Users Who Spiked
In January, I left my life on the East Coast and landed in Texas, somewhere just outside of San Antonio. For most, thoughts of Texas conjure visions of cowboys, longhorn cattle, oil, the Alamo, the Mexican/American border, and a mishmash of Hispanic and white southern cultures. Barbeque is as ubiquitous as armadillo roadkill in these parts. One of the characteristics that a newcomer like myself was surprised to find, however, was German influence. Towns with names like Elmendorf, Heidelberg, Schulenberg, and New Braunfels point to a history of German immigration. The names, however, seem to be all that remains.
As much as my eyes have gotten used to the sight of restaurants, cafes, and strip malls bearing German titles, I've become aware of another oddity. It's the dichotomy of our casual relationship with Germany. Of course, a factor heavily influencing this relationship is World War II. This is why Nazis feature as villains in so many of our films. People in this country who still wave their flags and subscribe to their beliefs are a very real threat. What the Nazis did during the course of that war are abhorrent and not to be lightly cast aside. Many of our grandparents fought against Germany and have their horrors to tell. Many didn't make it home to tell stories.
There's a sunnier tale told which appears around this time of year all across America. Tents, festivals, and special brews pop up in October promoting the borrowed theme of Oktoberfest. Feathered hats grace the heads of women in dirndl and men in lederhosen. Busty costume-clad maidens carry steins brimming with kölsch and witbier. In another couple of months, bakeries will start to carry stollen and gingerbread. German cars, like Volkswagons, Porches, BMWs, and Audis don't seem to struggle to find their way to American roadways. Some of those vehicles are used to carry children to Kindergarten - another German import.
The name "Hitler" is practically synonymous with "Satan." When we want to warn of impending doom, his name is bandied about. I've heard people say of Trump's election win that, "Hitler was elected too." He wasn't though. The German people didn't unanimously vote for Hitler (who was Austrian) or even vote for him at all; he was appointed by President Paul von Hindenburg. Many German citizens not only opposed Nazi rule, but risked their lives to hide Jewish friends, neighbors, and even strangers from the SS. Until 1990, Germany was divided, but after reunification, memorials to the persecuted fallen were erected around the country.
After the war, the United States helped a handful of SS scientists erase their pasts in exchange for their work with NASA. As part of Operation Paperclip, these men contributed to the advancement of our space program. Granted, the development of missiles and other weapons was part of that work. One can see the wisdom, if maybe not the ethics, of taking our enemy's top scientists and using them to help us fight the Cold War's new enemy. If one scientist conducts horrible experiments on humans in vacuum chambers and uses that knowledge to develop space suits that save astronauts' lives, does that make them good or evil?
Our relationship with Germany is a complex one. On the one hand, we'll scarf bratwursts and guzzle Paulaner. On the other, we'll click our heels together and Seig Heil to mock a German classmate. That's likely because we're all complex people; the Germans and us. Yes, there are some Germans who are evil bastards. There are some also who are truly good. There are despicable Americans and there are Americans who are civil rights leaders.
I like to travel, not just across my own country, but across the world when I can. I have been subject to stereotyping and ridicule abroad and it wasn't fun. That's why I try to keep in mind that even though a country's political leader is technically their representative, they're not always representing their people.
How Germany Remembers the Holocaust (The Local)
Nazi Scientists Helped US Space Program (Business Insider)
When German Immigrants Were America's Undesirables (History)
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