bruecken_schlag_worte

Brückenschläge und Schlagworte

Being German and the Issue of Patriotism

Last week I wrote a post on cultural identity in this globalized world and in my own travel-filled life. The reactions were immediate and plentiful, and it seems that this is a subject that interests a lot of us. I am sure that this is because in travel, we always try to find ourselves. We confront ourselves with the other, the great unknown, the „cudne manowce“, as I like to call it, which is Polish for „the magical astray“. And we enjoy this because we perceive it as different only by comparison with what we are, and in this process we notice and understand our own inner workings better than before.

Along these lines, I have a few stories to tell about being German when you travel. I never noticed that I was German until I left Germany – that makes a lot of sense, because obviously most people I had known until then were German too, and this trait didn’t serve as a distinguishing attribute that would shape anyone’s individual personality. But then I went to other places. And I noticed that I was ridiculously punctual (by comparison with Mexican Americans). And well organized (by comparison with the French). And much more used to beer than vodka (by comparison with the Polish). And uptight (by comparison with Serbians). Even prude (I am SO looking at Sweden here!!). So there were moments when I felt very German, and I couldn’t believe I had never seen it before.

Having Rakija, Ferry to Hvar, Croatia

What I said about vodka goes for rakija as well – man, those Croatians can drink…

In becoming aware of my Germanness, I lost some of it, and that is what I wrote about last week. Other things I will most likely never get rid of, and the one thing that comes to mind fastest and that I have most been confronted with when travelling is the awareness of history and its direct link to patriotism. Let me explain with a little help of German singer-songwriter Reinhard Mey. The quotes below are translations of the lyrics to this song called Mein Land, „My Country“:

My dark country of victims and perpetrators,
I carry part of your guilt.
Country of betrayed ones and of traitors,
With you I practice humility and patience.

It all started when I was 16 and lived in Texas for a year. Kids would come up to me on the school bus and ask me questions such as: „So, are your parents Nazis?“ or „So, is Hitler still alive?“ or „So, have your family killed any Jews back then?“ Being 16 and a foreigner, I found it difficult to deal with this at first.

There was one particularly hard situation: We were talking about Auschwitz in my Sociology class. The  guy behind me muttered to his friend: „What’s the big deal, it’s just a couple of people that died.“ I gasped, turned around, and gave him a huge speech after which I left the classroom in tears. Quite the drama queen, eh? But I don’t think he ever forgot it. In time, I learned that these things didn’t happen out of cruelty, but out of ignorance and I resorted to teaching people about the Third Reich instead of starting to cry.

I can’t sing to you hand to heart,
With eyes on the flag, and a word such as „pride“
won’t cross my lips even with an effort –
stupidity and pride are cut from the same cloth!

This is where patriotism comes in. I learned that while I may not identify with what happened in my country throughout history, other people will identify me with it. Whether I want it to be or not, Germany is part of me – and that includes its dark past. But with this dark past being such a dominant association with Germany, being proud of being German is something that doesn’t feel quite right. Add in the very important factor that an extremist form of patriotism is exactly what national socialism was all about, and you may understand why Germans are usually very very careful to express pride in their national identity.

I cling to you and even through your disruptions,
I am your kin in sickness and in health,
I am your child through all your contradictions,
my motherland, my fatherland, my country.

The more I have travelled, the more people I have met who never brought up the topic of collective German guilt. In fact it is often the other way around: People tell me how much they love Germany and I get all flustered and weird because it sounds strange and wonderful to me when someone has such love for the country I am from and no fear of expressing it. And then I have to explain that I am not used to that. Of course there was the soccer World Cup in 2006 that changed things for a lot of us and allowed us to wave Germany’s flag proudly for once. Things have relaxed since then, and I am happy about that. But at the same time I am not entirely sure about it. What if we forget? What if we lose awareness of the responsibility we have? What if things got out of hand?

World Cup Public Viewing, Greifswald, Germany

This was me at a public viewing for the World Cup in 2006. Over the top, you think? You should have seen some of the other people…

I have learned not to think of patriotism as an innocent emotion. I have learned that it has led to evil, and I have learned that there are no grounds to be proud of something you have no power over, such as your nationality. You can be grateful for it, happy about it, and identify with it, but as long as it is not your accomplishment, „pride“ is not the appropriate emotion to me. I think that feeling so strongly about this is very German. And it is something that I really want to hang on to.

I love Germany. But being proud to be German is something I don’t even want to feel. I would be scared that it might mean that I had forgotten my country’s past.

[EDIT JULY 2014] I recently closed comments on this post because I felt its time had come. It is important to me to stress once more that all my observations are highly subjective and personal. People in the comments have largely taken offense to the fact that I generalized a German attitude. I do think that I am not an exception in my views, but I am well aware that there are many other perspectives on the issue. In fact, patriotism is not at all problematic for many people anymore, especially for younger generations. I stand by this post and its importance because this one individual perspective I have, my very own approach to the topic, still holds valid and may grant some insights to the whole interplay of nationalism, patriotism, pride and history.

77 Comments

  1. Very good and thought-provoking post. I actually like the fact that your patriotism is tempered by reality; there are some citizens out there who have this idea that it is correct to be patriotic, no matter what, supporting your government’s actions whatever those actions might be. I don’t think that is rational.

    You also brought another interesting and related point, which is the fact that sometimes it is hard to be proud of one’s country. Perhaps this is the reason why we travel and visit other places. Whenever there is a holiday, do we become tourists in our own turf? Chances are we go out and visit somewhere else. So we experience cognitive dissonance when someone we know visits our home country and say they utterly enjoyed it. I experienced this myself when some friends of mine went on a vacation to the Philippines and said they loved Manila. I was like, really? You loved dirty Manila? I guess it is just that easy to think that the grass is always greener on the other side, eh?

    • bridgekeeper

      März 7, 2013 at 11:23 pm

      Haha, Jeruen, two things that made me laugh in this comment: 1 ‚cognitive dissonance‘, man you really ARE a linguist, eh? 2 ‚I was like, really?‘ Yup, totall hear myself saying that. Really? Oktoberfest? Fun?? You are so right, we tend to be more critical with the place we call home. Maybe it is like with family. No one can criticize them apart from us, because we know that when we criticize them it doesn’t harm our love for them.

  2. Interesting post, I have had conversations with German friends on the same topic. Being a white South African we also had to deal with guilt and identity issues for a number of years.

