We’re just back and over jet lag from 10 days in Germany, mostly in Leipzig, where we visited my adopted grandson, Peter Mitchell Nabe, and spent a few days in Frankfurt. My mail server crashed, my blog server crashed, and I actually did take time off. I don’t do that very often, in fact I didn’t until the servers went down. But it was good.
A few observations:
Christmas in Leipzig, a former communist city, is celebrated as a tradition with and without religious fervor. And any way you do it is okay. We visited Peter’s classroom for the Christmas play, in which he was a formidable Joseph (“I’m not his real daddy, but I’m the one who buys Jesus his presents,” is the way Peter explained it.) The teacher began the play explaining to the audience of families from many parts of the world that Christmas was a tradition that Germans celebrated, but it didn’t reflect on the value of Islamic and Hindu beliefs that were represented in the room by several students. It just was something everyone did.
There’s a picture of a class that colored pictures for the opening of the new Starbucks store on the wall at my local coffee dealer. The teacher and the kids are wearing red and white Santa Claus hats. In the United States, it is the gift giving that has become tradition rather than the religious story, which makes the “War On Christmas” ruckus all the more hypocritical, since in our country it’s the consumerism that counts most. Of course stores are going to choose to emphasize all holidays involving gift-giving.
Retail is the bed Americans sleep in. Try to enjoy it, Bill O’Reilly and fellow wingnuts.
Peter’s mother, who was our son’s nanny 12 years ago, lost her father just before she came to live with us. Peter has no grandfather other than me, the distant American who has the same name (many kids at school apparently prefer to call him “Mitch,” because it is unique, though not very melodious) is his only grandfather and he positively overwhelmed me with his excitement and loving hugs. Mein! he cried and hugged me, making my kids jealous. It was glorious.
If you visit the old part of Frankfurt, near the Paulskirche, you find a plaque embedded in the center of the Romanplatz, the old town square on the site of ancient Roman baths. It commemorates the burning of books by Nazi students. It’s striking to find it, because it is such a beautiful place. What’s surprising, though, is how it is hidden in other ways. The square is surrounded by souvenir shops that feature, among other things, numerous postcards of the destruction of Frankfurt. The war is portrayed, because of the innocuous presentation of the information, as something that happened to Germany and that it overcame.
Of course, the reconstruction of the West is a wonder of economic and political history, but the war was brought on the country by itself, because it adopted a nationalist agenda that condemned men, women, children and ideas. It groped for living space for its select few and sought to impose the same hateful ideology on other nations, getting its ass kicked in the process.
But the fault is hidden. There is no postcard of this plaque in the Romanplatz among the postcards depicting the destruction of Germany. When I asked for one, the woman in the souvenir shop looked at me like “What on earth would you want a postcard of that for?”
The reason this struck me so is that it is too easy to blame everyone else for the actions of a country that is “just trying to survive.” Germany excuses itself like the United States does today when it violates its principles. That’s not to equate the United States with Nazi Germany, but to emphasize how the call for unquestioning support for national policy blinds a nation to itself, to how it can improve, to its potential rather than just its survival. That was my overwhelming impression from the trip. I’ve been to Germany, particularly Leipzig, several times, and I always come home full of admiration for the individuals I meet and wondering about the country as a whole.
Based on my encounters with Europeans, Asians and Latin Americans who are visiting the United States these days, I think my experience is the flip-side of theirs. When talking about individual Americans, they are impressed with them, but the country concerns them because of its lack of forebearance, as Britt Blaser so aptly puts it.
You can’t barge in at my adoptive family’s place in Leipzig for a meal, but you can have one at the restaurant we found in Frankfurt’s Alt Sachenhausen district. Struwwelpeter, at Neuer Wall 3, am Affentorplatz, Kleine Rittergasse 39. The place—an old long-table and bench public house—has exceptionally simple and delicious food that, for a change, everyone in the family enjoyed (a minor miracle when traveling with my kids). Astonishingly good, a beautiful culinary conclusion to the trip.