I managed to progress to following a discussion in German this week, and having something to say! However, not once, but twice, I managed to get the wrong answer, and was smartly pulled up by both lecturers.  Our conditioning in school makes us react in the same old way, so I felt like a child again, ashamed, whereas the German students are perfectly used to it and think “Oh, just as well she pointed out that I wasn’t exactly relevant”.   A friend told me of a visiting German lecturer in MIT (Boston) who made herself very unpopular by acting in this way, polite but firm.  In another class I have, through English, the (German) lecturer obviously finds it infuriating that so few people voluntarily comment or contribute – this is a class of international students, perhaps unused to ever having to speak in class.  I have to stop myself from contributing too much in this class, lest others get blocked by that.  These cultural differences are telling.  You could float through Irish Universities without ever having to speak to the class, though you may be unwillingly forced to do “group work”, speaking to other students about the subject in hand.  German students do presentations the way we do the weekly essay, so they have no problem with speaking in public or putting together a Power Point show. Mind you, I have heard that the points for University are high (especially for Psychology) but they are much higher if you want to study in Berlin, so I am mixing with the Crème de la Crème here.

Friday was November 9th, and it was 70 years since Kristallnacht, when the Pogrom against the Jews gathered momentum.  Synagogues, homes, schools were destroyed and windows in Jewish businesses were smashed between 9-11 November 1933.  A spa called “Kristal” in Southern Germany ran a tasteless ad to have romantic “Kristallnacht” with them, and was obviously stopped. It was quite low-key here, there were memorial events, and shops ran a support campaign as part of Diversity Destroyed, placing a sort of transparent sheet over their front windows, simulating broken glass.  The nicest feature was a push to go and polish the “Stolpersteine”, which are little brass blocks embedded in the pavement outside buildings here, giving the name and address of people who lived there, who were lifted from their homes and sent to concentration camps.  These little “stumbling blocks” are almost unnoticeable, just a marker of someone’s personal history as part of the bigger picture of history.  There’s something so Rudolph Steiner-ish about going out to polish them, good for the soul, gets you grounded.

There’s a debate here about the whole business of opening up and looking at the past.  Some Germans think they have done enough now, they’ve done their guilt and sorrow, it’s time to return to some sort of normality or something.  This generation of Germans have known what it’s like to have everything hidden and unspoken, then to have everything exhumed, examined, the wounds pulled apart, the collective guilt and shame, and then the whole world wanting to come and see the process, via tourism.  The Germans were demonised by the western world. The emotive words like the names of the leaders, Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler, Goering are forever associated with darkness.  I met an unfortunate man called Goebbels recently, that’s a tough name to carry, and you would wonder if there are any Hitlers  left in the phonebook. But the public cleansing that has taken place has also raised questions about other countries. What about the institutionalised blindness in Britain (and other countries) with regard to the land-grab and killing that was Colonialism? It feels as if, because people can actually remember World War 2, Germany’s is the only guilt to acknowledge. You can still meet British people who will tell you that Britain improved the people’s lives in the Colonies, that they wouldn’t have been half as successful, nor know the meaning of British fair play. Americans learn a fairly sanitised version of the Native American story, and often don’t even know where their country has been surreptitiously helping killings on one side or the other of conflicts, or both. In this, I am not trying to defend Hitler, just saying there are other horrific examples that are, as yet, unacknowledged.  So perhaps the exposure of the Third Reich’s guilt may lead to asking questions, always a good thing, and have an effect on how other countries view their own personal history, and more importantly, how it is taught in schools to the next generation.

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