Europe “The starry heavens above me…”* A plea for awareness and peace
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A geopolitical essay
by Dr. Katja Banik
*Immanuel Kant: "Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.”
“Nimmersatt, where the end of the German Empire once lay”
In the neighborhood with Russia
Who is actually aware today where the border of the former German Empire was once located? Or how far to the northeast the village of Nimmersatt and the nearby coaching inn Immersatt actually lay? Nimmersatt was located at the northern tip of East Prussia, surrounded by the Baltic Sea to the west and Russia to the east and north. Russia – then Russian Lithuania – was our direct neighbor until 1918. The Memel territory was traditionally Prussian borderland, 120 km long and 40 km wide, stretching north along the Memel River. In 1422, the Treaty of Melnosee established the frontier, which remained almost unchanged until 1920. After the Pyrenean border, it is the second oldest in Europe.
Source: : de-academic.com
Located on the imperial border, Nimmersatt was the former German Empire’s most northeastern spot and was last in German hands in 1945. Like Nimmersatt, there are many seemingly vanished places and landscapes in historic eastern Germany. But they have for the most part disappeared. These places bear witness to the fact that many Germans, consciously or unconsciously, are still deeply rooted in these seemingly vanished landscapes.
The German soul is closely connected with the East and its territories, especially with Germany’s historical East, including East and West Prussia and the Memel territory.
According to estimates, about 14 million refugees had to leave their homes after the Second World War, losing everything, all their belongings. About 2 million died in transit, and Germany lost a quarter of its territory.
As Simone Weil (1909–1943) once put it: “Rootedness is probably the human soul’s most important and most misunderstood need.”
Crises, conflicts and silver lining
If you look at today’s world, you see crises everywhere, wars and deep divisions in our societies. Fears are being fueled and images of “the enemy” that were actually long forgotten are being revived. The war that has been raging in Ukraine since 2014 has now escalated on the European continent into a proxy war between the United States and Russia. Russia is being declared the enemy. With its arms deliveries and military support, Germany has also officially entered into the war with Russia.
What immeasurable suffering wars visit on mankind – a painful truth also understood by members of Germany’s “war generation” and their descendants, especially those with roots in Germany’s historical East. Germans and Russians look back on a common and consequential past; we share one of history’s darkest and most horrible chapters, beginning with Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 and the subsequent conquest of East Prussia by the Red Army.
Whatever happened, a shared history connects peoples, and Germans and Russians will therefore always be connected
Civilians are and always have been the ones who suffer most in war. During the Second World War, from 1939 to 1945, the Soviet Union had the most casualties: 24 million people, 14.3 million of them civilians. Germany had a total of 7.7 million casualties, of which 2.2 million belonged to the civilian population.
In her old age, Mama, my mother, could still recall the terrifying whistling sound of the rocket launchers known as “Stalin organs.” During thunderstorms and when fireworks were being shot off, she would begin to shiver and sought shelter. Yet despite all the war trauma, the attachment to Germany’s historical East is part of the German soul and an integral part of the German cultural nation. Not for nothing was I christened Katja. Mama and my grandmother often affectionately called me “Katjuscha” in their East Prussian dialect – a reference to the old Russian folk song.
The horrible sound of the Stalin organs was eventually forgotten. Bridges of reconciliation between Russians and Germans were built in large numbers after World War II, something that fortunately continues to happen.
Having left the Cold War behind us, which divided the world into good and evil or West and East, the world is evolving into a more complex, multipolar place – a multipolar world that could again give humanity a chance to create a new global world order of peaceful coexistence.
This might be possible were it not for the US, which seems to be resisting a multipolar world with all its might: The US wants to continue to assert its supremacy and influence worldwide. It has basically never withdrawn from Germany, and does not accept any other powers on the world stage. This US influence is expressed above all in the strategies of NATO and the EU, since they again rely on images of Russia and China as “the enemy” and on exclusion and division.
