What the Lehman Crisis Means for Germany

The bankruptcy and its fallout also threaten German financial institutions, as well as the country's federal budget

The start of the week saw a banking earthquake, a Jet-Black Monday after a Black Sunday—at least for the financing sector. Monday's opening on Wall Street saw Bank of America stocks tumble 13 percent, and shares of Citigroup lose 6 percent of their value. Washington Mutual, America's largest savings bank, lost over 15 percent of its market value, and Switzerland's UBS dropped over 20 percent. The biggest loss by far was suffered by the American International Group (AIG); in a single day, America's largest insurance company lost almost half of its market value.

The epicenter of the banking and market earthquake was in New York in the headquarters of a venerable banking establishment with German roots. On Monday morning, after a desperate fight for survival, Lehman Brothers, America's fourth-largest investment bank, declared bankruptcy. At the same time, people learned that Merrill Lynch—America's third-largest and likewise crippled investment bank—would be rescued by Bank of America.

In conversations with Spiegel Online, finance experts have confirmed the seriousness of the situation—and described the risks for Germany as well. "Lehman poses a risk for the international financial world," said Hans-Peter Burghof, professor of banking at the University of Hohenheim. "It's irresponsible to let a bank of this caliber simply go broke. That sends shockwaves all the way to Frankfurt (Germany's financial capital)."

In light of this new turbulence, even German Finance Minister Peter Steinbrück has been forced to evoke unusually clear images when he speaks. As he sees it, the very people who had prematurely spoken about there being a light at the end of the tunnel will now be forced to realize "that, in reality, it was the light of an oncoming train."

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