In the hodgepodge of my own genetic and cultural heritage, Germans represent a big slice.  Sort of, if I was a salad, the Germans are the lettuce, and the other parts are the tomatoes and mushrooms and onions and carrots and raisins and cheese and croutons.  I always feel embarrassed by the German part.  I really don't know why.  I remember my German relatives as being more forceful, stubborn, judgmental, prideful, and domineering, than the other relatives.  But they were also nice, and they meant well.  And they would feel offended and hurt for me saying this.  And the same is true of my Chinese "In-laws".  I remember asking my dad about why his parents moved to the opposite side of town - away from "Germantown" and their families, and he told me that was as far away as they could get and still be in town.  And when he moved out, it was to the "3rd corner" of town, as far away from both aspects as possible, but still in town.   I know stereotypes are dangerous and often incorrect, but since this is my own heritage, and my own experience, it's difficult to be objective.

*

August Sander attempted to capture the character of Weimar Germans in his photography.  from the link, " The project remains a moving celebration of the diversity of national life, yet for the Nazis it was far too rich and various, and it refused to conform to their narrow Aryan ideals: in 1934 they confiscated all the copies of Sander’s books and prints that they could find, and banned him from continuing to take portraits."  In other words, a highly diverse people, not the monolithic Borg that has been portrayed in many setting.

*

The photographer also aspired to photographic honesty - the Anti-photoshop of his day.  " A photograph, he believed, should be free of any manipulation or trickery and should serve as a true document."  I wish there was more of his idealism today.

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As I look in these photographs, I think I see the eyes of some of my ancestors looking back.  Not them literally - by the time those photos were taken, all of that side of my family had been in the US for at least 2 generations.  If not them, then someone like them.  Ordinary people of their time.  I don't understand my own discomfort with this aspect of my heritage, but it's there.  It's not the "Nazi thing" - too obvious, and only 20 years of a 2 thousand year history, and, sorry, but ancient Jews, Persians, Romans, English, Spanish, relatively modern Turks, Cambodians, Russians, Chinese, Japanese, Serbians, Croats, Iranians, Arabs, Koreans, and Africans are guilty of the same murderous Xenophobic intensity - with varying degrees of effectiveness, but not for lack of trying. My discomfort might just by, that this is part of me, and I am not that comfortable with myself.  I don't know.

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I've been listening to an audiobook of Baratunde Thurston's "How to be Black".   He describes his African American uniqueness with humor and pride, embracing and exploring that side of his life.  For some reason, I have no desire to embrace my own heritage, except as a homo sapiens.  Not even to visit Germany.  I don't have any "romantic" ideal about being something other than what I am.

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Anyway, it is interesting to look at these photos.  Even though the writers claim diversity, somehow they don't look so diverse to me.  Probably a "9 blind men and the elephant", our perceptions are expressions of ourselves, as much as of what we perceive.

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Replies to This Discussion

Cool photos. My genealogy has turned up one Swiss person, so I'm not very physically very 
Germanic.  However culturally I'm German in some ways. My husband is from Garmisch (one of the most gorgeous places on earth) and that makes my sons half German. We speak it at home sometimes and I lived there for over 15 of my 50+ years.  I love it there.  

My husband has some self hate about being German, but not our kids.  I did not realize that some German yanks also suffer from this. Fascinating.   My husband's grandmother was one of the kindest people I ever met.  When I asked her about ww2, she just cried and cried and cried. She could not talk about it.  The book "Stones from the River" helped me in the attempt to navigate having German family. 

Something I leaned about Germany is that ww2 was not just attempted genocide but also suicide. It was raving physical and psychic self destruction.    

In this discussion  it is important to mention the bright side too, like, Beethoven, Einstein, Schindler, Euler,  Goethe, Gutenberg, Grimm, Freud, Jung, Plank, Mozart, Bohr, Reimann, Herzog, etc, etc, etc...



I haven't read any of this yet, but those photos are great. Back later...

AnneT, thanks for the thoughtful comments.  I searched on Garmisch - it does look very lovely.  It sounds like you were happy there, and your husbands' family was loving, and that means everything. I never thought about the idea of cultural suicide - that is very interesting and I will want to explore that.

I do know the bright side of composers, scientists, philosophers.   When I was a teenager, Albert Schweitzer was my hero - technically Alsatian and not German, but close enough for me.  Also, looking up my family history, several appear to have been Alsatian.  Some with my uncommon surname are Jewish, many with my name live in France.  My Dad's family always called themselves German, there is a village with my last name near Mannheim.  Others were from Baden, and some were Prussian.  My paternal family lived in the "Germantown" part of my hometown.  Some of it looks similar now, as in photos from 100 years ago.  In fact, the house where my grandfather was born in the 1880s is still standing and looks about the same as old photos.  At the turn of the last century, my grandfather's generation all went to german-speaking churches and schools - that ended with WWI.  My great Aunt took pride in being "High German" which she somehow thought quite superior to "Low German".  My high school German teacher was the first to actually teach me to really study, as opposed to just passing through school, and for that I am grateful.  Even if I forgot most of the language - .   I know some very delightful German people, including one sweet elderly man whose father was an industrialist who was killed in a concentration camp for noncompliance with the Nazis.  I guess it's like people who say, "I like Americans, it's just the culture and government I don't like".

It's very strange, when I go to the town where I grew up, I start feeling irritable and nervous, a bit angry, and a bit fearful.  It's interesting to see the surnames on stores, and in the phonebook - definitely German, and maybe a particular part of Germany at that - maybe Southeastern.  I tried exploring old places there - much of it is a beautiful place, which magnificent trees and gracious houses, clean yards and green lawns.   But I don't like it.  I don't know why, I just don't. 

Maybe what I think of as "German" is really "small town midwestern" and isn't German at all.  Or maybe it's "German-American".  Maybe I will have to go there to get it out of my system....  but there are other places I really want to see, and life is short, and the world is big, and resources are limited.

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