Shaktarp – when life comes to rest
The “Fifth Season” – Shaktarp in Lithuanian or, in Russian, Rasputitsa – is a special time, between the winter and spring season. It is the time of floods, of inundated meadows. This time was also called the time of “roadlessness” – the Memel territory and neighboring lowlands were neither passable, nor navigable during this period. Life and people came to rest and there was thus time for reflection. Perhaps this is what our world sorely needs now.
It seems to me just the right time to pause, to rediscover and feel the magic of life. A magic that comes from looking at a piece of amber through which the sun is shining. Often found near the Baltic Sea, amber continues to fascinate people to this day. Sometimes known as the tears or gold of the gods, amber was once an important commodity, more valuable than gold, and it made its way across Europe on ancient trade routes from the Baltic Sea to Southern Europe and North Africa – one of the beginnings of globalization, or, rather, of the bonds that bring people together.
In addition to the Silk Road, the Amber Road has connected people, drawing them under the spell of this magical substance, which shines brighter than the sun.
“States don’t have friends, states only have interests”
The observation made in 2013 by Egon Bahr, the German politician known for a commitment to peace and détente, remains true today: “International politics is never about democracy or human rights. It is about the interests of states. Remember that, no matter what they tell you in history class.” Otto von Bismarck and Charles de Gaulle, among others, have also pointed out that feelings and values have no place in politics. Only “interests and reciprocity should be used as a guideline.”
Therefore, it is more important than ever to accept realities and define national interests. Values are volatile and often subject to the current zeitgeist. For example, no one called for a “feminist values-based foreign policy” until a German foreign minister from the Green Party did so. The much “cited community of values is not a form of governance, as it has not been legitimized by any democratic process.” 
We have been living in a multipolar world for a long time, with different forms of governments, democracies, dictators and authoritarian regimes. But our international institutions and organizations, which were created after the Second World War, have not been updated.
According to a study by The Economist in 2021, only 45% of the world’s population lives in countries with democratic structures. The ostensibly promising narrative of “change through trade” has not come to fruition. The expansion of economic relations with China that began in 1978 has been driven solely by economic gain. Even today, China offers a huge market for foreign products. The expansion of economic relations and the opening of the country in turn has helped move a significant part of the Chinese population out of poverty, and China’s technological backwardness has been quickly overcome. Both sides, the West and China, were and still are exclusively concerned with economic interests and geopolitical influence in Eurasia.
What is new, among other factors, is that the military no longer has a monopoly on wars and conflicts. We are increasingly experiencing ideologically fueled media and propaganda wars that deeply divide the population, make factual debates almost impossible, and drive humanity into division and thus into wars.
Ideology prevails over common sense and the heart
Fear and hatred are mighty propaganda tools – e.g., fear of the virus, fear of CO2 and distrust of Russia and China. The laborious and decades-long process of reconciliation between Germans and Russians, among others, has come to a standstill. Not only have economic relations been broken off, but cultural exchange has also come to a halt. Russian artists are being disinvited from performing if they have not publicly taken a clear stand against Putin. Political attitudes have become more important than art, and ideological attitudes are determining economic orientations and political decisions.
China – the surveillance state
The narrative of “change through trade” is now a thing of the past. China continues to pursue its “Grand Strategy.” What were once the dynasties of the Chinese Empire have become – since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949 – the Communist Party, with current President Xi Jinping as its head, as emperor. In accordance with the “Chinese Dream,” the country is striving to become Number 1 in the world in all areas, including military power.
The drastic end of its zero-Covid policy shows how capable China is. The Chinese government has reacted, in a way that saves face, to the “spontaneous protests” and thus shown strategic flexibility. Thus, Xi Jinping has not only done the Chinese economy a great favor by lifting all Covid measures, he has also cemented his power and the power of the Communist Party. The transformation into a different system, propagated for so long by the West as justification for maintaining economic relations with an authoritarian regime, now seems more unlikely than ever. On the contrary, the Chinese government continues to pursue its strategy and to build a perfectly controlled, highly technological surveillance state.
