I'm just back from Germany. Berlin, to be specific. I noticed a number of differences there to Ireland and thought I might share them in the spirit of seeking solutions to our current crises.
In Germany, there isn't an economic meltdown, nor are a fifth of their population unemployed. This is due to a few reasons - firstly, they didn't let banks run with dodgy loans and bogus accounting for decades, only to bail them out afterwards. Secondly, they didn't let half of Eastern Europe in to work there in the past decade. And finally, they make stuff that other people want to buy.
They don't sell houses for spiralling prices among themselves. House prices have been stable forever in Germany. They don't shuffle money about or launder taxes. They build cars, washing machines - stuff people in other countries want. Then they sell them. It's not rocket science. It's simple economics. Lesson number one: we need to start making things again.
Everywhere I went, I was served by Germans. Germans who spoke, when required to do so, English too. I didn't go to Germany to meet Polish people, or Chinese people. I go to Poland and China to engage with their people and cultures. I went to Germany and everyone I encountered, in hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions and shops, was German.
Contrast that with the average experience of the rare beast, the American tourist in Ireland, today. They get a poor room, crap food and are universally served by non-Irish people. No wonder they don't come back. Lesson two: we need to rethink our service and hospitality industries so that they are populated by Irish people who speak multiple languages and not foreign people who barely speak English.
The final thing I noticed was a certain degree of equality across the people. Sure, there are beggars here and there. And East Germany remains significantly less affluent-looking than West Germany. But people drive the same cars, eat the same food, stand in line next to each other for public transport.
You don't see helicopters of arsehole speculators in the sky above. You don't come across too many gated communities. They don't need them in Germany. Everyone realises that, whatever their income, they're no better than anyone else. There is an innate sense of equality in Germany that has been sadly lacking in Ireland for quite some time. Lesson three: address the equality issue.
Germany works, and Ireland doesn't. That's the bottom line. Germany works in a particularly German kind of way, though, and that isn't easily replicated without possessing the same kind of hard-working, honest people that they do. And we don't.
But we can learn some useful lessons from Germany. We need to make stuff people want, make it well and sell it all over the world. We need to attract people to visit here by showing off OUR culture and OUR people, not staffing our hospitality industry with whoever from wherever was prepared to do the work for the least cash.
And we need to recall that we all eat, sleep and shit just the same way. There's no one of Irish descent who's more than four generations away from poking a pig with a stick for entertainment. It's time to lose the airs and graces.
No, Biffo doesn't deserve a 300K Mercedes. No, Mary O'Rourke shouldn't get hundreds of grands a year of a pension. No, the speculators weren't merchant princes who needed to soar above us earthbound mortals in choppers as they sped from one shit housing development to the next.
It's time we got real. It's time we got German about things.