Wotan’s Trolley

After a request to exchange a shopping trolley in Germany was lost in translation, I now know the eurozone must fail

Mark Ronan

In Berlin to review Wagner’s Ring (Barenboim conducting), I found myself in more down-to-earth surroundings needing a trolley in a supermarket. A €1 deposit was required, which was no problem at all, except there were no trolleys in the rack immediately outside the store. Momentarily perplexed, I saw a man exit with an empty trolley, and held out my hand offering him a €1 coin. He politely declined.

I followed him to a more distant trolley bank, where he recovered his coin before returning to the front of the store. I inserted my own coin, took his trolley and returned to the store entrance myself. Alles in Ordnung! But, hold on: isn’t this a bit silly?

You bet it is. But the Germans can be hidebound by rules that even a law-abiding Englishman finds absurd, let alone an Italian, Greek or Spaniard (as Mara Delius points out on page 22). In no way was I trying to circumvent the system and avoid paying a deposit. This was not sharp practice, which in any case can succeed with or against the rules, but simply a difference of culture. And that is ultimately why the eurozone must fail. As Mrs Thatcher predicted, a united Germany would be too large and powerful, and it simply cannot impose its culture on everyone else.

But I’m really here for the Ring, where Wotan makes the rules. In the second opera of the cycle, Brünnhilde disobeys him and is cast out, though she first negotiates a deal. In the third opera he tries to stop fate. He bars the way against his grandson — and Brünnhilde’s future lover — Siegfried, but cannot stop him. He accepts that the world is no longer his to rule, and that Siegfried will ultimately take control. Is this how it could happen in the eurozone, with German rules giving way to new ones?

Possibly, but remember what happens in the Ring. In the fourth and final opera, forces beyond Wotan’s control cause untold confusion, leading to the death of the invincible Siegfried, and Brünnhilde immolating herself on his funeral pyre. Eurozone beware. 

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