China thus remains a very flexible economic partner and geopolitical player. This requires an equally flexible China strategy on the part of other countries. Supply chain disruptions must always be taken into consideration, investments in China should be thought about carefully and protected. Potential dependencies in the area of critical infrastructure and products, such as upstream inputs for pharmaceuticals, should always be avoided. Yet this also applies to economic relations with non-authoritarian regimes.
Moreover, dealings with China, economic and political, should be free of emotion, determined only by the relevant economic interests and reciprocity, for the benefit of all concerned parties. The fact is: China continues to go its own way and is a country in which the individual and individual freedoms play a very limited role.
Ideology has great importance in China – an ideology that is not only intended to hold the population together internally, but is the guiding principle externally for every political step on the world geopolitical stage. In dealing with China, one’s own national interests and reciprocity should always be the guiding principle. This applies not only to interactions with China, but especially to those with Russia as well.
We are all connected to each other.
Russia and the German soul
Let’s be realistic: Russia is a nuclear power; economic sanctions will not harm it in the long run as a country that is almost immeasurably rich in raw materials. On the contrary, sanctions allow Russia to diversify its gas market and thus no longer depend on just one customer.
A prime example: the reactivation of the economic corridor running from China to Mongolia to Russia. Further, the Russian gas pipeline to China will replace Nordstream 2. In the course of securing its energy supply, China wants to keep its energy mix balanced and is thus increasing the share of natural gas. India is also a grateful purchaser of Russian gas.
Something that shows a decoupling from Russia is not so simple is the fact that from January to October 2022, Europe’s LNG imports increased by 40% over 2021. Russian LNG accounted for 16% of total European marine imports, with the main customers being France, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands. Instead of low-cost and environmentally friendly pipeline gas, the focus is now on LNG.
The resulting damage is now being felt by Germany in particular, as an industry-intensive and, compared to Russia, resource-poor country. The growing home-made energy crisis is driving deindustrialization in Germany; large companies are increasingly thinking of leaving the country; medium-sized enterprises – once the backbone of the German economy – are increasingly being destroyed; the country’s economic performance is declining; unemployment and poverty are the consequences.
And wasn’t the attack on Nordstream 2 the first terrorist attack against Germany since World War II?
The decisions and actions of the current Federal Government, with Olaf Scholz as Chancellor, are not in accordance with the oath taken “to prevent harm to the German people.”
“I swear that I will devote my strength to the welfare of the German people, increase its benefit, avert harm, uphold and defend the Basic Law and the laws of the Federation, fulfill my duties conscientiously, and ensure justice for all. (So help me God.)”
With or without God’s help, arms deliveries and military support to Ukraine, the homemade energy crisis, the intolerable excesses of gender-neutral language, so-called wokeness, cancel culture and uncontrolled immigration are also destroying not only the German soul, language and culture and putting pressure on the national budget, they are also continuing to widen already deep social divisions. None of this works to the benefit of Germany and the German people.
The power of culture, history and geography
“... the continuity of the state without which Germany would be much poorer – Germany did not come out of nowhere. Prussia was one of the most formative great powers in Europe and one of the most modern states in the world, with its effective administration, literacy down to the last street in the last village, and the rule of law at all levels.”
While there were serious political instabilities in the Weimar Republic, as the largest member of the German Empire, Prussia was politically very stable. Otto von Braun, Prussian prime minister from 1920 to 1932 and a diehard Prussian and Social Democrat, reformed the state and school systems. Prussia was thus a “reliable pillar of the Weimar Republic.” But, following the so-called “Prussian blow,” von Braun was removed from office.
“The Reich’s control over Prussia, especially over the Prussian police, made it much easier for Adolf Hitler to establish a dictatorial regime in the course of the National Socialist takeover in 1933.”
The power of culture and shared history together with geography are enduring cornerstones that provide a strong foundation. “Between Russia and America lie oceans. Between Russia and Germany lies a great history,” wrote historian Michael Stürmer. Vladimir Putin also quoted Stürmer in his speech to the German Bundestag on September 25, 2001.
