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Springtime for Algore: A Romantic Pilgrimage to Germany's 'Eco–Anschluss'

In a way, it's a good thing Germany is now an aging and clapped out nation (with the exception of its youthful and vigorous immigrant population) -- because otherwise, a new romantic quasi-religion that puts nature above man, and largely jettisons traditional conceptions of God? And attempts to assuage the growing tensions in its citizens by spawning a leviathan (to coin a phrase) welfare state? Didn't this movie run continuously for about 12 years already in Germany many years ago?

Meanwhile, back in contemporary eco-Berlin:

LaFond and I pop our heads into a café called the Morgenrot (“Red Dawn”). There’s not a soul over thirty. Harried waitresses serve generously apportioned food to a mob of young people with dreadlocks. One wall is scrawled with news about some enviro–political demo.

Berlin has a strong anti–consumption ethic. In former West Berlin, in prosperous Charlottenberg, they’re proud of the KaDeWe department store, the glittering palace of consumption, with its cornucopian food court. In the old East, shopkeepers are almost apologetic about working for a buck. “People are suspicious of good service, advertising, or merchandising,” says a photographer friend. “It’s not a service economy—no apologies if something’s out of stock. They don’t take credit cards. If it smacks of the hard sell, it’s assumed you’re covering something up.”

I note an enticing bonbon in a shop run by a former journalist, but he steers me away from it as “nothing special.” An ex–anthropologist with a sometime gig as a tour guide takes me around town for the better part of a day and forgets to ask for money. When the Constitutional Court mandated in late 2009 that Sunday be an official day off, the Berlin–based Die Tageszeitung rejoiced: “The treadmill is closed for 24 hours. The court has given relaxation, rest, and ‘spiritual elevation’ precedence over the thirst for profit and the right to a consumer fix.”

I wander around Prenzlauer Berg for a few days, entranced. One day, I bop through the Mauerpark, with its motley flea market and crowds sprawled on the vast open sward, picnicking and listening to music. I pick up a handful of flyers, nothing different from what you’d see in, well, Boulder, Colorado, where I live—shiatsu, Jivamukti, feng shui, lomilomi, Gestalt, and qigong—but such fads strike many Berliners as pretentious. “You can’t just consume your way to a better world,” a left–wing filmmaker tells me. “Consumption is part of the problem. You can’t buy sustainability, you have to be it.”

Like I said, this is an article that in dead tree form appears in-between ads for luxury sports cars, high-end luggage, swanky leather goods, and designer clothes. (Or to borrow a line from Kate of the Small Dead Animals blog, "Gaia... Gala... I Can See How He'd Get Them Confused.") Condé Nast magazines always shoehorn left-wing politics, however awkwardly, in between the interviews with celebrities and the fashion spreads, the Manhattan magazine equivalent of what John Nolte would call the Hollywood Sucker Punch. But does anybody get how deeply weird an anti-consumerist tract in the middle of one of the ultimate conspicuous consumption periodicals reads, for those of us who aren't personally into green up to our eyeballs?

Last year, responding to Thomas Friedman's seemingly weekly column on the glories of Red China, and flashing back to the American socialist pilgrims of the 1920s, Jonah Goldberg wrote:

What unites all of these people is a form of power worship. These foreign governments and their experts have control over citizens and economics -- sometimes through democratic consent, sometimes not -- that the state doesn't have in America. Thus proving American backwardness.

But the track record of such control, over the long haul, is abysmal, particularly in comparison to America's more unplanned approach (indeed, the world's planned economies often feed off American innovation to survive). The Soviets are in the dustbin of history; Japan Inc. is in its second "lost decade"; Europe is in an economic crisis; China's problems are hard to see because Beijing likes it that way. We have our own problems, but history shows the solution to them is not to be found in more centralized planning.

Politicians and planners have a tendency to lock into their idea of what works, long after it doesn't work anymore. If our government had China-like power in the 1970s, we would have banned natural gas. If it had such powers in the 1830s, we would have stuck with canals long after railroads were viable.

The future can't be found on a junket, and it never works until you get there.

But hey, think of the fun of planning such a jaunt -- particularly with the help of sympathetic travel magazine.

Incidentally, maybe James Cameron could be persuaded to produce a documentary on the imagined nihilistic futuristic liberal fascistic wonders of eco-Berlin.

It might not sell on the big screen, but I bet he'd make a killing in the straight-to-DVD market.

Related: Oh, and speaking of Cameron, travel and radical environmentalism, "Where does James Cameron buy the fuel for his private jet?"

Update: To the PJM readers clicking in from Germany, thanks for stopping by. When Marc Barasch and his editors at Conde Nast attempted to use the phrase "Eco–Anschluss" and other moral equivalent of war arguments to bolster their radical environmentalism, they opened the door to ask, fellas, is that really the portion of World War II you want to claim environmentalism is the moral equivalent thereof? (And incidentally, I was none too thrilled  when a Time magazine cover in 2008 attempted to tie-in their own radical environmentalism with the heroic moment of the Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima, either.)

Late Update (10/1/10): Welcome Insta-readers clicking in from the Professor's post titled, "Eco-Fascism Jumps The Shark." For my thoughts on that subject, don't miss "‘No Pressure:’ Fascistic New Video Red-Lines the Eco-Insanity Meter."

The titular video in question makes Condé Nast's article a triumph of good taste and restraint by comparison.