Germany at 25: Civil Courage

The German Order of Merit Cross (Bundesverdienstkreuz) awarded to Vaclav Havel in 2007. Photo taken by the Národní museum in Prague. Link: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:German_order_merit_with_special_sash.jpg

Civil Courage: derived from the Latin word civilis and the French word courage and meaning the courage of the people to do something what is deemed right. In German, it is known as Zivilcourage and has been one of the most talked about topics in the past two decades. Politicians, civic leaders and organizations in civil society have called upon Germans to show civil courage and help others when help is needed. But why is that when civil courage is a natural trait you see in other countries, including the US?

Especially when it comes to the problem with right-winged extremists has civil courage been heavily discussed for reasons of fear: fear that the laws in the books may be used against them, but also fear of retaliation on the part of people involved wanting to help them. It also presents a conflict of interest between instinct- knowing that there is someone there to help- and the protection of privacy and one’s own private sphere, as mentioned by Prof. Veronika  Brandstätter of the University of Zurich in an interview with the German newspaper Der Spiegel. According to the professor of psychology, specializing in motivation psychology, Civil Courage is a question of value in terms of democracy and humanity, examining the issues of solidarity, tolerance and the readiness to help.  In other words, how far can you go to help someone? What resources are at your disposal and whether additional help is necessary in some cases. While he points out rescuing someone trapped on thin ice as one of the obvious signs where one stops his activities immediately to help, the issue involving right-wing extremism has been an ongoing theme since 1990, which seems to have climbed to the top three in terms of problems Germany is facing at present- refugees and the widening of social classes are the other two, with the Volkswagon scandal not far behind.

Examining the situation 25 years ago, especially in the eastern half of Germany, there were only very few traces of solidarity towards those in need for two reasons:

  1. The traumatic effects of National Socialism in the 1930s and 40s, counting the devastation Germany faced in World War II, combined with Germany being a battlefield during the Cold War as Communism and Capitalism locked horns along the East-West borders including Berlin.  Here, we had two major poles: those who still believed in the German race and those who were afraid of being arrested by one of the two Superpowers. For the former, a classic example of how right-winged nationalism was strong was the riots in Rostock in 1992, where residents and neo-Nazis attacked apartments occupied by Vietnamese immigrants, setting them on fire and chasing the occupants away. The Police were poorly equipped to handle the protests. Further attacks on foreigners followed where bystanders stepped aside to avoid any confrontation by the extremists who dubbed them as helpers.

For the latter, it had to do with the sphere of influence the two superpowers had on the divided Germany: the US for the western half and the Soviet Union for the eastern half. Both were of the opinion that Germany should be rebuilt and grow but on a controlled basis, for fearing of another rise in power. This resulted in the post-war generations growing up being influenced by two different powers that reshaped their way of thinking. It did not mean that the country of free-thinkers was a puppet. It meant that in order for the country to achieve its independence, the Germans had to abide by the regulations from the outside, which disappeared bit by bit as the country bought itself back its independence, only to have that achieved with German Reunification in 1990. And even then, the people growing up during the Cold War era had the extra caution mentality, where help is only given when it is deemed safe to do so.

The second reason behind the lack of solidarity is the mentality of letting the people “swim in cold water” and fend for themselves. This meant that there was an expectation that people coming to Germany (or at least a region in Germany) were to have learned the language, customs and way of life, and there was no need to assist them, even if asked. Even the idea of saying “Schönen Tag wünsche ich Ihnen/Dir!” (Have a nice day) 15 years ago seemed preposterous in the eyes of many who prefer to concentrate on their own affairs and not that of others. Again, this applies to the older generations who may had never dealt with situations with refugees and foreign residents as we are working with today. When first arriving in 1999, the first negative impression per se was the customer service in many stores and offices, where the atmosphere was either monotonous, unfriendly or both. The exception was at the university and offices that deal with foreign students.

Let’s fast forward to the present, and how Germany has cleaned its image a great deal. The meaning of civil courage has become a household name in the country for three major reasons:

  1. People and organizations are being recognized for their services of helping those in need, regardless of circumstances and what background they have. Every year the Bundesverdienstkreuz (Cross of Merit) is given out to outstanding people for their extraordinary service, regardless of which level (local, state or national). First introduced in 1951 by German President Theodor Heuss, there are eight different classes awarded pending on the degree of service. Even cities have introduced their own awards to people for their service to the community. While this had gone almost unnoticed before 1990, it has taken center stage since then, especially as politicians have strongly encouraged people to show solidarity and help the people who are in need, including the current German president Joachim Gaucke in his televised speeches.