    • bridgekeeper

      März 7, 2013 at 11:25 pm

      Oh, that is so interesting!! I would love to know more about that, I don’t really know much about the way South Africa deals with that part of its history – both officially and in practice, if you know what I mean. If you ever write on that I’ll be sure to read it! Glad you found my blog, Colin, thanks for stopping by!

  3. „I have learned that there are no grounds to be proud of something you have no power over, such as your nationality“ – I absolutely adore this.
    I love how you have expressed this subject and I totally can relate to it. Your nationality is something attached to you, you don’t have power over it as you said, but to love or be proud of the country is something within our power. Sometimes in my country, in school for example, teachers are telling us to be proud or to have deep love of our country. I just never felt it was right, I don’t think feelings like that should be forced.

    Always happy to read a post like this, makes me understand people and culture more. Thank you!

    • bridgekeeper

      März 7, 2013 at 11:27 pm

      I think the quote you picked is a perception that is rather standard in Germany, Aggy – it is so interesting to me that others would find it special… also, I agree: positive feelings toward your home country can’t be forced. As if feelings could ever be forced… Thank you for another insightful comment! xx

  4. Enjoyed the article. We can’t escape the past. WW2 will hunt Germans for a while. But, every nation has its own dark sides.

    • bridgekeeper

      März 7, 2013 at 11:29 pm

      Thanks for stopping by! That is true about every nation having dark sides. Only Germany’s are very very well-known and have a special place in World History which might lead to Germans being confronted with them more. I for my part at least have never walked up to a US citizen and said: So, slavery, eh. You kinda messed up with that one, didn’t you.

  5. Very insightful, raw, and introspective. This statement really spoke to me.

    „I have learned that there are no grounds to be proud of something you have no power over, such as your nationality. You can be grateful for it, happy about it, and identify with it, but as long as it is not your accomplishment, “pride” is not the appropriate emotion to me.“

    The first time I became aware of all the ways in which I am very „American“ was during my semester study abroad program in Cyprus. I was faced with the uncomfortable reality that every Cypriot I encountered had something to say about the United States or the role of the ‚west‘ and how it had impacted their life, community, or country while most of my friends and family did not know where Cyprus was on a map. I also realized that there are values and traits that came from growing up in the United States that I wish to carry with me for the rest of my life, such as my optimism, motivation to work hard, and openness to new ideas and people I just met.

    Also like you, studies of my national history (Zinn’s People’s History of the United States, courses in peace and conflict studies, Latin American and US Relations, etc.) have helped me to understand that national pride is also something I am uncomfortable with. It seems so to me that currently in the United States ‚patriotism‘ means a blind loyalty to a concept, which is nationality, which for me happens to be the USA. This scares me.

    I can tell you what I love about living in the United States and what I am proud about in my community. I can tell you what grieves me about the United States and our history of war and aggression in the world. I can tell you what I consider to be acts of bravery by individuals, the State (via policy or action), or groups of people from the United States. I cannot tell you that I am proud to be an American. It is not true. I am proud to be me as an American and to me, this is a very important distinction.

    Thank you for sharing Mariella. Great discussion!

    • bridgekeeper

      März 7, 2013 at 11:34 pm

      Samantha, thank you so much for this long and personal comment!! By my experience your reflection of the concept of patriotism is something most Americans don’t have. I don’t say this accusingly, it is just something that I learned when I was there and one of the cultural differences that made me realize that I’m very German. I very much agree with the danger of a „blind loyalty to a concept“ – keeping in mind that nationality, when it comes down to it, is nothing but a construct (with your degree I assume you know Benedict Andersen’s Imagined Communities?), I find this danger to be even greater. We should always strive to be proud of ourselves, not of something that just kind of happened to us.

  6. I’m so glad you posted this because I’ve often wondered about it.

    I’ve been long obsessed with learning about WWII and Germany’s history with regards to it and moving forward from it. I read something a year or two ago about how Germans are sort of projected in media as being very prideful, arrogant, and egocentric, but that in reality, they’re depressed, self-critical, and kind of introverted because of their involvement in WWII.

    I don’t necessarily think there’s anything wrong with being proud of where you come from, so long as you realize at the same time that your country isn’t perfect. I had a long discussion about this with my Dutch friend a week or so ago–in some regards, I’m proud to be an American because it’s afforded me a lot of opportunity I wouldn’t have had if I’d been born in another country, and because the US really is a great country; but at the same time, there are a lot of things that scare me about this country.. especially the fact that we think we’re a force to be reckoned with and that everyone in the world wants to be like us. That’s the kind of thinking that I think is dangerous with regards to pride.

    Anyway, all of this to say I found this post so interesting and I loved reading your native German perspective on what it’s like to be a German in the world. (Also, as a Texan, I apologize on behalf of ignorant Texans.)

    • bridgekeeper

      März 7, 2013 at 11:39 pm

      Megan, thank you for your thoughtful comment! I am glad you took an interest in this post. To be honest I wrote it because I have had many discussions about this topic and a lot of people react in similar ways like you do – they have asked themselves about this. I think the way you use the word pride in your comment is just different from the way I would use that word, and that is because in the context of nationality the word is tainted to me with the horrors of Germany’s national socialist past. I’m not proud of the opportunity Germany gives to me, but I am grateful for it. And I too think Germany is a great country, and I love living here. But that is nothing to do with pride for me. This might really be a linguistic issue. And I agree wholeheartedly that there always needs to be healthy criticism of the country you live in as well!! The keyword in this sentence might be *healthy* though, not criticism.

  7. Loved reading this Mariella. I loved visiting Germany but I can definitely see why national pride is a difficult issue. You can’t forget the past but it doesn’t mean you should live your life feeling guilty about it.

    • bridgekeeper

      März 7, 2013 at 11:46 pm

      Thank you, Sarah! One of our former presidents, Richard von Weizsäcker, said in 1985: „The biggest part of our population today were either children back then or not born yet. They can’t recognize guilt for deeds they haven’t done. No human being capable of emotions will expect them to do penance for the fact that they are Germans. But their ancestors have left them with a heavy heritage.“ I think that sums up nicely the difference between guilt and responsibility. I don’t feel guilty as a German. But I feel responsible for making sure that we never forget and that something like this never happens again, and I don’t feel that way as a German, but as a human being.

