TIME Ukraine

Russia Wants a ’100% Guarantee’ That Ukraine Won’t Join NATO

Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with members of the All-Russia Popular Front in Moscow on Nov. 18, 2014 Alexei Druzhinin—AP

Comment's come as NATO's secretary-general accuses Kremlin of "destabilizing" Ukraine

A top adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that the Kremlin wants “a 100% guarantee” that Ukraine will be prevented from joining NATO.

Dmitri Peskov told the BBC that NATO’s eastward expansion continued to make Russia “nervous.” His comments echoed similar tough talk coming from President Putin, who promised a crowd attending a forum in Moscow on Tuesday that Russia would never be subdued by Washington.

“Throughout history no one has ever managed to do so toward Russia — and no one ever will,” RT quoted Putin as saying.

Putin’s remarks came as NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg accused the Russian leadership of “destabilizing” Ukraine and breaking a two-month-old truce by continuing to support separatist forces fighting in the country’s southeast.

“We see the movement of troops, of equipment, of tanks, of artillery, of advance air-defense systems, and this is in violation of the cease-fire agreements,” said Stoltenberg, after arriving at the European Union headquarters in Brussels. “We call on Russia to pull back its forces from eastern Ukraine and to respect the Minsk Agreements.”

The alliance, along with independent monitors, has issued numerous reports during the past two weeks claiming that the Russian military is moving armored columns across the border into Ukraine, where rebel militias have been shelling strategic locations in the war-torn Donbass region on a daily basis.

In Moscow on Tuesday, Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned during a press conference that there was no end in sight to the conflict in Ukraine unless all parties to the Minsk accord stuck to the cease-fire.

“There are no grounds for optimism in the current situation,” Steinmeier told reporters, according to Agence France-Presse.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel struck an even harsher tone — labeling Russia’s incursions into Ukraine as “dangerous and irresponsible.”

“The violations of sovereignty and international law that the Russians have perpetuated continue to require responses,” said Hagel, adding that the U.S. has begun working with NATO “in shifting our entire rotational rapid deployment focus.”

But as politicians verbally spar over Russia’s actions in Ukraine, the humanitarian disaster inside the country continues unabated. Last week, the U.N.’s refugee agency, UNHCR, warned that Europe was facing its largest displacement crisis in more than two decades as winter arrives.

“By October, UNHCR estimated that more than 800,000 people have been displaced, representing the largest displacement of people in Europe since the Balkan wars,” read a statement released by the U.N. “It is the latest refugee crisis in a year that has seen several, and is stretching resources thin.”

Read next: Putin’s Loss of German Trust Seals the West’s Isolation of Russia

TIME Germany

This Hitler Watercolor Painting Could Sell for Over $60,000

Hitler Watercolor Auction
An employee puts away a watercolour of the old registry office in Munich by former German dictator Adolf Hitler at Weidler auction house in Nuremberg November 18, 2014. Kai Pfaffenbach—Reuters

Hitler was a struggling painter when he was in his late teens and early 20s

A watercolor painted by Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler will likely auction off for over $60,000 due to high demand, Reuters reported Tuesday.

The 1914 painting of an old registry office, to go on auction Saturday, is one of many works Hitler created during his young adulthood, according to Kathrin Weidler, an auctioneer at her Weidler Auction House in Nuremberg, Germany. Nuremberg was the site of several Nazi party rallies in the 1930s.

Buyers interested in the artwork hail from all around the world, but mostly come from outside Europe, Weidler said.

“The interest has been high from America, Japan and across Asia,” Weidler told Reuters. “I don’t know if all these bidders will actually come to the showroom in person. It’s possible, but the last time we had a painting from this artist, that didn’t happen.”

The auctioning of the painting, considered more of a historical document than a work of art, has been called “tasteless” by critics, Weidler said. But she requested that complaints be addressed to either the unidentified pair of German sisters selling the painting or to the city of Nuremberg.

Five of Hilter’s paintings have been auctioned off previously at the Weidler Auction House for values between about $6,000 and $100,000.


