Monday, November 9, 2009

Vereinigung



Vereinigung means 'unification' - and discussing the significance of the reuniting of Germany's West and Eastern halves would take more space and time than I have (as I'm posting this from my Place Of Employ™).

The main reason is, most people in the United States can't be bothered to understand what November, 1989 meant from a European perspective, not to mention a German one -- and while it's a little simplistic to describe it as the real end of the Second World War in Europe, that's close.

Germany's history is marked by both extremes of the human spectrum: High Culture, Art and Philosophy; Totalitarianism and Industrialized Genocide. Since 1918, Germans have been asking themselves, one way or another, How the fuck did this happen? Jeez; we were doing so well, and then -- bam! We're at war! Then, we lost -- and we're broke! We're pushing wheelbarrows full of money to buy a loaf of bread, and tomorrow it's two wheelbarrows! So we work like crazy, and pull ourselves out of the hole -- and then... bam! The Depression!

Thanks, America! Boy, we didn't see that coming!

Then this Guy shows up and starts yelling about Commies and purity and Germany, and how we don't ever have to be Losers, ever again -- we all said, Jawohl! All right! Yeah, baby! Then -- bam! We lost again! Except this time, we had the shit bombed out of us, and we're all complicit in over ten million murders!! Holy shit!

The 20th Century, for Germany, could be summed up in How am I going to live with myself after this? and What's going to happen when I get out of bed tomorrow?

When the Wall 'fell' (starting about three hours from now, twenty years ago), it was more than a reunification of a national group which shared the same language. It was the beginning of a process for the Germans -- and to a lesser degree, most Europeans -- to come to grips with their national, cultural and political past -- everything from the Holy Roman Empire to the Holocaust. They would have to answer the questions, Why? How? What does it mean to be German, after all this? and, Where do we go from here?

(Incidentally, as 1989, '90 and '91 unfolded, this was no less true for other parts of Europe, occupied first by the nazis and then by Stalin's armies. Some countries, such as Czechoslovakia and Poland, Bulgaria, Romania and the Baltic States could do it without bloodshed, more savagery and genocide; Yugoslavia did not.)


Crowds Of Germans At Bochum For the 2006 World Cup

Germany has managed, in the past twenty years, to redefine itself -- without amnesia, without bankrupting itself, and without falling back on failed political models. A lot of people, in Europe and elsewhere, looked at its reunification with a sense of foreboding (not without reason) -- but, while no one should ever be allowed to forget what the Germans have been responsible for (and the majority of Germans, as it happens, fully agree with that), the face of Germany is also changing.

I was recently in a 1 California bus on the way to the Embarcadero, when I overheard a couple behind me, talking in German -- very unselfconsciously, with an assumption that no one else could understand what they're saying. They chatted about San Francisco, the differences between Berlin and American Intracity buses (Germany's = Cleaner, more fuel efficient; Muni buses "smelled like piss", and they couldn't believe the City alowed it), and seemed to have the same general feelings about life in These United States as most Germans I've met. They feel America has a long, long way to go, in almost all senses.

They were still talking when I got up to leave, so I turned in their direction for a few seconds. Outwardly, they appeared Indian, as if they'd just flown in from Mumbai, but they were speaking an unaccented German. Their cultural observations which I'd overheard were ganz typisch Deutsch -- and I considered: These are children born of parents who came to Europe in the waves of immigration during the 1970's and 80's, and are first- or second-generation Germans.

On my way off the bus, I had to move around them, and excused myself in German as I did so. I did it in part to be polite, and partly to remind them not everyone in America is a cultural moron -- and, like any German I've ever done this to in years of riding San Francisco's buses, they were surprised. Perhaps I shouldn't have been, but I was pleased.