Tag Archives: Germany

Under Siege and Under Fire: German Angst, the Second World War and the Long-Term Psychological Impact

Did Strategic Bombing in the Second World War lead to ‘German Angst’? A Large-Scale Empirical Test across 89 German Cities.

Martin Obschonka (Queensland University of Technology, Australia), Michael Stützer (Baden Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University and Ilmenau University of Technology, Germany) , P. Jason Rentfrow (University of Cambridge, UK), Jeff Potter (Atof Inc., USA), Samuel D. Gosling (University of Texas at Austin, USA, and School of Psychological Sciences, University of Melbourne, Parkville, VIC, Australia)

Abstract: A widespread stereotype holds that the Germans are notorious worriers, an idea captured by the term, German Angst. An analysis of country-level neurotic personality traits (Trait Anxiety, Trait Depression, and Trait Neuroticism; N = 7,210,276) across 109 countries provided mixed support for this idea; Germany ranked 20th, 31st, and 53rd for Depression, Anxiety, and Neuroticism respectively suggesting, at best, the national stereotype is only partly valid. Theories put forward to explain the stereotypical characterization of Germany focus on the collective traumatic events experienced by Germany during WWII, such as the massive strategic bombing of German cities. We thus examined the link between strategic bombing of 89 German cities and today’s regional levels in neurotic traits (N = 33,534) and related mental health problems. Contrary to the WWII-bombing hypothesis, we found negative effects of strategic bombing on regional Trait Depression and mental health problems. This finding was robust when controlling for a host of economic factors and social structure. We also found Resilience X Stressor interactions: Cities with more severe bombings show more resilience today: lower levels of neurotic traits and mental health problems in the face of a current major stressor – economic hardship.

URL: http://d.repec.org/n?u=RePEc:pra:mprapa:83680&r=his

Distributed by NEP-HIS on: 2018-02-06

Review by: Mark J. Crowley (Wuhan University)

This paper is an interesting addition to the literature on the Second World War, and contributes to many areas concerning the impact of the war on civilian population. It builds on much of the British literature that has now served to coin the phrases “the people’s war” and the “stiff upper lip” to describe the way in which the British responded to the hardships caused by rationing and enemy bombings, and focuses on the nation that was seen as the aggressor in the conflict – Germany. While many studies have focused on the resistance of civilians against bombings and invasion, fewer have focused on the mental impact of such events on its citizens and future generations, least of all on the nation that was judged to be the loser in the conflict. The authors deftly trace how the impact of bombing could be traced to what is now commonly referred to as “German angst”– a phenomenon that is believed to have been created by the Second World War, but one that still endures today.



The bombing of Dresden was seen as a pivotal turning point in bringing a conclusion to the Second World War.


The authors clearly outline how the different strategies adopted by the varying militaries in the war led to different results. Their claim that the Americans used strategic bombing while the British indiscriminately targeted civilian areas is one that has received less attention in the historiography, especially among British military historians, but is one worth exploring further. While the bombing of Dresden is often seen as one of the last major raids of the Second World War, inflicting massive civilian casualties and effectively breaking the German resistance, the psychological impact on German citizens has received little attention. Moreover, the ensuing debates about national identity and nationhood that dominated German history in the post-1945 era have focused more on ideological and political factors rather than the perception of individuals and “the self” about their position in the nation, or indeed the position of their nation in the world.

dresden 2

Dresden in 2002 – some parts of the city were not reconstructed to serve as a reminder of the horrors of war


One very illuminating aspect of this article is how the authors trace that German angst can be correlated to regional and economic factors. Certain areas of Germany suffered disproportionately from the effects of bombing, and it is this, together with the impact of collective memory and the notion of national mourning that has affected the way in which angst is transmitted, perceived and perpetuated among communities. The decision for certain areas to preserve buildings in their damaged state from the war serves as a reminder of the horrors of war, while also serving to perpetuate the collective sense of angst and grief caused by the conflict. Furthermore, the correlation between economic hardship and sense is, according to the authors, influenced by region. It is clear that this argument has traction, and this can be correlated to other events, excluding war, where this phenomenon is clear. One need not look further than the impact of the mass closure of industries in Britain in the 1980s to witness the disparities among British regions caused by the anomie generated by the economic distress ensuing from the realignment of the economy to show how negative economic experiences can have a powerful impact on the human psyche.

