The current â€œunderclassâ€ debate in Germany, and the less than flattering implications it carries for a large number of Germans living in the eastern part of the country, is just the latest manifestation of the nationâ€™s obsession with bad news. This â€œnewâ€ subclass (itâ€™s always been here, of course) is said to have resigned to its fate and canâ€™t find its way on its own.
That others from the East, albeit with a much more fortunate background, not only find their way alone but also occasionally have phenomenal success doing so, seems to be a news item that the general public has little interest in. Exceptions to the rule are just that, so the thinking, and therefore canâ€™t be of any relevance to the suffering masses. Or can they doch?
At any rate, Googleâ€™s recent $1.65 billion purchase of YouTube put the companyâ€™s two founders Chad Hurley and Steven Chen in the international limelight. And rightly so, everybody loves a good American dream story come true now and again. But YouTubeâ€™s third founder didnâ€™t come in from the cold into the limelight until a few days later. And lo and behold, it turns out that Jawed Karim is a German citizen, born in Merseburg, in the good-old-bad-old DDR.
Karimâ€™s eighteen second film of a zoo elephant was the first film to be uploaded to YouTube way back when on April 23, 2005. A few more have followed since then (around 100 million get handled a day). But no, thatâ€™s not enough. He has to add insult to injury. This guyâ€™s illustrious career actually began somewhere else altogether: His first job was starting up a little company called PayPal. And they say lightening never strikes twice. Heâ€™s 27.
Ironically, Karimâ€™s family (his father was originally from Bangladesh) left Germany in 1992 after the infamous post-Wall racist incidents in Hoyerswerda, Rostock and MÃ¶lln; not the first time that AuslÃ¤nderfeindlichkeit (hatred of foreigners) has led to the brain drain from one country and to the benefit of another. Thatâ€™s entrepreneurial power that Germany could be using right now, too (should we Americans say thanks to Germany now or later?).
So does the German Karimâ€™s American dream offer a model for the â€œunderclassâ€ problem in Germany? Of course it doesnâ€™t (we canâ€™t mandate miraculous good fortune yet). Not directly, anyway. But maybe the third manâ€™s journey suggests a third way for those with less good fortune: If your family canâ€™t offer you the background and the help you need, and the state certainly canâ€™t, maybe itâ€™s time to set aside the resignation and start helping yourself instead.
Come visit me at Observing Hermann…