There are two Germanys. One is familiar to Britain: the efficient, sober place where they make the cars and the dishwashers. We like to think that, like us, the Germans exhibit a no-nonsense pragmatism born of a seafaring past. For centuries the Hanseatic League had trading posts in London, on the site today occupied by Cannon Street Station, and in towns all along eastern England. Back then the merchants from Hamburg and Lübeck sold amber, furs and timber. Today they shift BMWs and Mieles. This is the Germany with which Britain can do business. The Germany that needs us and has our back.
Yet there is another Germany, poorly understood in Britain. If the first is the “Germany of seas”, call this the “Germany of rivers”. It is a romantic land of dense, misty forests and dark past traumas. It is grandly continental, bleeding into the countries on its borders. Where the departure boards of London stations list provincial cities and ports, that of Berlin Hauptbahnhof is a roll-call of capitals, a litany of interdependence: Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Minsk, Moscow, Paris, Prague, Vienna, Warsaw. This is the Germany where many families have collective memories of oppression and flight, where grandparents know the fear of the 3am rap at the door, where herds of deer refrain from crossing once-fenced-off borders out of sheer habit. A Germany for which “Europe” is about more than trade.
In the past, the relationship with the Inselaffen (“island apes”) has divided the two Germanys. The European idealist in Merkel may have despaired over Cameron, but until 23 June 2016 she also saw him as a useful, liberal counterweight to France. Reaction to Macron’s win is similarly conflicted: romantic Germany welcomes his Euro flag-wavery, as sceptical Germany bridles at his talk of reshaping the eurozone. But Brexit is different. It has aligned the two sides to an extent poorly understood in London.
The Germany of rivers is straightforwardly for a clean Brexit. This is the Germany that humiliated Theresa May by publishing a withering account of her Downing Street dinner with Jean-Claude Juncker. And although the other Germany, the Germany of seas, mourns Britain’s flounce and the subsequent southward shift in the EU’s balance of power, it essentially agrees. Where German pragmatism and prosperity were once best served by a closer relationship with London, now they depend on the cohesion of the single market. And that means making Britain pay, to show there is no deal better than membership.
There is a new consensus abroad in Germany: that the country’s destiny lies with France and other Continental powers, that its European vocation needs defending, and that the wheeling-dealing British have lost their pragmatic mojo. And, just perhaps, that the Inselaffen were less rational than Germans thought all along.