Saturday, July 01, 2006

Postcards from Berlin

I am an American living and working in Berlin. The corporate bigs here at Liverputty thought it might amuse and edify the teeming readers of this blog to hear occasionally from me. Full disclosure: I am an artist, not a writer, and the attempt over the last few years to become fluent in German has rendered my English a little weird.

A couple of visits back, I was sitting at the dinner table with a few friends, when one (who hates flying, and as a consequence has never been more than 500 miles from home) asked me rather abruptly, "So what's it like...over Europe?" And he wanted an answer before the linguine got cold. In a word, it's different - far more different than either Americans or Europeans want to admit. Far more different than it first appears. It has taken me several years being here to realize just how different we are from each other.

I live in the heart of West Berlin, in the old entertainment district. It is still entertaining: as I write there are six prostitutes plying their wares on the street below. The streets are full of honking cars, racing past, flying great big German flags (black, red, and gold), celebrating the win a few hours ago over Argentina in the World Cup. This is the closest Germans get to displaying overt patriotism.

I saw Der Untergang (nominated for best foreign language film Oscar in, I believe, 2005) a few years ago when it was first released. At the time, I was relatively new in Germany and had only recently become marginally fluent. It was when the film ended and lights came up that I finally started to understand the German passion for pacifism. The audience was dead silent for a very long moment before silently getting up to leave. There were no comments. The scars on the German psyche are still fresh and there are physical reminders everywhere.

Today, walking to the State Library in eastern Berlin, I crossed over the wall, or rather the remains of the wall. It is now denoted by a flat line of bricks imbedded in the middle of the street, following its old course. In front of me was the Holocaust memorial, a three or four acre plaza filled with granite plinths, ranging from a few inches to over ten feet high, all uniform gray. The memorial had to wait until reunification to be built, as it occupies the site of the mine-fields on the East German side of the wall. One block north was the Brandenburg Gate, the symbolic center of Berlin, and just behind that was the Reichstag, restored after the reunification with an enormous glass dome over the center.

And galavanting through the streets were the Germans, waving their flags in hopeful anticipation(later realized) of victory that evening. But what was unexpected (to me anyway) was the number of non-european young people wearing the German colors(often in the form of large, fuzzy Cat-in-the-Hat hats) and waving the flag. Arabs, Africans and Asians were all heavily represented. Germany is not, like the USA is (or was), a melting pot. The country has only been open to immigration since 1949, when the Federal Republic of (West)Germany (DFR) was founded. And although Germany has been allowing entry to foreigners for nearly 60 years, with one of the most liberal asylum policies in the world, Germany has never been welcoming to foreigners (mostly Turks; known for years as "guest workers"), especially non-white, non-europeans. And the foreigners here have responded in kind, keeping to themselves, keeping their languages and national allegiances - merely existing within the German state.

Yet with a birth rate far below replacement, Germans are starting to realize that they will have to start absorbing immigrants, rather than merely making room for them, if they want the German nation to survive. And for the first time, the guest workers seem to be acting like the citizens they mostly are, if only for the soccer team. Those cars, which are still honking like crazy, are as likely to be filled with Turkish teenagers as German ones.

It is neither a deep nor, probably, a meaningful patriotism. Turkey didn't make it to the World Cup finals this year. A deeper intellectual pride of country would be too much to expect from the Germans, themselves, for many more years. That will not likely happen not until the generation that fought the war, and suffered (and ran) the concentration camps is dead and buried. But this World Cup spirit may be a start.

Next up: Ausländer Raus! The Far-Right, Far-Left, and anti-immigrationism.

Or maybe not.

Yours, Escutcheon Blot


Wagstaff said...

Thank you, EscutcheonBlot, for that informative post. Your english reads lucid and just fine over on this side of the pond. It's good to know that all those billions Liverputty has been spending on foreign intelligence are finally paying some dividends. I anxiously await your next dispatch. A blot on the escutcheon, huh? Hmmmm.

Dude said...

Er, der auf Hookerstraße lebt,

That's a good read. As you know, I was in Germany shortly before, during, and somewhat after reunification as an American soldier. The disdain of Turks was strong then, as well. It was, in fact, even stronger than that of American soldiers in German communities that played host to American posts.

Though, to be fair, the German respect for Americans in communities that did not host American posts was strong. I spent two consecutive Christmases over there, and each time, a German family took me into their home. I remember at one, Petra's father was excited to find out my grandfather had fought in Europe during World War II. His father had been in the war, and I asked where....."the Netherlands, France, Africa...."

I remember when the Gulf War started, I heard that the West German soldiers would not be depoloyed. As an American GI, it seemed odd to have an Army and not send it abroad.

How is the economy doing, what with the EU and all? The West German economy was fairly strong when I was there (1989-1991), but it started to slow down as it absorbed East Germany. It definitely seemed like a culture clash when the two Germanies became one, as the Soviet system had really run down the East German economy and work ethic. I remember driving into East Germany after the border opened and seeing bullet holes in buildings, remnants of World War II that had never been cleaned up. Oddly enough, the Nelson twins were big at the time, so I can't here "Love and Affection" without thinking of a concentration camp on the East German side.

Is Alf still in syndication over there? What about Baywatch?

Charlie Parsley said...

Very nice to hear from you EscutcheonBlot. Thanks so much for a good read about a place I might not get a chance to visit as much as I'd wish. Seeing it through your eyes, somehow I feel would be similar to my own perspective. Looking forward to more or your report.

EscutcheonBlot said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
EscutcheonBlot said...

Sad night in Berlin. Also a very quiet one. A few brave Italians are shooting off firecrackers, but all in all, remarkably quiet. That may change as people go back out on the streets, but the last 3 hours have been the quietest I have ever heard Berlin, as everyone is inside, glued to the screen.

Germany 0, Italy 2


Jeffrey said...

Thanks for the update. Does this mean that the Turks go back to being foreign workers? It would be interesting to see if any long term impact comes from the soccer euphoria.