Germany on the couch – "We've run out of visions for the future!"


Paradoxically, on the one hand, most people are doing well. But more and more people feel that the future is getting worse. What’s going on with us? The Berliner Zeitung asked psychologist and market researcher Stephan Grünewald in January 2018.

Stephan Grünewald (57) and his team conducted thousands of in-depth interviews to explore the sensitivities of the Germans. B.Z. AM SUNDAY spoke to the author, who is considered the “Psychologist of the Nation” (FAZ).

Mr. Grünewald, what sensitivities do the Germans start the new year with?

Grünewald: We are in a paradoxical situation. On the one hand, most people are doing well. But more and more people feel that the future is getting worse. The crises that surround us are spilling over into our peaceful floodplain. Our basic problem is that we have no vision for our future. This leads to the almost fearful desire to stabilize the here and now for as long as possible.

Why isn’t there more?

Grünewald: We Germans – pampered by Mother Merkel – have set up a comprehensive supply and concluded a kind of standstill agreement with the rulers. According to the motto: “Take care of our prosperity, and we will submit to your alternative dictum.” Now we get to a point where the whole thing is tipping over.

In our silence we feel increasingly powerless. Many people ask themselves, “Can we, if we carry on like this, face terror, the disintegration of Europe, or guys like Erdogan or Trump?” We are experiencing a time of awakening. The Germans feel that we must take action to get out of the impotence.

The explanation for Merkel fatigue?

Grünewald: This is an expression of a desire for emancipation. But the citizens are torn. They continue to value Merkel as a stabiliser. She stands for the preservation of the floodplain, is a kind of predator for the Putins, Erdogans and Trumps of this world.

What role did the refugee crisis play?

Grünewald: That was the first confidence shake-up. Firstly, because of the loss of control. On the other hand, because of the question: Who does Mother Merkel really love more? Who gets the donation, the money, the social housing – their own children or their foreign children? The mother is given all responsibility. You’re fine out instead of looking at yourself: How is the world changing? And what do I have to do myself to understand and help shape them?

So comes the anger you experience in many in-depth interviews?

Grünewald: The anger is fed by the feeling of fainting in a complex world that is almost incomprehensible. On top of that, sections of the population feel that the elites are looking down on them because they are still driving diesel, eating meat, smoking, watching underclass TV, are afraid of immigration.

There is no longer any basic social solidarity, as in the 1970s, when the elites fought for the “little man”. Instead, the elites turn away in a picnic, giving people the feeling that they are no longer capable of satiscation. This is particularly true of the Greens.

What do you expect from elites?

Grünewald: That they get out of this moral silliness, give people appreciation. For all the prosperity, many of the people we surveyed also see Germany as a neglected country with ailing schools, broken motorways, no-go areas and justice problems, because many hardly benefit from the prosperity. One wishes that the elites get out of their cloud cuckoo home and take care of these everyday topics.

How stable is the web of values that holds our society together?

Grünewald: It’s porous. In the state of all-round supply, the values also dwindle. We are not grateful that we are doing well, that we can live safely and express our opinion freely. Everything is a matter of course. Sometimes it is almost helpful when a crisis comes up. This shows once again how important certain values are.

They describe us as an exhausted society. But we never had so much free time.

Grünewald: This comes because we can actually suffer exhaustion quite well. Because in the hamster wheel we hide our fears, problems and contradictions. In longer breaks, the restlessness strikes us again and drives us back into the mindless bustle.

We need the courage to be a must.

To avoid questions that we would have to ask ourselves?

Grünewald: Exhaustion distracts us and also gives us a sense of satisfaction. I call it the pride of exhaustion, as opposed to the pride of the work of days gone by. Today you rush from one appointment to another, check out hundreds of mails. Many work processes are cashed in, so that in the evening you don’t even know what you actually did. Only exhaustion proves that the day was probably productive.

The more exhausted we are, the prouder we can be. This is a vicious circle that can lead towards burn-out. But as long as we are exhausted, we are not inventive. For so long, the visions and ideas for our own future and the future of the country have been lacking.

And the politicians?

Grünewald: Politicians are also exhausted in some cases. Just think of the Jamaica exploratory rounds, the biting into details, and the constant polls that are driving politicians ahead. Sometimes I would like to see the tranquillity of the Bonn Republic, where you could have a beer with your political opponent. It is only in such a decelerated constitution that the good ideas emerge.

The solution for us?

Grünewald: We need the courage to be a must. But By this I do not mean the wellness holiday – which only ensures that I can soon be even more exhausted – but an unplanned time in which one lets one’s thoughts run free and can trace one’s dreams. This allows us to find out what we want and where it is pushing us. Nothing new can be created in the hamster wheel.

Source: B.Z. Berlin

The rheingold expert

Stephan Grünewald

Stephan Grünewald


The psychologist Stephan Grünewald from Cologne is founder of the market and media research institute rheingold. Grünewald was with the books "Deutschland auf der Couch" (2006) and "Die erschöpfte Gesellschaft" (2013) and "Wie tickt Deutschland?" (2019) bestselling author. Tel .: +49 221-912 777-17 E-Mail: gruenewald@rheingold-online.de