Even before the current movement, I’ve often asked myself what my country of origin, Germany, has learned from the Third Reich. Has the past given us some level of immunity for the future? I’ve got my doubts, but also think there’s hope.
At school, students learn lots about The War. Year after year, the subject is studied in their history classes. This is important, but can be tiring. Indeed, more and more people wonder whether it’s still important to care about the actions of their grandfathers, and great grandfathers.
Could you blame them? The Zeitzeugen (contemporary witnesses) get older, and we’re struggling to keep their memories alive. Ever more, the experiences of the past seem like a distant reality, and fade away.
The War will continue to be prominent, and rightly so. Yet, it can give the impression that German society is often trying to define itself over negative experiences. This lacks nuance and is doomed to fail. At the same time, human beings have an urge to define their identity. Germans have struggled to articulate what they are for decades.
Go ask your German friend, whether they consider themselves German. I promise you that you’ll see some hesitation, and possibly deep thought. What you will not see, for many Germans, is a clear committent to a German identity. In fact, some would even go as far as claiming that they foremost feel like a citizen of Europe, or maybe of the world, but not German.
Can this be the answer? I think just by virtue of reacting to this question, the lines of thought rushing through our German heads, we expose our identity. The thought of being more than a nation, a society of inhabitants of the world, is beautiful, but wishful thinking—at least in the wicked world of today. The idea expresses a wonderful aim, but not an honest way of reflection upon German identity.
We have to find a way to articulate our identity. And, we must do so fast. The persisting identity void leaves the door wide open for a re-emergence of nationalist feelings. The far right-wing, populist, and racist AfD party are ever more capitalising on this void. They even have become the strongest party in some areas of Germany.
Oh, I’m worried, as are many others. But then, this underlines what’s at stake: our self-understanding of our Germany identity, in Europe, whatever is it.
For the German readers: This is a wonderful conceptualisation how Germans see themselves.