Germany of the Mind

25Nov11

Interesting article by by Joel Schalit. Here’s a short extract to get you tempted:

East Side Gallery, Berlin

“Racism is no longer a problem,” said the sociologist, as she put down her drink. “Amongst Germans, it’s no longer an issue. They accept difference now. Today, it’s the immigrants that are the problem, like the eastern Europeans, who are intolerant of Islam, and of women wearing burkas. A lot of work needs to be done with them.”[…]

Judging from Friedrichshain’s cosmopolitan character, one would be hard-pressed to disagree with the sociologist. From South Asian restaurants to doner parlors and sushi places, the neighborhood has an unmistakeably global air to it. Throw in some skate shops, squats, organic groceries, endless leftist flyers, and a cinema that shows Israeli movies (Ajami had just been featured) and you’d think that Fascism was over and done with too.

“Sometimes, I feel like I’m in Berkeley, or Ann Arbor,” I remember telling my friend Vance, who came out to visit us from Seattle. “It’s so politically correct here. All the same creature comforts are available.” Walking through a former Nazi train depot along Revaler Strasse that had been transformed into a skate park and concert space, (among other things,) the parallels with America were obvious.

Obvious, that is to those who, like myself, and the people I know who have made the move from the US, can sense. There are enough parallels between Germany’s capital, the San Francisco Bay Area, and New York, to see why there is so much traffic between them. Especially for Americans looking for cheap places to live and work, as artists, and as writers. Berlin is an America we can still afford. At least for now.

Yet, there is an inescapable darkness to the German edition that clarifies the differences. “You’d never see that in the US,” said Vance, as he pointed out a mural of a wide-eyed Klaus Kinski painted on a dilapidated building. Unfamiliar with the activities of this former train depot, the scene put all kinds of discomfiting thoughts into my head about the Holocaust, and the transportation of prisoners to concentration camps. As it was intended to do, I guess. If not that, at least something approximate.[…]

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