I have preferred to consider myself an exception. I love everything German: German beer, German books, German bread, German chocolate, German cars, and German women. I think the language beautiful, the way it sounds and even the way it looks on the printed page. I tend to think that anyone who knows German is more intelligent, and any scholar who cites a German source is more intellectual. I have pictures of Heine, Kafka, and Schnitzler in my room, as well as Franz Marc prints and a bust of Beethoven. And I have learned to hold up contemporary German society as an ideal. Particularly now, when we are in the throws of an astonishingly banal patriotic frenzy, we Americans would do well to emulate Germany's commitment to social justice, social welfare, community, and the environment, not to mention its land management practices, urbanism, and transit system. Germany is a kinder place to be a child, to be poor, or to be a working mother than the United States. It is not just a better-run society (which confirms the stereotype), but it also more humane; though Germany recently experienced its own Columbine, it is still the antithesis of the violent, paranoid, gun-toting America recently depicted by Michael Moore in Bowling for Columbine. And as for Germans as people, in my experience they make wonderful friends. They might not be as immediately open as Americans, but their friendship, once acquired, is worth more. They invest for the long term.
At the same time, my self-conscious Germanophilia is rooted in Germanophobia, just as philo-Semitism is almost always grounded in anti-Semitism. The mystique surrounding things German is heightened, not lessened, because of the war and the Holocaust, just as any taboo makes the forbidden object all the more desirable. I can recall how, when I used to make model airplanes, the German aircraft I made, Messerschmitt 262s, Junkers 87s, Henschel 129s, always seemed so much cooler than my American planes, and I suspect that the cachet enjoyed by so many German products from Braun coffee makers and Wüsthof knives to BMW motorcycles benefits from the same war-bred mystique. German design is not just modern. It is, in contrast with Scandinavian design, subtly aggressive. Hard. Masculine. Bad ass. Moreover, Germany and the Germans attract me because of the paradoxes that I inscribe on them. They are so intensely fascinating because I see them as the authors of both Western civilization's greatest works of beauty and its greatest crimes. They are at once the paradigm of civilized refinement and 'willing executioners' who tried to destroy all that is civilized.
Because of this attractive/repulsive force of "Germanness," my Germanophilia is more intense than a simple affinity -- and more prone to violent reversals like the one I experienced in Czesky Krumlov. More prosaically, it also means that rather than relate to Germans as ordinary people, I invariably regard them through the prism of my own imagination. I insert them into an historical frame, and burden them with a prioris, rather than encountering them as they are. I cannot leave behind the categories of German and Jew. Unfortunately but understandably, Germans tend to do the same to me. In the summer of 2001, when I went with a German friend to her family's home in Upper Bavaria, her father simply could not get over that fact that I was a Jew. Rather than ask me about my life in America or what I was doing in Germany (or what I was doing with his daughter!), he asked me question after question about Jews and Judaism. He showed me a book that he had about Jewish history. His interest was clearly benign, and I have had similar encounters in America, to which I usually pay little attention. But in Germany, in Bavaria, in a household of very blond Catholics, such questions only heighten my awareness of the fact that his parents were adults during the war. It did not help that my German friend had told me her grandfather is rumored to have been in the SS.
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