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
- Part 1: Why Germany Can't Shed Its Troubling Past
- Part 2: A Shadow that Constantly Regenerates Itself
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