THE GER­MAN NA­TION­AL­IST CO­NUN­DRUM

The rise of the far-right party in Ger­many flies in the face of the coun­try’s cos­mopoli­tan vibe and re­flects the need to re­trieve a lost na­tional iden­tity, writes Setumo Stone

CityPress - - News -

In many ways, Ger­many’s cap­i­tal city, Ber­lin, is a melt­ing pot of cul­ture – so much so, ev­ery sec­ond per­son on the street is prob­a­bly not a Ger­man na­tional.

Take the merry young lady from Bel­gium, par­ty­ing to Amer­i­can hip-hop mu­sic at a club called Traf­fic, across the road from the cen­tral square, Alexan­der­platz. She and her mates were dressed like the Kim Kar­dashi­ans and Nicki Mi­na­jes of this world. Or the Aus­tralian lass, en­joy­ing some “re­fresh­ment” – an­other word for beer – with a Ger­man com­pan­ion in one of the bars on Rosa-Lux­em­burg Straße (street).

The Ger­mans have made space for other cul­tures in the hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tor, too. In a Rus­sian res­tau­rant, I feasted on a dish called tabaka (guinea fowl) and downed a size­able jug of golden Moskwa, a Rus­sian re­fresh­ment.

A Nige­rian col­league is un­likely to for­get that one night in a Thai res­tau­rant his meal came in a hol­lowed-out pineap­ple. He was not im­pressed.

All in all, Ber­lin re­flects rel­a­tively lit­tle of its Ger­man iden­tity be­sides the old build­ings, stat­ues, war memo­ri­als and her­itage sites. Therein lies a pos­si­ble ex­pla­na­tion for the new rise of Ger­man na­tion­al­ism and the growth of so­called pop­ulist and far-right po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

On a Fri­day night near Alexan­der­platz, a Hof­bräu Ber­lin, touted as home to the best in Ger­man food and drink, is packed with young men and women dressed in tra­di­tional Ger­man clothes. I’m talk­ing the colour­ful dirndl – a ruf­fled apron dress worn by Ger­man women that con­sists of a bodice, or blouse, and a skirt; the leder­ho­sen, or leather trousers; the Haferl shoes, with their thick leather or rub­ber soles, in­vented in Bavaria for farm­ing; and the Alpine hat, usu­ally made of warm felt or wool, with a brim go­ing all the way round to of­fer pro­tec­tion from the sun.

Some folk mu­sic – which, I sus­pect, is Ger­man in ori­gin – screams from the speak­ers. The res­tau­rant is so full that the waiter warns us that any or­ders will only be ready in an hour or more. Not even a litre of dark Ger­man re­fresh­ment could keep me awake when the food ar­rived just be­fore mid­night.

It was clear on that night that na­tional iden­tity and pride was top­most in the rev­ellers’ minds.

An­other in­di­ca­tor of this was our guide, who hailed from Köln, AKA Cologne, the fourth-largest city in Ger­many. He told us that in his city res­i­dents drank their re­fresh­ments out of small glasses – un­like in Ber­lin, where beer is served in big jugs. “By the time you fin­ish that big glass, the drink has lost its fine­ness,” he said.

So, Ger­mans think about iden­tity in var­i­ous ways, and the con­tro­ver­sial Al­ter­na­tive für Deutsch­land (AfD) – de­scribed as a Euroscep­tic, right wing party – is tap­ping into ex­actly that. It be­came the third largest party in Ger­many’s Par­lia­ment af­ter the Septem­ber 24 elec­tions.

Un­der­stand­ably, na­tion­al­ism is ta­boo in Ger­many fol­low­ing the Nazi regime, which as­sumed power in 1933, and the Holo­caust. Its bru­tal reign ended af­ter the Al­lies de­feated Ger­many in 1945, end­ing World War 2 in Europe.

I asked one of our tour guides where one could ac­cess in­for­ma­tion on the tra­di­tional Ger­man cul­ture that had pre­vailed be­fore the war. He replied that for mod­ern Ger­mans, the events that led to the war had be­come the fur­thest point of his­tor­i­cal ref­er­ence. “Me­dieval Ger­man his­tory is not easy to come by,” he added.

Talk of na­tion­al­ism evokes strong emo­tions among many Ger­mans, young and old.

On the day of the elec­tions, protestors gath­ered spon­ta­neously in their num­bers out­side Traf­fic, where the AfD held its cel­e­bra­tion rally. A sound truck boomed out hip-hop mu­sic in an at­tempt to dis­rupt the AfD event. It was rem­i­nis­cent of 1965, when Soviet fighter jets flew at low height above West Ger­many’s Par­lia­ment, in a bid to dis­turb a ple­nary ses­sion. West Ger­many later re­tal­i­ated by point­ing its loud­speak­ers at mu­sic con­certs by big names such as Pink Floyd, Bruce Spring­steen and oth­ers to­wards the east so that East Ber­lin­ers could hear.

Immo Fritsche, a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Leipzig who stud­ies group iden­tity for­ma­tion, told the New York Times: “There has never been a pos­i­tive def­i­ni­tion of Ger­man iden­tity since the Nazi era.” He said af­ter the war, na­tional iden­tity and na­tional pride were seen as be­ing too close to the ag­gres­sive na­tion­al­ism that had led to Nazism.

As a re­sult, said Fritsche: “Ger­many de­fined its na­tional iden­tity neg­a­tively, by what it is not. Not fas­cist. Not na­tion­al­ist. Not sep­a­rate from Europe.”

I agree.

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