Germany and Germans

January 30, 2007

The Holocaust is something that has been being hammered into our consciences since many years ago, and Germans are only too conscious of that fact. Why?

I must say that I have had unpleasant experiences of Germans and their behaviour face to other nationalities.

In the late 1980s I had a Dutch friend who was married to a nice Dutch lady of Indonesian origin. He said to me that he had problems whenever he and his wife had to go to Germany because when they went into restaurants everybody German inside the restaurant stared at his wife. He confidentially said to me that racism in Germany in that epoch (1980s) was still existent, that is about 36 years after Hitler and Nazism’s apparent disappearance.

I had to do with a British Airline and I remember that German tourists arriving at the airport in their majority showed disrespect for anybody that was not of their own nationality.

My question is: Did Nazism die with Hitler and Co. or is it still present? Is that political ideology a trait of the German people in general or do you think it is the patrimony of a minority in Germany?

I just wonder.

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20 Responses to “Germany and Germans”

  1. yellowduck said

    Having studied German and lived in Germany for 7 years now I would answer your questions thus: yes and no. No and no.

    Being Dutch I’d say your Dutch friend is being hypocritical to the core. The Dutch do not teach their schoolchildren extensively or at all about the police actions they enacted in Indonesia directly after WWII – for police actions read massacres on the indigenous people. Nor do the Dutch like to refer much to their disproportionate collaboration with Nazi Germany during WWII.

    To be honest, I get tired of hearing these ill-informed Germanophobic utterances time and again. Germans are conscious of the Holocaust to the extent that in comparison with Japan or Russia (see Gulags) they have actually dealt halfway decently with this dark chapter of their history. Schooltrips to concentration camps which remain as commemorations feature regular on any school curriculum. The main topic of history is WWII. The main theme in literature of the latter half of the past history was WWII and the Nazi past. What more is there to be expected?

    Yes, in blighted areas in East Germany neo-nazi parties have increased their share of the vote in local elections. But please note that in the recent general election their share was 2.5%. Where is the BNP at the moment? What about Vlaams Belang? Le Pen? The PVV in Holland? Extreme right-wing parties in Eastern Europe and Russia? The list goes on.

    You’ve had no positive experiences with Germans. Well, there are German tourists and there are Germans. The same can be said of the British or – in my experience – also of the Dutch and the Russians.

    Sorry Jose, this is a subject close to my heart. Hence my strong reaction. I have read your other stuff which goes deeper. This surprises me, because it has a faint whiff of unexplored prejudice.

  2. yellowduck said

    Please feel free to delete the above comment, on third reading it seems too ill-tempered. My apologies.

  3. Jose said

    I accept your apologies, Yellowduck, but also understand your views and I am not for deleting posts that may be unpleasant to read but that show feelings clearly. You may have your reasons to react as you did, but my reasons are in no way a reflection of a “faint whiff of unexplored prejudice”.

    I am just exploring what happens. Why the German population is being dealt with in the case of the Holocaust as it is, what immigration may have to do with the revival of racism, and what the measures that Germans have been compelled to accept to redeem themselves really mean.

    My friend when he spoke to me just referred to his particular case and I believed him. It was in the 1990s, that is about 17 years ago. I can tell you they – both he and his wife – were excellent persons. Pity that the circumstances of life have not permitted me to keep that friendship.

    You must realise that we were here in the Canary Islands, for Europeans then in the 1960s – to the exception of the British – a backwater place where they came to enjoy their holidays at the cheapest of the prices. Their idea about the population here was of an underdeveloped place. I remember that those times Spain was categorised as a country where tourism was – still is – the main source of income for the country, and all steps were taken to make the population accept them as the saviours of the country’s economy. This perhaps caused the incidents I mentioned in my post, but it is not a justification of anybody’s behaviour. I insist there was a tinge of superiority on the part of those Germans.

    And, Yellowduck, that circumstances now be different does not mean they were not as my friend and myself saw them those times.

    It is true that people change, new generations do not think as the former ones did and perhaps that is the best I can draw from your reaction.

    Thank you, friend.

  4. tyger said

    Very interesting reading you two.

    Understandible reaction from Yellow, I can get very defensive when people take Russia to task (for all its faults). But I too have had negative experiences of Germans. But saying that I have had negative experiences of Spanish, Russian, Estonian, French, and Scots.

