Rethinking Europe

Merkel vs. Bertolt Brecht: The Coronavirus and the Three Penny Opera

In her management of the Coronavirus crisis, Angela Merkel is making a big bet against the German playwright Bertolt Brecht and his “Three Penny Opera.”

Takeaways


  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel grew up behind the Iron Curtain. One can rest assured that she is well familiar with the works of Bertolt Brecht.
  • In her management of the Coronavirus crisis, Angela Merkel is making a big bet against the German playwright Bertolt Brecht and his “Three Penny Opera.”
  • In contrast to Brecht, who wrote “A man is not at all good,” Angela Merkel evidently is a firm believer in the unmitigated goodness of human beings, even in crises.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel grew up behind the Iron Curtain, in Templin in the former East Germany. One can rest assured that she is well familiar with the works of Bertolt Brecht, easily the most significant German playwright of the 20th century.

All the more so as, like Merkel’s own father, Brecht in 1949 deliberately decided to take up residence in Eastern Germany. He moved from Zurich in Switzerland to East Berlin to establish his own theater company there, the Berliner Ensemble.

But Angela Merkel obviously has a very different world view from Brecht’s. In her management of the coronavirus crisis, with her very soft-spoken March 18, 2020 speech, she demonstrated from beginning to end that she puts her trust in the goodness of human beings.

On the assessment of human nature, Bertolt Brecht couldn’t disagree more. In his “Three Penny Opera,” one of the key songs has the following lyrics (third and fourth stanzas):

Song about the inadequacy of human planning (1928)

“Yes, just run after happiness,
but don’t run too much,
because we all run after happiness
and happiness runs behind us.

Since for this life
man isn’t simple enough,
that’s why all his efforts
only fool himself.

A man is not at all good,
so hit him on the head.
If you hit him hard
maybe he will become good.

Since for this life
man isn’t good enough,
therefore don’t hesitate
to hit him on the head!”

Conclusion

In contrast to Brecht, who wrote “A man is not at all good,” Angela Merkel evidently is a firm believer in the unmitigated goodness of human beings, even in crises.

And while Brecht counsels, in light of the sobering human circumstances, “so hit him on the head” as an action item, Merkel merely – and rather meekly – suggests, in the words of Brecht, to all of us who “just run after happiness” the following: “don’t run too much.”

Editor’s note: See Brecht perform the song in German.

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About Stephan Richter

Stephan Richter is the publisher and editor-in-chief of The Globalist. [Berlin/Germany]

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