TIME russia

Putin’s Loss of German Trust Seals the West’s Isolation of Russia

President Putin gives press conference following G20 Summit
Russia's President Vladimir Putin looks on at a press conference following the G20 Leaders' Summit in Brisbane, Australia. Klimentyev Mikhail—EPA

After a night spent debating the Ukraine crisis with the Russian President, German Chancellor Angela Merkel came out more determined than ever to push the Kremlin out of Eastern Europe

Vladimir Putin has long had a soft spot for Germany. As an officer of the KGB in the late 1980s, he was stationed in the East German city of Dresden, where he developed a love of the language and, according to his memoirs, for the enormous steins of pilsner he drank at a beer hall in the town of Radeberg with friends.

As President, Putin’s foreign and economic policies have always looked to Germany as a pivotal ally, a vital partner in trade and a sympathetic ear for Russian interests. He seemed to feel that no matter what political headwinds came his way, the German sense of pragmatism would prevail in keeping Berlin on his side. That illusion has just been shattered.

During a speech on Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel predicted a drawn-out confrontation with Moscow. Breaking from her normally subdued political style, she even invoked the worst years of the 20th century in describing the West’s conflict with Russia over Ukraine. “After the horrors of two world wars and the end of the Cold War, this challenges the peaceful order in Europe,” she said, referring to what she called Putin’s “old-thinking” view of Eastern Europe as Russia’s stomping ground. “I am convinced this won’t succeed,” she said. In the end, the West would win out against the challenge emanating from Russia, “even if the path will be long and hard and full of setbacks,” Merkel told a conference in Brisbane, Australia.

It was in many ways the low point for Putin’s deepening estrangement from the West. During the G20 summit of world leaders held in Brisbane over the weekend, the Russian leader was broadly ostracized by the most powerful figures at the table, and some of them were far less diplomatic toward Putin than Merkel has been. In greeting Putin on Saturday, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper reportedly said, “I guess I’ll shake your hand, but I have only one thing to say to you: you need to get out of Ukraine.”

Later that day, Merkel came to the Hilton Hotel in central Brisbane for an unscheduled meeting with Putin that reportedly lasted almost six hours, running well into Sunday morning. The subject was the conflict in Ukraine, and according to the Kremlin, Putin did his best to “clarify in detail the Russian approach to this situation.” But his efforts to win Merkel’s sympathy – or at least her understanding – appear to have done the opposite. He emerged from their encounter apparently so exhausted that he decided to leave the summit early, saying he needed to get some sleep.

The letdown seemed all the more painful considering his recent attempt to reach out to the German public. A few days before the G20 summit began, Putin decided to give a rare one-on-one interview to the national German television network ARD, whose correspondent grilled him on Russia’s support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. Putin tried to sound conciliatory. “Of course we expect the situation to change for the better,” he said. “Of course we expect the Ukrainian crisis to end. Of course we want to have normal relations with our partners, including in the United States and Europe.”

Particularly for Germany, he argued, it is important to work things out with Russia, because their economies are so closely intertwined. Trade with Russia accounts for as many as 300,000 German jobs, Putin said, and by going along with the sanctions that the West has imposed on Russia, Berlin risks hurting its own economic growth. “Sooner or later,” he said, “it will begin to affect you as much as us.”

The warning, more plaintive than defiant in its tone, was aimed as much at the political elites in Germany as its powerful business interests, which rely on Russia for natural resources and a huge consumer market. Last year the trade between the two countries was worth more than $100 billion, compared to less than $40 billion between the U.S. and Russia. To fuel its energy-intensive industrial base, Germany also gets a third of its oil and gas from Russia, and 14% of everything that Russia imports is made in Germany.

But Putin, for all his appeals to German pragmatism, was wrong to hope that Russia’s isolation could boomerang back on the German economy, or on Merkel’s popularity. Even as the sanctions war choked off trade between Russia and the West, Germany’s total exports reached an all-time high in September. At the same time, Russia’s reputation among the German public has been scraping bottom. In a nationwide survey conducted in August, a German pollster reportedly found that 82% of Germans do not believe that Russia can be trusted, while 70% called for tougher sanctions against the Russian economy.

“So it seems clear that Putin has miscalculated,” says Joerg Forbrig, an expert on Eastern Europe at the German Marshall Fund in Berlin. “Certainly when it comes to Germany.”

