I have been writing a lot about my “personal” German history, or my personal reflection on history and tradition in regards to Germany. And, I think it is time again to write about it. Again? Yes, whilst the past doesn’t equal the future and you cannot live in the past, you can form the future. Hence I often go back and think about the country I once was born in. Where I was raised and where I got a good start in my life. I still have strong connections to “a Germany” the way I used to know it. My Germany. Sometimes I would love to get an offer from “Die Welt” or “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ)” to write a monthly column on “A German view from the outside” or something like that.
Coming up for Christmas, deciding whether Christian and for me German traditions should be important for our festive celebrations, makes me think. Should we celebrate Advent, Nikolaus and when should we celebrate Christmas? On the 24th? Do I really mind? How important is it for my son and his upbringing? How important is it for me. Is it the Christian belief or is it a German tradition. And, does it really matter?
I watched a movie, the Comedian Harmonists, the other day. A group of Germans in the recession in the 1930s in Berlin form a “band”. They sang songs and made noises like instruments, just accompanied by a piano:
Now, I like the movie because of my most favourite German actor Ben Becker, but also because of the time it plays in. I am attracted to the 1920ies and 1930ies when people didn’t have money and nothing to live on. The bare minimum and surviving was the key. And, there is this group of people that made it happen. The “American Dream” from rags to riches. My grandmother comes to my mind again, she used to sit up all night to sow clothes and table cloths to make their living a little bit better, to have a little bit extra. The hard working Germans who didn’t fear a recession because life will always go on.
On a side note, when the Comedian Harmonists got more successful, they started drinking wine instead of beer and smoked cigars instead of cigarettes. Is that why my granddad smoked cigars and drank wine, and why I like both too? Maybe there is a connection to feel “wealthy” between those things?
Maybe that is why I am thinking about it now. I was made redundant twice in the recession, found a job twice too, I think it is my will to survive, to work hard and make things happen. Not to give up, to establish opportunities early and to network. Never forget your friends and never forget your enemies either. I have been sitting up some nights to make things happen and it will pay off one day. Hard work, my grandparents said that every time I visited them, will always pay off.
Now, the past doesn’t equal the future. Germany has moved on. I have moved on and left Germany 8 years ago. But I still think German. I cannot and do not want to get rid of my heritage.
Stereotypes of course. Yes, Germans seem to be very efficient, “Vorsprung durch Technik”. Always have been, always seem to evaluate things back and forth before making a decision. They are less impulsive and they are hard working. This definitely comes from the “good old days”. The German engineers that build cars. Thinking back and forth before coming to the conclusion on how to build a car, they then wanted to make sure it is the best and the most efficient one. We are a nation of those engineers, there was a time we envied the successful bankers and lawyers as a nation. But that is a different topic.
So, I am not sitting here in the UK pointing fingers at Germany and try to explain why we are, who we are, and how we are. No, it is more about looking back and finding out why I still do certain things in a certain way. Why I still try to engineer my career, my life and why that drives my wife nuts (sometimes). It is about understanding the past to shape the future. It is all about letting go, and in order to let go of the past you need to understand it. Will I ever understand it though?
Germans also seem to be less emotional. And I believe, it has to do with our heritage also. Because there was a time in Germany when people “just had to get on”. Don’t worry about things, if you work hard and if you make things happen, then everything will be ok. You will be ok and so will be your child. It wasn’t very common to show emotions. After all, it is all black and white, the “machine works or it doesn’t”. There is no in between.
Now, to conclude, my Germany is build on this image of black and white, the efficiency and “just getting on” mentality. That has been drummed into me since I was a child. More though in the generations before me. You don’t show emotions and you just work hard, and that is it. I want to let go from that and as my German teacher said in hindsight, a few years after my A-Levels, “Volker, I never thought you’d stay in Germany. I know you would go abroad, I could see that”. But, he never told me then.
Not long to go to 2010. A time when I will engage more with my boy and want to tell him about “my Germany”. A time when I am looking forward to starting something new. And, another year away from my fatherland. The longer I am away from Germany, the more I examine the values I inherited and filter them, “good and bad” or “black and white”, to decide which ones to pass on. To nourish them. To learn from them. To make sure they are what they are and not pretending to be something that is based on false assumptions.
That is part of my Germany.