IT IS, to put it mildly, a big year for Germany. In the era of Trump, its neighbours and partners are looking to the country for new leadership. Debates about its defence, its vast trade surplus, its handling of the refugee crisis and its role in Europe among many other topics increasingly roil not just its politics but those of other countries: what affects the 81m souls living between its borders affects many more beyond them, too. Even more than before, Germany matters.
On September 24th the country holds a general election. I suspect Angela Merkel will narrowly obtain the fourth term she seeks (less out of enthusiasm than duty). But I’m not putting any money on it: since his emergence as her rival for the top job, Martin Schulz has drastically reduced the poll gap between his centre-left SPD and the chancellor’s centre-right CDU. Combined with the recent dawn of seven-party politics in Germany, that makes the coming election the least predictable for at least a decade.
As The Economist’s new bureau chief in Berlin, I have therefore decided to blog on the unfolding campaign—and Germany more widely. On occasion, and as events dictate, my observations may stray across the Austrian border. But my focus will emphatically be Germany: its society, government, foreign policy, culture and most of all politics.
Why “Kaffeeklatsch”? The coffee-house tradition is broadly distinctive to the German-speaking world, a symbol of civilised and convivial discussion of current events. Nothing, wrote Stefan Zweig, quite compares with “the opportunity the coffee house [provides] of informing oneself so comprehensively about all of the events in the world and at the same time discussing them within a friendly and familiar circle” (the Austrian writer spent so much time there, he had his post delivered to his table). “Kaffeehaus” was thus one appealing name.
But that felt a bit grand, and blogs are meant to be spontaneous: venues for first thoughts and ideas-in-progress. The point here is to complement my pieces for the print edition of The Economist, not to replicate them. As such, “Kaffeeklatsch” seems more appropriate. It means “coffee chat” or “coffee chit-chat” and might take place in one’s home, office or a public space; while the name hopefully nods to discussions in the Café Einstein or the Café Landtmann, it also implies something lighter and less formal.
So: willkommen zum Kaffeeklatsch.