  8. Amazing post. People ask me all the time how Germans feel about their past and if they’re patriotic. I tell them to ask a German, but they’re always nervous. My host dad last year always said „I’m proud to be a European, but not proud to be a German“ and I always found that interesting. I think the younger generations will more easily claim patriotism for their nation as time grows further and further away from the dark past. Germany has so much to be proud of these days, after all!

    • bridgekeeper

      März 8, 2013 at 4:15 pm

      So glad you stopped by, Alex! I think expats‘ opinions on this are especially valuable. People shouldn’t be nervous asking Germans about this topic – not if they admit to just asking because they want to understand. The „European, but not German“ thing is truly catching on. I am not sure if this is better. I do feel strong identification with the concept of Europe, but it is also not something I would call pride. I think there is nothing wrong with a rational, reflective sense of patriotism which doesn’t have to equal pride in my book though. And I think you’re right, time will work wonders here. Thank you so much for your comment!

  9. I guess the more you travel and experience different cultures, religions and traditions, the less you feel expressing your patriotism (if you know what I mean and if it makes any sense to you). I don’t need to scream and shout I’m Polish but I feel proud of my nationality, but the more I travel, the more I wish I was, for example, Thai or Khmer as I am so into Khmer culture and history and I love Thailand.

    • bridgekeeper

      März 8, 2013 at 4:16 pm

      That is an interesting point, Agness, and one that I haven’t thought about so far. I guess if you’re a long term traveller, the ways in which your home country has shaped you wear off as so many new influences on your personality become more dominant. I will have to think about that 🙂

  10. Mariella, this was a very thought-provoking article. Thank you for writing it.

  11. Wonderful post!

    As a language arts teacher, I teach a Holocaust book to my students. I always tell them that we can’t judge a country’s people by what some people who lived there have done. I usually compare it to the Taliban in Afghanistan, and then, slowly, they begin to understand. A country’s past can have this affect as you say, „I learned that while I may not identify with what happened in my country throughout history, other people will identify me with it.“ But, hopefully, everyone everywhere has been taught what I teach in my class.

    In reading this, I think about how I felt to be an American in Vietnam – esp, after visiting their museum. It was awful, and I felt so much guilt for what my country did. I love America, but I’m not proud of my country’s past either.

    • bridgekeeper

      März 10, 2013 at 3:31 pm

      Thank you for this great comment, Erin! I am glad that you take time in teaching your students this. Like I wrote, I have experienced the school system in the States failing at times. But then again I guess it is of even greater important in American highschools to teach about Vietnam. It is interesting for me to hear you draw this comparison. I don’t know much about the Vietnam war, but I wonder if the sensitivity for that part of American history is very great with the majority of Americans? I just know that in Germany learning about World War 2 and the Holocaust takes such an enormous part in our schedules, and while that sometimes is a bit tiresome, I still think it’s right.

  12. Great post! It was really interesting to read, especially since I know a lot of my German friends feel the same way about being „German.“ It’s very different coming from a country where everyone’s so proud of being Canadian and loves to tell everyone we’re Canadian when we’re abroad (eg. we’re notorious for sewing a Canadian flag on our backpacks when we travel)

    • bridgekeeper

      März 11, 2013 at 9:27 pm

      Yes, I have heard similar things of US-Americans. A German flag on my backpack would feel completely out of place, and in Germany, people might even put me in a certain political corner I really don’t want to be put in. Only because I’m German though, foreigners can have German flags on their backpacks as much as they want. It is very complicated, this whole system of rules and norms. Thanks for stopping by and leaving me a comment, Michelle!!

  13. Even though I am not German, I can relate to your sentiments about nationality. I wasn’t really aware I was American until I studied abroad in Italy and people would shout things at me about „Mr. Bush“. Many will just look at us based on our nationality and not ourselves. My hope is that travel changes those presumptions to some degree.

    • bridgekeeper

      März 11, 2013 at 9:25 pm

      Thank you Suzy – and also so much for including this post in your stumbling segment!! Yes, it is most certainly the confrontation with the „other“ that makes you notice things about yourself. And being mistaken for the exact representation of a collective „nationality“, whatever that may be in each specific case, can only lead to stereotyping. I share your hope of overcoming this through travel.

  14. I really enjoyed this post but it makes me feel sad. You see, I’m one of those who absolutely loves Germany and I don’t think anyone should be ashamed of an historical event they had nothing to do with. Every country has historic events they aren’t proud of. Learning and changing is what we do as we wind our way through life which, hopefully, means we have less chance of repeating history. I also believe you can have patriotism and still not agree with everything a government does!

    Thanks for letting for sharing this with us all and getting us to think!

    • bridgekeeper

      März 14, 2013 at 11:02 am

      That is such an interesting comment, Debbie. Because you see, I would never find this an issue to be sad about… I don’t really feel like I’m missing out on anything when instead of saying that I take pride in my country, I „just“ say that I love it. Such differet takes on the concept in different countries.

  15. Thank you for this article. I am so happy to read this and totally agree with every point! Additionally, for me as a german it is quite interesting to read all the comments and therefore the view of many other nationalities.
    I totally agree with your point, that we only learn how german we are, when we are together with people from other cultures or countries. It is the clash that shows „the truth“. When I was in New Zealand, I lived with a japanese guy and a korean girl. My best friend was brasilien. For me, in the beginning it was hard to understand why they acted like they did. But after a while I started to question, why I did things the way I did. Why I took some things so seriously what others didn’t etc. I think this experience changed me a lot, even though being back in Germany I came back to some old habbits. Nevertheless, it changed my view on many things especially the „germaness“.
    Your point about patriotism, I can totall understand. Sometimes I discuss with my friend about this. It is exactly your sentence „I have learned that there are no grounds to be proud of something you have no power over.“ I don’t know if it is german to agree with this. But it is hard for me to understand how one could not to agree. I can be proud of things that I managed to do myself e.g. But I can hardly see a point to be proud of things that happened in „my“ country. Indeed, I can say, I love Germany. I love it, because of many fantastic things that happened in our history, I love it, because it is just beautiful. I am only sad about people who cannot even love the country because of the things that happened in the past…

    Oh man, it is hard for me to find the perfect words in english…but I hope you can see the point;-)

    • bridgekeeper

      März 17, 2013 at 1:54 pm

      Your English words are spot on, Nina. Thank you for contributing to the discussion, I think more German comments would be of great value in this. And you’re really just proving my point – I think we have learned, by convention, to define „pride“ in the way that you and I do. It is not the god-given and only way to define it, but with our collective memory it certainly seems like the right way.

