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Berlin Rules

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Member Reviews

Great book for those seeking more understanding of the politics of Germany, EU and Britain. Not a light read but very informative

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This book is not one that I would have wanted to read straight-off but I have enjoyed dipping into it a chapter at a time over these uncertain Brexit-ridden times. It has given me a much better insight into German and EU politics, informing and stimulating some interesting discussions with like-minded friends.
With many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for giving me a copy in exhange for this honest review.

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An interesting read. I learned a lot about Germany and I started from a low base point as my knowledge of the system of German government was virtually nil. I did feel the book was at times unstructured and rambling and the author often repeated himself. I think with a clearer line of argument and a more coherent structure, the insightful points he made would have become clearer.

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As an ex pat living in Berlin, I found this book informative and fascinating. I read it aloud to my husband, and it stimulated interesting conversations. We each came away with a much greater understanding of Germany, its government, its priorities, its influence, its roles in the EU, as well as the views of Great Britain in regard to the EU and Germany. I highly recommend this book to fellow ex pats as well as anyone who wants to better understand the EU, Germany, and Great Britain in these volatile times.

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An interesting and informative read on the modern politics and general views within Germany. Being Europe's largest and most significant country it's is perhaps more important than ever now in light of Brexit! Clearly it's not for a general reader but if your looking for specifics it's a good place to start!

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There are, broadly speaking, three types of books written by former British ambassadors.

There are those larger-than-life personalities who put themselves centre stage and delight in writing entertainingly – often indiscreetly – about all that they’ve witnessed. Sir Christopher Meyer’s ‘DC Confidential’ is one such book.

Then there are those who ‘bore for Britain’. ‘Envoy. A Diplomatic Journey’ by Sir Nicholas Barrington, former High Commissioner to Pakistan, abundantly disproves the adage that travel broadens the mind.

The third type comprises a cool appraisal of the history, geopolitics, political culture and possible trajectory of the country to which they’ve been attached. ‘Berlin Rules’ by Sir Paul Lever, British ambassador to Germany from 1997 to 2003, belongs firmly in this third category.

I need hardly point out that Brexit makes this volume particularly pertinent as all agree that Germany’s reactions will be key in deciding whatever deal is ultimately brokered with Europe and, given Germany’s economic and international importance, it will continue to play a major role in affecting Britain’s future economic prosperity and role in the world.

Sir Paul initially seems to subscribe to the Basil Fawlty ‘Don’t mention the war’ school of diplomacy. His tongue is firmly in cheek, however, when he writes that, “There have been occasions … when Germany has exercised power in a way which was, to put it mildly, not appreciated by the British government of the day” only to refer to Chancellor Kohl’s 1990 reunification of Germany and the 1992 refusal to intervene to prevent Britain crashing out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism, rather than world wars one or two. This teasing continues with the claim that, “dealing with Germany as an adversary” (over Brexit) “will be a novel experience”.

In fact, the book’s fourth chapter provides a discussion of German history although Sir Paul’s paradoxical thesis is that in its understandable efforts to expunge the legacy of the Third Reich, Germany “has … turned its back on the rest of its past as well.” Or, to put it another way, so fixated has the German state been, post c.1965, on the need to atone publicly for 1933-45 that it has had little time or inclination to attend to German history before that period.

Whilst there is doubtless much to Sir Paul’s argument, which is certainly elegantly expressed, he overstates in claiming that “Nothing which happened before 1945 is accorded any public value or respect”, given that 2017 represents the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation and the German National Tourism Organization has been busy promoting events, with Chancellor Merkel herself set to be the most distinguished pilgrim to Luther’s hometown of Eisleben.

Diplomats are always in danger of ‘going native’ but Sir Paul is far too shrewd and unsentimental to fall into that trap, although understandably seeing much to admire in modern-day Germany, not least precisely because it is so concerned to make amends for its relatively recent past, of which Merkel’s open-door policy towards immigrants fleeing Middle Eastern warzones represents a prime example. By contrast, Britain’s guilty conscience about its past seems to be limited to the odd feature listing our Top 10 imperial atrocities for the self-flagellating edification of readers of the ‘Guardian’ and ‘Independent’.

Sir Paul’s speculations on topics such as whether or not the stated German desire for an EU army will ever bear fruit and just what a German-led EU will look like in 20 years’ time remain just that - ‘speculations’. Although he is clearly well informed he could be completely wrong. Will there even be an EU in twenty years?

This is, inevitably, the least satisfactory section of the book, at times even degenerating into a statement of the obvious: “Germany’s leadership of the EU is geared principally to the defence of German national interests”. Nevertheless, in explaining what those interests are and why they’ve been pursued with such success this book sheds much light on why Berlin indeed rules and why that will continue, post-Brexit, to be a matter of the utmost interest for Britain.

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