Germany, Then and Now
[ Issue 5 ]

'Germany, Now and Then' holds a lot of interest for Emily Bronto

Bikwil is proud to feature 'Germany, Now and Then'

Germany, Then and Now

In Germany, Then and Now The Man from Abdera, who with his family left Germany permanently in 1975, reflects on his birth country's struggle to achieve the "continuous democratic government and largely intact traditions" which Australia has been fortunate enough to enjoy.  Among other things, he compares his impressions of Germany on a recent visit with his memories of when he was last there (1993).

It will take a few years more to have real unification where Germans can be confident of meeting each other with no hidden baggage

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Germany, Then and Now — The Man from Abdera

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Dr. Ekkart 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.

This century 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 opening paragraph.

We left Germany permanently in 1975. During the most recent visit (my first since March '93) two things struck me.

Firstly, after 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 again.

Secondly, driving 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.

My personal summary:

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.

(As 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?”)

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