• The scenes were unruly: earlier this month, demonstrators heckled German economic affairs minister Robert Habeck as he returned by ferry from the island of Hooge off the country’s northern coast, and prevented him from disembarking. Hundreds turned out to voice their grievances, and while the situation did not escalate, it set the scene for a month of intense protests.

    Farmers across Germany are angry over government plans to cut their tax breaks, particularly on diesel fuel and vehicle registrations. But while most of the protests, which began in December last year, have been peaceful, some have crossed a line. In cities such as Kassel, Stuttgart and Berlin, a traffic light, symbolising the ruling three-party coalition, was seen hanging from a gallows.

    Linking both these incidents is a group known as ‘Landvolk’ – a movement originally founded in the 1920s in northern Germany in response to the agricultural crisis of the time. Their activism ranged from tax boycotts to planting explosives, and helped pave the way for the Nazis.

    Today, the Landvolk is back in fashion in some circles. Its flag has been waved at the growing number of agricultural protests.

    Far-right parties such as the AfD are trying to capitalise on the farmers’ discontent. They are joining the protests and expressing solidarity. Meanwhile, the German Farmers’ Association has distanced itself from “idiots with fantasies of overthrowing the government”.

    For now, experts and authorities see no serious signs of a radicalised farmers’ movement. But even if the extremists remain at the fringe, the situation appears more dire in parts of the German east. In recent years, several villages have been taken over by so-called “ethnic settlers”, who, under the guise of organic farming and nature conservation, propagate the superiority of the German race, while rejecting democratic society. With three eastern German states holding elections this year, vigilance is key.

    As Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine approaches the two-year mark, the government of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy finds itself in deep water. The counter-offensive has proved far less decisive than expected, and domestic criticism is mounting. To make matters worse, international support for Ukraine is also waning.

    According to a study by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW) Western aid to Ukraine has fallen to its lowest level since January 2022. In the last quarter, Kyiv’s allies pledged just over two billion euros – a year-on-year drop of almost 90 per cent. Ukraine, the IfW points out, is now increasingly dependent on a small group of core donors. At its heart are just two countries: the US and Germany.

    Berlin’s emergence as one of Kyiv’s most steadfast supporters seems almost paradoxical. Public attention has declined to a level that Germany’s foreign minister has recently bemoaned the apathy as “fatal”. In addition, Chancellor Olaf Scholz has repeatedly come under international pressure in the past for not providing more of his country’s military arsenal. But the numbers don’t lie: While other major European players have signalled their commitment to Ukraine’s defence, they fall far short of what Berlin is prepared to give.

    Last month, Germany announced it would double its military aid to Ukraine from four to eight billion euros in 2024. Conveniently, this extra spending will push the once stingy NATO contributor above its defence spending target of at least two per cent of its annual GDP. But just days later, the government was plunged into a budget crisis. Austerity hawks were quick to single out social spending as the sacrificial lamb, conjuring up images of Ukrainian refugees as undeserving beneficiaries of Germany’s welfare system.

    In this anxious political climate, Scholz used decisive words when he addressed his Social Democratic Party’s convention last weekend. “There will be no cuts in social spending,” he proclaimed to rapturous applause. And when it came to Germany’s commitments abroad, he wanted the message to be clear to the Russian president: “Don’t expect us to back down. We will give Ukraine what it needs to defend itself.”

    “I have always wondered what a trigger this little word ‘feminist’ is. What we are striving for with these guidelines is something that should actually be self-evident in the 21st century.

    Women make up half of the society in any country. A feminist foreign policy is therefore not a fighting term, it is derived from our constitution. And it’s certainly not trivial. It is a hard security issue.”

    Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock presented the guidelines for her envisioned “feminist foreign policy” last week. Political opponents have derided her for the creation of what they felt was another meaningless buzzword, with one of them calling it the “emotional gratification of domestic politics”.

    Yet, Baerbock’s goals are simple: to create a foreign policy in which the human aspect prevails. That means bringing women to the forefront: “When women are safer,” she said, “Everyone is safer.”