This is a costly mistake. In trying to sway Berlin, Putin pursued his best, and perhaps only, chance of breaking the West’s resolve against him. The business lobby in Germany is both more powerful and more sympathetic toward Russia than any major European state, and the German electorate has generally favored a neutral stance on foreign policy.

Just a few weeks after Russia invaded and annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea in March, nearly half of Germans said that their government should not take sides in the conflict, while 35% urged their leaders to seek an understanding with Moscow. This core of German Russophiles now looks to have evaporated, and with it Putin loses the only Western partner that could have stopped the isolation of his country.

Many in Moscow have watched that turn in German feelings with surprise. “Even during the Cold War, we were laying [oil and gas] pipelines to Germany,” says Leonid Kalashnikov, vice chairman of the foreign affairs committee in Russia’s lower house of parliament. “Back then nobody seemed to mind.”

Under Putin, those energy links have been vastly expanded. In 2011, he launched the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline to pump fuel from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea. (In a sign of just how well-connected Putin was in Berlin at the time, Merkel’s predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, took a job as chairman of that pipeline project after his term as chancellor ran out in 2005.) But at the end of September, Merkel said the European Union may need to break its addiction to Russian fuel in the long term, especially if the Kremlin’s expansionist policies continue to violate “basic principles.”

But even the threat of losing the European market – disastrous as that would be for the Russian economy – is not likely to make the Kremlin yield. “There’s one thing the West just doesn’t understand,” says Kalashnikov. “They can use sanctions to coerce a small country. But Russia is not one of them. We will not get on our knees and do as we’re told.”

Thanks largely to his own anti-Western bluster, Putin’s support in Russia now relies more than ever on his defiance toward the West, and he will sooner accept the role of a pariah abroad than weakling at home. “We’re just not going to chastise him into changing his tune,” says Matthew Rojansky, a Russia expert at the Wilson Center in Washington.

Much more likely, the West’s ostracism will “foreclose” any remaining channels for swaying Putin through dialogue, adds Rojansky. But if Putin was searching for such a channel during his night of debating with Merkel, he has come up empty-handed. It’s not clear if he has anywhere else in the West to turn.

Read next: Russia to Create Its Own ‘Alternative Wikipedia’

TIME Germany

Angela Merkel’s Sweet Overtures to Angry Punk Rocker

Leaders of the Christian Democratic Union sing with Chancellor Angela Merkel as they celebrate the exit polls in the German general election at the party headquarters in Berlin, Sept. 22, 2013.
Leaders of the Christian Democratic Union sing with Chancellor Angela Merkel as they celebrate the exit polls in the German general election at the party headquarters in Berlin, Sept. 22, 2013. Kai Pfaffenbach— Reuters

German Chancellor's apology illustrates that politicians and popstars often don't mix

She has won three elections and seen her popularity soar by rarely putting a foot wrong and learning from her mistakes when she does. Yet German Chancellor Angela Merkel appears to be just as fallible as other politicians when it comes to annoying one of the smallest but loudest segments of the electorate: musicians.

Campino—real name Andreas Frege—has revealed that Merkel made a personal apology to him after television cameras caught her and her colleagues thoroughly mangling a tune by his band Die Toten Hosen (the literal translation is “the dead pants”; the phrase also means “deadly dull”). This karaoke-style crime against music (the song is “Tage wie diese”, days like these; lead vocals by Volker Kauder, chairman of Merkel’s CDU parliamentary party) wasn’t the issue. Campino minded seeing—and hearing—his punk-y, spiky, counter-cultural music co-opted by a political party.

Disharmonies often resonate between the political classes and the music industry. A campaign adopts an anthemic track or a politician confesses in an interview to loving a particular band only for the musicians to repudiate vigorously any connection to the party or politician. In 1984 Bruce Springsteen complained to Rolling Stone magazine about Ronald Reagan appearing on the stump to the strains of “Born in the USA”: “I think there’s a large group of people in this country whose dreams don’t mean that much to [Ronald Reagan], that just get indiscriminately swept aside.” In 2012 Tom Morello, guitarist of Rage Against the Machine, also turned to Rolling Stone to throw some rocks at a leading GOP figure, in this case then Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan. “Paul Ryan’s love of Rage Against the Machine is amusing, because he is the embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades.” Ryan finally hit back this year. Rage “never were my favorite band,” he said.