The second reason behind the importance of civil courage is the rise of the next generations (those born from 1970 onwards) and their awareness of problems on the global front. These people usually have university degrees, speak at least two foreign languages, have travelled to foreign countries, encountered people from different cultures and are more aware of the problems Germany is facing in comparison with other countries in the world than the baby boomers, many of whom fought for their rights on their own soil and not in a foreign country. The more experiences they gathered and the more aware of the situation they are, the more likely they will help others out, especially those wanting to settle down in Germany for an uncertain period of time.

And finally, the people in Germany have become more aware of the problems facing them as far as domestic issues and immigration are concerned. This is caused in part due to the information they receive in the news as well as the experience they have gathered and shared with others. Even if certain stereotypes of those in need (especially the refugees and immigrants) are held by some based on rumors, having experienced it on hand or through others sometimes helps them reshape the way of thinking and reconsider their actions towards others in a positive manner.

It still does not mean that the country is perfect. There are still attacks on foreigners, especially in light of the large influx of refugees from Syria, and parts of Africa. Refugees and immigrants are looking for new homes and a new life. The gap between rich and poor is widening, especially when it comes to children who live in poverty. And we still have problems with pollution and other environmental issues. But we are seeing the gravity of the situation, and we have more people ready and willing to help, regardless of what the consequences are and how they are recognized in the end for their work. In the 15+ years living here, one can find this variable that is recognizable and much appreciated: openness and kindness. There was not much there at first when I came, but one will find it often nowadays, no matter where a person goes. And this is something that does not go unnoticed while traveling through or living in Germany.

frage für das forum

To finish this article, here is an exercise designed to test your knowledge about how civil courage should be implemented. Look at the situations below and ask yourself what you would do in a situation. Remember, what you do for action may be different for others and can lead to a discussion.

  1. You drive on the motorway and see a person seeking a ride to the nearest petrol station. This is just after passing a car with a flat.
  2. There is a family of refugees entering your community with nothing except what they wear, no money and little knowledge of the language. They are looking for a place to live and work.
  3. A friend prepares a party for another friend visiting from another country but is overwhelmed and needs some help.
  4. Two people fight over how they should work together on a project with one wanting to work alone and another wanting to work together.
  5. You see a group of neo-Nazis harassing someone from Africa, spitting on them and pushing them around, while riding a tram.
  6. You’re at a dance with some friends only to find someone sitting in the corner, all alone.
  7. While jogging, you encounter a dog who has lost his owner and follows you around. The animal carries a tag.
  8. A woman at work receives unwanted attention by someone with interest and does not seem to leave her alone.
  9. You break off contact with a colleague because of a fallout only to meet the person again in a different work setting months later.
  10. You witness an accident involving a car and a bike while biking to a party.

Note: Feel free to comment to any of the situations above by placing your comments below or in the Fles’ facebook pages.  🙂

FF 25 Logo

Flensburg Files News Flyer 5 September 2012

There were a lot of events that happened while I was on hiatus for a few weeks, two of which were spent back in Flensburg and the surrounding area with my family. Most of the events have a zero at the end of each number, marking some events that should not have happened but they did. However some high fives are included in the mix that are deemed memorable for Germany, and even for this region. Here are some short FYIs that you may have not heard of while reading the newspaper or listening the news, but are worth noting:

Rostock-Lichterhagen:

22-24 August marked the 20th anniversary of the worst rioting in the history of Germany since the Kristallnacht of 1938. During that time, Lichterhagen, a suburb of Rostock, the largest city in Mecklenburg-Pommerania in northeastern Germany was a refugee point for Roma and Vietnamese immigrants. However, it was a focus of three days of clashes between residents and right-wing extremists on one side, and the refugees on the other. Fires broke out in the residential complex where the refugees were staying, causing many to escape to the roof. Hundreds of people were injured in fighting, while over 1000 were arrested, most of them right wing extremists originating as far as the former West Germany. The incident cast a dark shadow over the city and its government for not handling the issue of foreigners  properly, let alone having trained police officers to end the conflict. It also set off the debate dealing with the problem of right-wing extremism in Germany, especially in the former East Germany, where neo-nazis remained underground until after the Fall of the Berlin Wall. Over 70% of the refugees affected by the violence left Rostock after the incident. President Gauck attended the 20th anniversary ceremony on 24 August and spoke about the dangers to democracy.