This article is deeply researched, and seeks to make many connections across a range of different possibilities for the rise and incidence of depression, together with its consequent impact on the supposed notion of German angst. However, the authors concede that while it is possible to surmise that a connection exists, the lack of data suggests that it is not possible to prove definitively. In this respect, this article will hopefully provide fertile ground for further research and debate. The references to other countries that experienced bombings in wartime are apposite, and could be explored further in additional research. Moreover, the correlation between the end result of war and the long-term psychological effect could be the subject of further analysis. For example, propaganda both during and after the Second World War enforced the belief, in Britain at least, that the armed forces were fighting for freedom and were on the “right side” of the conflict. However, the post-war situation enforced the belief among the international community that the Germans were the aggressors and the guilty party. The annexation of the country at the end of the war was symptomatic of the international community’s response, and how, to a great extent, their punishment and future destiny was in the hands of other international actors. Thus, while the British could couch their feelings of anxiety within the larger national narrative that they had undergone their struggles to secure national freedom, and were operating within a framework of righteousness, the Germans, adjudged as the evil party at the end of the war had to deal with two difficult realities. The first being that they had lost the war, and the second that suggested the German “Sonderweg” and “Weltanschauung” was one that led it on a path to its own destruction, and one that would leave the rest of the international community seeing Germany as a negative force for some time.


  • Brakman, Steven, Harry Garretsen, and Marc Schramm. “The Strategic Bombing of German Cities during World War II and its Impact on City Growth.” Journal of Economic Geography 4.2 (2004): 201-218.
  • Tiratsoo, Nick. Reconstruction, Affluence, and Labour Politics: Coventry, 1945-1960. Routledge, 1990.
  • Schaffer, Ronald. “American Military Ethics in World War II: The Bombing of German Civilians.” Journal of American History (1980): 318-334

Note of the Deputy Editor: This post was originally called “The Spitfires are Coming! German Angst, the Second World War and the Long-Term Psychological Impact.” Alain Guery (EHESS) and Avner Offer (Oxford) kindly told us the Supermarine Spitfire was a plane that could escort bombers, but did not have the range to get to Germany. Accordingly, Mark Crowley changed the title of the post.


Models of Safe Banking? The European Savings and Cooperative Banks

Savings banks and cooperative banks in Europe

By: Dilek Bülbül, Reinhard H. Schmidt and Ulrich Schüwer (all at Goethe University Frankfurt am Main)

Abstract: Until about 25 years ago, almost all European countries had a so-called three pillar banking system comprising private banks, (public) savings banks and (mutual) cooperative banks. Since that time, several European countries have implemented far-reaching changes in their banking systems, which have more than anything else affected the two pillars of the savings and cooperative banks. The article describes the most important changes in Germany, Austria, France, Italy and Spain and characterizes the former and the current roles of savings banks and cooperative banks in these countries. A particular focus is placed on the German case, which is almost unique in so far as the German savings banks and cooperative banks have maintained most of their traditional features. The article concludes with a plea for diversity of institutional forms of banks and argues that it is important to safeguard the strengths of those types of banks that do not conform to the model of a large shareholder-oriented commercial bank.

URL: http://econpapers.repec.org/paper/zbwsafewh/5.htm

Review by Anthony Gandy

In recent years I have had the pleasure of teaching banking strategy and banking regulation to professional bankers, the vast majority from the Anglo-Saxon sphere. This is a real challenge, they have greater experience of retail, business and corporate banking than I will ever obtain. However, one thing I do know is that they struggle to cope with the concept that the listed, publicly traded, universal bank is not the only institutional model in town. It is of course not the dominant model in many countries. There are real rivals many different backgrounds that challenge the listed banks and have many strengths; to a large degree these strengths maybe due to the restrictions placed upon them.


The paper Bülbül, Schmidt and Schüwer is a White Paper (No. 5) on Policy from the Center of Excellence SAFE – Sustainable Architecture for Finance in Europe (Goethe University Frankfurt) and was distributed by NEP-HIS on 2014-01-17. It outline the characteristics of savings banks (those with a public ownership foundation, even if that is no longer the whole case) and cooperative banks across Europe and detail the history of these two institutional forms in German, Austria, France, Spain and Italy. Clearly the primary example is Germany where the three-tier banking structure is live and well (if we exclude a few issues!). In Germany there is a co-existence of public savings banks, cooperative banks and private banks. In other regimes the model has changed, but in the case of say France, the cooperatives are incredibly strong even if some of the localism of these institutions has now been lost.

The authors define seven features of savings banks; however, through the passage of reform (some they argue may have been misguided) only the first two are now common across the markets they have reviewed:

  1. A focus on savings and savings mobilization
  2. A clear regional and even local focus
  3. They were/are “public” banks owned or sponsored by a public body in a specific region or locality, and those authorities had/have “obligations” in respect of these local institutions
  4. They are organised under a “public” law, though the authors do not really define this
  5. They were expected to support the local economy and the local people and financially sustainable enterprises
  6. They were expected to adhere to the region or locality of the sponsoring public body – thus avoiding competition between such banks
  7. Maybe most importantly they were part of a “dense and closely cooperating networks of legally independent institutions that constitute a special banking group”

While, to all intense and purposes the seven criteria still hold good in Germany for savings banks, elsewhere it now tends to be just the cooperative banks which maintain the sense of locality, network and non-competition between local and regional players. Even here though, many cooperatives look and act like major national banking groups, some are even competitors in the investment banking markets.

