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A Liberal Intellectual Reflects on "the Burden of Being German" (September 2, 1983)

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Proud Patriotism

And what about the Germans who would rather be British or French or – if only the British and French would go along with it – “European”?

One fact always worth thinking about now and again is that among Germans there is no such thing as a German consciousness that is both binding and unifying. Who among us ever wanted to be a German “as a penance,” while being totally surrounded by the unrepentant?

Historically speaking, up to 1871 there were Bavarians and Badeners, Saxons and Prussians (and many more). A national consciousness that was just developing and then, in a typical German fashion, quickly got out of hand, was brought from exuberance in 1914 back down to nothingness in 1918. Because of Versailles, the Weimar democracy was second-rate and nothing to be proud of. Contemporary historians should pay greater attention to the extent to which Hitler and his helpers profited from allowing themselves to be carried by a new German pride that wanted to emerge. For some Germans, National Socialism meant the end of their ability to identify with present-day Germany; for most, it was the catastrophe of the war and the dictates of the “Victorious Powers” that led to the utter extinction of the feeling, “I am a German.” There is no such thing as sniveling patriotism, there is only proud patriotism. And that, in fact, is more foreign here than in any other European country.

Psychologically speaking, we have no national identity with which someone who was a child in 1945 – or not even born yet – could identify. All in all, this Federal Republic is not a bad state, perhaps it is really the best that ever existed on German soil. But who wants to feel like a “Federal Republican”? It was actually easier back in the late 1940s to stand up defiantly against the occupying forces as a “Native of Trizonesia.”*

* This was a carnival song in 1948-49 (words and music: Karl Berbuer, Cologne 1948), referring to the three Western zones in Germany – trans.

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