The historical parallel that the future Chancellor had drawn up seemed a bit far-fetched at first glance.

Almost exactly 97 years ago, on December 15, 1924, the first German traffic light went into operation at Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, explained Olaf Scholz during the presentation of his coalition agreement on Wednesday.

Ralph Bollmann

Correspondent for economic policy and deputy head of economics and “Money & More” for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung in Berlin.

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“Can that work?” People would have asked first.

But then it turned out that the traffic light system, as it is called in official German, can regulate things clearly and provide orientation.

The so-called traffic light coalition could now play a “similar pioneering role” for Germany - although it remained unclear whether people should actually stand by red, go green and watch out for yellow.

Light signals on Potsdamer Platz

The story that Social Democrat Scholz wanted to tell was a story of progress.

The traffic light on Potsdamer Platz, the replica of which seems a bit lost today, between the mulled wine stands of the Christmas market, which is still open.

It is considered a symbol of the “Roaring Twenties”, the short period between the world wars in which Germany opened up to modernity, technologically, economically and socially.

And for everyone who had not yet understood it, Scholz added: "We want to dare to make more progress."

This is what it says on the title page of the coalition agreement that the "Alliance for Freedom, Justice and Sustainability" wants to conclude, but of course it is even more an allusion to Willy Brandt's long legendary government declaration from the distant year 1969.

At that time, the first social democratic chancellor in alliance with the liberals had already called for a reform of the Federal Railroad, which in future should be run "comparable to a commercial enterprise", but above all announced a major social upheaval: "We want to dare more democracy."

The term was chosen with care

Some scoffers, even within the governing parties, dismiss this as a marketing gag, as an allegedly effective advertising label that was somehow stuck onto the coalition agreement at 2:30 in the evening, as was called the “new cohesion” in 2018, 2013 Wanted to “shape Germany's future” or in 2009 promised more “growth, education, cohesion”. But it is not like that. The coalition leaders dealt very seriously with the concept of progress very early on, and in the end made a very conscious decision in favor of it.

First of all, that is astonishing in a country where hardly anyone has believed in something like progress for decades.

For a long time, a solid majority of the population has expressed the opinion in surveys that "the younger generation will not have it as good as we": 76 percent were only recently in a study by the Rheingold Institute that the mentality of Germans seeks to explore.

According to Stephan Grünewald, head of the institute, the Germans see “the urgent need for change and action”, but at the same time they are “too fearful or too comfortable to convert it into a decisive willingness to act”.

The last time you offered a book publisher a manuscript on the subject of progress, you could get the coolest possible rebuff: Progress?

Not for sale in Germany!

Merkel capitulated to skepticism about progress

The outgoing Chancellor, who had once started as a reformer, had surrendered to this attitude for a long time.

Her husband Joachim Sauer recently said on the sidelines of a scientific meeting in Turin that the German vaccination disaster was due to a "certain laziness and laziness of the Germans".

In doing so, he is likely to have reproduced Angela Merkel's attitude almost exactly: she, too, apparently considered her compatriots too comfortable, but owed her constant re-election to this ease.

That was the great paradox of their chancellorship.