    But strangely, never the English. Almost to a man the English are just fine and dandy. 😉

  5. Jose said

    Perhaps the negative experience has come from negative individuals and our natural predisposition to generalise makes us put them all in the same bag. It is long since I was your age, Yellowduck and Tyger, and my experience has taught me that people everywhere are the same, with the same feelings – evil and good – there is no difference between nationalities. Human beings are human beings in the Canary Islands and everywhere else. Education is what differentiates people.

    So it is education what we must pursue at all levels.

  6. yellowduck said

    Absolutely agree with that last comment 🙂

  7. anticant said

    What is interesting about Germany is that until the German Empire, dominated by Prussia, came into being in 1870, most of the other German states were far more liberal and tolerant. It was the Bismarckian/Wilhelmine Prussification of Germany which fostered the arrogant “herrenvolk” spirit which re-emerged with the Nazis. As you say, it is wrong to generalise about whole peoples, but it does seem as though most Germans have wished to be “good Europeans” during the past half-century. The rise of new extreme right wing nationalism, not only in Germany but elsewhere in Europe, is worrying though understandable because of unrealistic ‘multicultural’ policies.

  8. earthpal said

    “My question is: Did Nazism die with Hitler and Co. or is it still present? Is that political ideology a trait of the German people in general or do you think it is the patrimony of a minority in Germany?”

    To give you my thoughts on this interesting question Jose – I was always under the impression that post-holocaust German generations have, generally speaking, been mortifyingly embarrased by their history. I’ve always felt sorry the recent generations who haven’t been able to shake off the fascism stigma even though they had nothing to do with the atrocities of Hitler. How many generations have to pass before they can stop being held accountable?

    That said, it’s a sad fact that all nations and nationalities have racists in their midst and when someone has had direct experience of this, I guess it’s easy to feel aggrieved against the offending national and their nation. Jose, your Dutch friend and his wife very wrongly experienced the ugly face of racism but I’m sure it’s not a typical German issue.

  9. yellowduck said

    Right on, earthpal.

    And indeed, Anticant, German nation-building was a top-down enterprise in which the educated middle-classes were ‘moulded’ to suit the Prussian elite’s ideology [i.e. their claim to authority]. Germany as it was founded in 1871 was an invention rather than the result of a natural process towards a nation which arguably lies at the root of its historical troubled perspective of its own nationhood [i.e. veering from one extreme to the other].

    Are German nationalistic? Apart from the fringes I would certainly reject that. Last summer’s World Cup saw – for the first time since WWII – some enthusiastic flag-waving of German fans on the streets. But, on the whole, not many Germans will hang out their flags on Reunification Day or any other day. The Dutch, the Americans, the French, everyone is more proud of their country than your average German.

    So, earthpal is right. There is more a sense of embarrasment here concerning patriotism or its ugly cousin nationalism. Which is a shame because there is a lot to be liked about the country and the people. Plus this embarrasment tends to feed the nationalist fringe more than anything. For a while it seemed that they had hijacked the flag and a claim to patriotism.

    Anticant, I don’t think multiculturalism is the sole culpit for the rise in intolerant nationalism we are witnessing today. 9/11 has of course something to do with it. But also other – more directly pressing – concerns. Globalisation is creating a lot of winners – especially in China and India – but also a lot of losers – especially in ‘Old Europe’ where rigid economies have been unable to respond adequately to the challenges this process has created.

    Again, training and education are key here, but also clear communication from the political elites what the pros and cons are and will be and what globalisation will involve [in my view as a process where the benefits will ultimately outweigh the costs]. But so far political disaffection seems to reign, a loss of trust in political processes at home and that is where part of the problems should start to be tackled.

  10. Jose said

    True that nationalism is still present in the lives of a country, but fortunately in my opinion there has been a main reason for its “dilution” : multiculturalism.

    Respectfully contrary to what Anticant has said, I must say that the communication media – otherwise media of productive income for those exploiting them (And I mean press, radio, TV “and” transport) – have helped people to travel, read, hear and see how other people think and behave around the world. Tourism is a source of profit for some but it is also a source of learning for many, and it has served for multiculturalism to little by little get into the minds of people who, unawares, caught what it had of good – in other cases of bad – in alien cultures.

    How much Bhuddism has infiltrated in our minds simply by reading books about its ways? How much our intellects have accepted religious thoughts, much that many are convinced they are atheists? The American way of living is also present in our behaviour, our taste for comfort or even in the European eating customs?

