As Europe’s largest and healthiest economy, Germany has risen to the height of its post-World War II power over the past three years, effectively serving as the region’s paymaster through a series of debt-crisis bailouts. As Germany has led demands for harsh cuts in exchange for cash, Merkel has emerged as Europe’s symbol of austerity.
A country keenly attuned to any perception of itself as an aggressor, Germany witnessed the price of its rising clout Tuesday as 7,000 police officers sought to contain tens of thousands of chanting demonstrators who blame Berlin, at least in part, for Greece’s economic nightmare of soaring unemployment and cascading bankruptcies.
Berlin is also coping with the inevitable memories of the last time German influence reigned on the continent. Virtually no one in Europe fears a renewed military threat from Germany, a modern nation that largely clings to a cathartic form of pseudo-pacifism. Yet an undercurrent of distrust inflamed by the financial crisis is increasingly evident.