The authors review the two hundred year history of the German savings and cooperative banks, and that of other nations. Though, of course, this is done very swiftly given the space limitations they have. They also try to illustrate how changes in the system has led to weaknesses in some industries which have moved away from the German model. As is outlined in the discussion below, the end of cooperation and coordination of between savings banks in Spain, where local savings banks did not compete in other regions, has had enormous consequences.

While the history is brief, it is informative. I for one was not aware that Raiffeisenbank was named in honour of Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen who in the 19th Century established the concept of rural cooperative banks networked to centralised services organisations. The name is also common to Austrian cooperative banks and is the foundation of the movement elsewhere. I feel I should have known this. The history, especially in recent years is also important in showing why Germany has performed differently in this sector than other countries which ostensibly had similar three-tier frameworks in the past.

In the other country reviews, the focus is more on the last twenty five years. In France for example the cooperative banks have come to dominate much domestic and even international banking. They absorbed the smaller French public savings institutions (through the mergers which resulted in Banque Populaire Caisse d’Epargne (BPCE)) while Crédit Mutuel (CM) and incendie-du-credit-lyonnais[1]Crédit Agricole (Credit A) have acquired a number of private banking groups building corporate and investment franchises. Of course the ultimate expression of this was Credit A’s acquisition of, how shall we put it, the accident prone Crédit Lyonnais giving it stake in corporate and international banking in France.

The author conclude by reviewing (as they do also in the country reviews, especially in the German one) past and current literature on whether public savings banks and cooperatives are inefficient, not incentivised to be competitive or even whether they carry higher risk. Their conclusion is that older research which support these points have now been supplanted by newer research which invalidates these arguments, especially in the light of recent events.


One could argue that the case they make in their paper that German local public savings banks did not suffer to any large degree in the financial crisis could be countered by two points. Firstly, while the local savings banks had little exposure to securitised markets or to southern European debt, the structure of their industry would not really allow this anyway. These banks are local, however, they also provide funds to the Landesbanken which act as the central services and, effectively, the centralised treasury. It is they which then use funds to access corporate, investment and international markets. As the authors have point out, the Landesbanken have been hard hit in the financial crisis. Effectively the savings bank and the cooperative banking sector disaggregate the banking activity network into those which take in deposits and fund local projects and those which play a centralised role supporting the local institutions with an infrastructure and acting as their representatives in international wholesale markets. So they do not make perfect comparators to the more integrated large commercial banks. Secondly, while German has suffered from exploring the deposits of its savings banks and other banks abroad to fund various assets, the local German economy has not suffered, so the savings and cooperative banks have not been tested at local level, not this time around anyway.cartoon120621_2_full_600x400[1]

Secondly, the Italian section is a maybe little brusque. While savings banks and cooperatives along the German model have existed since the late 19th century, it is stated that they have not really established themselves to such a large extent and have been privatised. However, some of the arguments put forward for the benefits of public savings and cooperative banks are that they maintain localism. While Italy has clearly done much to privatise and get local politics out of their banks, they still certainly maintain more local banks than say a UK or Ireland as a proportion of their banking industry. In addition, while the word “Foundations” is mentioned iceberg-montepaschi[1]once, we rather skip over the important role they play in the governance and ownership of certain Italian banks in which the Foundations play such a large role and which still own a large proportion of the bank, including and rather notably the oldest of them all, Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, which so obviously faces an existential crisis.

Policy and Teaching

The public savings industry which the authors really find was badly hit by financial crisis was the Spanish one. However, they make a very interesting point that the industry in Spain had already abandoned many of the seven characteristics of public savings banks the authors identified. Indeed they make the very strong case that by allowing the savings banks in Spain to become national and to expand in areas they had little experience, they were attracted to the booming area of commercial mortgages, the vast majority used to fund the property bubble which would so damage Spain when it burst.

This last point is an interesting one as it shows the consequences of changing a system of ownership and governance under pressure to reform for only one reason, in this case the European standardised view of competition. Given banks are at the heart of the monetary system, consequences elsewhere in the economy have to be considered. Until the 1970s the Spanish savings banks were public institutions and somewhat politicised. Accession to the EU in 1986 brought pressure to reform and to liberalise, and yet while elements of competition were reformed, the governance of these institutions was not improved; fiefdoms remained, spurred on by growing competition. Of course the EU is hardly to blame for house price falls of up to 53.5% in Spain, but it does emphasise the importance of working through the long term consequences of policy changes which may interact with other events.

This paper not only gives teaching staff the opportunity to expose students to other banking governance and ownership possibilities, it discusses how changes to the model once common to all public savings and cooperative banks have potentially undermined some of their advantages and led to unintended consequences. It will be in the student reading list next year for sure.