Arbeit's on and off appointment as Australia’s head track and field
coach opens up the old Pandora's box of German efficiency versus German
ethics, i.e. "only did my duty, didn't know what was happening, or
did know but powerless to stop or tried to prevent worse whilst working
within the system".
As an Australian
citizen of German birth who has just come back from a very enjoyable
trip to my birthplace I cannot help feeling how lucky Australia in this
century has been by having had continuous democratic government and
largely intact traditions.
Germany had to live through Wilhelm II's Kaiserreich, then after the
traumatic loss of the First World War the unloved Weimar Republic with
its 1923 hyperinflation and the subsequent worldwide depression. The 12
years of Hitler which ended in complete defeat and destruction in 1945
are familiar to most. The generation of my parents, who were born before
1914 and were in large numbers supporters of Hitler, experienced in
either West or East Germany their fourth different form of government
— in the West the quickly economically successful Federal Republic, in
the East the Stalinist repressive dictatorship which crumbled within
weeks of celebrating its 40th anniversary.
The euphoria of
the unification in October ‘90 has long since evaporated due to the
difficulties experienced by the Ossies in the East in coping with high
unemployment, democratic structures, inflow of foreigners (both German
and others), and the frustration of the Wessies in the West over being
taxed to the eyeballs for supporting new infrastructure in the East and
payouts to support their eastern brothers and sisters. It will take a
few years more to have real unification where Germans can be confident
of meeting each other with no hidden baggage. Just as the younger
generation in the West asked its parents about their role in the Third
Reich, nowadays Wessies ask what their compatriots did in the East
during the last 40 years and I suspect the answers are similar to the
We left Germany
permanently in 1975. During the most recent visit (my first since March
'93) two things struck me.
ten years of discussion the various state ministers for education
together with their Austrian and Swiss counterparts agreed on a reform
of the rules for the German language (punctuation, small and big
letters, etc.). These changes have now infuriated some parents,
teachers, politicians and busybodies of all persuasions. Some have
applied to various state courts (which of course come to different
conclusions) for injunctions to protect youth and society from changing
rules and some simplifications.
It was early this
century that the last changes had taken place. Kaiser Wilhelm proclaimed
that he for one would not change from, say, "Thal" to "Tal".
It is reassuring indeed that 90 years later some diehards vow to fight
on the Autobahn I was surprised to see an enormous number of cars (about
one in five) carrying between two and three bikes on their roofs.
Apparently this is not to show off their possessions but rather an
earnest attempt to be earth-friendly at one's destination by using a
pushbike rather than driving by motor.
But the biggest
changes are more visible ones, i.e. graffiti, dirt, less civic pride,
less tolerance towards foreigners (even by people who used to preach on
the subject 20 years ago), much lesser voter participation in elections
— a general mood of malaise. Privately little has changed: most
friends and relatives are as comfortable as they were then, can afford
and take for granted international holidays, all-round health care by
the state, etc.
Finally, the law
of probability. Whilst waiting in London for the Qantas plane I ran into
my next door neighbour who for the first time in his life had visited
his native Poland. We had an opportunity to sit next to each other until
Bangkok and I learned a lot about his impressions about Poland which
seems to be on the road to increased wealth.
I am glad to be
in Australia — so is my family — but we are also happy to have been
able to maintain our contacts with family and friends in Germany. Sydney
is our home and we will remain here for the rest of our lives.
your atlas will show, Abdera is hardly in Germany. It is a town the
foibles of whose inhabitants were immortalised in one of the funniest
books written in the 19th century. Hence the writer’s trivia question
to Bikwil readers: “Which author, and what book?”)