10 episodes

The Zeitgeist delves into topics affecting Germany, the United States, and the transatlantic relationship. Hosted by AICGS President Jeff Rathke, the show welcomes guests from the policy, academic, and think tank communities, as well as in-house AICGS experts. Produced by the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

The Zeitgeist AICGS | American Institute for Contemporary German Studies

    • Government
    • 5.0, 11 Ratings

The Zeitgeist delves into topics affecting Germany, the United States, and the transatlantic relationship. Hosted by AICGS President Jeff Rathke, the show welcomes guests from the policy, academic, and think tank communities, as well as in-house AICGS experts. Produced by the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

    From Frugality to Stimulus: Responses to the Pandemic

    From Frugality to Stimulus: Responses to the Pandemic

    The COVID-19 pandemic is challenging all aspects of modern society.  Public health systems are grappling with a disease that has spread faster than anything in a century.  Workplaces have lain still, when jobs could not be shifted to remote work.  Political leaders have had to devise plans under short deadlines and communicate them clearly to the public.  And the economic response from governments has been enormous.

    In the case of Germany, this has been a remarkable turnaround.  In the span of just a few months, the government’s response has gone from a national one, with caution about how to assist its European neighbors, to the late-May announcement by Chancellor Merkel and French President Macron that they will support sweeping, EU-wide action.  The European Union has now announced plans for a €750 billion economic recovery plan.  That would result in an increase by 40 percent of German payments into the EU budget.

    But the primary responses are still national.  Germany’s cabinet has just passed a comprehensive stimulus plan: €130 billion, which is about 4 percent of GDP.  Some see this as a departure for German economic policy, which has been focused on balanced budgets and even run a significant surplus in recent years.  Others would argue that this is precisely what the frugality in good times was for.

    The amount of support flowing into the economy through a combination of financial and fiscal programs is mind boggling. Are these efforts up to the task?  And where will it leave us when, eventually, the pandemic ebbs and we survey how our economies have been transformed?

    On this episode of The Zeitgeist, Jörg Kukies, State Secretary in Germany’s Finance Ministry, talks with Jeff Rathke and Peter Rashish as AICGS seeks to deepen our understanding of the German and European responses to the crisis.



    Host

    Jeff Rathke, President, AICGS

    Guests

    Dr. Jörg Kukies, Deputy Finance Minister (State Secretary) for Financial Market Policy and European Policy at the Federal Ministry of Finance

    Peter Rashish, Senior Fellow and Director, Geoeconomics Program

    • 22 min
    EU-U.S. Relations: Messy but Valuable

    EU-U.S. Relations: Messy but Valuable

    The European Union is one of the world’s most important but least understood international bodies.  It is simultaneously many things: a collection of institutions, including an executive administration (the European Commission) with many of the authorities of a national government; a treaty-based organization with a supreme judicial body (the European Court of Justice); and a coordination mechanism for leaders of 27 countries who exert their national power and exercise diplomacy to shape Europe’s response to internal and external challenges. The inter-governmental aspect of the EU often dominates—when a powerful group of national leaders wants to make something happen, they usually find a way. The European Union is a continuously evolving phenomenon, which over time has gained new and expanded powers in reaction to crises.

    The EU is a valuable partner for the United States, and it is at times a frustrating counterpart, because of its diffuse power centers and differences among its member states. For many in the United States and elsewhere, the EU is a green screen onto which you can project your preconceived notions of how the world works: If you favor international collaboration, you see the EU in some ways as an ideal—a post-national beacon for mutual prosperity, a single market, and political solidarity. If you are skeptical about anything that constrains national action, the EU is the apotheosis of globalism that can thwart national sovereignty and the democratically expressed will of a country’s citizens.



    On this episode of The Zeitgeist, AICGS’ Jeff Rathke and Peter Rashish speak with Anthony Gardner, who served as U.S. Ambassador to the European Union from 2014 to 2017. He is also the author of Stars with Stripes: The Essential Partnership between the European Union and the United States. Amb. Gardner shares his reflections on the EU with a focus on Germany and the German-American relationship. What is the role of the EU member states, and of Germany in particular, as part of this big, complicated, but also productive and valuable transatlantic relationship?



    Host

    Jeff Rathke, President, AICGS

    Guests

    Anthony Gardner, Former U.S. Ambassador to the European Union

    Peter Rashish, Senior Fellow and Director, Geoeconomics Program, AICGS

    • 33 min
    Deep History and Politics in Eastern Germany Today

    Deep History and Politics in Eastern Germany Today

    How does the past shape today’s politics? For states in eastern Germany, memories of life in the German Democratic Republic are not that distant of a past. One example is the state of Saxony in the southeast of the country, which was a part of East Germany until unification in 1990. It is home to large cities like Dresden and Leipzig, and has 4 million inhabitants—a mid-sized German state.

    Saxony is known nowadays for a few things: it has been ruled uninterruptedly for thirty years by the center-right CDU party; and it is the state with the highest level of public support for the far-right AfD party—the so-called “Alternative for Germany,” which won 27.5 percent of the votes in last year’s state election. It was also the place where the extreme anti-immigrant PEGIDA movement got its start, and where in 2018 during a demonstration, a group of right-wing extremists attacked and chased foreigners in the city of Chemnitz.

    But Saxony is more than that. It was the cradle of the peaceful revolution in 1989, where courageous citizens in Leipzig with their peaceful protests set an example that spread throughout the country and brought down the sclerotic and oppressive East German state. In the nineteenth century, it was a stronghold of the labor movement, out of which the Social Democratic Party grew. More distantly, it was the home of Martin Luther, who just over 500 years ago began the Protestant Reformation in Saxony.

