GISELA and Susi, thirtysomething civil service secretaries, were shivering over their sausages in what the tabloids labelled the “most miserable May of the millennium” and planning their summer holidays. “I know where I’m not going,” one of them said. “The hotels, service and food aren’t as good as Turkey but the prices are as high as Italy!”
As Berliners bravely sat on the banks of the River Spree in unseasonably cold weather for the Ascension Day holiday that traditionally marks the start of summer, they had no doubt that the cold wind was blowing from the sunny south: Greece in particular.
The multi-billion-euro payout for Greece, followed by an even more expensive rescue package for the threatened single currency, has created the greatest political climate change in a generation.
Suddenly Germans are asking questions about the European project that has been the bedrock of their politics for 60 years, leaving Angela Merkel, the chancellor, under fire from the electorate, the opposition and her own party.
It took a stand-up display of table-banging aggression from President Nicolas Sarkozy and an intervention on the telephone from President Barack Obama to get Merkel to agree to the euro package.
“We foot the bill for EU disaster,” screamed a headline in Bild, the tabloid newspaper. Christoph Schmidt, a government economist, responded by warning: “Germany cannot become Europe’s paymaster.”
The tension between Germany and France threatened to spill over at a Brussels summit last weekend when Merkel and Sarkozy had a furious row. According to observers, it ended with Sarkozy threatening to leave the euro.