-OpEd-

BERLIN — Despite all the efforts of the 159 Goethe Institutes in 98 countries, German has not become a global language. The number of people who — outside of China — learn Chinese is many times greater than that of those who would like to read Karl Marx and Hermann Hesse in the original language.

But words that are as German as a serving of pork knuckle with sauerkraut are understood almost everywhere: Kindergarten, Wanderlust and — very important! — Schadenfreude.

Since we found out that Donald Trump was infected with the coronavirus, the number of infections wasn't the only thing that increased in the world: so have the expressions of glee that the U.S. President had been struck.

The Schadenfreude this time sounds something like this: "Trump's handling of the pandemic, his blatant mismanagement, his downplaying of the dangers, his politicization of wearing masks are now again the number one issue in the American election campaign — and rightly so!"

The question of whether those who are struck by disaster have some responsibility for their fate deserves serious attention.

Considerations of this kind are not new. Some thought that the Black Death arrived to serve as God's punishment for people's sins. After 9/11, demonstrators against the USA shouted slogans like: "That's what you get!" and "You reap what you sow!" There was much debate back then when such comments were shared by Christiane Meier, director of the New York City bureau of ARD, a public-service broadcaster. But the controversy quickly faded away.

In truth, that's a bit of a shame, because the question of whether those who are struck by disaster have some responsibility for their fate deserves serious attention. Just like the question of whether there is not only a "cynical answer from nature" but also a "cynical answer from history."

If that were the case, the Jews would have avoided much suffering had they just accepted Jesus as their Messiah; the Germans wouldn't have to blame themselves for World War II if they hadn't started it; and there would be no traffic jams on the A9 if the autobahn hadn't been built 80 years ago. I had almost forgotten: "Autobahn" belongs in the same category as Schadenfreude — German words for global citizens in a world moving faster than ever.


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