Germany. Geography. Risk.

How a people understands risk is based on its experiences as a people, on the decisions it has made and on their ramifications. Decisions take place within a concrete context, within certain parameters, such as geography. Germany lies in the middle of Europe, has always had a number of neighbors, some friends, some foe, others neutral.

Germany’s topography offers little protection. In the East vast flatlands flow into the steppes of Russia. Never a maritime power, Germany to the north has only narrow access to the high seas. With the exception of the Rhine River, there are also no natural barriers in the West offering protection.The Alps to the south offer protection, however.

Compared to such countries as the U.S., China, Russia, Germany has limited natural resources. The U.S. is a continental nation, defended by oceans to the East and West. Great Britain, once a great power, has forever enjoyed the protection of the seas as an island nation.

Any mistakes Germany made in its relations with its neighbors and the powers beyond was felt directly by its people. Time and again in its history devastating wars were fought on German territory, decimating its population and ravaging its economy. For some of the wars the German people have themselves to blame. For others they were victims.

Risiko or risk from Italian risico: to do something involving a certain degree of chance, with possible negative effects; possibility of significant loss, failure.

Germans often say auf Nummer sicher gehen, literally to play the safe number, when they want to avoid unnecessary risk. Germans prefer to “check twice and be sure”. They check, test, question, analyze. They’re often considered to be overly detailed, risk averse, even pedantic in their approach. Being particularly careful may test one’s patience, but the Germans would rather be safe than sorry.

Or lieber den Spatz in der Hand, als die Taube auf dem Dach, figuratively “better a bird in the hand than two in the bush“.