Saturday, June 10, 2017

Was ist deutsch?

German, what does it mean? This is the title of a book by Dieter Borchmeyer, professor emeritus of German literature at the University of Heidelberg. The topic always has interested me, particularly since my Norwegian boss once remarked: You are not a typical German. Read the full story about good old Johann.

His remark could also mean that I am not the most knowledgeable person to answer the question: Was ist deutsch? This however Borchmeyer tries by writing more than 1000 pages, an oeuvre too thick for me. There are at least half a dozen books waiting to be read not on my desk but in the memory of my mobile devices. My remaining life is just too short and admittedly I spend too much time with internet activities. Writing these blogs is fun, maintaining a couple of websites is mostly boring routine but both take lots of my time.

With the background of the bloody French Revolution and the following Napoleonic occupation of German territories it was Goethe in combination with Schiller (who else?) who wrote in a xenia the most salient reflection about our topic: Deutschland? Aber wo liegt es? Ich weiß das Land nicht zu finden, wo das gelehrte beginnt, hört das politische auf. Zur Nation euch zu bilden, ihr hoffet es, Deutsche, vergebens; Bildet, ihr könnt es, dafür freier zu Menschen euch aus (Germany? Where is it? I am unable to find the land, where the academic one commences the political ends. In vain you hope to form a nation; rather try freely to educate yourself, you can do it, becoming humans).

It was not until 1871 that Germany, the late nation, became the 2nd Reich under Prussian rule excluding the German-speaking parts of Austria and Switzerland. Whereas the many German states had out of necessity been liberal-minded towards their neighbors the new Reich became a know-it-all country as written already in 1861 by Emanuel Geibel: Und es mag am deutschen Wesen, Einmal noch die Welt genesen (It may be that some time the world will be cured of its ills by the German spirit).

It was Friedrich Nietzsche repelled by Germany's growing international isolation who wrote: Gut deutsch sein heißt sich entdeutschen (Being good-German means to de-German).

Later the German people boasting of hard work, discipline, and order became addicted to the Nazis. In 1942 following an address of the Reichspropagandaminister Joseph Goebbels to the Akademie der Wissenschaften Gottfried Benn observed: Not one of the assembled dignitaries moved, not the great conductors, nor the members of the peace class of the order Pour-le-Mérite, the international academics, the honorable business men, they all applauded. The Untertanengeist (subservient spirit) had eventually won not to mention Martin Heideggers's philosophical aberrations.

In spite of writing more than 1000 pages Dieter Borchmeyer did not answer the salient question Was ist deutsch fully. He is too much of a literary scholar.

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