Christiane Hoffmann skriver i Der Spiegel om tyskernes til svakhet grensende ambivalens overfor Russland. Forklaringen sitter dypt. For selv om den dels har å gjøre med skyldfølelse for krigen, og dels med anti-amerikanisme kombinert med ønsket om å utgjøre tyngdepunktet i en tredje maktblokk mellom øst og vest, er det en tredje bestanddel i cocktailen: en romantisk grunnholdning i fravær av kritisk sans (gjelder sannsynligvis endel nordmenn også).

The country has always been idealized by Germans. No other country was as thrilled as Germany when glasnost and perestroika ushered in the de-escalation of the East-West conflict. Finally, they felt, it was acceptable for them to love Russia again. In Gorbachev, the good Russian had returned and the Germans saw no reason to continue living in fear of Russia.

Documentary programs about the remote reaches of Siberia and the banks of the Volga River attracted large viewership numbers. In the preceding decades, works by German-language authors like Heinz Konsalik — whose book «The Doctor of Stalingrad,» dealt with German prisoners of war — and Johannes Simmel — whose novels delved into Cold War themes — had been best-sellers.

«The east is a place of longing for the Germans,» says Münkler. The expanse and seeming infinity of Russian space has always been the subject of a German obsession for a simpler life, closer to nature and liberated from the constraints of civilization. The millions of Germans that were expelled from Eastern Europe and forced to move to the West after 1945 fostered that feeling. To them, it represented unspoiled nature and their lost homeland.

The flipside to Germany’s longing for Russia is its desire to differentiate itself from the West. Fundamental opposition to the West’s putative superficiality is seen as being part of the Russian soul: The perceived busyness and money-grubbing ways of the Western man stand in contrast to the East’s supposed depth of emotion and spirituality. «When something is romanticized, there is always an antidemocratic streak,» says Baberowski. It privileges harmony over conflict, unity over confrontation.

This tradition of anti-Western thinking has a long tradition in Germany. In «Reflections of an Unpolitical Man,» written during the First World War, Thomas Mann sought to strongly differentiate Germany from the West, even citing Dostoyevsky in the process. «Being German,» Mann wrote, «means culture, soul, freedom, art and not civilization, society, the right to vote, literature.» Mann later revised his views, but the essay remains a document for those seeking to locate Germany’s position between East and West.