Monday, May 4, 2009

Germany – Reflection of a Recent Visit

My visit to Germany this time was for the sole purpose of celebrating my mother’s 84th birthday. As it turned out the same week a room became free at the nursing home, and we prepared her for the move. Many of the things my mom has kept for years reminded me of my childhood. It stirred some deep memories about the beginning of our family in East Germany. My family had always hoped and longed for reunification of the two Germanys . In fact, that was our favorite pastime to dream about what if… we had the same choices people had in the west to travel, or choosing our jobs, or just to have a choice between a few pairs of shoes instead of just one. Or we didn’t have to stand in line for hours to buy some bananas, oranges or chewing gum. We always had the basics for living but even as kids we welcomed second hand clothing a family sent us from the west because of better quality.
Like many other Germans I have been avoiding my past. I became an American citizen in 1999. I always liked visiting with my family back home but otherwise I didn’t miss it much. Not until my daughter started taking German in college and falling in love with the German culture did I have any other thoughts. Looking at some photo albums with my mom reminded me of the some of the pains of my youth. We left East Germany in 1961 just two months before the wall was built in Berlin.

From then on we were refugees. I changed school about six times during my teenage years and therefore had the hardest time to make friends again. We were always outsiders, even though we all spoke the same language, my classmates thought I was a Russian spy, ha, ha. On the deeper social level, all Germans carry the burden of guilt and shame of the Hitler era and the aggressions of WWII.

Just before I left for my trip I met a young man from Germany, Dominick. He was doing volunteer work with the Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly here in the U.S. instead of serving in the German Army which is mandatory in Germany. He told me that the World Cup 2006 which was hosted by Germany brought an unexpected boost in moral for the country. Germany didn’t win the soccer tournament. None-the-less, the World Cup was considered a great success for Germany in general. For the first time since WWII, Germany also experienced an increase in patriotic spirit and participants waved the German flag.

How to let go of the past? How to let go of guilt and shame? We can’t just forget it. Forgiveness is a process of letting go. Unfortunately, I don’t find much spirituality in Germany. The two main churches, Catholic and Protestant, conform to the increasing socialism in Germany. I was not surprised that presidential hopeful, Barack Obama, was so welcomed in Germany when he visited there last year. The churches are like museums rich with historical treasures but does God live there?

What about the unified Germany? Traditionally, the German culture is built on steadfastness and mutual consensus - not exactly qualities you need in today's global changing market. Germany has to learn to be more flexible, fast, creative and aggressive. Today, East Germany’s mass unemployment, unhappiness and depression are a heavy burden. Old communist ideas and even Neo Nazism found fertile grounds for their ideas. It has been twenty years since that memorable day, November 9, 1989 when the wall was opened in Berlin. It has been sixty years, since West Germany was founded as a free country.

Then, on October 3, 1990 East and West became again one country.
But is Germany really reunited? Not yet. Huge amounts of money have been spent to bring East Germany up to Western standards. The infrastructure has been updated to world class levels. But the economy is simply not speeding up. Many East Germans have left their homes for the West and better jobs. Often their mindset still contains the past indoctrinations of entitlement and victim hood. A great challenge is now also the big Islamic population, mainly Turks living in Germany since the economic boom of the sixties.
It will still take a while till all the wounds of the past will be healed. Now, Germany needs an internal unification. Each individual has to come to a resolution, to let go of the past, forgive whatever has been done wrong and possibly is still done wrong. On the collective level, myself included, I have to forgive and let go for what happened. Only then can I find peace with myself and my German heritage.

Once we let go of the need for self-punishment, we make room for God's grace and mercy. This punishment shows up as resentment and anger or other negative emotions or in the worst case as physical dis-ease (disease). All are appearances of the EGO, our past perceptions and beliefs which allowed us to keep captive and enslaved . Only in the presence of God can we recognize our true nature and identity and have no more need for self-punishment.
With the merit of the age a new freedom has been gained, a freedom which goes beyond country borders or ethnic boundaries.

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