My unshakable optimism tells me that it is not too late to return to our fundamental power, our culture and history, in order to create a new world order based on peaceful coexistence. What’s more, because of its geographic location, Germany should serve as a bridge between East and West.
Authoritarian regimes can only be changed from within, by their own people. Thus, Germany, too, can only free itself from its shackles from within, leaving behind the seemingly endless moralizing blame game and victimization loop and returning to what we Germans actually are: peace-loving, creative, innovative, technically expert and culturally sensitive.
How else should one interpret the famous “golden 20s” of the early 20th century? Here are some examples: Within a short time and despite the immense reparation claims made by the victorious powers based on the Versailles Treaty of June 28, 1919, defeated Germany became the second most powerful industrial nation after the US – thanks to US credits, because banks in the US had faith in Germany’s economic power. Further, as the treaty also prohibited motorized flight, some Germans made a virtue out of necessity, tinkered a bit and invented the glider.
The economic basis for Germany’s return to its fundamental strength, to its roots, is first and foremost the need for a drastic reduction in the state administration and the number of its government employees. The state should return to its original tasks: ensuring there is efficient infrastructure; a high-quality and affordable health-care system; high-quality, affordable and humane care for those in need; an excellent and free system of education; as well as ensuring internal and external security – in keeping with the oath taken to act for the good of the German people.
Changing our view of the world
The press, education and the health-care system, among others, must no longer be subject to competition and profit maximization, and could be transformed instead into foundations, for example.
Only a free press can ensure freedom of opinion and access to the full range of information. The monopoly of state media – such as broadcasters ARD and ZDF – and the ownership of media by billionaires – the Springer, Bertelsmann (Mohn) and Holtzbrinck families, among others – must end to create space for alternative media and sources of information. We need be well informed in order to become critical-thinking people in the sense of Immanuel Kant’s sapere aude.
The education system and especially the health-care system and pharmaceutical companies and their research must not be driven by profit maximization. Hospitals must not be run like businesses – health should be their exclusive concern. Old people’s and nursing facilities should be outfitted with the best possible equipment. The staff should be optimally paid. Profit should not play a role; all efforts should be guided by the desire to help people experience a graceful and respectful end to earthly life.
The divine within us and awareness
In his writings, Jacques Ancel, French geographer and geopolitician, proposed an identity of the heart, and a nation of the heart – the idea that people can connect and create a community based on a common history, language and culture.
This path back to the heart reconnects us as human beings to the divine. We are all “soul people.” We are spiritual beings that come from the same source. This spiritual or divine expresses itself differently in various cultures and traditions, be it religion, Buddhism, shamanism or a closeness to nature.
We should shift back from the cold rational mind to the feelings of the heart. By doing so, we can create a new world view and a new world order. Such a reconnection to the heart and the divine in us would enable us to look at life and nature with reverence and love once again.
May we all become aware once again of our humanity and the many things that connect us.
Identity of the Heart – Back to the Roots – We Are All Love.
First published in the Modern Diplomacy.
References and further reading
Ancel, Jacques (1938): Géographie des frontières, Gallimard.
Banik, Katja (2022): Im Rausch des Bernsteins – der historische Osten Deutschlands, www.katjabanik.com
Banik, Katja (2021): A clear view eastwards: Russia and Germany, www.katjabanik.com
Banik, Katja (2021): Without roots, no future. Decoupling ideologies, www.katjabanik.com
Bode, Sabine (2009): Kriegsenkel. Die Erben der vergessenen Generation, Klett-Cotta.
Brzezinski, Zbigniew (1998): The Grand Chess Board, Basic Books.
Die Bundesregierung (2022): Krieg in der Ukraine, www.bundesregierung.de
Deutscher Bundestag: Wortprotokoll der Rede Wladimir Putins im Deutschen Bundestag am 25.9.2001.