  16. What a thought-provoking post indeed. I had so many bad experiences in the 80s & 90s being identified as a South African. I was kicked out of pubs, shouted at, abused but rarely given the chance to explain my own position.

    Along with the majority of other voters, I used my first ever vote in 1992 to end Apartheid and extend universal franchise in South Africa. And it was hard not to be proud to be South African in the 90s. We did so much in so little time and we achieved it as one united nation without warfare or bloodshed.

    I’m a little less proud now given out enduring poverty, corruption and crime.

    That is why I don’t agree that you have no power over your nationality. I believe that you do have power and you exert that power every time you vote. I don’t think I could ever take that for granted.

    • bridgekeeper

      März 17, 2013 at 2:12 pm

      I find that very interesting, Mandy! I do think a lot of things often get mixed up in the discussion – nationality, ethnicity, citizenship; they are all related, but not the same thing. I agree very much that the right to vote is of great important, and being raised to value democracy the way I have been, I get aggrivated when people don’t vote. But I would never have brought that back to my nationality the way you just have. It is a tool by which we shape our country – but then there are a lot of foreigners in Germany who shape this country too, look at all the Turkish people in Berlin, and they sometimes cannot vote, and sometimes they can, but at any rate they aren’t German, so again: many different issues at stake. It’s a very complex and interesting topic, clearly!

  17. It’s a difficult world sometimes, but you seem to be dealing with the issues pretty well. I find it hard not to have a little prejudice, even though I know that the youth of today are not responsible. My Dad is Polish but when I’ve spent time in his home country, I find that the Russians are disliked more than the Germans in many spheres.
    We should all just try to get along. I like your building bridges.

    • bridgekeeper

      März 27, 2013 at 10:12 am

      Dear Johanna, thank you for commenting on my piece. I understand (and believe me, in other circumstances I have felt the same way) that prejudices are hard to let go off sometimes. I think what’s important is the willingness to review their validity – again and again and again. I also relate to your second point. As A German in Poland I have never had much trouble, while I hear stuff said about Russians that are quite harsh sometimes. I guess the trauma they imposed is just more recent. Every one of us should just try to contribute to working through the past and finding a new way to meet each other – unbiased and in the spirit of mutual international understanding.

  18. Great post – very thought-provoking. I guess that is why, as Germans, it’s easier for us to let go of our German identity and accept a new European role because there is not so much „Germanness“ we are comfortably proud of.
    I feel very weird when people are rooting for the German soccer team just because it’s German (but I also feel the same way about English people being for the English team, just for the same reason).

    • bridgekeeper

      April 3, 2013 at 1:59 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Anja – I am really enjoying that Germans are commenting a bit more now! 🙂 the soccer thing is a bit ambivalent I take it. I personally do cheer for the team, but I understand that it would make some people feel uncomfortable. Something that most of our friends from other countries really can’t get behind, because for God’s sake, it’s just sports and why wouldn’t you just enjoy it. It is different for us though…

  19. Great post! Being German and having lived in the USA, Singapore, Switzerland and now Australia I have been taught in many ways how „German“ I am 🙂 And yes, I have been confronted with the same questions about Germanys past while going to the highschool in the States.
    I have the same issues with national pride – I love Germany, but I could never be proud to be German (soccer world cups excluded – haha). The strong national pride in some countries makes me feel uneasy and in such a wonderful, globalized world it also feels rather backwards than forwardsthinking to me.

    • bridgekeeper

      April 3, 2013 at 2:03 pm

      Thank you for backing me up, Kristina. I agree, patriotism feels a bit anachronistic at times. But then it can be really cool too. Sometimes I wish I was more capable of treating this issue with greater ease. I’m guessing Germany will never have a phenomenon like Obama, for instance – someone who brings messages across with a strong voice, someone to be a role model and who brings people across a whole country together. I think as a person he only works in a patriotic society. Germans would run scared of demagogy and political manipulation if we had a charismatic leader like that.

  20. Very interesting post! I’ve been to Germany many times and have talked with some Germans about this issue. I’m currently living in Austria and it’s really interesting how Austrians view it very differently than Germans.

    Anyway, I struggle with this issue myself, being an American. My family came to North America before there was a country known as the USA. And with the history of slavery and the persecution of American Indians, it’s a hard history to deal with. I don’t know for a fact that my ancestors participated in either slavery (though they did fight on the Confederate side in the Civil War) or the persecution of AmIn, but the fact is, even if they didn’t, they still benefited from both, as did other European-Americans. It’s a tough thing to come to terms with, and while I can’t say I’m always proud of my country’s history, I am grateful to be an American, as it has given me opportunities I might not have if I was born in another country.

    I visited the Dachau concentration camp on Easter Sunday with my mom who was visiting. While there were a lot of foreign visitors, I also overheard a lot of German. I thought it was interesting how many Germans (as well as the other tourists) were visiting on Easter Sunday!

    • bridgekeeper

      April 5, 2013 at 4:02 pm

      Thank you for your long and interesting comment, Emilia! I agree, the issue is difficult with America as well, but the awareness of historical guilt is completely different, if not non-existent. I’m not judging, I am just stating. I find that interesting, I wonder how that all came about… I haven’t been to Dachau, although I have been to a few other concentration camps. I think most Germans find it important to see one at least once in their life, again out of a certain feeling of responsibility. It is indeed interesting that Easter Sunday would seem a suitable day for that… I don’t know why that might be. But maybe it is always this well-visited, after all it is one of the more well known ones.

  21. This is Alexandra currently @I_am_Italy – I see you too are enjoying your first day curating! I think you have dealt with a really interesting issue. I have always wondered how Germans deal with their historical identity in the sticky situation of WWII. We Canadians are just identified with beer and bacon. Now I find myself defending Italy and Italians too. We are associated with bringing the euro down for you Germans 🙂

    • bridgekeeper

      April 8, 2013 at 11:31 pm

      So glad you stopped by, Alexandra! Yeah, I have dealt with the multiple identities ting you mention in anothe rpost that I linked to up here. Glad you find it interesting, I have been so frequently confronted with the topic of German patriotism. It’s a difficult issue that should be discussed and explained to anyone who has questions about it, I think.

