Shocked in Germany

I write this knowing exactly how ridiculous and unfounded it is—but for as long as I can remember I’ve had a particular bias against Germany and Germans (said by a girl whose ancestry is hugely German). I have always disliked the language, have thought of Germans as harsh and cold people, and haven’t had any interest in visiting, experiencing their culture, or tasting their foods, etc.

german meme butterfly

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I know where it stems from—the Holocaust. And I’m not a stupid or ignorant girl—I recognize how stupid it is to blame an entire country and culture for the wrongdoing that one person started and that people were essentially forced to follow (or succumb to their own deaths). I also know how hard it has been for Germany to move forward from those events and from that period in their history. Up until probably sometime within the past few years, Germans were afraid to show any sort of pride for their nation because that would somehow translate into being too nationalistic again—something that they wouldn’t want to appear—lest the comparisons to the Nazis start again. So, please, believe me when I say that I know how stupid my bias is, but that I have been deeply affected by and interested in the happenings of the Holocaust since I was a young child and I can’t undo 20 years of ill feelings or bias overnight.

Or can I?

german alps

In February 2013, I visited Germany for the first time. While I had a good time, I still didn’t exactly get the warm fuzzies from the country. Honestly, if it weren’t for the promise of Christmas markets, I probably wouldn’t have planned a return trip to the country. But I am ridiculously glad that I did.

I was a bit concerned before going back, especially to a new city—Berlin’s a massive city, I only know about 20 words in German (and at least half of those are swear words—thanks to my best friend’s mom being German), and, well, it’s a scary city, right?

Wrong. From the moment I arrived in Berlin via train from Amsterdam, I had a good feeling about it. And the feeling hasn’t stopped. Berlin is an incredible city. It’s young, vibrant, resilient, cultured, and gorgeous.

berlin germany december

I spent only five short days in historic Berlin, dividing time between visiting all the main sites; eating (and drinking) my way through Christmas markets; shopping; and hanging out with a few friends who also happened to be in town (or live there). Every day that I was there, I fell a little bit more for the city. It felt so comfortable, clean, safe, and easy to navigate. By the end of my time there, I was seriously considering relocating there.

It might’ve taken me two trips to Germany, but the five days I spent in Berlin totally changed my mind about a country that I previously held a bias against. I won’t lie and say that being in Berlin wasn’t difficult for me at times–I found myself tearing up almost daily when thinking, reading, or hearing about World War II events which took place in the city and in the rest of Germany. But at the end of the day, I can’t continue to hold a grudge against the current generation of Germans for something that happened almost 70 years ago. I am so happy that I visited Germany for a second time and was able to turn around my views on such a wonderful country. Now, instead, I look forward to making my way there again.

20 thoughts on “Shocked in Germany

  1. Oh, I am so happy you were open to changeing your mind. As a Dutch (with family members being heavily affected by WW2) there’s always the sarcastic jokes we make about Germany and the Germans (I guess Americans make jokes about the Canadians, so it’s not that odd) and it does feel weird sometimes being ‘enthusiastic’ about Germany, but 70 years after the war… you can’t keep holding grudges I guess. Not even for us.

    I have to say that when going to Germany, I feel overwhelmed. Everything is of such good quality, the food, the public transport, the hotels. And cheap too! I don’t like to speak German, but I know how to speak it well enough. There are so many pretty places in Germany. I started out by checking out all the cities (like Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Trier), but lately I love the nature too.

    So, where would you like to go next?
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    • It’s interesting that you say that Germany is of such good quality, because I Feel like the Netherlands is too! I didn’t notice a big difference between the two countries in terms of that, but it’s fun to hear you say that.

      And in Germany, I think Munich will be my next city!

  2. Hoping to go one day. My boyfriend wants to tour the WWII spots which does seem like something we should experience but I feel as though it would be a depressing trip. When thinking of Germany I’ve always got the impression of cold people and stark architecture.
    I am willing to give it a chance of course as long as a few beers and Christmas markets are also involved.
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    • Haha, anything for the Christmas markets and beer, right? ;) But really, it’s a great city to visit for its history and for its things to see and do!

  3. I am traveling to Berlin by myself this summer and your post just reassured me of my excitement! I’ve been pretty nervous about making my way around the city alone, but you’ve reminded me that the city has transformed into a young, artistic, eclectic city that needs to be explored. Any advise about specific sites to see/food/drink?

    • You’ll be just fine there, Megan! I’m sure you’ll find that it’s really easy to get around, and you can find tons of things to do. I can’t give real specifics, but I would say hang out in Kreuzberg, as there’s lots going on and it’s really vibrant and young.