Deutsch Historisches Museum (2022): Lebendiges Museum Online, Berlin.
Euractiv (2022): Russia says pipeline to China will replace Nordstream 2.
Dohnanyi, Klaus (2022): Nationale Interessen, Siedler Verlag, München.
Graichen, Hesse (2012): Die Bernsteinstraße. Verborgene Handelswege zwischen Ostsee und Nil, Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, Hamburg.
Jähner, Harald (2022): Höhenrausch. Das kurze Leben zwischen den Kriegen. Rowohlt-Berlin.
Kossert, Andreas (2009): Kalte Heimat: Die Geschichte der deutschen Vertriebenen nach 1945, Pantheon Verlag.
Lasch, Otto (1959): So fiel Königsberg, Gräfe und Unzer Verlag.
Namzhilova, Victoria (2022): Economic Corridor China – Mongolia- Russia: Infrastructure in Focus, RIAC.
ostexperte.de, Nachrichten aus Russland und China, Berlin.
Putin, Wladimir (2021): Offen sein, trotz Vergangenheit, Gastbeitrag vom 22.6.2021 in der Wochenzeitung Die Zeit.
Pölking, Hermann (2022): Das Memelland. Wo Deutschland einst zu Ende war, bre.bra. verlag, Berlin
RedaktionsNetzwerkDeutschland (2022): www.rnd.de. Hannover.
Statista (2022): https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/1055110/umfrage/zahl-der-toten-nach-staaten-im-zweite...
Segelflugzeug.org (2022): www.segelflugzeug.org
Teltschik, Horst (2019): Russisches Roulette: Vom kalten Krieg zum kalten Frieden, C. H. Beck.
The Economist (2022): https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2022/02/09/a-new-low-for-global-democracy?fsrc=core-app-eco...
Wagener, Martin (2021): Der Kulturkampf um das deutsche Volk. Der Verfassungsschutz und die nationale Identität der Deutschen, Lau Verlag.
 Pölking (2022): Das Memelland. Wo Deutschland einst zu Ende war.
 Bundesregierung.de (2022) War in Ukraine.
 Statista (2022): https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/1055110/umfrage/zahl-der-toten-nach-staaten-im-zweite...
 Pölking (2022): Das Memelland. Wo Deutschland einst zu Ende war.
 Graichen, Hesse (2013): Die Bernsteinstraße.
 Bahr (2013) Conversation with students, „Willy Brandt Reading Week," Friedrich Ebert House Heidelberg.
 Otto von Bismarck.
 Dohnanyi (2021): Nationale Interessen.
 The Economist (2022): https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2022/02/09/a-new-low-for-global-democracy?fsrc=core-app-eco...
 RIAC (2022): https://russiancouncil.ru/en/analytics-and-comments/analytics/economic-corridor-china-mongolia-russi...
 Euractiv (2022): https://www.euractiv.com/section/energy/news/russia-says-pipeline-to-china-will-replace-nord-stream-...
 Rnd (2022): https://www.rnd.de/wirtschaft/fluessiggas-aus-russland-europa-importiert-rekordmenge-Y4DHLEMMPFEB5A5...
 PAZ, No. 47, 25.11.2022.
 German Historical Museum (DHM), https://www.dhm.de/lemo/biografie/otto-braun
 DHM, https://www.dhm.de/lemo/kapitel/weimarer-republik/innenpolitik/preussenschlag
 DHM, https://www.dhm.de/lemo/kapitel/weimarer-republik/innenpolitik/preussenschlag
 ostexperte.de, https://ostexperte.de/deutschland-und-russland-teil-1/
 DHM, Berlin. https://www.dhm.de/lemo/kapitel/weimarer-republik/aussenpolitik/versailler-vertrag.html
 Glider.org, http://www.segelflugzeug.org/segelflug_geschichte.php
Author, speaker and guest lecturer on current geopolitical, economic and political issues related to China, EU and the US
Blog: Katja Banik's blog