  22. Hi,
    I read your article yesterday and i know the controversy in Germany. I think that the problem is, that the only ones talking about this topic are the people on the far right and far left wings. The far right wingers want to tell everybody that Germany isn’t guilty or wasn’t guilty at all. The far left wingers say, Germany will be guilty forever.
    I am born in Germany, I am proud to be german and sometimes I tell people, that I am proud. But I always think about it two or three times how I pronounce it and to whom I speak this words.
    My personal opinion is, that 99% of the people in Germany don’t have a historical debt to anyone on the world. Wether my father nor me nor my nephew did something wrong between 1933 and 1945. But we have to keep in mind, that these years were some of the worst years in world history and it should never been forgotten what happened and how it happened. And this specifically applies to the citizens in germany but also for the whole mankind.
    Maybe we have to live with this image of an former Nazi-country to prevent other countries from making this fault like our grandfathers and grandmothers did.

    • bridgekeeper

      April 9, 2013 at 10:36 pm

      Great you stopped by to leave a comment, Mike, thank you!I agree with all your points – also about not having a historical debt or guilt. But I think we share the sense of responsibility I tried to point out. The more I follow the discussion my post has prompted, the more I think that this is something so innately German that it may be inexplicable to others. I do sometimes compare our situation with others, but the German way of dealing with it seems to be unique. I wonder why that is.

  23. I really think you should not feel guilty for something that is absolutely nothing to do with you. You seem to be overthinking things far too much and making them too personal. I’m from England and we would be the first to bring up „the war“ – but now only in a jokey manner and for a laugh. No one seriously blames all Germans past, present and future for the crimes of specific individuals and much less so now. Anyone under 40 has a completely different view of the world to those born earlier. I lived in your country until recently for 6 years and I met no sense of guilt like you seem concerned about. I lived in a house that flew a German flag, as did many in the rural area I lived in, and there were flags of other nations too where „auslanders“ lived and I thought it was really good that people took a pride in their nations, histories and traditions. Here in England people are often embarrassed by where they come from and the fact it is an island creates a „them and us“ mentality. My experience of Germany was the exact opposite and really eye-opening. So you should revel and enjoy your history and traditions, not brushing over the bad parts but integrating them into a more holistic view of your country as a whole. To me Germany is so much more than Nazis and it should be even more so to you.

    • bridgekeeper

      April 10, 2013 at 7:45 am

      See that is not the point though! I don’t feel guilty personally. I don’t think any of us is guilty. OK, most of us, some of those who are are probably still alive, but they won’t be forever and then none of us will be guilty for what happened between 1933 and 1945 in this country. But we are responsible for it not happening again, as is every human being in every country in the world, only we know SO WELL that we are, more so than others maybe. I am questioning generally why there needs to be „pride“. Everyone who is not from Germany always makes it sound like we are missing out. I am not sure we are. I love my country, I love its traditions, I am so grateful to have been brought up knowing Goethe’s literature and Beethoven’s music and Käthe Kollwitz‘ art and whatnot – but why does that have to make me *proud*? Why not just happy?

      • You use a lot of words to basically make it sound like you are embarrassed to be German! And you use „we“ a lot but you are honestly the first German I have met who thinks as you do. On the other hand, I have met lots of Germans who seemed very „proud“ to be German to me! As an example, I remember sitting in a German house during the 2010 World Cup.There was me and 19 Germans and Germany were playing, and beating, England. I could not slide down the back of the sofa fast enough because none of these 19 proud Germans, men and women, was sparing my blushes! Now of course there doesn’t need to be pride. It is a free country, as the saying goes. But if there is not that then what is filling that gap? You suggest happiness but I’m not so sure it can or that that is what, at bottom, you feel about this.

        • bridgekeeper

          April 10, 2013 at 9:26 am

          Maybe it is just semantics. Maybe pride is actually what is felt, but we (yes, I stick by that) don’t like to use the word. Like I said, it is tainted. Football – football is something else entirely, Andrew! The rules of feeling any certain way toward our nationality cease to be valid when it comes to football. I certainly don’t want to seem like I am embarrassed to be German, but are embarrassment and pride the only modes that exist? If you look at the other comments Germans have made to this post, all of them basically agree with me, by the way. And I know people who take it much further. A friend of mine claims to say that when abroad in Europe and asked where she’s from, she says Hamburg. Outside of Europe, she says Europe. Germany never factors in. Now THAT is feeling embarrassed, I do not do that.

  24. I really can’t hear it anymore. Nothing against you, my fellow compatriot, but this everlasting „German responsibility“ and „German guilt“ annoys me as much as the debate about patriotism itself. This is so unbelievably German… Your intentions may be understandable, but this debate is soooo old-fashioned and the exact opposite of modern and forward-looking.

    1. To the pride: are you proud of your family and your boyfriend and their achievements? Well, then you obviously CAN be proud of something you have not achieved by yourself. So you can be proud of your Germanness as well if you want. And if you don’t want, no one forces you to feel any pride. But don’t claim that pride inevitably can only arise with someone’s own achievements.

    2. We do not have any special responsibility for anything. I do not have more responsibility to not commit another genocide then, let’s say, a young Frenchman or American. Every human being has exactly the same responsibility to not commit mass murder.

    3. You do NOT speak for the entire German nation, as Geeky has already mentioned. I am German, and I do not at all agree with anything you say. I’m proud of Germany. I’m proud of all the inventions we have given the world. Without Konrad Zuse, who invented the first computer, this discussion would not be possible. Without Johannes Gutenberg, the entire human history would have followed a different path because books would have remained an expensive good only accessible by the upper classes. Without the highly patriotic chemist Fritz Haber, who was also Jewish and derived of his citizenship by the Nazi brutes, at least a third of mankind would starve to death. I’m proud of our literature, of our music, and of all other forms of art.