More info on the incident can be found here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riot_of_Rostock-Lichtenhagen; http://www.dw.de/dw/article/0,,16194604,00.html

 

Munich:

Today marks the 40-year anniversary of the Munich Olympics Massacre. A Palestinian terrorist group stormed the a house where 11 Israelis were living, held them hostage and later killed all of them as the police tried to set them free. It overshadowed a then successful Olympic Games, which was the first for Germany since hosting the Games in 1936 in Berlin. Germany was in the process of reconciling with the Jews after the Holocaust, only to be reminded painfully through the event that it had a long way to go in order to become a multi-cultural state and be able to mend its relations with the Jews. Since that time, the country has long since healed from the wounds of the terrorist, the relations with Israel and the Jewish community have improved dramatically, but memories of the event are still there and will not be forgotten.  Info here.

The famous slogan that was found throughout all of Sonderburg. Better luck next time.

Aarhus:

Every year in Europe, there is a city that is nominated as a Capital of Culture, based on the cultural diversity and economic state. During that year, a variety of festivals and events marking the city’s heritage take place, drawing in three times as many people on average than usual. While this year’s title goes to Maribor (Slovakia) and Guimares (Portugal) and the hosts for 2013 goes to Marseilles (France) and Kosice (Slovakia), Aarhus (Denmark) outbid Flensburg’s Danish neighbor to the north, Sonderburg to be the 2017 European Capital. It is the second city in Denmark to host this title (Copenhagen was the Cultural Capital in 1996). Had Sonderburg won, it would have joined Flensburg to host the event, which would have made Flensburg the fourth German city to host the event. Both cities will continue with joint projects to draw in more people to visit and live in the region. Berlin (1988), Weimar (1999) and Essen (2010) were the other German cities that were Cultural Capitals since the initiative was approved in 1985. More information here:    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Capital_of_Culture

Mirror reflection of Gluecksburg Castle. Photo taken during the 425th birthday celebration.
Low attendance at the open-air church service due to hot and humid weather.

Gluecksburg:

The castle of Gluecksburg, located northeast of Flensburg,  celebrated its 425th anniversary during the weekend of 18-19 August, with concerts and an open-air church service. Attendance was low due to warm and humid weather, plus it had celebrated the 12th annual Beach Mile a weekend earlier. The castle was built to house of the Royal Family of King Christian IX of Gluecksburg-Sonderburg, whose family bloodline covers five countries including the UK and France. The Castle was vacated after World War I when the Royalty was forced into exile but was later converted into a museum. The castle is one of a few that is surrounded by a lake, making it accessible only by bridge. More information on the castle will be presented in another separate article.

 

50 Years of Soccer in Germany:

Germany is now in its second month of the three-tiered German Bundesliga season, which marks its 50th anniversary. Initiated in 1962, the league featured 16 teams that originated from five different leagues in Germany, including ones from Muenster, Berlin, Munich, Dortmund and Cologne. The league now features three top flight leagues (the top two featuring 18 teams each and the third league (established in 2008) featuring 20 teams). To learn more about how the German Bundesliga works and read about its history, a couple links will help you:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fu%C3%9Fball-Bundesliga

http://www.dfb.de/index.php?id=511741

A couple articles pertaining to German soccer is in the mix, as the Files did a segment on the problem with German soccer. The first two can be viewed here:

Part I

Part II

What was that? I’m being photographed? Well then, here you go!

Flensburg Files now on flickr:

Available from now on, the Flensburg Files is now available on flickr, together with its sister column, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. Just type in FlensburgBridgehunter12 and you are there. You will have an opportunity to view the photos taken by the author and comment on them as you wish. Subscriptions are available. The Files is still available through Twitter and Facebook where you can subscribe and receive many articles that are in the mix. One of which deals with a tour of the Holnis region, which is in the next column.

Multi-culture is dead. Is it?