And so it goes in the U.S. and Europe. Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron, schooled at the impeccably posh private school Eton College, once declared that the Jam’s “Eton Rifles”, a biting critique of the privilege represented by Eton, was his favorite track. “Which part of it didn’t he get?” asked the Jam’s former front man, Paul Weller.

That Merkel fell into the trap for a second time is more of a surprise. Her 2005 brush with the Rolling Stones might have been expected to alert to the dangers of relying on rock for an electoral boost. Back then, during her first campaign for the Chancellery, TIME wondered if Stones knew that their 1973 hit “Angie” had become Merkel’s de facto theme tune. They did not. “The Rolling Stones are startled to hear that the track from their album Goats Head Soup has been pressed into service,” we reported. “’We didn’t grant permission,’ a spokesman for the musicians told TIME. ‘We are surprised that permission was not requested. If it had been requested, we would have said no.’”

A CDU spokesman insisted the party had cleared usage of excerpts from the song with the German music-distribution rights regulator, GEMA, but that of course was not the point. TIME had highlighted that the Stones weren’t on her side, setting off a crescendo of dissonant headlines. Die Toten Hosen raised their own noisy protest when the CDU first started using their music in the run-up to Germany’s 2013 election. The band members issued a statement on their website to ask that the CDU stop playing “Tage wie diese” at campaign events: “The danger that people might get the idea that there is a connection between the band and the content promoted at these events makes us furious,” said the statement.

Merkel may finally have learned that bands and bandwagons are a dangerous combination. A new book about Die Toten Hosen, excerpted in the German news weekly Der Spiegel, reveals Merkel’s sheepish phone call to Campino a few days after the election night singalong. “Mr Campino, I’m ringing because last Sunday we trampled all over your song,” the Chancellor said. She offered praise and a reassurance as well as an apology. She found his song “very lovely” but promised “it would not become the next CDU hymn.”

Campino describes his response as “a mixture of surprise and alarm. Alarm that she didn’t have anything else to do except call me. But also touched that she explained all that in such a relaxed and humorous way.”


TIME Media

German Media Boss Convicted of Embezzlement

Damage claim trian of Madeleine Schickedanz
03 Nov 2014, Cologne, Germany --- Former Arcandor CEO Thomas Middelhoff at the district court in Cologne, Germany, 03 November 2014. The damage claim trial of 'Quelle'-heiress Madeleine Schickedanz continues at the Cologne district court with the hearing of witness Middelhoff. Photo: OLIVER BERG/dpa --- Image by © Oliver Berg/dpa/Corbis Oliver Berg—© Oliver Berg/dpa/Corbis

Unusual sentencing comes as judge expressed fears that Thomas Middelhoff might flee

German businessman Thomas Middelhoff, former CEO of media powerhouse Bertelsmann, was convicted of embezzlement and tax evasion in Germany Friday, according to a Reuters report.

The judge expressed concern that Middelhoff might flee and ordered that police transport the executive to jail immediately to begin a three-year sentence.

Middelhoff, who also ran retailer Arcandor, became a symbol of excessive executive spending in Germany. The media mogul traveled by private jet more than 600 times during his tenure at Arcandor and charged his employer for two-thirds of those flights. He also billed his employer tens of thousands of Euros for private helicopter flights unrelated to business. His sentencing marks a steep fall for a man who was once one of Germany’s most visible business leaders.


TIME Demographics

The U.S. Is No Longer the Most Popular Country in the World

Thumbs up, Germany. Fernando Alonso Herrero—Getty Images/iStockphoto

Everyone wants to be Germany's friend now

Germany knocked the U.S. out of the top spot in an international survey measuring the popularity of countries around the world.

Germany ranked first and the United States second out of 50 countries in the annual Anholt-GfK Nation Brands Index, which polled more than 20,000 people across 20 countries. It’s the first time the U.S. hasn’t held first place since 2009.

