By JULIUS KELLINGHUSEN —
I was not always proud to be German. In fact, it was only when I left Germany to live in North Carolina that I developed a sense of nOpational identity, based largely on others’ perceptions of my home. My peers tended to associate (modern) Germany with efficiency, intelligence and nice cars, things to which I was more than willing to lay claim.
Many Germans, however, especially those who remember their country divided or the war that made it so, are reluctant to define a national collective feeling. German pride, or even just German identity, are far too reminiscent of the times that the Nazi mania brought about one of humanity’s darkest times.
But the times of ambiguous “Germanness” may soon have to come to a close.
In 2015 alone, Germany expects the arrival of over 800,000 refugees from Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, and other nations. They continue to be welcomed with warm hearts and open arms as German cities, powered by volunteers, rush to build housing, provide medical aid, and supply them with food and other necessities.
These provisions serve the immediate needs of the refugees, helping them settle in a safe and stable environment from which they can attempt to rebuild their lives. But there is something beyond these bare necessities that will be harder to provide: a sense of community and belonging, a feeling of comfort and acceptance into this new country.
This applies not only to refugees, but to all immigrants, of which there are many. Germany’s refugee policy is not entirely altruistic. Because Germany’s population is decreasing, it will soon have a large number of retired people who will depend on a young workforce to fund their pensions.
This situation also supported the government’s decision to make German universities free even for international students. Currently more than 4,500 foreign students are enrolled, and each year over 50 percent stay after graduation, join the labor market and contribute to the German economy.
If we want to help them find their new German identity then we must first find it for ourselves. Of course we should not try to assimilate everyone to the pre-existing notion of “Germanity,” but instead share with our new neighbors what being German means to us, while allowing them to maintain their own heritage.
But what does it mean to be German?
Let’s look at some of the most iconic parts of Germany. First, our national football team features players including Mario Gómez, İlkay Gündoğan, Karim Bellarabi, and Jérôme Boateng. All of them are undoubtedly German, and they are responsible for some of Germany’s greatest international achievements. They are also all the children of immigrants.
Number two, food: many people say that Germany’s most iconic dish (and I cannot disagree) is the Currywurst, a good German sausage doused in sweet-and-spicy curry ketchup. Although created in Germany, it draws heavily from South Asian cuisine. And what about every German’s favorite late-night snack and well-proven hangover prevention food, the Döner? Again, it has acquired a German spin through the addition of cabbage, cucumbers, and various sauces, but the basic dish has been used in Turkey for likely over 200 years and was brought to Germany by Kadir Nurman in the 1970s.
These examples show that being German has nothing to do with where someone or something is from, but rather if they can find their place in our culture. I have never had Syrian food, but I’m sure it will soon be all the rage in Germany.
Many right-wing supporters fear Germany’s Islamization, naïvely claiming that if we take in too many refugees, German children will grow up speaking Arabic (a useful skill, if you ask me). However, it is much more likely that refugees will form their own German identities and mesh with their neighbors, coworkers, and classmates, especially in second and third generations.
My hope is that one day Germany’s citizens will be so diverse that anyone could be mistaken for a German, no matter how they look or where their family is from. I hope that our national identity, our collective feeling will be one of diversity, acceptance, and peace. At that time we will be able to say, with confidence and conviction, that we are proud to be German.
(Written by Julius Kellinghusen, edited by Terril Y. Jones; Nov. 22, 2015)