As I walk through the streets of a typical European town, the first impressions I have are the way people speak their native languages. Almost immediately, I can tell that the way they construct their sentences, use their words differently, and speak with a heavy dialect that they are speaking the language of the country they are living in, albeit not in the way it is spoken officially. In this case, we’ll use German as a case study. Either they come from different regions of the country, like Hesse, northern regions of Schleswig-Holstein, or the Vogtland region of Saxony, or they come from different countries, like China, the Middle East, or Scandanavia but are here to make a living. If they are not trying to speak the language, they are speaking with their own native tongue, which is easily picked up just by listening to them.  Outside a rum shop, there is a Russian family gatheirng outside to decide whether to take a boat ride or walk to the theater for a musical. At a market square bearing a Danish name, an American tour guide shows a party of 13 the flea market and what is typically being sold there. Outside a barbershop bearing an English name, a French family is making fun among themselves because of their hairstyles they just received.  Then one takes a look at their apparel and the way they behave and run their lives on a regular basis, whether it is a Muslim wearing a turban and carrying the Koran, a Jewish family celebrating Hanukkah, or the Japanese eating sushi while celebrating New Year’s, and one will find that these are not just foreigners who visit the country because of its attractiveness to tourists. They are foreigners who immigrate to the country to make a living there, just like everybody else. These are people who want to have as much of a lifestyle as we do. They want to learn the language and the culture while in turn, want to  make friends with us and share their experiences and their way of life.  The problem is that countries, like Germany, are at the crossroads regarding what to do with the huge influx of foreigners wanting to live here, and the actions that have been taken by many recently have indicated a rise of nationalism and the clash of cultures, which the late Samuel P. Huntington would enjoy watching with utter interest had he been around today; especially when he listens to the comments made against foreigners by imfamous celebrities today. Already, Juan Williams of National Public Radio in the USA was sacked for his comment on his fear of Muslims on an airplane while being interviewed on the show “The O’reilly Factor.” Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh declared the USA as a “White and English Only” state, claiming that if Hispanics want to live there, they have to speak and do business in English only. And the latest comment that has irked many like yours truly to a point where a campaign to unseat him has started was Bavarian minister’s Horst Seehofer’s strive to force integration of many migrants through learning German fluently and with no dialect through his comment that “Multi-culture is dead.” Looking at this from an expatriate’s point of view, the first two comments to use in response to such comments starts with “Oh spare me!” and is followed by “What is going on here?!!” With all the Italian ice cream parlors, Mosques, Chinese clothing shops, Danish specialty shops, and British tea stores that exist here, why are  people getting so worked up with this trend of a country being inhabited by foreigners?

There are four theories that are worth looking at:

  1. The country’s attractiveness- especially with regards to the social welfare system and the job prospects. It was not long ago that countries like Germany and Canada announced measures to attract highly-skilled  foreigners to these countries because of jobs that fit their qualifications, like those in the IT branch, for example. Some of these sectors had been shied away by the countries’ own inhabitants because of the too high degree of difficulty and the preference for other subjects that are more to their liking. And with these offers to bring in foreigners come the incentives, like the possibility of receiving a permanent visa and taking advantage of the social welfare system.

  2. The language of the country- While learning English is a piece of cake to many foreigners, other languages, like German where I’m living, can be a challenge if you have to figure in the logic of it, how it is spoken and written, and the many dialects that exist. From my own personal experience,  it can take 2-3 years with lots of work to master a difficult language, like German. For other Latin-based languages, like French, it might take longer than that. And for non-Latin based languages, like Chinese and Japanese, it is definitely much longer- say 5-7 years but when living in those areas only.

  3. The dominance of English and the Anglo-Saxonization of other languages- English has become the lingua franca of business, commerce, travel, academia, science, and in some degree everyday life. In Germany and other European countries, it is expected that all pupils learn the language beginning in the fifth grade in order to learn the basis before building off from there on the university level. The problem with that is many words in other languages are being absorbed by English, thus creating words and phrases that are cool to the younger generation but irritating to the older generation. Two German language words come to mind when I claim this statement: Download means Herunterladen, but in the new German, it means downloaden. Mobile or cell phones means Handy in German.

  4. The compromise between keeping one’s cultural identity and adopting one of another country. There are four ways of looking at this based on a theory I learned during my Master’s studies at the University of Jena. One can keep both cultures and become more open and tolerant; however one can chuck his own culture away and adopt the culture of the other country but risk losing his knowledge of his own origin. A person can also keep his own culture and not adopt the one of the other and risk being ignorant. However, one can neither keep his own culture of origin nor adopt the culture of the other country and risk being apathetic. While there is a small portion of people like me who prefer the first option, many people elect the third option for reasons that they are only living in the country for a short period of time and it does not make any sense to embrace the language and the culture. However, the plan that many countries on both sides of the big pond (any yes both Germany and the US are toying around with this option) would be to use option two, to force the language and the culture on the foreigners living there. This has sparked outrage from both sides of the spectrum as on the one hand, it would mean adopting a way of living that does not coincide with what the foreigners were used to but on the other hand it would avoid any encroachment on the tradition and value of life of a country threatened by the foreigners.

