, which was actually central to our identity, because we believed in the European project so fervently," she says.

Now there is talk, albeit based on blog gossip and a tabloid desire to whip up a good tale, of a return of the mark. Some even claim that secret supplies of the defunct currency – the strength of which was seen as a legacy of the sweat and tears that Germans spent to build up their ruined economy after the war – are being printed in secret underground locations. >>> Kate Connolly in Berlin | Sunday, May 23, 2010