    Saxony has been ahead of its time and brought forth movements that had an impact well beyond its borders throughout history. What explains that history, and what effect does it have today? How exceptional is Saxony compared to other eastern German Länder, as well as other post-communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe?

    On this episode of The Zeitgeist, AICGS’ Jeff Rathke and Dr. Eric Langenbacher are joined by Dr. Simone Lässig, Director of the German Historical Institute Washington, to discuss the intersection of politics and history in Saxony today.



    Host

    Jeff Rathke, President, AICGS

    Guests

    Dr. Simone Lässig, Director, German Historical Institute Washington

    Dr. Eric Langenbacher, Senior Fellow and Director, Society, Culture & Politics Program

    • 40 min
    Defeat or Liberation: The Changing Interpretations of May 8

    Defeat or Liberation: The Changing Interpretations of May 8

    May 8 marked the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. While the displays of remembrance differed from the past given presence of the coronavirus, it was a momentous date remembered across the globe. In Germany, President Steinmeier’s speech in front of the Neue Wache in Berlin was remarkable, especially in the way he talked about the meaning of liberation: Germany was liberated in 1945 from Nazi tyranny and what that liberation means today.

    There has long been an interplay between how average Germans remember a date versus the official narrative. For decades after 1945, there was agreement between elites and average citizens: 1945 was a total, catastrophic defeat. Over time, however, the official narrative started to change: 1945 was a “Befreiung,” a liberation from the horribly oppressive Nazi regime. By 1985, that narrative became the main interpretation, articulated by then-president Richard von Weizsäcker. This concept has resonated with younger generations of Germans. As of the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, in 2015, 90 percent of Germans considered the date to signify liberation—a huge change in how people perceive the event.

    Today, it is no longer progressive to consider 1945 just liberation. Rather, some ask if this is another way that average Germans can evade responsibility for their role in the Nazi regime. Could we be at another moment of change in how we perceive 1945?

    On this episode of The Zeitgeist, AICGS’ Jeff Rathke and Dr. Eric Langenbacher are joined by Dr. Mario Daniels, DAAD Visiting Professor at the BMW Center for German and European Studies at Georgetown University, to discuss the changing memory of the end of World War II in Europe and how that resonates today.





    Host

    Jeff Rathke, President, AICGS

    Guests

    Dr. Mario Daniels, DAAD Visiting Professor at the BMW Center for German and European Studies, Georgetown University

    Dr. Eric Langenbacher, Senior Fellow and Director, Society, Culture & Politics Program

    • 36 min
    German Politics in the Coronavirus Era

    German Politics in the Coronavirus Era

    Germany and the United States are both grappling with what policies to enact—and for how long—to combat the coronavirus pandemic, and the choices made by political leaders will have political consequences. While the debates about the health and economic consequences of the corona shutdown are very similar in content, they are strikingly different in tone—a reflection of the differences in political culture and political competition. Also striking are the polls showing Germans’ perceptions of the lockdown measures and political leadership: 83 percent are satisfied with Merkel’s performance, 90 percent approve of the federal government’s response, and 87 percent support the shutdown measures.

    Some of these figures may be fueled by the spread of the coronavirus in Germany—much less that in the United States. Whereas Germany has approximately 160,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 6,000 deaths, the U.S. has over 1 million cases and 58,000 deaths (according to Johns Hopkins University as of April 29, 2020). Germany’s response to the virus is discussed in greater detail in Episode 23 of The Zeitgeist in an interview with Jens Spahn, Federal Minister of Health.

    On this episode of The Zeitgeist, Jeff Rathke is joined by Dr. Eric Langenbacher, Senior Fellow and Director of AICGS’ Society, Culture & Politics Program. They discuss how the coronavirus is affecting Germany’s politics, including a surge in support for the CDU and decline for both the Greens and the AfD. They look at the looming leadership change in the CDU and consider some of the contenders for Merkel’s successor. They also discuss the role of federalism in the two countries’ responses to the coronavirus, and the fundamental differences between Germany’s style of coordinative federalism versus the U.S.’ competitive federalism.



    Host

    Jeff Rathke, President, AICGS

    Guest

    Dr. Eric Langenbacher, Senior Fellow and Director, Society, Culture & Politics Program





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    • 37 min
    Health Minister Jens Spahn on the Coronavirus

    Health Minister Jens Spahn on the Coronavirus

    The globe is gripped by the coronavirus pandemic.  Germany appears to many to be a success story of sorts: over 150,000 infections, but a low death rate.  Widespread testing. A well-resourced health system that has been able to manage the patient load thus far. The country thoroughly implemented a nationwide lockdown and social distancing—doing well enough that it now is starting to relax some restrictions.

    Inside Germany, however, the picture is more complicated.  After a period of great solidarity, including mainstream opposition parties, the national government and the individual states now are taking initial steps to return some elements of normal life and deciding how quickly that can proceed. Is it time, or as Chancellor Merkel warned on April 23, is the country still on “thin ice” requiring a cautious approach?

    There are also questions about the European and global dimensions of the crisis, including the globalized economy and critical supply chains.  In sum, we are all struggling to conceive what the world after the pandemic will look like.

    On this episode of The Zeitgeist, Jeff Rathke is joined by Jens Spahn, Federal Minister of Health. In recent months, Jens Spahn has been one of the principal faces of Germany as it grapples with COVID-19 at home and internationally.  He is someone keenly aware of the interaction between politics, economics, and public health. They discuss the interconnected public health measures that Germany is pursuing and how Germany as a federal system is managing the balance between federal decision-making and the responsibilities of the Länder.



    Host

    Jeff Rathke, President, AICGS

    Guest

    Jens Spahn, Federal Minister of Health



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    • 25 min

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