So I’m in Berlin and things are going well. Have a large unfurnished room on the 1st of May with at least one über cool flatmate (the other to be found in the next few weeks) and a broken arm due to my experimenting with “bicycle catapulting”, a new sport I hope to put my name to. I have also made progress on the social front and have meet many super friendly, young Germans, all busy doing their thing and doing it well, as far as I can tell. Also, they have painted the TV tower at Alexander Platz like a giant pink ‘fussball’ (see photo, thanks to bollin @ Flickr).
There is, however, a problem here with national identity. I was talking to Simone, a 22 year-old a recent fashion graduate, on the way home from a rocking house party last Saturday night, and she was saying that “young German people feel like they can’t be proud to be German because of the war”. As a result they feel like everything here is pretty “crap”. It seems any sort of national sentiment in Germany is associated with the Nazi party. The rest of the world is done fighting the Third Reich, but the Germans seem to still be battling its ghost.
A few facts
There are hundreds of memorials to the various groups who suffered during WW2 throughout German. Hundreds. There are apparently no memorials for the innocent Germans who died in the course of the war. None. The German people did suffer. There where apparently hundreds of thousands for rapes preformed by the Russian army once they had control of Berlin. The guild book describes it as ‘an orgy of rape and looting’ that lasted three days. These were followed by tens of thousands of abortions in the following months of occupation. A fact which is largely undocumented in history books.
I thikn the memorials here are remembering the wrong thing about WW2. Sure all the killing and suffering was bad, but that is inherent in every war throughout history. Everyone knows: war sucks. I believe the causes are the important thing to remember as this might prevent it happening again. Given the current situation in global politics, I guess only France and Germany understood the lesson of the Second World War.
It was excessive nationalism that lead to the hatred and racisms that the Nazi party used to carry out its acts of violence. The worst economy the world has ever seen (hyper-inflation!) and resentment at the terms of defeat from the end of the previous war also played a big part. I discovered that the Nazi party was actually financed by big business, when it started, who where scared of the Communist party which had quite strong following in Germany in the 1930’s. The corporations get it right again.
In the last issue of the Exberliner, a local English magazine, they quotes figures from a survey where people in foreign countries were asked to give the first word that popped into their head when given the word ‘Germany’. ‘Hitler’ was the case 95% of the time. Having received this response from most English and Australians that I told about my move here I can only confirm this reaction. In fact most native English speakers don’t realise what a sensitive issue it is for the Germans and so goose stepping and screaming ‘Hail Hitler!’ is a common reaction when meeting someone of Germany origin.
With the world cup coming here, at least for a month people might think football when they think Germany, but even with their strong anti-war stance against America, the ‘Hitler association’ is a hard dog to shake.
This is a problem
It would seem Germany is in a perpetual cycle of: war -> guilt -> war -> guilt, and there is a strong feeling of guilt here amongst the youth. Should the each generation feel guilty for the stupidity of their forefathers? Certainly we should feel sympathy for their victims and learn from their mistakes, but somehow feeling guilty for something you had no hand in seems intuitively wrong. Australians face this problem with Aboriginal land rights, and the conservatives have taken advantage of the mixed feelings.
I think we can blame nationalism for WW2, but if this was the cause of the war then it wasn’t just Germany but all Western countries who are to blame for the idiocy of that conflict. Germany does seem to be the only one who has faced up to wholly. The Italians don’t seemed phased by their involvement with the losing side, but then again they lynched their own ‘fearless leader’ as he fled. Japan is currently trying to write it out of history books (well, in their schools), which China is strongly objecting to, but I guess shows the Japanese are over it. The atrocities preformed by Russia, England and America go largely unspoken of proving the old saying: ‘History is written by the victors’.
Australia has an anti-nationalism that I have always thought holds it back on the world stage. Even though I personally don’t want or need a national identity I still find pride in the Australian character: generally being friendly and easy going with an affinity towards the Australian landscape.
So how should the young German proceed then if they can’t find pride in being German? Perhaps national pride could be replaced by an urban pride. That same nauseating sentiment that causes friction between Sydney and Melbourne might be put to good use here, where I think that being from Berlin is really pretty cool. Its cool because it implies a certain type of urban character and attitude as does coming from NYC or Tokyo or any international city, which relate more to each other than the country they happen to be in.
Nationalism is so last century! I relate to the city I live in more than any given nation identity. Perhaps I am a special case: I was born in London, grew up in South East Asia and Australia, live in Berlin and do work from New York. My friends and family are all over the globe yet we in close contact (if we want to be). To top it off I have a fetish for Japanese Anime culture. But I am not alone and just one of the growing body of global citizens that inhabit these global cities. My life style has been made possible by the opening of borders and the growth of a global network called ‘the internet’.
If you were to ask me where am I from, a question I have always struggled to find an easy answer to, I would now say, with pride, ‘Ich bin Berliner!’.