    I cannot at all understand your way of thinking. I was born into a family with which I will always be linked together. And I was born into a nation which is nothing but a wider family. And I love my country as I love my family. No one in the world forces you to feel the same way, but please stop pretending as if all Germans thought like you. One of our greatest countrymen, Goethe, wrote:

    „Glauben Sie ja nicht, daß ich gleichgültig wäre gegen die großen Ideen Freiheit, Volk, Vaterland. (…) Auch mir liegt Deutschland warm am Herzen. (…) Wissenschaft und Kunst gehören der Welt an, und vor ihnen verschwinden die Schranken der Nationalität. Aber der Trost, den sie gewähren, ist doch noch ein leidiger Trost und ersetzt das stolze Bewußtsein nicht, einem großen, starken, geachteten und gefürchteten Volk anzugehören. In derselben Weise tröstet auch nur der Glaube an Deutschlands Zukunft.“

    Und hier noch der Auszug aus einem patriotischen Werk eines unserer großen Komponisten, Telemanns: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XElDpA2Rlt0.

    • bridgekeeper

      Mai 7, 2013 at 1:23 pm

      Thanks a lot for your critical comment, Franz. I really have missed Germans joining the discussion so far, it should add to this a lot.
      You made some points that I definitely agree with and others that I don’t. I don’t find the debate old-fashioned, but in the largely traditional wa in which I have presented it, there are various important points missing, I agree with that. I also think that if I wrote the post again now I’d be a bit more careful about using „we“ and would try to point out more strongly that this is my personal perspective that I happen to find to be shared by many – of course not all though. This being the main point of your comment, I’ll gladly hand it to you. Like anything you could ever say about any country, generalizations never stick. When it comes down to it, saying that no German is proud of their country is like saying that all Americans are stupid or all Spanish are great lovers (yes, it works with horrible and with great stereotypes equally).
      To your second point, I do think that we have a special responsibility. Like you point out it’s not greater than for any other human being. But I think the awareness of it that German history brings about is both a blessing and a curse. I never claimed to be personally guilty. I am not, neither are you. I do think, however, that I am capable of taking on a responsibility that every human being should be taking on due to my specific German roots. In that sense maybe you and I don’t even disagree that much.

  25. Moin, moin!

    Great article! Patriotism is really a controversial issue in germany. I think Reinhard Mey’s song „Mein Land“ illustrates it quite well. Germany is a lovely country. Nice people, scenery, food, etc. But it seems that germanys cultural heritage is the guilt of nazi-germany. Every german grows up learning about all the inhuman cruelty’s that nazi-germany has done to the Jews. How can anyone be proud of that?

    But than again germany had a history before all that happend as Franz mentioned in his comment and also started from scratch again after this dark nazi chapter. We got the hang of democracy and managed to reunite east and west germany again. We also took a great part in establishing the European Union (the future will show if this was a good or bad decision), managed the finacial crisis quite well so far and support the other European Nations in this hard times (even if they maybe don’t see it like this).

    So there are things we germans could be proud of as a german, but we are just not sure if we are allowed to be proud…

    I saw a very interesting interview on dw.de with the comic author Gabriel S. Moses who comes from Israel and now lives in Berlin. He talks about that in Israel the feelings against germany aren’t as hard anymore than they used to be and that he thinks that Israel and Germany both suffer from a post WW2 trauma. I think that a trauma is good comparison with the german feelings and there issue with patriotism. It takes a while to completly recover from a trauma and progress comes step by step.I think the World Cup 2006 in germany was a great step towards recovery for the german people. We were able to at least feel proud or patriotic about (not american ;)) football. It’s up to you how you want to call that feeling, because if you never really expericent patriotism or the feeling of beeing proud of your country how can you be sure it’s the real thing?

    I’m sorry that my comment might be hard to understand, but it’s been a while that I spoke or wrote in english. Maybe it’s good for expats living in germany to see that not every german is good in english grammar and stuff either ;). I also love reading their blogs to see germany from a differnt viewpoint and think it’s great that this article could help to understand us germans a bit better.

    I want to post a music video too…but just for fun 🙂 –> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0sfYKFYqdZw

    • bridgekeeper

      Mai 7, 2013 at 1:30 pm

      Hey Maik, thanks for bringing another German perspective to the debate!! I think you point out very important things. It may be largely a question of semantics – what is pride, what is love… words have been connotated in certain ways, I am not even sure people don’t know if they can feel a certain way (i.e. proud), but they are not certain if they are allowed to call that feeling pride. I certainly don’t feel so good about using the concept of pride. Also the notion of trauma is of course an important one – not last in the academic discourse on it when distinguishing between a victim’s and the perpetrator’s trauma. Don’t worry about your English by the way, it is just fine! 🙂 Thanks so much for stopping by, I hope you’ll come back!

  26. Hi,
    thanks for taking a jab at this topic!
    I get so annoyed as, over the years, again and again, people approach me as a German living abroad as someone who must be approached gingerly about German history, because I probably do not know about it…
    I am planning to write a similar piece about this topic on my blog (although in general my writing is a bit more politicized).

  27. American here. America does not have an innocent past. Treatment of Native Americans, slavery, racial issues to name a few dark areas of our past. However, I think Americans collectively see the past as simply that….the past and what can we do now to make life better for all and keep working in that direction. I really don’t know of course and certainly can’t speak for others.

    I just think Germans continue to agonize over the past when it is something they can’t change? Sorry, I just find the whole collective guilt thing difficult to understand.

    • bridgekeeper

      Juni 25, 2013 at 10:03 pm

      I don’t think Germans agonize… I think Germans try to be aware. And I think sometimes Americans should be a bit more aware of the injustice they have done, to be honest. I guess there is no one right way of dealing with historical heritage. Overall, as many have pointed out here, generalizations are difficult. Some Germans feel very different about all this.

      • Why must the Germans be ‚aware‘? No-one talks about the holocaust apart from the them or the Jews and it all just seems very ‚forced‘ and almost grotesque. As an Italian, there have been great and terrible things on this peninsula for the last 3000 years, I do not pretend to defend or embrace all of them.

        Also, I experienced a different sensation after travelling, I became only more Italian. I made many great friendships, perhaps even some romances, in countries from Serbia to Japan, but always I have an urge to return to my homeland for some time. I like to drink rakija on the Croatian islands too, but I will always joke with my Croatian friends and remember them that they are ‚dirty slavs‘ or something and that Italy is my home.

        • bridgekeeper

          September 17, 2014 at 1:18 pm

          To each their own. I think some awareness would suit you to be honest. Apart from that I have actually written about how travelling makes me more aware of being German as well. Not necessarily more German. What does „being German“ or „being Italian“ even mean? But I don’t see much use in discussion here to be honest.

