Thursday, October 20, 2011

How they really feel about us (Germany #5)

BERLIN--The day begins with an illuminating talk by a German history professor who speaks perfect English and has lived in the U.S. (in Georgia). He provides an outline of German history going back to 800 when the First Reich began with the Holy Roman Empire. It lasted until 1871, when the Second Reich began with Germany finally unified as a modern nation by the Prussians of Wilhelm. Hitler’s Third Reich, of course, was supposed to last a thousand years.
          The prof, a warm engaging bearded man named Wolf, describes how by saddling Germany with crushing reparations after WWI, the winners made WWII inevitable. Hitler’s rise to power was fueled by German resentment and economic deprivation. But after WWII, the Allies did something different by being generous victors, and that has made everything since possible.
I’ve been wondering how Germans really feel about Americans who destroyed so much of their beautiful country in WWII, and I think this man, Wolf, has given me part of the answer. He likes Americans and American culture. And in essence, is grateful to us for rebuilding Germany--and for not being “The Russian.”
He does not feel any personal guilt for what was done before his time, and feels his children certainly are blameless.
Discussing the Greek debt crisis, which Germany largely is being asked to fund, Wolf says peace is more important than money. Germans must now think of themselves as Europeans, he says, and go forward with unification because the only alternative is a return to the competition and conflict of the past.
          After Wolf's talk, it’s off to Museum Island, where I visit the Pergamon and Alte Nationalgalerie. The Pergamon houses ancient original-sized, reconstructed monumental buildings consisting of parts transported from Turkey. The Alte Nationalgalerie has a collection of Classical, Romantic, Biedermeier, Impressionist, and early Modernist artwork. Both museums are great.
In between museum visits, I eat a currywurst (delicious) from a sidewalk vendor and drink a good German beer. The draft offerings so far have been pilsner, dunkel (dark and malty with little hop bitterness), or wheat. All three kinds are smooth and satisfying, though I’d prefer more bitter.
          In the evening, I attend a concert by The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, one of the world’s finest, founded in 1882. Its first concert hall was destroyed in 1944. The impressive new hall designed by architect Hans Scharoun opened in 1963. The musicians play in the round. Boy, do they play! Tonight, an impassioned audience of two-thousand brings back the visiting American conductor for multiple ovations.
          My visit to Berlin is coming to an end; in the morning, it’s off to Dresden.

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