national identities

I’ve always felt like growing up in Germany is tough. We don’t wear our nationality proudly since we’re so afraid it could end in a Hitler 2.0 sort of situation. It has gotten better in the last 5-10 years but in general, we’re still growing up in the shadows of WW2 even though that one ended over 40 years before I was even born.

In 9th or 10th grade we had to watch Schindler’s List in school. As our normal classes were in 45 minute increments, you can imagine how many days it took us to watch the entire thing as we watched it in religion class (don’t even get me started on why we have those because UGH!) which was usually twice a week. Every time I saw more of it, I was more ready to abandon my nationality and everything about me that could remotely pass as German. Back then, I wanted to move to Finland and never speak a word of German ever again, that’s how deeply disturbed I was.

This part of our history is horrible and whatever words I use in order to try to explain my feelings and sorrow on the matter will never be enough. I can’t make it undone, as much as I wish I could.

As the years progressed and the impact of said movie wasn’t as imminent anymore, I learned to accept our history better. Not everything about this country is an abomination. We’ve learned from our past monstrosities and have tried to be cautious about everything. Basically we’re a nation afraid to ever let something similar happen ever again. Not that right extremists are only a problem for this country. Many other european countries have those problems as well but they don’t have the history.

This is a long winded way to explain why I don’t particularly subscribe to any national heritage or identity. There are things about me, imprinted in me through my growing up in Germany, that I share with my fellow countrymen, but I’m not exclusively German either. Living in Sweden has taught me a lot of things and I left a part of myself there when I moved back here. The lakes and ease of the people is something I miss regularly. As is some of their foods. I could easily imagine moving there if it weren’t for real life things tying me here that go beyond national ambiguity.

Another country on the list of ones I fell in love with is Canada. Could I imagine living there? Definitely! I seem to be drawn to northern countries though, I don’t care too much for the south, as they have no snow and it gets really hot there. Of course my love for Canada only stems from a 3 week vacation, but I enjoyed it a lot. Plus I already speak the language.

So while I’m watching the Olympics, it’s really difficult for me sometimes because I have to choose whom I cheer for. When Germany is playing Sweden, it gets most confusing for me because I want both teams to win. Throw Canada in the mix ad it doesn’t get easier. Maybe my reasons for liking these countries are superficial and I am actually pretty German (not that I’m denying that). I’m just not very patriotic when it comes to ‘my’ country thanks to how I grew up.

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  • EmilyHornburg

    I think it’s okay to not be super patriotic. Yes, I’m happy I’m American, but I’m not going to shout it from the rooftops either. There are some awesome things about my country, but there are some pretty awful things about it too. Everyone’s countries have both good and band in their history, and we’re all learning from our past (and sometimes current) mistakes. And it’s okay to want to connect with other countries as well.

    • Wilhelmina Upton

      I’ve read a very interesting book about the history of the cIA a couple of years ago and it gave me so much more insight into how your country works or all the stuff America has been involved in. While we cover a lot of current affairs in Europe, things like the Vietnam or Korean Wars are not discussed in our schools and so it can seem like you guys are always doing it right which of course isn’t the case. Like you said, there are good and bad things in every country’s history.

  • Vanessa

    I think it’s great to feel connections to other countries and admire part of their culture/way of life! It’s cool that you feel love for more than one country.
    And my thoughts are every country has its black spots. Bad events happen everywhere, it just seems that some countries hide those aspects of their history from public light easier. Canada’s treated its native populations horrible, but the wider world doesn’t hear about that really. Learning from the past is sort of all we can do, as humans and as citizens of whatever country we live in I think.

    • Wilhelmina Upton

      Learning from the past is important but sometimes I had the feeling that Germany was not just learning from the past, but drowning in the darkness of its shadow.

      • Vanessa

        That’s a very poetic way of putting it, wow. :) I agree with that, in the sense that it’s always such a huge part of what a lot of people think about Germany, if not the biggest. I think since so much time has passed an event like that should be considered from the perspective of what it says about humans as a whole, not just German people who were around at the time. Just like genocides of the past in other countries.

        • Wilhelmina Upton

          Exactly, and it’s not like we were alone in this. Sure, we were a driving force but Italy wasn’t much better.

  • wlreed

    It’s completely valid to feel this way. I sort of feel the same way about the south. I know it’s not a country, but America is pretty large and the south really does feel like a separate entity at times. There are things I love, but there’s a lot of things that I intensely dislike. And most of those things are current, not in the past. The widespread homophobia and misogyny come to mind first.

    It’s strange, I have always felt a little out of place, and becoming a part of a worldwide group that regularly talks has brought that to the light even more. It’s also made my desire to travel even greater. Unfortunately a lack of funding is an issue.

    I don’t care much about the Olympics in general, but I always root for Canada to win the hockey gold. Because to me that’s their thing and it just seems wrong for them not to win.

    • Wilhelmina Upton

      Haha, yes, I always root for Canadian hockey gold as well.

      I can definitely see why the south of the US feels like a separate part of the whole country. From what I gathered through meticulous research through watching TV, they are all a bit bonkers and misogynistic. Now, naturally that’s a generalisation, not everyone is that way.

  • cupitonians

    I think it’s hard to associate with something that has done something horrendous because being a part of something is just like giving it your support. That’s how it works smaller things – you boycott nestle, in our freedom struggle, we boycotted British goods etc. I don’t like saying I’m catholic because of pretty much the same reasons you are ashamed of Hitler. Except the church did it in the name of God. I think National Pride and identify is a egoistic farce. That being said, wanting to possess something and have it be uniquely yours is a human trait.

    • Wilhelmina Upton

      Very wise words! Part of me is really glad I’m not Catholic but it’s not like the Protestant church is that much better or was during WW2 for example.

  • Tim

    Did you go to a religious school by chance? Or was it a public school that had an optional/required religion class?

    • Wilhelmina Upton

      Haha no, I went to public school. The difference with religious schools is you can’t get rid of religion class from grade 7 on like we could. It’s a standard class all over Germany, it’s the first thing I would make optional if it were up to me but similar to many cases, nobody cares what I have to say.

      • Tim

        I’d make it completely optional too (if it were to exist at all in public schools), so I’m on board with you. Personally, I’d love to see schools give a greater focus towards music/art/philosophy than they do to religion, however I feel like that’s not a realistic reality.

        • Wilhelmina Upton

          It doesn’t really have any place in public school and if so, it should just be optional but we don’t make curriculums.
          I’d love school to focus more on philosophy as well.

  • Return to the ’80s (Paul)

    I totally get it. I am American, but like most Americans my family immigrated from other countries – one of which is Germany. I have a very German last name, so years ago people used to look at me sideways a little. Not so much these days. It also doesn’t help that I have the same last name as a former South American dictator. Luckily, not too many people around here have heard of him. And the people that have heard of him are the only ones that can pronounce my name correctly on the first shot. :-) All I have to do is explain that there’s no relation.

    Sure there were monstrosities that happened in Germany. But, one of the greatest events in history also occurred in Germany – the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. When Germany is mentioned, that is always the first image that comes to my mind – and many others’ I’m sure.

    Oh, speaking of which – is it true that German’s really love David Hasselhoff? :-)

    • Wilhelmina Upton

      Ahahaha, the tearing down of the wall is one of the greatest events in history? Yeah, don’t mention that in West Germany. The whole reunification was an economical disaster. Personally, I don’t even remember, I was almost 2 when it happened and we never got that far in out history classes at school to even cover to.

      Nobody particularly cares for David Hasselhoff over here. The song that is associated with the tearing down of the wall is Wind of Change by The Scorpions, not Looking for Freedom ;)