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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Germany Spends $35M to Lift Citizens' Spirits

BERLIN -- All you mutterers with knitted brows, listen: It's time to get happy. We're talking $35 million worth of feel-good giddiness. Unemployment may be high, and the government may have only come together after weeks of public bickering, but this is the land of Beethoven, Einstein and all those giggling little garden gnomes.

Such is the message trilling through Germany's largest public service campaign. The aim is to lift the country out of its funk with a blitz of inspirational television messages from famous soccer players, actors, figure skaters and various wild-haired geniuses.

"Germans, in general, are heavy thinkers and not so relaxed about their lives and the future and all that stuff," said Oliver Voss, an advertising executive working on the campaign. "But these are hard economic times and we're still suffering from the cost of reunification. All this leads to mental depression. What we're trying to do is reinforce confidence that Germans themselves can change things."

The campaign motto is Du bist Deutschland, or You Are Germany. Appearing until January in movie theaters, magazines and on television, the ads tell Germans that they are pugilist Max Schmeling, race car driver Michael Schumacher, Olympic figure skater Katarina Witt and many other famous and not-so-famous citizens, living and dead.

"Achieve what you are capable of achieving," says conductor Justus Frantz in the crusade sponsored by 25 media companies.

It has inspired a number of satires online. "You are what you eat," says one web site. "Do you think after all those decades people of other nations would not identify you according to what you eat? Forget it. You are a Kraut. You are a potato. You are Germany."

But the ads have inspired. From a Hamburg suburb, Katja Estel said: "If we ourselves don't do anything for the future, who will? We should be more grateful for our country."

A recent survey by a health insurer found the number of people in Berlin who suffer depression has risen 70 percent since 1997. And according to German public radio, 12 percent of those who stayed home from work "did so because they were suffering from depression and panic attacks."

The slide has been happening for years as globalization and a sluggish economy challenged the hallmarks of German life, including high pay, strong unions and long vacations. The nation lost faith in its politicians, discovered its schools were lagging and began wondering what happened to the spirit of ingenuity and innovation that gave the world Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" and Einstein's theories on the universe.

"We really want to change the mood," said Bernd Bauer, the former head of corporate communications for the Bertelsmann media group, a sponsor of the campaign. "We're realistic. We know we can't change the country with just an ad campaign. But it's obviously hit a nerve in people's minds, and maybe it will help people get confidence back.

"If the mood of people is good, then the economy will improve."