The Ugly German Rears Its Head Why Germany Can't Shed Its Troubling Past


Part 2: A Shadow that Constantly Regenerates Itself

Here is another realization of 2012: The Germans lack a suitable approach to questions surrounding these issues. It was awkward, the way German sports officials dealt with Drygalla. They were so afraid that they would do something wrong that they kept pressuring the woman until she finally decided to go home. In the NSU case, on the other hand, the authorities were so negligent and careless that five senior members of the domestic intelligence agency have since resigned. And then there are the foolish words of some members of the Pirate Party, which sometimes were not the product of a right-wing extremist mindset but rather of an idiotic thoughtlessness in dealing with German history.

For Germany, all of this means that it isn't possible to shake off the shadow of the Nazi years, because people in other countries have a need or a desire to continue remembering the atrocities. It isn't possible, because the shadow is constantly regenerating itself, and because the history of xenophobia is more far-reaching, and German xenophobia seems different from its Spanish or British versions.

An Accurate Image of Germany Today

In fact, shaking off this shadow isn't even desirable. All nations live with their history and in their history. Being a Spaniard means having internalized Spain's history. The sum of our memories coalesces into a mentality. Engagement with the past helps people understand themselves and makes life interesting. If done well, it protects us from the mistakes that were made in the past.

In the 1950s, the Germans largely refused to accept the malignant part of their history, both in West Germany and East Germany. In the late 1960s, an alarmist attitude developed as a reaction. Then references to the Nazi dictatorship and the Holocaust became part of a totality, extending to almost all aspects of life. Many were obsessed with a constant fear that it could happen again. Extreme left-wing terrorists fought the nation of then Chancellor Willy Brandt, which sought to expand democracy, calling it pre-fascist. It was absurd and idiotic.

We shouldn't be thinking in terms of totality but parallelism. Sometimes we address our history and its aura in the present, and sometimes we don't. Then we celebrate, or we work, or we do whatever we need to do. This works, of course. There are times when my grandfather feels like a heavy burden to me, when I ask myself what he did and why, and if any of it is still part of me. But those times are temporary; I don't go through life feeling despondent.

No one expects us to. Berlin, once the center of Hitler's demonic Reich, is now the capital of party life, one of the world's top destinations for young people looking for fun. They come flying in on weekends and go dancing with happy-go-lucky Germans at famous clubs like the Berghain or the Kater Holzig. Unfortunately, their travel guides tell them that if they happen to be dark-skinned, they should be careful in some neighborhoods. They experience the relaxed nature of everyday life in the popular Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer Berg districts, and perhaps some of them find the time to visit the Holocaust Memorial. When they fly home, they take along an accurate picture of Germany today.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

Discuss this issue with other readers!
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derelly 12/13/2012
1. Ugly German
I lived in Germany for over 2 decades and what made a huge impression on me is that Germany as a nation has spent an incredible amount of time dealing with it's ugly past, much more than any other country. People are aware of the past and question how the war and its terrors all happened. This awareness helps to keep them (hopefully) from reoccurring. It is one of the most open minded countries. Consider in comparison how Japan whitewashes the war out of school textbooks, and the British (I am British BTW) ignore the many skeletons in their collective closet. To have a national consciousness based on the feeling that you 'fought the good fight' back then, won, and that makes you immune to such issues happening in your country is a danger. At least the Germans are quick to recognize the problem quickly—how many Greeks are closing their eyes to the ethnic violence there? As the article says, it is very easy to paint Hitler moustaches on peoples pictures and thereby make cheap allusions to their activity that have nothing to do with reality.
javiersosanin 12/14/2012
2. Ugly German?
Hello! I really like this magazine, but let me tell you that I'm fed up with the way it keeps on regreting and crying for the german past. Nowadays Germany is a sinonym of success and a model country for the world. The only one who doesn't know it,is the german people. And if der Spiegel want to remember the past, it could also focus on Beethoven, Kant, or Koch (just for saying some of the greatest german genius in world history). Germany is much more than the nazis. Der Spiegel can't hide it. I'm from Argentina, and I don't even got german forefathers, but please, being proud of the own nation is not a sin. Greets!
beschwingt 12/14/2012
Zitat von sysopThe 2006 World Cup in Germany seemed like a fairy tale come true for the country. Suddenly, years of troubling history seemed to lift amidst euphoria over the cosmopolitan twist fate had brought to the country. But this year, amid fresh debates over xenophobia, many are left wondering if the ugly German is back.
"*many* are left wondering if the ugly German is back" And who exactly is "many" supposed to be? This reminds me of FOX news quoting with "some people say..." - This is what i´d call "quality jounalism". In the heads of self-hating leftist journalsist like Dirk Kurbjuweit, the "ugly german" will always persist. Its what they live for... and from.
sandvik83 12/14/2012
Thank you for an extremely well written and thought-provoking article. The past is an extremely useful political tool, and that is why no-one will let Germany shed its history. It is usually used to push the blame for internal problems out to an external source, and Germany is an easy target in this respect. It is a remnant of the old system in Europe with wars and reparations with all the problems of the present being blamed on the past in order for men to grab or maintain power. Germany is an easy target in this respect. But not the only one. African dictators still blame all problems on their ex colonial masters. Argentina reacted to its current economic woes with a wave of "anti-britainism". Certain groups in the Middle East are convinced the christian Crusades are still going on. No country can, in this age at least, shed its past. All you can do is to distance yourself from it. A large majority of germans do not want another Reich, and as long as things are that way, there is no need for concern. Greeks will stop with the Nazi comparisons when their economy improves. Sanity will return, at least until the next crisis when Germany, unfortunately, will once again be an easy target of blame.
dyinglikeflies 12/15/2012
5. dyinglikeflies
In mentioning Gunter Grass, a "beloved" writer, and the outrage over his selective criticism of Israel and it's defense capabilities, is it not relevant to cite to Grass' having hid his past membership in the Waffen SS? Grass' behavior exhibits, in his selective, leftist outrage, a bias that possibly even he is unaware of, and a complex self hatred that in fact is not self hatred at all but indeed a narcissism and continued quest for personal redemption. He is not the only German who acts this way-which undercuts the moral authority of Germans, if they have any, to lecture Israelis on the evil of militarism.
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