  28. Germans have a lot to be proud of. German history goes back farther than WW2 you know.. Heck, look at the amazing pre-Christian german culture and tribes and how they brought their people together to defend their land against Rome. The great religions and cultures those tribes had. Look at medieval Germany, or the german empire which unified the german states.
    Ill always gladly say I’m proud to be German, I feel like being afraid to be proud just cause of WW2 is wrong.. We’re a lot older than just that time period..

    • bridgekeeper

      September 1, 2013 at 6:18 pm

      I agree that all you say are great achievements of Germans. My very own issue with the concept is why should that make ME proud? But maybe that’s all linguistic nerdery.

  29. I greatly enjoyed reading your post. It was honest, bold and direct. And when I finished reading it, it immediately made me think about my own feelings and thoughts when I’m abroad.

    All the things you described in your post about a person who might be associated with certain guilt for the things their ancestors have committed get to a whole other level when that sense of guilt does not come from past but present. And this is where my story may begin. A guy from the Middle East, Iran to be more specific!

    Terrorism, covert nuclear activities, human rights violations, axis of evil as G. W. Bush put it, and many other things reiterated in Media in many parts of the World. Some true, some overstatement, and some false altogether. I myself happen to be a student in Europe and I’ve been lucky to come across various reactions from various people. Some so fond of Iran’s history and culture, some being so pissed off in a way that they’re not even willing to have a small talk!

    Unfortunately, the Government representing my nation has been quite a mess in the last eight years or so, run by a bunch of close-minded people, to say the least and keep it polite! And it got things even worse!

    As an Iranian, many times you have to be the one who breaks the ice or you’ll never succeed in building solid sustained relationships when overseas. This is painful at times, yet fulfilling and enriching at the same time.

    Let’s hope for a better future, with more open-minded people across the globe. People who do not believe whatever their media throw at them, people who are smart enough to look at the big picture, people who distinguish nations from governments that come and go, and lastly, people who do not stop at the surface and dig deeper before they start to act on things they are told.

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful post with us!

    • bridgekeeper

      September 12, 2013 at 3:41 pm

      Thank you so much for this long and insightful comment, Javad. I agree with you, being judged based on your national identity is always weird, no matter if there are stereotypes based on past or present events. I can only wholeheartedly second your wish for a more open minded world and future. We are the ones who contribute to that.

  30. The first time this was apparent to me was during the EM (Germany against Italy). At the beginning of the game, when the German national anthem was played, not everyone got up. As an Indian (and coming from a country where you are taught to respect the national anthem and national flag), I was completely surprised that there were people who did not stand up to the national anthem.
    Most of them were people from a slightly older age-group. The ones that stood were hard-core football fans and more of the younger lot. I myself could not stay sitting and had to stand up.
    Was an extremely interesting incident for me and your post has helped me understand a lot about that experience. Thanks!

    • bridgekeeper

      November 10, 2013 at 4:02 pm

      Thank you for relating that story, Naena – very interesting!! I hear it from a lot of foreigners in Germany that it is hard to understand how we deal with our history and our national pride. I do sing along to the anthem, but I don’t usually stand up, let alone put my hand on my heart. I’m glad I could bring some light into the issue for you. Thanks for stopping by the blog, I hope you come back 🙂

  31. Dear writer,

    I have just read your article and found it quite interesting. I love Germany, Germans and although it is really difficult.. ja, ich liebe auch Deutsch Sprache.

    I have talked about this issue of „pride & Germans“ with some people already and although I may understand, I clearly don´t agree. And actually I find that it leads to certain attitudes that can hurt Germany in the near future.

    So you get my background, I am Spanish – Australian and I have just left Germany after living there 4 months in different cities (is not a long period, but I´ve been following Germany quite longer)

    Why to be ashamed of your country or your past? Yes, 70 and 90 years ago (especially 70 years ago) terrible things done by the Germans did happen.. I consider the world is very unfair with Germany when it comes to past or history. Like if the only bad things in history were committed by Germans. Of course it might be especially cruel at some point, and yes it was the most recent episode, but didn´t the Spanish conquered Latin America killing and destroying an entire culture? Didn´t the Americans used millions of black people as slaves for decades and centuries? Didn´t the British colonized entire continents? The French? Didn´t the Russians killed more than 25 million people in order to establish communism? (I could go on and on with North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, Zimbaue, Congo DR..) Still today, people keep financing slavery in other humans in Bangladesh, Vietnam, China, etc. with our consuming decisions.. People know it, and just don´t give a fuck.. Yes, they go to demonstrations against China cause it´s really cool, but when it comes to buying crap, we keep buying the same Chinese crap produced by people in depressing conditions.. On the other hand, we slave and kill billions of animals every year not showing the smallest amount of shame for that idea of cruel and careless domination..

    Sure the Germans weren´t the best example in the 20th Century.. but we all have bast stories to be ashamed of.. and what is worst, many keep making this world a disgusting present..

    Finally I would like to refer to what I mentioned that could hurt Germany in the near term.. This issue is quite a taboo, not only in Germany but in many other places.. I don´t care to speak openly about it.. I have been quite shocked with the attitude of certain immigrants in Germany.. One thing is to be racist, which I am not.. Controlling immigration is not only necessary, but positive.. Letting everyone in with no control when they are openly taking advantage of the system, when they don´t intend to care about Germany or even integrate themselves, when they don´t show the least of the intentions to even try to learn the language (I met immigrants living in Germany for 10 years and I knew more German than then.. and this wasn´t an isolated case) or even come in the country with a nice attitude or a good intention to make themselves and the country improve.. Not looking at these and other real problems some immigrants can cause just because you´re ashamed of the past is building a bad future for all Germans.. Immigration can be amazing if we look at it with a good perspective, we do it in the right way.. This is of course just my opinion. I may be wrong and maybe don´t have all the information I should.. Although I´ve been through this topic many times before..