    The East has infiltrated the West and viceversa, and this is no more than a proof that multiculturalism is effective.

    What happens with demographic movements is that they are massive, that is hard to digest. Too much simultaneous inflow of migrants shakes balances in any country. It does in the US and it does in Europe. For a country to digest those masses it is necessary that they settle, that both the receivers and the received realise that there is no other way out than coming to terms with one another and, most important of all, the rule of Law.

  11. anticant said

    One should always be wary of generalising about countries, nations, or any large groups of people. But they do present tecognisable characteristics. As Yellow Duck said recently on his own site, the political weather can change very quickly. It is difficult to discern whether this is just temporary, or a permanent sea-change. One must be hopeful that Spain’s transition to social democracy since Franco’s death is permanent, and also that the German repudiation of Prussianism/Nazism since WW2, though partly externally imposed by the victors, will hold. But democrats must be vigilant; the most alarming trend in the UK since 9/11 has been the wholesale abandonment of civil liberties on the pretext of “fighting terrorism”. As a result, we British are all less free than we were. As Jose says, the scale of immigration across Europe in recent years is a potential flashpoint – especially when many migrants do not wish to adapt to their host countries’ society and traditions.

  12. […] interesting discussion about Germany and the Germans evolved here, (although it started with a rather shallow […]

  13. Chinaladen said

    Another point not to be missed is the fact that by globalisation many unskilled workers are looking at grim future prospects. Chinese workers do the same job at a fraction of the cost.

    Although racism is not limited to the working class, it surely will be most noticeable in their ranks.

    All of Europe is facing a tremendous social change and the fight for the remaining jobs and a redistribution of wealth has started. Which is exactly the kind of political circumstance feeding racism. Surely this can be felt in all of Europe, the whole world?

    So, how can we all make sure that racism in the whole of Europe will be kept at bay? I reckon that it will be on the rise when fear and envy will follow the changes in the future. After all, the comfy little boat called Europe is steering into deep waters…

    And racism is definitely not limited to Germany, believe me!

  14. […] interesting discussion about Germany and the Germans evolved here, (although it started with a rather shallow […]

  15. Jose said

    Racism is not limited to Germany, indeed. Racism begets racism.

  16. christianzionismexposed said

    There are divisions everywhere, each with their own set of guidelines.
    As to Germans, my mother is Austrian/Romanian and my dad was Norwegian. I MUCH preferred the temperament and mindset of my dad’s side and, in fact, have no identification or bonding with my mom’s. Is that because they are ‘half Austrian’ (which is the twin of German in my mind) and display ‘German personality traits’ (if there are any)?

    I think each nationality carries traits distinct to it, simply from years of environmental and cultural influences. And, personally, I’m not a huge fan of the German traits. And I’m crazy about Arabs as a cultural group, while some people, as we well see, are not.

    I like to take it person by person.

    What I’ve observed are some traits that seem to be distinctly one country’s or anothers, and also traits that seem to be distinctly some religions or anothers personality-wise, occupations that seem to have their own set of personality traits belonging to those who are drawn to them, but there are always exceptions..always.

  17. Jose said

    “I like to take it person by person.”

    That’s in all cases the wisest way, CZE.

  18. cartooncat said

    I’ve been living in Germany for over 16 years now (and previously in the Netherlands) – and to be honest I’d tend to agree with YellowDuck.

    I think German culture doesn’t encourage public exhibition of emotional intelligence… touchy feely stuff is frowned on generally.

    But when all’s said and done, I think racism is very much a minority thing… most Germans are open and accepting of foreigners. But their culture also makes them stand up for their rights – so if a hotel room isn’t what was advertised in the brochure, they’ll be down inreception complaining and demanding a rebate. If the food is not fresh, they’ll call the chef over and complain. If the train is late they’ll be angry…

    Better that than the traditional British approach of letting people give shoddy service and get away with it though. Dirty hospitals, poor service and cheating wouldn’t happen if there were more Germans around.

  19. Jose said

    Thank you for your contribution, Cartooncat. I suppose you are talking about what is called middle classes? Are there different traits inherent to the different levels of society?

    We know that those social layers do not behave uniformly in all countries, don’t we? Their interests are particular and coincide with those on the same levels in other countries.

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