Neigh say­ers

The rise of the po­lit­i­cal right in Ger­many is at odds with Ber­lin’s open-mind­ed­ness.

New Zealand Listener - - LIFE - BILL RALSTON

Iam sit­ting in a street­side cafe in Ber­lin, the tem­per­a­ture has just hit a toasty 27°C, and I am sip­ping an Amer­i­cano. That ac­cursed word seems to have usurped the ex­pres­sion kaf­fee schwarz for a long black, such is the cul­tural im­pe­ri­al­ism of Star­bucks.

For weeks be­fore set­ting off from New Zealand, fear­ing I might starve to death or die of thirst while here, I had been wrack­ing my brain for my an­cient war-comic Ger­man, but for­tu­nately most peo­ple I meet have a good level of English. In fact, they greet me in it, which is puz­zling as I am sure I must look as Ger­man as any other bloke on the street. But un­err­ingly I get, “Hello, good morn­ing.” I’ve tried re­ply­ing, “guten mor­gen”, but they still per­sist in English.

In John Cleese fash­ion, I have re­sisted talk­ing about the war; it did end more than 70 years ago, af­ter all, but Ber­lin­ers seem happy to con­front the is­sue head on.

I walked through a large, haunt­ing memo­rial to the mil­lions of Jews who were slaugh­tered, great tow­er­ing slabs of stone near the Tier­garten. Be­side the park, there was a memo­rial gar­den com­mem­o­rat­ing the hun­dreds of thou­sands of Sinti and Roma, com­monly re­ferred to as gyp­sies, who were also sys­tem­at­i­cally killed.

Im­mi­gra­tion and a steady refugee flow into Ger­many have stoked re­sent­ment among some that has seen the re­turn and rise of right-wing po­lit­i­cal groups such as Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many (AfD). In Au­gust, a fa­tal stab­bing of a Ger­man man in the eastern prov­ince of Sax­ony, al­legedly by a mi­grant, sparked mass protests, ri­ots and counter-demon­stra­tions.

Ber­lin­ers, par­tic­u­larly those from the western part of the coun­try, seem more lib­eral than those who lived for decades un­der com­mu­nist rule.

There are still parts of the Ber­lin Wall to be seen, brightly painted and pre­served as a re­minder of that time. I was tak­ing a photo of one of the mu­rals, a ren­di­tion of for­mer USSR leader Leonid Brezh­nev’s fa­mous so­cial­ist fra­ter­nal kiss­ing of

East Ger­many’s Erich Ho­necker, when I no­ticed an ap­par­ently naked man with his trousers around his an­kles and a horse’s head on his shoul­ders, play­ing the guitar on the pave­ment be­neath the lip-locked pair. A sign be­side his guitar case de­scribed him as “The Neigh Kid Horse”. I sus­pect that passes for a thigh-slap­ping joke here in Ger­many.

The AfD ex­ploded onto the po­lit­i­cal scene just six years ago and now oc­cu­pies 94 seats out of 709 in the Bun­destag, mak­ing it the largest op­po­si­tion party in that par­lia­ment. It is grow­ing fast and poses a threat that Chan­cel­lor Angela Merkel has strug­gled to com­bat.

It is a re­minder that we are very lucky in New Zealand to have none of the vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism that char­ac­terises Euro­pean pol­i­tics. If Don Brash is the hard right of Kiwi pol­i­tics and Gol­riz Ghahra­man the loony left, then we have got off very lightly com­pared with Europe.

It is puz­zling that a coun­try pounded by the loss of two wars in the past cen­tury and sub­jected to a half­cen­tury of po­lit­i­cal frac­ture should, once again, be veer­ing into ex­trem­ist pol­i­tics. Ger­many should take a cue from its cap­i­tal, Ber­lin, tra­di­tion­ally a more re­laxed, en­light­ened and open-minded re­gion than oth­ers in the coun­try, take a breather and – what the hell – drop its trousers, plonk on a horse’s head and sing.

Any­thing is bet­ter than an ac­tion re­play of the past 100 years.

Ger­many should take a breather, drop its trousers, plonk on a horse’s head and sing.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.