So looking at the situation from a politician’s point of view, the next question is what to do with the situation when there is a big influx of foreigners, a high rate of unemployment, scarce job possibilities, and a language that is eroding through the dominance of other language. There are no real answers to the problem except seeing the fact that each country has been a melting pot, where foreigners come in to fill in the shoes in industries and sectors left behind by the older generation because their sons and daughters are interested in other sectors, and therefore provide the country with economic support. Basically, they come in to work for the country while in return they expect recognition of their existence and want to befriend others. And it is understandable if many of them have problems getting adapted into the culture and they find other people who speak the same language as they do, instead of learning the language of the country they’re living in. I can testify to that with the German language as it was easier to pick up people who spoke English than those who spoke the native tongue. But this was at the beginning when I was an exchange student for three semesters before starting my career as an English teacher and had to use the German language to help the students with their English.

Attempts at trying to enforce integration while at the same time put a cap on immigration, as it is being practiced right now is futile, as it has been experimented in the past but have failed miserably. For instance, deporting immigrants to their home countries without looking at the situation over there was practiced as far back as 200 years ago, when the US tried sending Africans to Liberia to have them settle there, only to find that the experiment failed because many of them wanted to return to be with their families who were either enslaved or free.  The attempt at forcing culture and language onto a culture was practiced in the Austro-Hungarian empire, where the minorities were forced to adopt the Magyar language and culture in the areas occupied by the Habsburg dynasty. This was met with resistance and eventually failure although it was later practiced with the Native Americans by the white settlers through the Carlisle School in Pennsylvania. The problem of putting caps on immigrant numbers is that it will never solve the problem of filling in the missing gaps left behind in the industries and sectors, as many inhabitants of a country emigrate to other countries to make a better living. Canadians emigrate to the US and parts of Europe. Chinese and Japanese emigrate to Anglo-Saxon countries. Germans fancy New Zealand, the UK, and Australia, in addition to their liking to the USA.  The problem we have with foreigners is our unwillingness to acknowledge the fact that we have a deficiency in terms of foreign language as well as cultural awareness of others that exist. It does not mean that we are ignorant, but it does mean that we are too passive and too influenced by the outside who want to gather our attention just to garner popularity, even though what is said is nothing but rubbish. What we need to do is acknowledge the fact that multi-culture is NOT  dead but is blossoming not only externally but also internally. Externally means that we will always have people immigrating to our countries to make a living for themselves and help our economies. They will present us with their cultures where we will embrace them and share them with others who are interested. That means we’ll always have Hispanics and Asians living in the US and the Eastern Europeans and Chinese in Germany and other regions.  Internally means that each region in the country will remain strong and proud of their heritage and will share them with others who are interested. We’ll always have Native Americans in the Americas. We’ll always have the local traditions in places like Thuringia, Saxony, and Bavaria. Cities like Görlitz, Saarbrücken, and Flensburg will have small pockets of minorities who have resided there for many generations. Migration is part of the whole Globalization process that is ongoing and will continue to be that way.

While dealing with illegal immigration is a whole different story, we need to acknowledge that Multi-culture is give and take. Therefore, I have some suggestions which might make the process a bit easier for everyone that is involved. We can:

  1. Encourage the foreigners to have a sufficient knowledge of the language of the country they are residing in- in my case, German- so that we can have a conversation with them. Regional dialects and minority languages are a plus if they want to stay for a longer period of time. In the German case, this includes but it is not limited to Danish in the northern part of the country, French and Dutch in the west, and the eastern European langages in the east.

  2. Encourage them to learn another foreign language that is important in the way we do business- like English, Spanish, or other langauges so that we can communicate with them in the neutral language should it be necessary

  3. Help them get accomodated and used to the way of living in the country they wish to reside in, which includes the cultural aspects, but at the same time, not force them to give up their own culture.

What we can take from them is:

  1. Their language and culture. I believe we can be proactive and know more about the way of life of the foreigners living in the country and let alone their language. While it is easier to pick up Spanish and Asian languages in the US, it is a big but doable challenge to grapple with various languages the foreigners in Germany bring with them, and especially if it is the English language, since most of the foreigners coming to Germany can speak that language.

  2. Their friendship. We should be more open to them and learn about them so that we can understand them and where they come from.

This can all be done through education, whether it is in the classroom of a high school or university, or through a social gathering where there are many foreigners present. It can be done on the street when people help them regarding directions, but it can also be done at places where they purchase products, like train tickets at a railway station. In either case education makes us more open regardless of age and background. It is more the question of whether we are willing to do that, or if we are inclined to accept Seehofer’s comment that “Multi-culture is dead” and be stuck in our passive ways. In today’s society, we cannot afford to be ignorant, let alone blind to the events that are going on that affect us all. Education is cheap but reaps rewards in the end, including our willingness to be open.

Keeping that in mind, let’s finish the files by asking ourselves about Multi-culture. Is it blossoming like it should? Is it really dead, like Seehofer mentioned? Or is it really at the crossroads?