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You Are Germany, Now Cheer Up

A $35-million, celebrity- studded campaign of inspirational messages aims to get the nation out of its funk amid economic woes.

October 16, 2005|Jeffrey Fleishman | Times Staff Writer

BERLIN — All you mutterers with knitted brows, listen: It's time to get happy. We're talking $35 million worth of feel-good, throw-your-shoulders-back giddiness. The future is yours, don't despair, things may be in the dumps, but this is the land of Beethoven, Einstein and all those giggling little garden gnomes.

Perk up.

Such is the message trilling through Germany's largest public service campaign. The aim is to lift the country out of its funk with a blitz of inspirational TV messages from famous soccer players, actors, figure skaters and various wild-haired geniuses. It's a sappy endeavor whose background music is not Bach or Brahms, but a jingle from "Forrest Gump."

This nation seems less in need of platitudes than of a collective Prozac regimen. Unemployment is high, consumer confidence is low, and the government only came together after weeks of public bickering. Germans have a high quality of life and their country is the world's leading exporter, but they've been unable to shake off a deepening national gloom.

"Germans, in general, are heavy thinkers and not so relaxed about their lives and the future and all that stuff," said Oliver Voss, an advertising executive working on the campaign. "But these are hard economic times and we're still suffering from the cost of reunification. All this leads to mental depression. What we're trying to do is reinforce confidence that Germans themselves can change things."

The campaign motto is Du bist Deutschland (You are Germany). Appearing until January in movie theaters, magazines and on television, the ads tell Germans that they are pugilist Max Schmeling, race car driver Michael Schumacher, Olympic figure skater Katarina Witt and many other famous and not-so-famous citizens, living and dead. Germans are also asked to picture themselves as butterflies and Porsches.

"Achieve what you are capable of achieving," says conductor Justus Frantz in the crusade sponsored by 25 media companies, who have donated about $35 million.

Oliver Kahn, goalkeeper of the national soccer team, shares his own epistle: "I've experienced many heavy defeats as a sportsman that sometimes sapped my courage. But, again and again, I told myself to go on and not give up." Then a bunch of celebrities intone: "And when you're done with that, outdo yourself. Beat your wings and uproot trees. You are the wings. You are the tree. You are Germany."

Harald Jaehner doesn't want to be an uprooted tree. An editor at the Berliner Zeitung newspaper, Jaehner wrote recently that the ads were "self-intoxication" that trivialized the country's underlying economic and political problems.

"It's awful the way Germans wrestle with themselves. Worse still when they suddenly stop," he said. "Anyone who has unwittingly fallen prey to the new campaign Du bist Deutschland will have been reminded of this bit of folk wisdom. There you are sleepily sprawled in front of the telly, all ready to hit the hay and then it comes: 'You are the miracle of Germany,' the screen blares and yes it does mean you and me.... I, Germany, will not be duped by such tricks."

The campaign has spawned a number of website satires among a populace that may brood, but remains suspicious of public pop-psychology.

"You are what you eat," says one. "Do you think after all those decades people of other nations would not identify you according to what you eat? Forget it. You are a Kraut. You are a potato. You are Germany."

The more cynical postings underscore the apprehension Germans have about evoking even a hint of national pride that could lead to another bout of reflection on World War II. One Internet missive depicts fascist architecture and images of Adolf Hitler: "You are Germania. Do you have dreams? Do you have aims? Do you have energy? Then do not give up. Believe in yourself. Triumph of the Will. You are Germans."

But the ads have inspired. "I really got goose bumps. With each second of the spot I had more and more the feeling that my prayers have been heard and someone expresses exactly what I feel," Maike Kraeft-Schlechtweg, from the hard-pressed northern town of Kiel, wrote to campaign sponsors. "Thank you for this manifesto, for the magic of hope and the belief that we're not stuck in a dead end."

From a Hamburg suburb, Katja Estel said: "If we ourselves don't do anything for the future, who will? We should be more grateful for our country."

A recent survey by a leading German health insurer found that the number of people in Berlin who suffer depression has risen 70% since 1997. And according to German public radio, 12% of those who stayed home from work "did so because they were suffering from depression and panic attacks. Mental problems are therefore the top reason for absence from work."

The slide has been happening for years as globalization and a sluggish economy challenged the hallmarks of German life, including high pay, strong unions and long vacations. The nation lost faith in its politicians, discovered that its schools were lagging and began wondering what happened to the spirit of ingenuity and innovation that gave the world Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" and Einstein's theories on the universe.

"We really want to change the mood," said Bernd Bauer, the former head of corporate communications for the Bertelsmann media group, a sponsor of the campaign. "We're realistic. We know we can't change the country with just an ad campaign. But it's obviously hit a nerve in people's minds, and maybe it will help people get confidence back.

"If the mood of people is good, then the economy will improve."

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