The study measures global perceptions of countries based on a variety of attributes, including governance, culture and sports. According to a statement from GfK, the German-based market research that runs the study, Germany benefited from a boost in the “sports excellence” category after winning the 2014 World Cup.

The United States was brought down by poor perceptions in Egypt and Russia.

Russia, meanwhile, dropped more in its global perception ranking than any other of the 50 countries.

Read next: “A Little Piece of Freedom”: David Hasselhoff Remembers the Berlin Wall

TIME Media

How Journalists Helped to Open the Berlin Wall

News of German Television Broadcasting on 09 November 1989
GDR television informs the population about new travelling rules for GDR citizens in the news programme 'Aktuelle Kamera' on the evening of Nov. 9, 1989. DB/picture-alliance/AP Images

"The world press not only covered the dramatic events but actually helped to cause them as well"

Twenty-five years ago, the Berlin Wall opened — suddenly, joyously, peacefully. On this important anniversary, the world press is once again full of images of this astounding, unexpected development. These images remind readers, viewers and listeners of the excitement of that time.

One of the most interesting aspects of autumn 1989 is the way that the world press not only covered the dramatic events but actually helped to cause them as well. There were three particularly crucial times when members of the media actually help to drive the events that they were covering — moments when the news reports made the news.

The first was not in Berlin but in another East German city, Leipzig. It took place a month earlier, on Oct. 9, 1989. The events in this provincial city near the Czech border may have been physically remote from Berlin, but they were crucial steps on the path to the opening of the Wall a month later.

In Leipzig, as in the rest of the country, the East German ruling regime was trying to maintain its dictatorial control – despite the reforms introduced by the leader of the Soviet Bloc, Mikhail Gorbachev. The East German rulers were not interested in such reforms, however, and brutally repressed protests. Despite the violence, a pattern of regular protest marches had nonetheless emerged. By October, these Leipzig marches were taking place every Monday night. While this fixed schedule meant that protesters knew when and where to turn up, it also meant that the dictators’ security forces also knew when and where to deploy.

It soon became apparent to all involved that the night of Monday, Oct. 9, would be the showdown. The regime planned a Tiananmen-level event. It hoped not only to suppress all dissent but also to keep the suppression quiet. The dictators anticipated success on both counts, having at least 8,000 armed men at their disposal and full control over the state media.

Meanwhile, dissidents knew that they had two jobs: they had to protest — and they had to get word about their protest out to the West. So, even as opposition leaders made plans for the enormous march that night around the ring road encircling the heart of Leipzig, another group of dissidents made their own plans: to film the protest march secretly, despite heavy surveillance, and then smuggle the video out to the West.

The night of Oct. 9 turned out to be a major triumph for the protesters. Their sheer numbers — at least 100,000 — intimidated the security forces, who withdrew without using their weapons. And the secret videotaping succeeded as well. Protesters smuggled a videocassette showing the security forces’ retreat out to West German television stations, which broadcast it on news shows that could also be received in East Germany. The images made plain to ordinary people throughout the country that their regime was in retreat, something they would not have learned from their own media. Learning of the retreat, more people gained the courage to protest in their own hometowns, thus increasing pressure on the dictators. It is not too much to say that these press reports helped to hasten the end of the dictatorship.

The second time the world press both covered and influenced events was on the night of Nov. 9 in divided Berlin. That night, coincidentally the anniversary of the major Nazi pogrom against Jews known as “Kristallnacht,” was about to become famous for another reason. At a press conference televised live, a member of the East German Politburo announced what were meant to be minor changes to travel regulations. They were only supposed to sound good — not to produce actual, significant change.

That would have been the case, had he not botched the announcement. In and of itself, a Politburo member making a hash of a statement was nothing new. His mistakes would have been insignificant, but for the presence of the world media at the press conference where he made them. Before the Politburo member even finished speaking, wire reporters — the people who got the news out fastest in the pre-internet era — rushed out of the room to file reports saying that the Berlin Wall was open. It wasn’t, but average East Germans heard this coverage from Western broadcasters. Even though many of them doubted that it was true, they decided to go to the checkpoints in the Berlin Wall and on the border between the two Germanies to push the matter. Had the media reports not aired, this would not have happened, so the media once again drove the news.

