For the past couple of weeks I have been peering through one little window onto the German C-19 soul by watching the main evening news programme ZDF Heute Journal (on the ZDF app). Reassuringly (perhaps) the story in Germany seems to have followed a very similar trajectory to here, with both countries considerably less draconian than France, Spain and Italy. We have been just a few days behind Germany as it has closed schools, then shops, encouraged people to lockdown so far as possible, and then ordered people to do so.
In the days after Angela Merkel’s big televised address on 18 March advising people to socially distance there was the same official concern, as in the UK, that too many people were disobeying instructions and mixing in the sunshine. So last Sunday she delivered a second address after a meeting with the minister presidents of all the German states ordering people to stay at home. Though she didn’t say order. Instead, just like Boris Johnson in his address on Monday, she said these are no longer recommendations they are rules.
Overall, Germany is in a better position than the UK and fewer people are dying. It has more capacity in its health system and has been doing more testing. But, like in the UK, there has also been plenty of media sniping at political leaders over the “corona chaos” as one newspaper put it. An extra dimension of dispute in Germany has come with tussling between state minister presidents and Berlin with some states, like Bavaria, breaking ranks and imposing tougher measures sooner (though we have had our own version with Sadiq Khan and Nicola Sturgeon profiling themselves against Johnson). There has also been panic-buying in Germany though there it has a cuddlier word: hamsterkauf.
Heute Journal is in many ways an excellent news programme. There is, perhaps surprisingly, no daily press conference in Germany so a lot of public responsibility falls on the TV journalists at ZDF and elsewhere who interview the leading politicians about the crisis and usually do so in a polite but challenging manner. Yet, like so much of the German media, Heute Journal is unremittingly pious. And it has found it hard to shake off its liberal globalist worldview. There was a comic illustration of this the weekend before last. On the Saturday evening programme there was a highly opinionated 10 minute item excoriating the decision of several EU states, particularly Poland, to close their borders and an expert was found to repeat the cliché about the virus not respecting national borders. The very next morning the German government slammed their own borders shut.
One unsurprising difference between the land of Wagner’s ring cycle and Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado: Merkel’s TV address was more than twice as long as Boris Johnson’s last Monday (and rather better too). One more surprising difference: Germany is insisting on only a 1.5 metre distance between people while we have gone for the full two metres. My distance is bigger than yours!