    I love Germany, it is one of the nations in the world in which their citizens have more reasons to be proud of (or happy about if you don´t like the word pride) and I hope it remains the same nice country I´ve enjoyed and admired for so long..
    Thanks

    • bridgekeeper

      Dezember 13, 2013 at 7:09 pm

      Hi Isaac, first of all thank you for your comment. I agree with what you say about nearly every country having a dark history. I don’t think that this should justify Germany putting history aside the way that some other countries do it. I’m quite happy with the way we handle our past and promote awareness of the danger of certain thoughts and attitudes. I think Germany tries to promote quite a differenciated picture of the past, and I think many of your other examples don’t. In that respect I don’t think Germans (generalizing here, which as you can see from the other comments is a dangerous thing) should change their attitude, but other countries. I do not go along with your point about immigration. I don’t think that Germany’s immigration politics is a consequence of our view of history, the way you put it. But out of our history and the way that it is dealt with grow certain traditions and values, and they influence the politics in our country too. Many other factors are at play there though. And as a German, I am not aware that immmigration hurts this country as of now. Au contraire: I think it’s making it the beautiful place that it is.

      • Mathias Schreiber

        Februar 21, 2014 at 8:00 am

        I agree with you. I don’t believe in borders, as we all live on one planet, and making lines of where one can and cant go I do not like. In ancient times if you could arrive there you could make it their (there will no doubt of been prejudice and discrimination). I do not reconcile with the belief of allowing suffering in ones current province who for the most part could not of changed (being born in a country).
        I have often been told though my views are quite cynical, to which I proclaim logic is often cynical. 🙂

  32. Mathias Schreiber

    Februar 21, 2014 at 7:56 am

    I lived in Germany for 14 years then moved to England, but now I am back. I can attest to the remarks that you received about being a Nazi, and exterminating peoples. However this is so much misinformation now that ignorance from other countries continues to persist. Every single country has a „dark history“. However I know of none that have persisted as much as the one against Germany. My response to being „labeled“ as an enemy differed from yours, I choiced to (defend?) the country, not the actions. Meaning instead of feeling ashamed, although all Germans are indoctrinated with guilt from enculturation. Since I love history and had an (open?) Grand father about the war I had knowledge on my side. When they brought up the Nazi’s I would make sure to first make them aware that „genoicide“ isn’t new. The Romans had done it exterminating 300000 Germans west of the Rhine, men, women, and children. There was king Leopold II who killed many native Africans, to which I also say (the Germans educated the natives while they where their). I also say that what about Stalin and the Gulags much of population was their. When they talk about the actual camps I LOVE this especially if they are Americans. I say that the Rockefeller foundation funded the Nazi Eugenics program. In addition most policy ideas that Hitler had were not original they were adopted, some from america (desterilization). I have information further however I usually tend not to share it as it can fall on ears of sensitive people. I make it clear that I don’t adorned Germany’s actions, but I say that one incident should not take away from all of Germany’s scientific achievements. I feel nationalism is primitive, as all peoples live on one planet. All the people that ever lived, all the history every written myth or fact has happened on this tiny planet, part of a vast and wonderful beauty of the cosmos.
    I recommend reading the book „German Genius“ by Peter Watson.

    • bridgekeeper

      April 17, 2014 at 8:12 pm

      Hi Mathias, thank you for your long comment. I never meant to say that other countries still judge Germany on the whole, and I think that thankfully it is a well-respected country in the international community, and there’s good reasons for that. You are right, there have been lots of achievements that Germans have made, and lots of them are recognized. I must say though that the fact that other countries have their dark histories as well does not release us from having to responsibly and consciously deal with our own. I don’t judge the word „pride“ per se, and I don’t judge people who feel patriotism toward Germany. I feel it too. I just feel that it is a phenomenon to be treated with great care, and that needs to be put into perspective. It is basically all about keeping ourselves down to earth and being sensitive toward other people’s perceptions.

  33. I’ve been thinking on similar lines about Patriotism…
    Back in 1947 – here in India, a patriotic Indian was anyone who was against the British… right now it is very confusing and the ire is directed vaguely towards „corruption/western culture/nonvegetarian food“
    and most people are scared that they lose their identity and are uncomfortable being „Global Citizens“…

  34. Btw I came across this site while searching for a German version of a slogan like „Vive La France“ to use on my Facebook status regarding this evening’s match between Germany and France. 😛

    • bridgekeeper

      September 17, 2014 at 1:25 pm

      🙂 the world cup – always a good occasion to think about patriotism issues. Yes, I think what you say about India is a very important addition to discussion. So many countries, such different approaches. Thank you for your comment!

  35. I’ve just come across this website by mere chance, and I have to say something: a German myself, I cannot at all underline what my compatriot has written about the concept of national identity. Her article is so eerily „neudeutsch“ that it should have been typed with black, red and golden letters.

    I am a German. I was born a German, I grew up as a German, and I will eventually die as one. Thus, my way of thinking, my culture, my everything is German, too, whether I like it or not. I am proud of my people, as I am proud of my family. This is nothing I muse about. It’s a natural fact to me which is why I always find it quite disturbing when people ponder on this subject. Pride and love are nothing you can feel due to rational thought processes. (And by the way, when I speak of Germany, I do not refer to artificial borders or states but to the German-speaking world, as the term „Germany“ was understood until 1945. It is impossible to think of ‚Germany‘ without including Salzburg, whose archbishop still holds the title Primus Germaniae, or Vienna which had already been a German city when Berlin still was a Slavic village at the river Spree, as former Austrian chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg once said.)

    Our „national poet“ Goethe once wrote that art and science belonged to the entire world, making national borders disappear. But the consolation they give could not, he went on, replace the proud feeling of belonging to a mighty nation.

    Everyone feels attached to the different groups he belongs to. Only with regard to the nation people nowadays intentionally neglect this natural affection. The zeitgeist tends to consist of self-hatred disguised as self-reflection. It’s „cool“ to criticize national pride in our times as it was „cool“ to over-emphasize it in days of yore.

    This is coupled with something like „Schuldstolz“, the pride of being guilty, a concept heavily popular nowadays in the Western world. A normal, healthy person does not emphasize his misdeeds, does not build his entire self-concept on these misdeeds or crimes. But we do it with our nations, and obviously we have a fluffy feeling after having clarified that England, France, Germany or the respective nation has done this and has done that.

    May this zeitgeist soon disappear lest we as peoples with distinct cultures do.

    • bridgekeeper

      September 17, 2014 at 1:28 pm

      While I appreciate the extensivity of the comment and the thought you must have put into it, I feel slightly misunderstood. I Differ immensely on some of your points too, but frankly, I think I have said enough on the topic. I would just like to pose the question of who defines what is „natural“ or „normal“ in this respect. I really don’t see why healthy distance and criticism should be any less natural than unquestioning affection.

Comments are closed.