Saturday, November 9, 2019

Germany's Unsettled Identity

At the New York Times, "Germany Has Been Unified for 30 Years. Its Identity Still Is Not":

BERLIN — Abenaa Adomako remembers the night the Berlin Wall fell. Joyous and curious like so many of her fellow West Germans, she had gone to the city center to greet East Germans who were pouring across the border for a first taste of freedom.

“Welcome,” she beamed at a disoriented-looking couple in the crowd, offering them sparkling wine.

But they would not take it.

“They spat at me and called me names,” recalled Ms. Adomako, whose family has been in Germany since the 1890s. “They were the foreigners in my country. But to them, as a black woman, I was the foreigner.’’

Three decades later, as Germans mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on Nov. 9, the question of what makes a German — who belongs and who does not — is as unsettled as ever.

The integration of East and West has in many ways been a success. Germany is an economic and political powerhouse, its reunification central to its dominant place in Europe.

But while unification fixed German borders for the first time in the country’s history, it did little to settle the neuralgic issue of German identity. Thirty years later, it seems, it has even exacerbated it.

Ethnic hatred and violence are on the rise. A far-right party thrives in the former East. Ms. Adomako says she is still afraid to go there. But she is not the only one who feels like a stranger in her own land.

Germany’s current effort to integrate more than a million asylum seekers welcomed by Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2015 is just the most immediate challenge. It is compounded by past failures in a country that opened a regular path to citizenship for the children of immigrants only in 2000.

In the decades since the wall fell, Germany’s immigrant population has become the second largest in the world, behind the United States. One in four people now living in Germany has an immigrant background.

But that is not the story Germans have been telling themselves.

Two decades after the country stopped defining citizenship exclusively by ancestral bloodline, the far right and others have started distinguishing between “passport Germans” and “bio-Germans.”

The descendants of Turkish guest workers who arrived after World War II still struggle for acceptance. Jews, most of whom arrived from the former Soviet Union, are wary after a synagogue attack in the eastern city of Halle last month shocked the country that had made ‘‘Never Again’’ a pillar of its postwar identity.

Not least, many East Germans feel like second-class citizens after a reunification that Dr. Hans-Joachim Maaz, a psychoanalyst in the eastern city of Halle, calls a “cultural takeover.”

Across the former Iron Curtain, a new eastern identity is taking root, undermining the joyful narrative that dominated the reunification story on past anniversaries.

“It’s an existential moment for the country,” said Yury Kharchenko, a Berlin-based artist who defiantly identifies as a German Jew despite — and because of — the armed guards outside his son’s nursery in Berlin. “Everyone is searching for their identity.”’

Overcoming the past, especially the Nazi ideology that gave rise to the Holocaust, has been a guiding precept of German identity since World War II. In West and East alike, the ambition was to create a different, better Germany.

The West resolved to become a model liberal democracy, atoning for Nazi crimes and subjugating national interests to those of a post-nationalist Europe.

The East defined itself in the tradition of communists who had resisted fascism, giving rise to a state doctrine of remembrance that effectively exculpated it from wartime atrocities.

Behind the wall, the East was frozen in time, a largely homogeneous white country where nationalism was allowed to live on...
Still more.