Being German, Deutsch sein.

Since Japan seems not to be a permissive or absorbing culture as such, this country makes you taking on a different view on yourself and your background unless you want to become a naturalized foreigner. And if you did not make any of such an experience, you dug not deep enough.
The outliers of such an experience or visible peaks of the iceberg can be found in the mental state of people leaving Japan.

Here in Japan, I feel respected as a German for the first time although most of the German collective brain about its historical guilt and unfavouredness might be more of a self-constructed image and thus self-fulfilling prophecy.

However, my travel to different countries and the course of my MBA studies raised the question what it actually means to be German? I heard several arguments like “reliability”, “punctuality”, or “order and discipline” (“Ordnung und Sauberkeit” is actually a Prussian virtue, elevated to a sort of German virtue by the Nazi-regime).
But these traits are not consistent. You may walk around in Berlin just to find many examples which contend this cultural scheming.

What is German culture then?

There are some hints, and one of the most impressive insights into typical German traits can be found on a web site made by an US citizen who seemed to have lived in Germany for a remarkable time: http://www.howtogermany.com/transatlantic/transatlantic.php. I especially liked the one about Germans as truthseekers, their stiffness, and – very crucial plus perhaps annoying for foreigners – their attitude towards criticism and objectivity.

All this enumeration of traits and characters does not help much since it cannot be applied to the “scheming” of all Germans to the same extent.

Underneath all this behavioural analysis lies an attitude which is consistent across the board.
Germans meeting each other in a foreign country prefer to avoid each other. And if a German is asked whether s/he is German, s/he will mention this fact at last if ever. Maybe you will hear from which area s/he comes and whether it’s East or West since it still makes a difference.
Months ago, I heard three teens in the Berlin S-Bahn loudly announcing that they are in the East (“im Osten”) as soon as the train crossed the former border of East- and West-Berlin. Hey, these teens were born after the fall of the iron curtain and still think in schemes of “OSTEN” (with a pronunciation of indignation) and “Westen”.

Germans don’t want to be German?

Friedrich Nietzsche, odd enough, wrote 100 years ago and before the craze of two world wars: “To be a good German means to degermanize oneself” – in German: “Gut deutsch sein heisst sich entdeutschen.

Germans feel the need of getting away from their embarrassing national roots, much to the confusion of other nations, into the more open atmosphere of Europe, Asia, or other areas. But while doing this, Germans keep themselves and may find out who they are.
For that reason Nietzsche talks about a demolition man who takes down the “debilitating crust” and “stereotypic behaviour” such as pointers to Weißbier, Weißwurst, or nowadays “efficient” machinery of all kinds.

Germany, the country of poets and thinkers. Yes!
Goethe moved to Italy and Heine thought of Germany – in France – at night … meaning they all released themselves from something assumed to be old-fashioned and backward Germanic – just to make a difference and find the truth.

Nietzsche argued about “varying stages of cultures” and by that way about culture being volatile and not permanent.

“He therefore who has interests of the Germans at heart should for his part see how he can grow more and beyond what is German. That is why a change into the ungermanic has always been the mark of the most able of our people.”

Unfortunately, Germany struggled with its collective mind having brought havoc over other peoples with two wars.
I would like Germans to see the positive notion of being (un)german – pragmatically and open-mindedly seeking for some grain of truth in the world just to find out what it actually means to be German – and what is likeable about their country.

I like Japan and would love to return for a certain period.
But thanks to Japan and several other lessons, I know what Europe and Germany means to me.

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2 Responses to “Being German, Deutsch sein.”


  1. 1 Grandmaster T August 18, 2010 at 4:04 am

    I see that you finally may leave Japan in peace after a bit of a struggle you were facing in the beginning. =)

    We warmly welcome you home! =)))

    Btw: Am i German? I need to think about that…

  2. 2 t4roam August 18, 2010 at 9:15 pm

    Yes, dude!
    Though I will miss my sushi tours, Yokohama, Kyoto, and some nice sights …
    Can’t we actually exchange Bavaria for Japan since Germans and Japanese have something in common.
    Or will Germany cease to exist without Bavaria?


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