Monday 27 March 2023

Kampfner, John "Why the Germans Do it Better"

Kampfner, John "Why the Germans Do it Better. Notes from a Grown-Up Country" - 2020

Another Christmas gift by one of my sons. They know what I'm interested in.

This book gives us an overview of the Germany's post-war politics, economics, and social history. The title might be a little misleading, John Kampfner does not only praise Germany for everything. He compares it mainly with the United Kingdom and their recent politics with which he doesn't seem to agree - well, neither do I. We should all strive for more unity and not drift apart. In that, I seem to be more German than I ever thought I might be.

All in all, the author sees Germany with the eyes of a foreigner who lived here long enough to judge. Many of my compatriots complain about our social security system, our health insurances, anything, really. But they don't know how it is elsewhere. Especially healthcare is still a top priority and every German has a right to medical care. Unfortunately, it's not like that everywhere. But also our politics is exemplary, according to the author. In the book description, we are even described as an eternally fascinating country. I think many Germans would be surprised to hear that. Unfortunately, not all foreigners would agree with John Kampfner. Many still live in the 1940s and see us as the eternal enemy.

A big part of the book is how Germany was rebuilt after the Second World War, how it helped building a united Europe, how it faced the challenges after reunification and how it welcomed many more refugees from Syria than most other countries. He mentions, that "in Germany there had long been a consensus around the principles of generous contributions directly from the pay packet in return for high-quality service. There is similiarly broad support for the principles underlying higher taxation and the role of the state - that you are paying not just for your own benefit, and that of your family, but for the needs of society at large. That way of thinking has been in place for decades."

And about the challenges the reunification posed, he asks: "Could any other nation have dealt with a situation such as that with so little upheaval?"

Mind you, the book is not just written with rose-tinted glasses. The author doesn't just mention the good parts, he also describes what could be better and what could lead to problems in the future. However, he has been asked by many Germans to change the title and include more about what we get wrong.

Still, an interesting book that is probably even more interesting for Germans than it might be for outsiders.

From the back cover:

"Emerging from a collection of city states 150 years ago, no other country has had as turbulent a history as Germany or enjoyed so much prosperity in such a short time frame. Today, as much of the world succumbs to authoritarianism and democracy is undermined from its heart, Germany stands as a bulwark for decency and stability.

Mixing personal journey and anecdote with compelling empirical evidence, this is a critical and entertaining exploration of the country many in the West still love to hate. Raising important questions for our post-Brexit landscape, Kampfner asks why, despite its faults, Germany has become a model for others to emulate, while Britain fails to tackle contemporary challenges. Part memoir, part history, part travelogue,
Why the Germans Do It Better is a rich and witty portrait of an eternally fascinating country."


  1. This is on my reading list for this year.

    1. Ooooh, I'm looking forward to your review then, Kitten.

  2. This does sound like an interesting read.

    1. It is, Lark. My sons have both studied something with international politics, so they often find these little gems.

  3. It is always interesting to see how foreigner look upon your country. As regards traditions, cultures, politics etc. I find like you that I can mostly agree with the conclusions, but there are always a few things that seem to have been understood.

    1. We have both lived in other countries, Lisbeth, so our view of our country is already a little different from those who have never been anywhere else, they often think everything is the same everywhere. Maybe that's why we're so interested in what others say about other countries. When Philip moved to Sweden, I have read several books about your country, that was also very interesting. And now I read one about Belgium, totally great. But in German, unfortunately.