Last weekend my host family and I went into the Harz Mountains, the tallest mountain range in Northern Germany. While the Brothers-Grimm-esque scenery was stunning, what caught my attention was a road sign: “Germany and Europe were divided here until the 21st of December 1989 at 8 AM.” I’ve taken modern European history both in Exeter and elsewhere and only now have I begun to understand World War II’s legacy on the modern German conscience. I’ve been learning history “hands-on” here. Our history teacher took us to an Inner-Border Museum several weeks ago. During the hour trip there and back, he told us about how he often crossed the border to visit family members stuck in the East. He explained how they’d smuggle bananas, quality coffee, blue jeans, and other western goods into the country. When we pulled up to the museum, formerly a vehicular border-crossing, he commented on how the building seemed friendlier when East German guards weren’t swarming the place.
The museum told not only the story of Germany, but the story of separation. The first room we entered was a short film on walls that are still exist, or, “walls still to fall.” If you broaden the idea of “walls” to include divisions such as cultural misunderstandings or various phobias, it’s interesting to then analyze the German approach to the events surrounding Charlie Hebdo and the so-called “Islamization of Europe.” It’s not an easy topic but, as an Exonian, I prefer the harder discussions. The talk lately has centered on PEGIDA, a German anti-Islamic organization. Most Germans disapprove of PEGIDA. They view a multicultural society as stronger and more successful.
For me, it’s a lesson in learning from the past. The Germany I’ve been living in is not the Germany my grandparents and great-uncles fought against. As much as I’ve been able to understand the history of German, I’ve been able to learn more about the current views of German and they give me hope that the past won’t be repeated.