According to a recent BBC poll, Germany is the best country in the world -- for the third year running. Do we really deserve it?
BERLIN - The 2009 International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has a "red list" of threatened species, which includes 17,291 species in danger of extinction. But there's one endangered species that didn't make the list: the "hated German," which once spawned everywhere from literature to film and the infamous Ballermann bar in Spain.
If you believe a major BBC survey of 27 countries, Germany is the country with the best international image. The Germans are regarded as very friendly – more so than the British, the Canadians and the French.
At the very bottom of the popularity scale are Israel, Pakistan, North Korea and Iran. According to a study by the World Economic Forum, Germany is considered the second most attractive destination in terms of security, prices, and cultural offerings. We come second only to Switzerland and ahead of France, Austria and Sweden.
Do we deserve it?
Nobody expected these amazing results, and no one is more surprised than the Germans themselves, trying to coming to terms with the fact that they are actually liked by the rest of the world. How can this be? they ask themselves. Do we deserve this? What are we doing wrong?
The first voices have already started protesting, trying to convince the world that there's been a mistake, that "we" are nothing like how "they" want to see us.
Jakob Augstein, for example, wrote in an article for Der Spiegel on the Germans' refusal to fill their cars with the new E10 fuel: "In the past, Germans laughed as they drove their vehicles towards Stalingrad. Today they can't even fill up their VW Golfs. We are witnessing the degeneration of a once proud nation of motorists. The car industry began responding a long time ago, delivering an increasing number of cars without spare wheels. No wonder. It was once a common sight to see men changing a tire by the roadside, whereas today most people can't even fill up the windscreen washer fluid. "
While this might be quite amusing, it isn't altogether fair. In the past, stopping to eat on the way meant sitting on folding chairs on the side of the road and eating sandwiches. Today we stop at service stations and have a choice of two dozen dishes. In the past, we went in the bushes, now we all always use clean, modern facilities. Once drivers would either have to freeze or sweat behind the steering wheel, now every car has air conditioning.
The fact that "most people" aren't able to change a tire actually speaks in their favor, their ineptness merely guarantees they'd never dream of driving to Stalingrad unless they were stretching out in a comfortable sleeper coach on a package tour.
Augstein complains that the Germans have lost the very properties for which they used to be feared. But this is surely the best possible development for both Germany and the rest of the world.
And if the people are now refusing to fill their cars with the fuel decreed to them, then they're not only demonstrating a healthy skepticism about ecologically vindicated misnomers, but also a keen awareness of the limits of authority.
Right now it seems there's more expertise being exhibited in Germany's bars and pubs than in the features pages of our major newspapers, where commentators regurgitate arguments about whether Islam or Islamophobia presents the greatest danger to the nation.
Nevertheless, the disappearance of the "hated German" represents a socio-cultural loss that should not be underestimated. How are future generations going to understand the "The Loyal Subject" or "The Blue Angel" by Heinrich Mann without knowing that the characters Diederich Hessling and Professor Rath are prototypes of Wilhelmine Germany: authoritarian, hypocritical, cowardly, submissive and ready to commit any crime?
How will students get the joke at the heart of Heinrich Spoerl's novel "The Muzzle," if modern lawyers like Barbara Salesch and Alexander Hold present themselves as hip and trendy Eric Clapton look-alikes? A far cry from Spoerl's anti-hero Treskow, the hung-over state attorney who investigates himself for a crime he committed in a drunken stupor – the crime of offending his majesty the Kaiser.
The disappearance of the hated German has been a long time coming. The first signs were when male railway conductors began growing their hair long and sporting earrings.
Rare Moments of Happiness
Today, it's hard to believe your eyes if you come across a country pub serving "German cuisine" which actually serves Sauerbraten with dumplings and cabbage rather than flambéed kidneys on a bed of rice.
Such moments of happiness are becoming rarer all the time. Even in Berlin, where the clocks run more slowly, it's becoming hard to find a bus driver who'll still slam the doors shut in your face with a gleeful grin.
When recently I asked a driver where I would have to change buses, his curt reply, "can't you find out yourself before getting on?" made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, and it was all I could do to stop myself from throwing my arms around his neck.
The fact that many Germans can't accept the disappearance of the hated German, could be because they used to enjoy having it as a unique selling point. Didn't it used to be such an adventure going to Holland, where you could get your tires slashed on a regular basis? And it wasn't it great not to get served in Denmark just because you asked for Black Forest Gateaux and not "Pærekage med marcipan"? Wasn't it enormous fun reserving deck chairs with towels at six o'clock in the morning or building territorial sand castles on the beach complete with "No Entry" signs?
All this is now a thing of the past. A bad reputation sets you free, but a good one burdens you with obligations. All the more reason to help maintain the last known survivors of a dying breed, now found only in television's murky depths. But these are all marginalized fringe groups that no one takes any notice of abroad. So we need not fear that our reputation could be damaged.
We are the Pope. We are the champions of big hearts. We are Heidi Klum.
Read the original article in German
A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.
BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.
Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.
The incident at the cemetery
They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."
There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.
It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
Crimes against Jews are rising
Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.
Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.
Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.
And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?
Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously
This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.
Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.
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