The Germans have surprised me by eagerly welcoming a million migrants originating from Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Africa and elsewhere. They seem to invite many more to join them in years to come. Why are they doing this?
From the perspective of my Dutch upbringing, the Germans were the aggressive tribes of the East, speaking a coarse Dutch dialect, drinking beer made just like it was 500 years ago, too serious for their own good. ‘Blut und boden’ (blood and earth) signified their adherence to German ancestry and their connection to their land. To be German meant having 20 generations of German ancestors, even if that included Bavarian Catholics and Protestant Prussians.
Their experience with millions of migrants from within Europe has been very mixed. Economic refugees from Spain, Italy, Eastern Europe and Greece have been welcomed and have fitted in quite nicely. But millions of ‘gastarbeiters’ from Turkey who came into Germany in the 60s and 70s have still not integrated well. Letting in a million migrants now from decidedly non-German and non-European regions will surely encourage millions more to follow suite, turning Germany into the kind of country that the US was in the 19th century, and that Australia was after WWII: a country that took in the desperate, the poor, and the strange.
Judging from the popularity of this openness, the pronouncements of the politicians, and the touching scenes of hospitality shown, the Germans also seem to realise the historical significance of what they are doing: they are embracing the change in their culture that will come with newcomers from other cultures. The stories of the Grimm brothers will cease to be the story of German ancestors and become the stories of Germany. Goethe will cease to be a Germanic poet and will become the poet of Germany. Christianity will cease to be the religion of most German ancestors and become a contentious inspiration of German culture. German beer and sausages will cease to be the food of all Germans and become the food of the majority. Etc. To be German will cease to be about ancestors and become something connected to a passport and a German education, something that one can attain within 20 years rather than within 20 generations.
What a turnaround! Why on earth? Continue reading