BERLIN — The previous time I lived in Berlin, in 2000, China had recently bought a building by the Spree River to use for a sprawling new embassy, and the staff would bully the clients of a women-only gym that had a lease on the top floor with verbal insults and by making them undergo intimidating security checks.
The bizarre practice was aimed, apparently, at forcing out the gym and securing use of the entire building for China. It worked. Today, the silver and mirror-clad embassy sparkles by the spinach-colored waters of the Spree, satellite dishes and antennas poking out on top.
I’m back in Berlin, having spent the intervening years reporting in Beijing as China vaulted from sixth place to second in global economic strength, pushing down Germany from third to fourth. Returning to this country from China, I am struck by how Beijing is asserting its interests here in ways that threaten Germany’s core values, going well beyond intimidating gym-going women.
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