The third and final impact of the media on events was the most significant. The border guards at the checkpoints in the Berlin Wall, stunned by the press conference, double-checked with their superior officers whether what the Politburo member had said was accurate. In return, they received confirmation that the Wall was still firmly closed. Yet the crowds kept coming and growing larger. Overwhelmed by the sheer number of people demanding to get out and fearing that they might be overrun, the guards decided at one particular border crossing, Bornholmer Street, decided to open the gates under their control.

This was their individual decision; they had no regular communication with the other checkpoints. Working for a highly centralized regime, they were supposed to communicate with their superiors, not improvise orders among themselves. The Bornholmer opening might have stayed isolated — but, once again, for the impact of press coverage.

Images of East Germans flooding through the Bornholmer crossing quickly hit the airwaves. Seeing these images and hearing reports of them, other border guards at other crossings became motivated to open their own border crossings as well. In the wee hours of Nov. 10, in an ad hoc, uncoordinated fashion, one border crossing after another opened.

Thus, as the world continues to celebrate the legacy of these happy developments, it should remember the important impact of journalists, who — at times unwittingly — helped to cause the peaceful, successful opening of the Berlin Wall. Put bluntly: journalists in 1989 both covered and helped to cause a peaceful revolution. One can only hope that they can be so helpful to the peaceful protesters of today.

Basic Books

Mary Elise Sarotte is the author of the new book The Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall. She is Dean’s Professor of History at the University of Southern California and a visiting professor of government and history at Harvard University.

TIME Germany

See the 25th Anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s Fall

"Nothing and no-one can stand in the way of freedom," said Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit

The 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall was marked by the release of 8,000 helium balloons over the German capital.

The Berlin Wall was constructed in 1961 to prevent people fleeing the Soviet-controlled East into the more free and affluent West.

Its fall in 1989 was a symbolic start to the process that would eventually end the Cold War.

TIME world affairs

The Opportunity Germany Missed After the Wall Fell

A man celebrates on the Berlin wall on November 12, 1989 in Berlin, Germany.
A man celebrates on the Berlin wall on November 12, 1989 in Berlin, Germany. Pool CHUTE DU MUR BERLIN—Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Germany missed a big opportunity to redefine itself when the wall fell—and that omission is costing us all today

We didn’t know what to expect after the heady days of November 1989. What exactly would follow from the fall of the Berlin wall? Would this mean the end of communism? Would Germany reunite? And, if so, could the country ever truly overcome its divisions? Despite those open questions, all but the most obtuse observers had to know that this was a momentous event—one that would lead Europe, and especially Germany, to redefine itself.

Looking back in 2014, that process of redefinition has been both surprisingly successful and radically incomplete. East and West Germany have overcome their divisions better than most had dared to hope. But Germany missed a unique opportunity to rethink its identity and redefine its role in the world. Over the past years, it has become increasingly evident how heavy a price Germany—and its neighbors—may have to pay for this omission.

Reunification turned out to be less of a fusion between two parts of the country than a takeover: the governors in Bonn simply extended the West a few hundred kilometers to the East. In the process, West Germany gave the East what it had craved: its constitution, its currency, and its freedoms. Alongside those great achievements, West Germany also exported some lesser signs of its dominance. Within a few years of reunification, for example, the simple, old-fashioned and rather beautiful signs that had long announced station names in East Germany were quietly replaced by their bland, corporate equivalents in the West.

The unrelenting totality of these changes caused understandable resentment among some East Germans, who experienced their newfound freedom primarily as the shock of an unaccustomed insecurity. Their factories closed. Their jobs disappeared. When the German Democratic Republic vanished from the map, they lost a part of their identity. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Ostalgie, nostalgia for the recent past, conquered the East. Some celebrated the once ubiquitous Trabbi cars, others pined over the closing of a beloved manufacturer of half-sour pickles. Harmless for the most part, Ostalgie at times also took a harder, more illiberal edge—as when leading East German politicians refused to acknowledge that the GDR had been a dictatorship, or street mobs gave violent voice to their hatred of immigrants.

