Almost every year one Germany or another does itself in, as Thilo Sarrazin puts it, and another one emerges. Life goes on, changing every day – much to the annoyance of some and to the delight of others. In my adopted neighbourhood in Berlin, Prenzlauer Berg, I’ve been through all sorts of changes over the past 20 years.

When I first moved here, this residential area was besieged by the so-called Russian moth: by freelance artists and actors who stuck to the bar tables like moths to chestnut trees. The bohos from the West were replacing the glum East German pensioners in their stove-heated flats with shared toilets.

Then came the unshaven north German publicans, followed by the enterprising Swabians and grown-up children of the Internet. Now our neighbourhood is mixed and indistinct. But it is striking that most of the people here don’t have decent jobs: they stick together, help one another out and that’s how they pull through.

The ability to change is what distinguishes an open from a totalitarian society. The German president once said democracy depends on all the citizens understanding its rules. Actually a dictatorship depends on everyone knowing its rules. What characterises a democracy is that no-one understands its rules, let alone knowing them by heart. No, actually these rules are continually reinvented in the democratic process.

The great art of politics consists in taking the various groups into account, the countless minorities, and accommodating all of them. A decent state must show solidarity: it has a raison d’être only if all its citizens count as equals – regardless of how much money they put in the state coffers.

Regrettably, Germany is increasingly practicing a two-hearted policy. “If we want to have a heart for under-achievers, we must also show a heart for high achievers,” says the chancellor – which is a way of splitting up society. In the same vein, one overachiever on the executive board of the Federal Bank tried to divide people up into the good and the dumb. Only the “productive” deserve respect, is his message.

But “productiveness” is not, at base, a human quality, it’s a term from the manufacturing industry. A man is more than a factor of production: he thrives when doing something out of passion, not under pressure to produce or perform. But those who see life as a kind of cost-benefit equation are put off by the thought of “passion”. Their dream is a society that has rid itself of useless people – of all those unproductive types who don’t produce any respectable added value, and who dress funny and speak poor German to boot.

Like the people once brought to Germany to do work no Germans wanted to do. They were supposed to haul coal up from the depths of the mines and then disappear, vanish into thin air or turn into coal themselves. I don’t know how the Germans envisaged the miners’ return back then, at any rate no-one thought they’d stay, send for their wives, and beget children who rap.

From an accountant’s point of view, it would be advantageous to get rid of these people. Then Germany would be a land of the strong and the smart: one can always send for other suckers from abroad to do the dirty work and, when the time is ripe, harry them out again after genetic testing.

Attempts have been made to separate the weak from the strong, the right from the wrong, time and again – and not only in Germany. But all those attempts failed. The strong always ended up snuffing it along with the weak. An enigma.

Apparently, the strong and the weak are fatally dependent on each other. They just can’t make it without each other. No sooner are the weak eliminated than the first strong ones start weakening and get hounded out of the ranks. Nobody on the planet gets their own little private rescue, not even the Federal Bank director. It’s everyone or no-one.

The weak and the strong will be chained together forever after. On good days, they’ll appreciate the value of sticking together. On bad days, rabble-rousers will sow strife and wrath between them. And seeing as it’s a lot easier to thrash away at each other than to help each other out, the rabble-rousers and false counsellors often score big. Which should put them in the eighth circle of Dante’s inferno, along with all the other fraudulent advisers. Or maybe the ninth, with the traitors. It’s supposed to be grim and cold down there, they freeze in the ice – and no-one reaches out to the other guy.

Translated from the German by Eric Rosencrantz