Shutdown Schadenfreude Feeds Germany’s Ego
Policy + Politics

Shutdown Schadenfreude Feeds Germany’s Ego

REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Berlin - German politics might be boring, but elites here follow American politics with a fever usually reserved for their favorite soccer team. German papers are covering the U.S. government shutdown with an unexpected gusto compared to their usual toned-down coverage of Berlin’s back-office politics

Papers here are lumping in the U.S. with Italy, whose government is on the verge of falling apart. They’re treating the shutdown and the coming battle over the debt ceiling in almost apocalyptic terms, arguing that the situation in Washington could sink the global economy and inserting no small degree of Schadenfreude.


The Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung's headline piece on the shutdown simply read "Cornered" above a picture of John Boehner. An accompanying article assured Germans that the kind of shutdown that’s taken hold in Washington could never happen here.

Der Tasspiegel, another important daily paper, had a less dramatic headline (“House Emergency Paralyzes the U.S.”), but it warned immediately that the United States could sink the world economy over the debt ceiling.

But the direst red flag about American insolvency came from Berlin’s tabloid Bild, which opened its article with “ZERO HOUR IN USA,” then made draconian predictions of what would happen to Germany if the United States didn’t raise the debt ceiling. One German expert said he has “little sympathy for these games in the U.S,” while another warned that the United States was attempting to undermine the global recovery.

Compared with the German reaction, which reveals an underlying tension between Germany and the United States, reaction around the rest of the continent was more subdued – British papers were especially interested in how this impacts vacationers.

Here, newspapers play more of a think-tank role, suggesting paths forward through their articles. They were especially upset with Washington’s criticism of Germany’s handling of the euro crisis. Obama accused Germany of dragging its feet and refusing to take bold action at the height of the crisis.

Now, the U.S. budget crisis gives reporters a chance for a bit of payback. The tone of coverage in the major publications verged on condescending.

"A superpower lies down lame,” Der Spiegel, a weekly magazine, wrote on its website Tuesday. “Month after month, week after week, hour after hour before the end of this period Tuesday night, Democrats and Republicans worked together. Without agreement.”