Every country has a label. Some have been deliberately constructed by the homeland, while others have inadvertently grown out of a nation’s heritage.
Those who have been following the 2014 FIFA World Cup are familiar with Brazil’s icon: the “Christ the Redeemer” statue. My recent vacation in Switzerland this summer supported my notion of “cheese and neutrality.” And, not surprisingly, travel has only confirmed my expectation that the Statue of Liberty is the foreigner’s image of the United States.
However, the symbol of Germany remains antiquated. My age group is now two generations removed from the atrocities of World War II. Yet the wounds of our grandparents scarred our parents and still haunt us.
A quick glance at footage from the War elucidates the reason for which Germany’s “Four-Letter Word” — Nazi — has not been forgotten. The world’s view of the country has somewhat positively shifted, in light of its astoundingly quick recovery and economic re-dominance of the European continent after two devastating wars. Yet, the infamous Swastika of Germany remains branded in our minds.
While I do not condemn those who find it hard to forgive, I urge such people to consider the innocent — not only the victims of the past, but the Germans of the present. Every uninvolved German assumed a feeling of guilt and responsibility for the actions of their “people.” But now, almost a quarter of a century later, the youth should shed this weight.
After living with a German friend for a week in his hometown, I learned about the native sentiments regarding such topics. While the overwhelming majority opinion on the Nazi party aligns with that of the rest of the world, the association grows tiresome. Repeatedly, I heard young people lament about how “sick of it” they are.
When asked about “American stereotypes,” one college student recounted a childhood experience that has followed him to this day. He said that after entering an American chat room, an anonymous member accused him of being a Nazi. As a result of such correlation, it is not uncommon for Germans to adopt other European cultures by mastering multiple foreign languages.
Another German student mentioned that on a stay in London, a friend played a WWII documentary as group entertainment then proceeded to question him about Germany’s history. While he thought this was “inappropriate,” he “understands curiosity.”
I too am not above reproach in this regard: My inquisitiveness led many a conversation down the path to the War. It is difficult to avoid, for it seems the country’s timeline is not “Before Christ” and “Anno Domini,” but rather “Before War” and “After War.” So much of the present state of affairs is defined by the recent past.
For example, the industrial city in which I resided was known for its coal and steel production. Naturally, its contribution to the famous German engineering of WWII made it an Allied target. Bombing destroyed almost three-quarters of the homes and almost all of the inner city. So, while the town dates back to the year 882, there are no indications of such history.
Remnants of the fighting are still detected. Less than a year ago, many inhabitants were evacuated while authorities defused a 4,000-pound bomb left over from the War. Such findings are just relics to my generation, but they re-open old wounds of survivors. Too traumatized to return to “normal,” German society still takes action to ensure that history is not repeated.
On July 1, 2011, Germany’s conscription was suspended. Mothers even take care that their children do not speak to military members they see in public. And in school, five units of history class are devoted to pounding the students with images from the War. “War is bad” is the teacher’s mantra. Children grow up in a marred society that bruises their self-confidence and wrings out any pride for their country.
I was told, however, that, since Germany hosted the World Cup in 2006, patriotism has been on the rise. So as I waited on the street corner for my ride to the United States vs. Germany football party, I yelled and waved the German flag, motioning for passing cars to honk. All I got was strange looks.
Marjorie Ferrone is a College junior from Houston studying geology. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.