The Ugly German Rears Its Head: Why Germany Can’t Shed Its Troubling Past
The 2006 World Cup in Germany seemed like a fairy tale come true for the country. Suddenly, years of troubling history seemed to lift amidst euphoria over the cosmopolitan twist fate had brought to the country. But this year, amid fresh debates over xenophobia, many are left wondering if the ugly German is back.
How splendid we were in 2006. The world liked us, even loved us, because we were so good at exuberantly letting our hair down. The Germans danced to celebrate the football World Cup they were hosting, and almost everyone was pleased to join the party. Sixty years after World War II and the Holocaust, the nation of perpetrators seemed to have come out from under its depression, and the world seemed prepared to take these Germans into its heart.
Now we seem ugly again. When the Greeks or the Spaniards protest against the supposed dictate of the Germans in euro policy, some of their posters depict Nazi motifs. When America author Tuvia Tenenbom recently traveled through Germany, he discovered plenty of anti-Semitism. His book, recently published in German, has triggered an intense discussion. We’re back where we didn’t want to be, caught in the spell of a Nazi past, one that also dominates the present.
But we don’t even need the opinions of others to bring us to this conclusion. What were our big issues in 2012?
In April, author Günter Grass wrote a poem that was so sharply critical of Israel that the Nobel laureate came under the suspicion of being anti-Semitic. A few members of the Pirate Party sounded so naïve when they talked about the Nazis as to create the impression that they had understood nothing about Germany’s past. Germans spent half the summer debating whether Nadja Drygalla, whose boyfriend was a member of a neo-Nazi group, should be allowed to compete in the London Olympics as part of the German women’s rowing eight team. The other half of the summer was dominated by the debate over whether a Russian opera singer with a swastika tattoo should be allowed to sing at the Bayreuth Festival. In late August, several media organizations, including SPIEGEL, reported that neo-Nazis had infiltrated a neighborhood in the western German city of Dortmund, and that they had even established a presence in the fan section of the city’s football club, Borussia Dortmund.
Throughout the year, we read news reports on the upcoming trial of a presumed member and supporter of the National Socialist Underground (NSU), a far-right terrorist group believed responsible for the murder of nine men of immigrant origin and a policewoman. Many of the reports addressed mistakes made by the authorities. Another ongoing story was the question of whether the interior ministers of the German states plan to launch a new case to ban the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD).