Searching out a uniquely Teutonic answer to those rowdy refugees in Cologne

 

Cologne is Nordrhein-Westfallen’s largest city and not to be messed with
 
A whole bunch of refugees freaked out on New Year’s Eve in Cologne and allegedly both robbed and sexually assaulted women who unfortunately were at the wrong place at the wrong time. It wasn’t immediately covered in the German media, but not because of any conspiracy. It simply wasn’t known about. 
There’ve been allegations that the local police played down the event to avoid attention to their poor handling of events. Politicians insisted that the perpetrators’ countries of origin weren’t as important as the fact that they were criminals and would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. 

To say that this has been ignored by either the German or the European press is disingenuous. It just took a while for the story to come to light, but come to light it did. And then some. It’s been a major topic on political talk shows, and the opinion pages of the major papers have explored every possible angle. And then found entirely new angles. 

One particularly opportunistic politician has said aloud what many citizens have thought – that German taxes should not go to pay for keeping lawbreaking refugees in prisons. It’s gotten plenty of airtime, as well it should. Many Germans have a long fuse when it comes to this sort of thing – especially in public – as they would generally like to avoid being seen as racist or xenophobic, but this has hit a nerve. 

There’s certainly a sense that what happened in Cologne, as well as similar albeit much smaller incidents in Hamburg and Stuttgart, has crossed a line. Staying quiet and trying not to make too much of a fuss might’ve worked a week or so ago, but for increasing numbers of Germans it’s no longer an option. 

As I write this, there’s a huge protest going on in Cologne. Hundreds of women protesting against sexual abuse, as well as the newest incarnation of the Pegida protests which made so much noise this time last year. In addition, there are counter protests that insist the rhetoric on the streets is dangerously reminiscent of darker times in Germany in the Thirties

I’m not going to wade into a debate here about either Pegida or those protesting against their tactics. Not that I won’t at a later date; I just don’t think it’s particularly useful at the moment when these events are still so fresh. 

However, I have seen people insisting that Germans don’t care about what’s happened in Cologne or what’s going on in Germany right now. These assumptions are being made with little or no connection to what’s happening on the streets here. Whether during conversations at the dinner table or in cafés or pubs, people are talking and arguing and figuring out what needs to happen next. 

Here’s one of the things I like about living in Germany, though: there will be a measured response. Something positive will be done. Will it be as much as either radical fringe wants? Absolutely not. Will there be a thoughtful consideration of multiple possible ways to deal with all of this? I can almost guarantee it. 

Stay tuned for a uniquely Teutonic answer. One often seems to be found. 

has it really been eighty years?

Die Neue Synagoge
Die Neue Synagoge

There’s been a lot in the German media this week about the 80th anniversary of the Nazis taking power in Berlin. Actually, there was much more written about a ridiculous story involving a politician allegedly making sexist remarks to a relatively young journalist more than a year ago, but that’s gotten more than enough coverage. I’m certainly not going to add to it.

The anniversary wasn’t exactly forgotten, but was arguably overshadowed by what seemed to me to be a non-story. Overshadowed maybe but certainly not forgotten.

I took the above photo of Die Neue Synagoge when I was in Berlin last year, and going to that city often makes me think of the plight of the German Jews. Not a pretty story, but important to remember what happened there. Also read something in the Guardian this week that I found compelling. Take a look at Hitler came to power 80 years ago. I remember it like yesterday by Fritz Lustig.

It sounds so cliché to say that we should stay aware of the past to avoid its repetition, but it’s times like these that we need to remember. This generation of people who were actually there are slowly disappearing.

Maybe because I enjoy living in Germany so much, I find myself particularly vigilant about keeping these topics fresh. That’s not to say that I think this country should be forever shunned and cowed by its past.

Nevertheless, most Germans I know have been raised in a particularly pacifistic society that, as a rule, goes out of its way to distance itself from the National Socialists. It’s a difficult balancing act that I think the modern German state does a decent job of walking.

If the German media this week is any indication, this society’s not in danger of forgetting anything. Not remotely.