Föhr Real

For good or ill, I’m back from my extended family vacation. To my modest credit, ‘twas poor moi who suggested Tom Christina as an ersatz blogger. To Tom’s far more considerable credit, he submitted posts of great seriousness and thoughtfulness—thanks so much! Ill-prepared to compete on that margin, I mark my return with a brief Teutonic travelogue.

For several generations of Greves, from my grandparents to my children, the magical little North Sea, North Frisian island of Föhr has been a why-go-anywhere-else vacation destination. As the Irish say of their own Emerald Isle, it’s a piece of Heaven that the good Lord dropped onto the Earth. The open sky, the sea, the beaches, the wind-swept fields and fairways are things to behold (and because the place is way up north, you can behold them 20 hours each summer day). The local food is great, especially if you’re into fish, lamb, and produce. Best of all, the island of Föhr is surrounded by water. This matters now more than ever, as the rest of the country and continent seems to have gone insane.

The trip from Hamburg (my home town, and the nearest major airport) to the ferry landing is precisely 200 kilometers. The first 130 kilometers or so are Autobahn, which Americans falsely associate with speed. Two lanes in each direction constitute the only non-surface road connecting Scandinavia to the rest of Europe. That may have sufficed for the Wehrmacht. It isn’t remotely enough for contemporary, peaceful purposes of trade or, for that matter, of putting Beemers  and Benzes to their intended use. Danish trucks and trailers permanently occupy one of the lanes in each direction, and often both. The need to expand this clogged artery is universally acknowledged, and requisite administrative steps (the Planfeststellungsverfahren, for German AdLaw mavens) have been completed. Even so, nobody believes that a third lane will be completed before the advent of teleporting.

The remainder of the trip leads across small country roads through small, charming villages: Silberstedt, Viol, Ost-Bordelum, West-Bordelum. (As you approach the Danish border, the Danish and Frisian place names appear on road signs.) You see thatched-roof brick houses and pre-Reformation churches. Increasingly, alas, you also see solar-paneled barns and thousands upon thousands of wind turbines. Never mind the decrepit Autobahn: the Germans can still build stuff, when they want to.  With brutal efficiency, the powers-that-be have transfigured a rich cultural landscape of dikes, fields, and marshes (evocatively pictured in Siegfried Lenz’s novels and Emil Nolde’s paintings) into a grim industrial landscape of vast expanse, depressing eco-correctness, and colossal waste. Taxpayers subsidize these things twice: when they are built, and when they are in use on windy days. Because the excess energy cannot be stored, it is sold at government-supported rates to East European countries. When that doesn’t work, the turbines are switched off. The government is irrevocably committed to building many more of them. This policy is called the Energiewende, meaning a turn towards energies that don’t work.

At the ferry landing in Dagebull, a sign proudly announces that the new terminal was built with money from the European Union’s Structural Fund. Ditto the beach promenade on Föhr. This, despite the fact that running the local ferry monopoly is like printing money and Föhr’s economy is like Martha’s Vineyard minus the snoot. The EU’s Structural Fund, you see, serves to integrate supposedly disadvantaged border regions across Europe into the EU’s fiercely efficient economy; and since North Frisia is on the Danish border, it gets money whether it needs it or not. This actually makes sense, considering that the money could have ended up in Greece.

Oops: far larger sums, of course, are in fact about to head south. Despite the permanent EU crisis, a strange air of complacency still hangs over Germany. After several years of painful economic reforms, the country has been doing well. People have jobs; there’s enough money around for expensive eco-baubles; and taxpayers aren’t really going to sink 200 billion euros into Greece, Spain, and Italy—are they?

Yes, they are—at least if Germany’s obtuse political class has its way. More on that in forthcoming posts.