Sunday, May 27, 2012


„Like a shower: hot, cold, hot, cold.“

So many neuroses, obsessions, and addictions.  We have to try so hard to qualify as normal.

And worst of all is the undeserving idol—no, object of affection, bordering on mild dependency.  Whose ego is better fed?  His, no doubt.  But mine still longs for those morsels of desire, for those memorized moments of bliss.  I am what I am, and rarely apologize for it.  He even less so.  We understand each other as few others do, and yet not at all.

Who can get away with telling me what I’ve done wrong, what I’ve failed to accomplish??  Seven years, nearly to the day, I’ve lived my own life.  I rolled up the futon and stuffed my hamper full of second-hand clothes, a milk crate full of books in the ´92 Honda, and drove off to the Philadelphia unknown.  To that fabled Quaker city with so little brotherly love.  I sat with my Langescheidt pocket dictionary, a painful investment at the time, and attempted to translate the stack of documents that arrived at our row house as I cowered, sweating in my tiny, blue-carpeted room brightened by the streetlight that lit the corpse that lay there, 2 a.m., July 5, 2005.  And two months later, my parent cried at the airport, but I was too stunned, too disbelieving.  Europe.  Europe?!

But I can say, and say again: I did it!  I came to this country with my ethics, with my fearful, wounded heart full of hope and courage, with my doubt and dismay and conflicted loyalties.  And here I am!  I love and am loved and I am happy.  I am known for my integrity.  I am known for defying stereotypes.  I have been told by my students, “Your analyses are always correct—you’re my favorite.”  “I like you because you’ve lived for a long time in Germany, but you haven’t become German, you’re still yourself.”  And a simply eavesdropped, “Dobrá.”  I spent hours today with someone else’s baby in my arms.  And I’m “die Tante Kelsey” for at least two now.

And I hate how “häppie” is not “glücklich” for Germans—it’s some pathetic, tragic-comic stepbrother to true happiness.  Just try to deal with the conflicts we have in daily life, just try to live in a society more than three times larger, two times older, and 100 times as complex than this one!  And just see what kind of ironies, what contradictions arise.  Every exchange student and journalist is welcome to her own opinion.  And each will form one.  And how many will go on to tell the same old story 1000 times without remembering the audience that’s already heard it?  Or are they just hungry for more of the same?

And if I had a euro or a dollar or 100 yen or a pound for every time I’ve heard, “Es tut mir leid, aber die Amis...” or “Das ist nicht böse gemeint, aber...” I’d never have to work again.  And they live off welfare and they live off their parents.  They live off half-realized dreams and half-decent intentions.  And I do what I can.  My heart opens and closes like loose sphincter.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Germans be brave, Germans be kind

Today I read the most intelligent, concise, and sensitive advice I have yet to hear about how to deal with the burden of history when you still need to get things done.  I laughed out loud when I read the last line--"very brave - and very sensitive" could be written on my tombstone.

The article from the front page of Die Zeit (02. Feb. 2012) weekly newspaper was written by Bernd Ulrich and entitled, "Immer mit der Keule."  Here's my translation of the most pertinent excerpts, with my own emphasis added in bold:
(Und unter der englischen Übersetzung steht das deutsche Original)

"The country is gradually taking on a similar function in Europe that the USA long had for the whole world. As the force that used and sometimes abused its power, that was guilty of everything, that was expected to save everything and had to let itself be berated for how it did so. What were the Americans not impuned to? The CIA was the root of all evil, the Americans were constantly accused of imperialism.

But one thing they could never be accused of: that they sent six million Jews off to death and brought war to half the world. The very human and often justified reviling of the strongest power takes on another dimension when it comes to Germany, one that kills all discussion and serious conversation.

Particularly when as we know that Auschwitz is used for moral leverage in political conflicts, friendly non-reaction or sometimes unoffended dismissal are the most sensible responses. And then continuing the discussion about facts, about finances, or military intervention.

What to do? Ask the others to cut the Nazi crap and for godssake think of any other possible way of bitching about us Germans? Yes, we could. We could also admit that we want to be loved (that's not a bad thing), much more than the French or the British, who already love themselves. The Germans certainly can't disown themselves because of the very need for love, if for no other reason than that the others would despise us even more for it.

Finally, a certain outer coolness must be coupled with with an especially heightened historical sensitivity. Antisemitism, neo-nazi terrorism, historical oblivion, spasms of arrogance: those are the real dangers and seductions.
Now the Germans must be very brave - and very sensitive."

And the German original text:

"Allmählich bekommt das Land für Europa eine ähnliche Funktion, wie die USA lange Zeit für die ganze Welt hatten. Als jene Macht, die ihre Kraft gebrauchte, manchmal missbrauchte, die an allem schuld war, die alles retten sollte und sich dafür beschimpfen lassen musste, wie sie es tat. Was wurde den Amerikanern nicht alles Übles angedichtet, immer steckte die CIA hinter allem Bösen, stets wurden die Amerikaner des Imperialismus geziehen. Eines allerdings konnte man ihnen nie vorwerfen: dass sie sechs Millionen Juden in den Tod geschickt und die halbe Welt mit Krieg überzogen hätten. Das menschlich nachvollziehbare und oft berechtigte Schimpfen auf die je stärkste Macht bekommt im Falle der Deutschen allzu häufig eine andere, eine alle Diskussionen und jedes ernsthafte Gespräch abtötende Dimension.

Zumal man ja weiß, dass Auschwitz als moralischer Hebel in politischen Konflikten eingesetzt wird. Freundliche Unbeeindrucktheit, zuweilen unbeleidigte Zurückweisung sind also die vernünftigsten Reaktionen. Und dann das Weiterdiskutieren über die Sachfragen, über Finanzen oder Militärintervention.

Was soll man nun tun? Die anderen bitten, mit diesem Nazi-Mist aufzuhören, uns Deutsche bitte schön in jeder nur erdenklichen Form zu beschimpfen außer in dieser? Ja, das könnte man. Die Deutschen könnten auch zugeben, dass sie geliebt werden wollen (das ist nichts Schlimmes), viel mehr als Franzosen oder Briten, die sich schon selbst ganz gut lieben. Allerdings können sich die Deutschen vor lauter Liebesbedürftigkeit nicht selbst verleugnen, schon weil die anderen sie dann nur noch mehr verachten würden.

Schließlich muss sich eine gewisse Coolness nach außen mit besonders hoher historischer Sensibilität nach innen verbinden. Antisemitismus, Neonazi-Terror, Geschichtsvergessenheit, Anfälle von Arroganz - das sind die wirklichen Gefahren und Verführungen.

Die Deutschen müssen jetzt sehr tapfer sein - und sehr sensibel."

No doubt that this advice would also serve Americans well "going forward."

"There were never any 'good old days'
They are today, they are tomorrow
It's just a stupid thing we say
Cursing tomorrow with sorrow."

--Gogol Bordello