As the eurozone continues to flounder under the looming specter of insolvency in the southern nations, more and more of these countries’ best and brightest are preparing to jump ship—namely, in that more eyes are turning towards working and living in Germany, a bastion of economic stability in the midst of the crisis.
As Der Spiegel recently reported, the number of Italians studying German rose by 11 percent last year, with hundreds of thousands of students and professionals choosing to learn die deutsche Sprache.
My own feelings regarding this trend are complicated, to say the least. On the one hand, I am always eagerly hoping that more people will be inspired to learn this beautiful and misunderstood language. German may still be sadly undertaught in American schools, but at least its instruction is thriving in Europe—unfortunately instigated by the dire circumstances of economic disaster.
On the other hand, one has to wonder—what hope is there for failing southern economies, if everyone who can pick up a bit of German flees northward, starting with the most talented young professionals? How will their nations ever rebuild? It’s the intellectual equivalent of ultra-wealthy Greeks pouring their funds into foreign banks and investments to preserve their personal prosperity—smart for the individual, bad for the country. Now the southern lands will be drained of their native brain trusts as well as their liquid assets. Seeing as EU citizens have the right to work and live in any of the member countries, it’s hard to tell them to stay put and suffer in their homelands–but the ultimate outcome may lead to yet more hardship for Europe as a whole.
On a selfish front, as a non-EU citizen, I live with the reality of being unable to accept offers of fixed employment, if there’s any chance an EU citizen registered with Berlin’s job office could take the placement. I spent years studying the language and cultural history of Germany—out of love and respect, not economic opportunism. One sees German flags being burned in the streets of Athens. The more radical demonstrators and media like to slander Chancellor Merkel with epithets like “Nazi” and “Viertes Reich,” as well as “daughter of Hitler” and “slut”—spitting in the face of a peaceful, enlightened nation whose taxpayers are bleeding out in a never-ending transfusion of aid funds to try and mend the mistakes of less responsible governments. To these vulgar and spurious insults, Merkel has displayed only tolerance and understanding. Meanwhile, anti-German sentiment has also come to Madrid and Rome, where citizens and politicians balk at German-backed austerity measures aimed at pulling these ailing economies out of massive debt.
Like many native Germans, I find the entitlement and ingratitude displayed by some of these protesters outrageous and shameful. What intrinsic obligation does the German taxpayer have, to support the Greek economy? But that is the nature of the social and political experiment which is the EU—economic solidarity. Part and parcel of these benefits—citizens from struggling lands can put down that anti-Merkel sign, enroll in a German course, and come try to find a better life in Germany.
For better or worse, however this plays out in the long term, that’s the reality of EU benefits. It is both a great gift and a serious burden for the involved nations to shoulder. In the meantime, I hope those students flocking to the Goethe Institut and other schools fall as deeply in love with the language and culture as I did. Then perhaps something beautiful will arise out of the current atmosphere of strife and mistrust. As for me? Perhaps I’ll pick up a couple more languages as well. I’ll certainly have no shortage of potential language partners.