Unlike the Irish, Germans abroad tend to forget where they come from. There is no German enclave in New York as there used to be. Where the Irish and the Italians always longed to be on the map, to he heard and not forgotten, the Germans longed to be invisible. The emotional attachment to home, to the land, to the place in which you are born, is something hereditary that lies deep in the human psyche, which is why it could be so abused by Nazi ideology.
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The result of this abuse is the systematic denial ever since of any feelings of belonging, a denial that has become so pervasive in German consciousness that it has erased these human instincts almost completely. Of course the Germans have feelings. They fall in love, they have desires like everyone else, they feel passionate about football and you can hear the odd person proclaim "I love Berlin" or "I love Bavaria".
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Of course they feel sadness and grief, compassion, friendship, the entire spectrum of human emotions. But there was always something missing too. Or maybe it started again when the Berlin wall came down, with people crying and embracing each other on the streets. Up to now, Germans have trained themselves to feel no pain, no sense of loss, no compassion for themselves. Nowhere in the world was the father and son gap so wide as it was in Germany.
From the late 60s, young people prosecuted their parents and reshaped the German conscience. All this was essential for German renewal, but it also led to a dislocation, a kind of orphaned state. In the process of exorcising the Nazi crimes, generations of Germans also denied their own heritage and severed an emotional link with their own people. The hidden agony of this discontinuity has never been fully explored.
In effect, they became a homeless people, and still are. The physical destruction of German cities, the occupation by foreign armies, was overcome by adapting and rebuilding.
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But the intellectual homelessness was more profound, and included a ruthless defection from anything that had a spiritual link with the German soul. There is an unacknowledged loneliness in being German. It is right that Germans have turned their back on the arrogance of nationalism.
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They are the only people in the world who have so comprehensively examined their own past. They have been to hell and back with guilt, and their overriding sense of duty towards their victims is unheard of in any other society. Remembering the Holocaust has replaced the crucifixion of Christ as a leading icon in our society.
Memorials have become religious sites that provide a new kind of holiness and guide us towards a fair and racially tolerant society. If there is such a thing as absolution, it is only by remembering and revisiting these sites. But there is sometimes also the perception that the Germans are born with their heads turned backwards, that there is something which prevents emotional thought and forces them to be forever rational and watchful.
There is a feeling that everything you say as a German has to be passed by the legal team first, that German expression is devoid of recklessness, that it lacks the essential ingredients of mischief and spontaneity. Perhaps this is the great strength of German writing. Writers like such as Peter Handke and Thomas Bernhard were admired for the way they rebuilt the language from the foundations, while Boell re-examined the Germans in a series of moral case histories. Sell now - Have one to sell? Get an immediate offer. Get the item you ordered or get your money back.
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Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks: Heinrich Böll
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