Written by Jonathan Bannick, Foster undergraduate
I returned to the US with tremendous respect for the German people and a deep admiration for the country. While Germans are culturally quite similar to Americans, I believe that there are many things that we can learn from the German people. Specifically, I want to discuss the concept of national identity.
Over the summer while I was preparing to study abroad, Germany won the World Cup. I watched this historical event with excitement. I anticipated that when I arrived in Germany there would still be signs of celebration. I expected to see people wearing Jerseys and flags flying throughout the cities. What I found upon arriving was quite different. German flags were virtually absent from every city that I traveled to and citizens were almost reluctant to bring up the topic. Over time, this seemingly paradoxical phenomenon began to make more sense.
My first clue emerged in a conversation that I had with another German student. I asked him whether he was bothered when Americans and other foreigners attempt to speak German. He responded that instead of being frustrated, he was flattered. He went on to explain that even as a German living in the 21st century, he still feels a tremendous amount of guilt for his national identity.
Upon more research, it becomes very clear why many German citizens would be cautious about showing national pride. Every student is required to visit a concentration camp at least once throughout their education. The capital city of Berlin is filled with reminders of the struggles of many people at the hands of German rulers. The cautiousness to display pride in the national soccer team is deeply rooted in the history of the country.
The main point of this message is not to be self-critical. Rather, the point of this lesson is to acknowledge that we all must learn from our past. While there are few events in history quite as horrific as those that occurred in Germany during WWII, every country must reconcile with the fact that there are dark times that occurred in previous generations. I walked away from this experience with a tremendous amount of respect for the German people because they seek to fully understand the events of the past rather than to ignore them. I believe that all countries could learn greatly from this example.
My passion for the country developed even further as I traveled more within it. Many Americans would be surprised to know that Germany is one of the most beautiful countries in Europe. The culture is extremely rich and there is so much to learn in every city. I feel very lucky for the time that I spent in Germany and I look forward to the next time that I return.