sexta-feira, 4 de março de 2016
The end of Heile Welt
The end of Heile Welt
Germany’s illusions have been shattered
Mar 5th 2016 | From the print edition
MORE than 1m refugees arrived in Germany last year, mainly young Muslim men. They entered a society that, relative to other Western countries, has embraced multiculturalism only recently. Suddenly these foreigners are in co-ed schools, discos, swimming pools, hospitals and parks. Some of their interactions with their hosts go easily. Others do not—as epitomised by New Year’s Eve in Cologne, where gangs of North African men sexually assaulted scores of German women who had come to watch the fireworks.
Germans who only a year ago oozed confidence about their economy and their country are now losing faith that they “can manage”, as Angela Merkel, the chancellor, likes to put it. Many fear the crisis will render Germany unrecognisable. A sense of loss pervades many conversations.
To grasp this trauma it helps to understand the German zeitgeist that developed (mainly in the former West Germany) in the post-war years, and lingered in the reunited country. Germans call it Heile Welt. The term means something like “wholesome world”, and describes an orderly, idyllic state. It may connote the nurturing environment parents create for their children to protect them from life’s ugliness, or a private oasis of peace amid public chaos. It was a state of mind that Germans clung to after the second world war.
Because it implies a degree of escapism, the term can be used sardonically. In 1973 Loriot, West Germany’s most incisive humourist, chose it for the title of an anthology of cartoons skewering his country’s bourgeois pretensions. In 1998 it was the title of a novel by Walter Kempowski, set in 1961, in which a teacher moves to an idyllic village but discovers that behind every silence and glance lurks a demon of the Nazi past.
In the immediate post-war years, with Holocaust, firebombing, mass rape and the carving up of their nation still recent memories, Germans flocked to watch Heimat (“homeland”) films. Usually shot in the Alps or in heaths and forests, they featured clean, simple tales of love and friendship between pure women and men dressed in regional garb. Outside the cinemas, Germans revelled in their “economic miracle”, as they rebuilt a devastated country into a commercial powerhouse.
Foreigners were allowed into this Heile Welt, but not entirely accepted. To man its assembly lines, Germany invited workers from southern Europe and especially Turkey. The millionth arrived in 1964 and got a motorcycle as a gift. By the time the programme ended in 1973, 4m foreigners lived in West Germany. But they were called “guest workers” rather than immigrants, on the premise that they would ultimately leave again. Unsurprisingly, most stayed. Yet mainstream Germany continued to see itself as ethnically homogenous—a Heile Welt in a tribal sense.
As part of Heile Welt, West Germans atoned for their past by becoming good democrats, good Europeans and ardent pacifists. But they did so like a teenager who experiments with increasing autonomy, confident that his uncool but protective parents are always standing by. For West Germany, dad was America, which held its aegis over the country throughout the cold war. Mum was France, which despite its nervous vanity gracefully accepted Germany back into the European family.
The dystopian flip side of Heile Welt was never far away. If the cold war had ever turned hot, Germany would have been vaporised first. (“The shorter the range, the deader the Germans,” missile strategists used to quip.) West Germany even had terrorism. But its terrorists were native white leftists who killed industrial tycoons. Ordinary Germans never felt threatened.
In their private lives Germans created micro-idylls. They kept garden plots orderly, guarded by the requisite gnome. East Germans seeking refuge from the cynically implausible Heile Welt offered by communism retreated to “the niches”: private book readings among intellectuals, or nude bathing with friends by pristine lakes. East or west, order was paramount. Visitors were impressed (if not intimidated) by how fastidiously Germans separated their white, brown and green glass for recycling.
One by one, these facets of Heile Welt are becoming brittle. Russia is aggressive again; Germans fret that, when it comes to it, the ageing American dad may not show up. Having cultivated non-violence to the point of pacifism, they now realise that defence of their state and their values may someday require them to fight, kill and die again. The terrorists they now face are not German leftists, but foreigners ready to kill women and children. Globalisation no longer just means exporting BMWs, but also allowing in Muslim refugees, some of them with attitudes on gender and Jews that Germans find offensive.
Some Germans react by fleeing into ever tinier Heile Welten. “We are becoming ever more like our garden gnomes,” says Wolfgang Nowak, one of Germany’s most astute social observers—inward-facing rather than open-minded. Every Monday a movement called Pegida, or “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident”, marches through Dresden. For many in the surrounding area of Saxony, these gatherings have become convivial rituals similar to American tailgate barbecues, but to outsiders they appear xenophobic and menacing. Even moderate Germans are turning against globalisation. Many see a free-trade area being negotiated between America and the EU not as an opportunity but as yet another threat to their way of life.
Above all, the tone of German conversations is changing. Language in the era of Heile Welt was sanitised, with political correctness often taken to ludicrous extremes. Now, in the name of “telling it as it is”, it is becoming coarser and aggressive. It is not clear what kind of world will replace the wholesome one the Germans once dreamed up. But it will be a rougher one.
From the print edition: Europe