I just arrived in Germany this week with my band New Lows. Besides the Deutschebag at the airport who tried to pick my pocket and resembled the first guy who always dies in every Die Hard movie, I have been blown away by how kind and friendly everyone has been. From the Polish student I met at a rest stop at night in Frankfurt on her way from Belgium to the show promoter who gave us a full meal and an apartment to crash at with 12 beds and a hot shower, they’re all nicer than most Americans.
There are very few places where kindness to your fellow man or woman exists anymore. As I walked around Hannover on a blue-skied sunny morning, I discovered the excellent Rockers Records and chatted with the owner Chris over a coffee to find out what's so pinko about peace, love, and understanding. (Spoiler: I did not find out why Presidents of the United States of America’s first LP is worth five Euros more than Agnostic Front Live At CBGB)
VICE: For those in America who have never been, explain daily life in Germany.
Chris:Compared to the States it’s probably easier. There are really no bad areas; most people get along well. There are few problems with ethnic minorities. We're very diverse and Germany is one of the rare countries that’s economically well off. The problems that many other countries have as a result of poverty are much less apparent here.
What do you feel makes the economy run so much better here than in America. Are Americans too consumed with greed?
I honestly doubt that. I think there are people all around the world consumed with greed. What makes Germany a bit better off in that respect is that we have a very strong middle class. We have a lot of successful international businesses that are actually small or middle-sized companies as opposed to the large major corporations in the States.
Describe the health care system in Germany.
Well, you have to be health insured. The public run health care system deducts a premium from your pay at an affordable price set by what you earn, so richer people will pay a higher price than poorer people. If you're on social welfare you will have social insurance or health insurance. Everyone here in Germany has health care and is taken care of.
So basically everyone pays their fair share?
Basically, yes. But there are also private companies like everywhere else, so if you do happen to earn more than your average worker you can to opt out of public care and become a member of a private company. Everyone shares the risks though, but there are fewer risks if you happen to be very wealthy.
What do you feel is the most dangerous part about walking around Germany at night?
There is nothing scary about walking around here at night. I mean, you may encounter drunks who are in a bad mood. There are some high-rise areas outside of the main cities where the people have little income, or fewer chances in our society, but there are no areas where I would say, "Don’t go there, it's dangerous."
That is of course quite the opposite in any area in America, why in your opinion, do you feel violence is more prevalent in the States?
It seems violence is much more accepted in America. In Europe, pretty much nobody has guns except for soldiers and policemen, and that of course is the opposite in the States. That may be a reason why it's much more peaceful here. Also, the social and financial differences in Germany, as well as most of Europe, are not as big as they are in the States, so you have very little areas with high concentrations of very poor people or extremely rich people. Throughout Europe it's a much better mix of people socially and financially than there seems to be in the States.
Mitt Romney has proposed to cut all funding for the arts in America if elected president. How do you feel a society can run if that were to actually happen?
I think it's a sign of poor judgment and perhaps a very dangerous idea. If you only do something for financial reasons, society as a whole will be much poorer… much more self-centered. Art is a very important part of life, and you should have fun in life. As a human being you should widen in your horizons and experience things you never have before. It’s a very stupid idea to cut arts funding.
And of course the Republican party are the ones constantly telling us they will bring true freedom to America, but they’re the ones that want to limit gay rights and control a woman's body. I take it that's not a problem here.
It is not at all. Since the mid-60s Germany has had a fairly liberal stance on abortion. In the very early stages of a pregnancy you may abort and you can consult your doctor, but it is of course the decision of the woman, which it should be. German people find it very strange that Americans have the right to bear arms, which is essentially the right to kill other human beings, but you won't let a woman have control over her own body. That doesn't make sense to us.
What would you say to Mitt Romney about his policies if given the chance?
It’s certainly a tough question to answer, but I'd have to say that the well being of a majority of people should be much more important to government than the well being of a few very rich people who may have more influence. The basis of the average man truly makes a country run, and if those people are well off, happy, and feel treated well, the whole country is better off.
So at the end of the day you are very happy to be German and happy that you live in this country?
I am very much, yes. With our history it always sounds strange for us to say we are proud to be Germans. Like every major capitalist nation in the world we all have our drawbacks, but I do feel that Germany is one of the freest democratic nations in the world, so I am very happy.