At the time, the persistent cultural and political divide between East and West raised fears that Germany might remain a land forever divided. Today, that handwringing has itself come to look outdated. Germans from the former East are now represented at the top levels of the country’s most important institutions: boardrooms, the national soccer team, the Chancellorship. The country feels—and, thanks to those railway signs, looks—much the same on both sides of the erstwhile border. Sure, a range of social indicators, from religiosity to the number of infants in daycare, shows that East and West have not become mirror images.

Perhaps they never will. But it is, after all, not unusual for nation states to retain significant regional differences. Twenty-five years after the fall of the wall, it is clear that reunification has been a cultural success.

In fact, it is even starting to look as though the West’s policy of cultural standardization, which has long seemed so obtuse, may have contributed to this success. Homogenizing Germany not only alienated an older generation of East Germans; it also ensured that those who were born as citizens of a unified Germany no longer saw a salient distinction between East and West.

But while West Germany’s refusal to redefine itself after 1989 has proven an effective strategy for reunification, it also means that the country’s leaders passed up on an important opportunity to address the Federal Republic’s key failings. First, Germany has neglected to use reunification as an opportunity to redefine itself as a country of immigrants. While East Germans gained their new passports within less than a year of the fall of the wall, most of the immigrants from outside of Europe who had arrived in West Germany since the 1960s remained excluded from citizenship for another decade. Parts of the political class are finally catching up to the fact that Germany will need to integrate those who have their roots outside the country as well as those who rejoined it in 1989. But opposition to this new, more inclusive conception of the nation remains politically and emotionally powerful. The question of whether Germany—as well as the rest of Europe—can operate as truly multiethnic is key to the continent’s future.

Second, Germany has not embraced its responsibilities as a world leader. During the Cold War, West Germany enjoyed a long holiday from history: because of its geostrategic importance, it could outsource the protection of freedom and democracy to the United States.

The foreign policy elite of the new Germany has, so far, failed to realize that this holiday from history has now come to an end. The country’s leaders have been happy to impose their rules on the Eurozone, but not to lead the Eurozone out of crisis when those rules proved inadequate. They have become more willing to send the Bundeswehr on occasional peacekeeping missions, but they shirk from protecting allies in Central and Eastern European from Russia’s expansionism.

Finally, Germany has failed to realize that its new status as a global leader creates a need for far-reaching domestic reform to environmental policy and military spending. The country has long prided itself in its ecological conscience and its pacifist-ish approach to foreign policy.

But if Germany wants to avoid being servile to Russia’s whims for the foreseeable future, it needs to slaughter some of those sacred cows. German leaders will not dare provoke Putin so long as he can threaten the life of Germany’s pensioners simply by switching off the gas—a state of dependence that will only deepen if the country goes ahead with plans to shut off its nuclear power plants. Nor will Germany’s leaders be able to negotiate with Putin as equals so long as only a fraction of the Bundeswehr’s equipment is in working order.

Internally, Germany’s reunification has panned out better than most had dared to hope.

Today, the remaining differences between East and West are much smaller than could reasonably have been expected. That’s a great achievement. But as we look back to 1989 and reflect on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the degree of continuity in West Germany’s conception of itself is just as striking.

The changes that are afoot today are much less obvious than they were in 1989. But, though it may be more difficult to recognize now than it was twenty-five years ago, the need for the whole of Germany to redefine itself is just as urgent.

Yascha Mounk is a fellow at New America, where he writes about technological solutions to the political and environmental challenges of the 21st century. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME conflict

Quiz: Test Your Berlin Wall Knowledge

West Germans Celebrate The Unification Of Berlin Atop The Berlin Wall During The Collaps
West Germans celebrate atop the Berlin Wall on Nov. 12, 1989. Stephen Jaffe—Getty Images

For the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, see how much you remember about it

The Berlin Wall began to come down 25 years ago this weekend, on Nov. 9, 1989. Now that so many years have passed, how much do you remember about the wall and the events surrounding it?

Test your knowledge with this quiz — extra points if you don’t use our Berlin Wall history timeline to cheat.

Read TIME’s 1989 cover story about the fall of the Berlin Wall here in the archives: Freedom!

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