Angela Merkel has described the idea that she is now the de facto leader of the western world as “grotesque” and “absurd”. The German chancellor’s angst is understandable. Modern Germany has no desire to lead the west and is not powerful enough to bear that burden. But unrealistic expectations are not the only reason for German anxiety. If Ms Merkel looks out from the glass box of the chancellor’s office in Berlin there is trouble on every horizon. To the east are the ever more authoritarian and Germanophobic governments of Poland and Hungary. And further east a hostile Russia. To the west, is the US of Donald Trump; to the north the UK of Brexit. And to the south lie Italy and Greece, two troubled countries that increasingly blame Germany for their economic woes. Collectively, the situation threatens to revive an old German nightmare: the fear of being a large, isolated power at the centre of Europe. The situation must feel even more grotesque because — unlike in the 20th century — Germany’s current loneliness has very little to do with the country’s own malign behaviour. On the contrary, it is the world around Germany that is changing fast, as populism and nationalism surge across Europe and in the US.