Now everyone asks me how to get a job in Germany, and my Father, who recently died, counted his visits with my Mother to Germany as some of his happiest memories. What has changed so much in the intervening time? Twenty years ago, just after unification, Germany was labeled the sick man of Europe, as it struggled with outdated labour practices that were exacerbated by the reunification. The loss of the camera industry, and other consumer electronics, almost over night had sent shock waves through the industrial elite and the Economist magazine regularly lambasted the country for its lack of innovation. Now, the result of relentless control of costs, and loosening of labour rules, has resulted in a well-trained workforce and a sense of purpose. This sense of purpose, by which I mean the common drive of society towards shared goals that stretch across political parties and walks of life, is a central feature of German life. It is remarkable that this sense of purpose has been maintained and strengthened despite the upheavals of the reunification of Germany.
When people ask me, which they regularly do, for the secret behind German success, one of my answers is that Germans have a theory for everything, be it education, or crossing the road. This theory is worked out through extensive discussion across all sections of society, including the pub, the newspapers, and the television as well as the voting booth. Once agreed on, Germans stick to it with remarkable tenacity. This hysteresis to change prevents successive Governments changing everything when they come to power, as is the case in my Mother Country England. There all institutions are buffeted by the political message of the day, which has resulted in poor schools, lack of industry and a health system where doctors have to concentrate on performance targets rather than health. My impression is that most Germans don’t realize how impressive their country is in this regard. Because the message has been discussed and communicated to the general public, this results in a sense of unity and defined purpose. The resistance to change does have problems, for instance during times of rapid technological change as we saw with the rise of the computer industry. But as we have now come to realize Germany will generally catch up and succeed in new areas. We have seen this in action in the reunification. The Aufbau Ost and the Solidaritätszuschlag were discussed and worked out in the manner I have described resulting in a remarkable unity of purpose. For 20 years the majority of Germans have been prepared to put up with large transfers of money to a different part of the country. I think you would be hard put to find another country that would have similar resilience.
In many ways, a shock such as reunification is an excellent stress test for any system. Indeed, the old bundeslander found it hard to generate enough cash to support the reunification and had to radically change the way that industry was supported and regulated. The industry of the new bundeslander grew up to support a very different type of command economy, and was put under severe strain as it struggled to cope with a market economy. History will judge that the reunification of Germany was an incredible stroke of luck. By stress testing both the BRD and the DDR, the economy and the society was ready to handle the economic shocks that have left the rest of the world reeling.
After the reunification, cities such as Dresden had to sit down and think how to cope with the future. One great advantage Dresden had over cities from the BRD was that because much of its infrastructure had been frozen in time, such as roads and pipes, it meant that the city could look at the failures of town planning in the old West and do better. Indeed one important aspect of Dresden is its compactness. It has not been ruined by the suburban sprawl of western cities. Who really believes that our beloved Elbewise would have survived the road-building program of the postwar West, which saw large roads along all major rivers. This compactness has been maintained and supported, as for instance by our Burgermeister Marx who has promoted more inner city shopping. However there are other areas where one asks oneself if lessons have really been learned. Most prominently is the issue of building the city around cars. 60 years of experience in most cities in the world have shown that you can never build enough roads: The more roads you build the more cars will come. I was against the bridge not because I did not see the need for a traffic crossing, but because building a four-lane concrete motorway-like bridge seems a reprise of failed traffic policies of the West in the sixties. I would love to see Dresden become a world model for innovative transport systems in a city. For instance supporting modern public transport systems, cycling, and other energy-efficient alternative transport modes.
I want our city to be beautiful for a number of reasons. Of course, it is because I like to live in beautiful places. As Daphne Myers, the American wife of Gene Myers who has recently become a Director of our institute told me recently “When it rains, Dresden is as dreary as any other city, but when the sun comes out, I don’t know of anywhere more beautiful”. However, I also want it more beautiful because many of our colleagues and I are engaged in an experiment. Can we make Dresden one of the top cities in the world to do biomedicine? We have made a great start in this direction, with so many important institutions here that have brought an estimated 2000 jobs to Dresden. The TU Dresden as an Elite university is another great step in that direction, as together with our colleagues in other faculties we have taken Dresden to one of the top eleven Universities in the country. However, continued success requires continued recruitment of top talent from around the world. Only by bringing in experts can the growth continue. We are in a constant competition with other cities both in Germany and the rest of the World to attract the best talent. This is why we need Dresden beautiful.
It is a salutary lesson to realize that Boston in the 1960s, was a sleepy postindustrial university town. Since then, the relentless focus on bringing in academics and exploiting the world class universities has resulted in the bringing in of over 90,000 jobs and billions of dollars of research grants. A similar focus in Dresden over the next decades can deliver similar results. Our university, the TU was at the turn of the century, one of the greatest universities in the world, with more patents than any other university in Germany (check again). And our city is as beautiful and livable as any of the major university cities of the word. That is why I say that the primary focus of the Dresden city council must always be on how to be as attractive as possible for foreigners and foreign investment. “No!” I hear many of you roar, the primary focus must be for Dresdners. To that I would counter they are one and the same thing-the most important issue is that Dresden continues to generate jobs so that our children can stay, if they want, in Dresden, that we can see our grandchildren continue to build Dresden into one of the top cities of the world. Only by creating jobs will Dresden continue to grow. Without them, the city will whither and the young people will leave, as I experienced in England, when all the young people left the Northern cities and moved to London. Only now, 40 years later, are those cities beginning to recover. And Dresden can only create jobs if it continues to attract outside investment. Attracting this investment requires an open and friendly atmosphere' to foreigners. After all, if a foreigner on the street asks for directions how does one know if he/she has a million euros in their pocket to invest? It requires a reputation as a tolerant and open city so that when Dresden businessmen are selling their products abroad, they can proudly display the label “made in Dresden”.