  4. Hi,

    I’m really glad you liked germany. :)

    Try to go to Hamburg next time or to Munich and keep in mind that a lot of germans are not as open hearted as other nations might be, especially when meeting new people. But when they know you better (and you get to know them) you can probably have a lot of fun ;)

    If you ever visit the harz region, just let me know, I could show you around :D

    Greetings from a german girl (actually I’m in Jordan right now)

    Katja

    • I’d love to go to Munich, and I’ve heard great things from a few people that I’ve met from Hamburg. There’s still so much more of Germany to explore, but I’m just glad to have given it a second chance and have really liked it. :)

  5. Germany is by far my absolute favorite European country (but my husband is half-German, so I’m a tad biased!). I’ve not been to Berlin or the eastern parts of Germany, but have spent quite a bit of time in Bayern. It’s fairytale land come to life!
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    • Katrina, I loved Berlin so much! And some other parts in eastern Germany. I’d like to go back and explore some other cities as well, and spend some time up in the north as I’ve heard it’s a different culture there!

  6. Hi Megan,

    I’m glad you liked Berlin and could get over your bias, though I can understand where it came from.
    But what I think is funny is that hardly anyone living in Berlin is actually born in the city. And actually Berlin is quite dirty and unfriendly compared to other German cities. I prefer going to Leipzig or Luebeck. And well, I’m living in Bremen and I’d love to show you around if you ever visit – so come along :-)
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    • Thanks, Carolin! Next time I’m in Germany I might take you up on that!

      I found the people in Berlin to be much friendlier than when I visited Frankfurt and Koln. Even Dresden, to some extent. But I did see what you mean–Berlin is quite an international city, and perhaps that changes the dynamic as well!

  7. Berlin is great. Germany is, in general. I’ve lived several months at a time in Bamberg (Franconia region), spend a lot of time there, and has an element of “home” to me. I can’t stand the food but I love the language. Anyway, it is important to note that the elements that enabled the Holocaust are indeed still there. It has not vanished but when it appears, it is brushed under the rug. A former landlord of mine in Franconia does not communicate with me anymore after she found out my background (which is Jewish and Indian). I encountered neo-Nazis as well, which traumatized me and put me off visiting the country for a year. Bavaria is often and quite accurately compared with the American South in its culture, which is why it remains more xenophobic than perhaps other parts of the country. I also notice that generally the older generation views the American intervention in WWII as an act of aggression rather than as “they saved us from ourselves,” which is generally how the younger generation feels. I have argued with the children of former German soldiers, who fought on the side of the Nazis, as they vehemently defend their parents and claim they did nothing wrong. So it is important never to whitewash, even as it is important to love Germany for how awesome and cool it can be.
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    • Interesting points! I wonder if, given that the younger generation feels differently about WWII, things will change as the older generation starts to pass away.

      I’m afraid that we’ll always have to deal with things like this in life though. Even when I thought the KKK was pretty much defunct, they recently reared their ugly heads in the town in which I grew up. There will always be idiots in the world–those who hate people without rhyme or reason.

      I think you’re right that we shouldn’t whitewash things, but I think it’s equally as important to recognize when people/countries take strides in overcoming their past errs.

  8. Being German myself, I find it quite interesting to read about the prejudices of “foreign” people towards Germany and its people. Though some of those biases may be true, I’m happy you realized that the younger generations are very far from being nazis (let’s not talk about the few idiots still out there). However, WW2 is a topic that often can’t be avoided when traveling once people realize you are from Germany. I’ve never experienced hostility though or felt made responsible for the country’s past. But traveling abroad sometimes includes a strange feeling. I remember being in Northern Norway, Narvik and Tromsö etc., and finding out how much has been destroyed by Germans in WW2. It’s the same with Finland where they burned down villages and towns. So sad. You stand there and you try to image what it must have looked like 80 or 90 years ago. Then you meet locals and they tell you what their grandparents told them about the Germans…and I won’t even start talking about visiting Poland and Auschwitz Concentration Camp, or the Czech Republic, or Latvia, or Hungary, or…well, the list is long, and there’s always some kind of feeling of a vague involvement in the things that happened, though I’m not more involved in this than you or anybody else.
    That being said, I’m still very skeptical towards any form of German national pride. Maybe that’s because a lot of the more educated young folks here see themselves more as Europeans than as Germans. Or because of the things Sunshine wrote in her comment.

    Germany’s a beautiful country though and Berlin is a great city for visiting places of historical importance for Germany, Europe, or the world. But I wouldn’t want to live there, it’s too rushed for me.

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