    In Germany six months ago, the buzzword “hot autumn” was everywhere. This was not due to seasonally high temperatures, but reflected a growing fear at the time: Germany’s soaring energy prices would lead to mass-scale social unrest.

    As it turned out, skyrocketing inflation did not trigger riots in the streets. The German government was helped by a mild winter, but also took pre-emptive measures to reduce potential public disorder. But you would be mistaken in thinking energy issues didn’t capture the attention of the German people.

    In January, thousands of protestors swarmed into the village of Lützerath to prevent the extension of a coal mine. This time, the German government abandoned its soft mitigation strategy and opted for repression.

    On Twitter, climate activist Luisa Neubauer made a simple plea to her leaders: to be able to protest without being criminalised. But when it comes to respecting such civil liberties, Germany measures different demonstrations on different scales.

    Austerity is over in Germany! Two hundred billion Euro for reining in wild inflation and energy prices, another hundred billion for gearing up the military, and … 2.7 billion for humanitarian aid in 2023?

    What seems like a drizzle compared to other recent money showers is actually the world’s second-largest budget for global crisis and disaster relief, trailing only behind the United States. But while putting money on the table can be important, Germany glosses over one simple fact: that quantity doesn’t always equal quality.

    Relief en masse

    Germany’s budget for international humanitarian aid makes even the European Commission pale in comparison. But what the country needs is the organisational structure to put its money where somebody else’s mouth is. Instead, much of it is shoved into large organisations. “Help has to become a lot more localised,” criticised Ralf Südhoff, who heads the Centre for Humanitarian Action, a Berlin-based think tank.

    Ironically, this centralised trend is almost reversed within Germany itself. While the federal government is tasked with protecting its people in times of crisis, each of Germany’s sixteen states has its own relief services for natural disasters, 90 percent of which is run by trained volunteers. What they lack is funding and coordination, both between states and within the federal hierarchy.

    History lessons

    When in July 2021, the Ahr valley in Germany’s southwest suffered a devastating flood, push came to shove: more than 130 people died, because local authorities misinterpreted warning signs and issued evacuation orders too late. The area is prone to flooding, but history, too, was disregarded. Human lives could’ve been saved, had the state taken the existential threat of natural disasters seriously.

    Unfortunately, little has improved since. Warning sirens remain underfunded, joint protocols have hardly been established, and climate change issues still aren’t front and centre.

    When Karl Marx wrote his Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, he claimed that great historic events tend to repeat themselves: first as tragedy, then as farce. Tragedy has already happened in Germany. The farce is to believe we’ll heed the siren’s call next time.

    Germany is a winter sports nation, as measured by its 434 Winter Olympic medals and its 14 million citizens who take to the slopes every year. So it should come as no surprise that the country’s penchant for skiing and snowboarding has developed into a multi-billion euro industry.

    2.3 percent of Germany’s yearly GDP comes from sport and its associated spending. Winter sports rake in one fifth of that share (about 15 billion euros), while only requiring one fiftieth of the country’s athletic infrastructure expenses.

    Such robust profit margins incentivised about 400 southern municipalities to invest heavily in impeccable ski slopes. But winter sports tourism needs one essential ingredient: snow – and less of it is falling every year.

    Bavaria hosts eight of Germany’s ten biggest ski resorts. Climate change, however, is not on the region’s side, as the average annual temperature in the Bavarian Alps has increased by 1.5 degrees in the last 60 years.

    Piling onto that is the need for more energy-intensive snow cannons. One hectare of artificially powdered ski slopes requires up to three million litres of water (or 20,000 bathtubs), and Germany has no less than 93,000 hectares of track to maintain. Even with the cannons at work, half of Bavaria’s ski resorts are at risk of vanishing within the next 20 years.

    Despite existential threats and a swelling ecological footprint, winter sports in Germany remain a lucrative business for now. Lucrative enough to host a recent biathlon in the Bavarian town of Ruhpolding, despite no snowfall or sub-zero temperatures. But as the climate and energy crises rage on, the price to pay for a pure white terrain risks becoming unsurmountable.