My Father’s initial shock at my move to German was because he was still very much influenced by his Jewish origins and the suffering of his family during the war. Over the years, he came to love Dresden because of the beauty of the city, but also the warmth and openness of the people in the friendship circles into which my wife and I are have been welcomed during our 12 years in Dresden. He came to realize that Germany had examined its dark past and learned the lessons for the future. As he reminded me shortly before he died “to know all is to forgive all”. However, in contrast to the unity of purpose seen in economic issues, the relationship to foreigners is still a very divisive issue in Germany. This I believe is one of those “theories” I mentioned above, that is still being worked out, especially the competing views of the East and the West. On the one hand Germans are happy to welcome foreigners to drive their industry. On the other hand, they are not sure to what extend they want them in their society. I see this every month as a member of the auslanderbeirat, where there are quite competing views among German politicians about how best to integrate foreigners in Dresden, and the extent to which foreigners should be accommodated in decisions of the city council.
There are a number of problems to do with welcoming foreigners into Germany, until Germany solves its dopplestadtsburgerschaft problem, it will never sort of the issue of foreigners in its country, because people will only move here if they believe that their children can have a good future. For this I often use the example of my children, who were born in Germany, German Kindergarten, German Grundschule, and for one of them, two years of Gymnasium. These are well-educated children that one could imagine wanting to retain in German society. After all, Germany has paid for most of their education. Not only are they bilingual, but bicultural, in other words when they switch languages, they switch cultural reference. But they don’t think of themselves as German and are focused on Universities abroad. Why is this? Well its because they don’t have a German passport. Parents want their children to be as similar to themselves as possible, indeed that is one of the key issues in Erzieung. What chance does a child have to fight against that if they are told that they will no longer have a right to live in Germany, when they are 18? In countries such as America, where you can have a passport by right of birth, children can use that to strengthen their feeling of belonging to the country. Here, by the time foreign children can apply for a German passport, they don’t feel like giving up the citizen ship they have had since birth, around which they have forged their identity.
This is why the initiatives of Minster Ulbig on pushing to make it easier for foreigners to work in Dresden have been so important. By supporting a welcome culture”, he has realized that even if every Saxon is well trained and has a good job, that still wont’ be enough people to drive the Saxon industry. It is not that other countries are doing a better job on immigration. Even the USA, which used to be a model for intelligent immigration policies, has slipped back since 9/11. Given the central place of Germany in Europe, Germany must work out a modern policy on immigration and work with its European partners to implement a policy acceptable to its citizens. Saxony is lucky right now to have an interior Minister through whom Saxony is taking a lead Bundes wide in coming up with new solutions to this problem.
The school system is another area in which Saxony must decide how committed it is to becoming an open and tolerant city. As we all know, when children get to a certain age, the only acceptable topic of conversation at a dinner party is children’s education. There are many excellent things about the Saxon education system, particularly the kindergarten system. The concept, brought into unified Germany from the DDR, that care should be provided to children from an early age, is a wonderful part of life here. Many people were surprised when we said that we preferred Dresden to Heidelberg, but one of the important reasons was that my wife was no longer called a RabenMutter. The German school system is also an excellent example of how a country can deliver excellent education to the majority of its population, independent of their wealth.
However, nowhere in the world have I experienced parent’s anxiety more than during the build up to the Bildung’s empfehlung. This dual education system is clearly one of Germany’s major strengths and is crucial to its industrial success. It must be protected at all costs. However it is a system as currently conceived that is totally unsuited for integration of foreign children. This is because of the demands for a 2 in German are very difficult to achieve. As an example, I remember coming into my son’s school around the BE time and seeing a bright young boy I knew well looking a bit glum. When I asked him what the matter was, he said that he had got a 4 in his last German test and therefore could not get the BE for Gymnasium. He had come to Dresden with his parents a few years previously, and his Father was a foreign engineer. I talked to him for half an hour, and when his Mother turned up, she burst into tears at the news. Is it likely that this family will spread positive news about living in Germany? More generally it is difficult to understand why the decision has to be made so early. Surely ten year olds should be primarily learning social competence and foreign languages? This is why there is so much stress, because children at this age are too young to make decisions on the direction of schooling for themselves. My understanding is that this streaming decision was made in the DDR times much later and my experience certainly does not suggest that those educated in the DDR times has a worse academic educated. Quite the reverse! Maybe its time to reassess which aspects of the old Saxon school system should be adopted? After all the maintenance of the kindergarten system has been a key issue for attracting young families to Dresden, German or foreign. It’s to be celebrated that Dresden has one of the highest birth rates in Germany! But, if Germany wishes to attract talent from around the world, it must have a school system suitable for educating their children.
Twenty years later, we can look back and say what a resounding success the reunification of Germany has been-The reexamination that it forced on all aspects of society are at the heart of the current ability of Germany to cope with the worst economic down turn since the thirties; industrially by reformation of labour practices and stimulation of innovation and financial probity; socially by reaffirmation that the twin pillars of education and tolerance are at the center of German life. Given the way Germany responded to the crisis of the thirties, this must be seen as an immense and monumental achievement. We can only hope that in the next twenty years Germany continues to provide an example for the rest of the world of a country in which entrepreneurship is encouraged, but that the right to a good education and the right to be healthy, as well as the possibilities to use these to obtain a skilled job, are at the cornerstone of a happy and successful country.
Anthony A Hyman FRS, Director Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics