7 October 2006

Don’t mention the war

When Josef showed us to our rooms, I couldn’t help noticing the Spitfire. It was a model, painstakingly constructed from a kit. Unlike the models I had built as a child this one was painted properly, and of course it had the correct RAF insignia. It was in a glass display case next to a model of a Messerschmitt, and one of some kind of US fighter plane I didn’t recognize.

I’d always been more into tanks as a child. I had a book about them, and a die-cast German Leopard tank that I would frequently disassemble and reassemble. When we visited Bournemouth in 2003 I got to visit the nearby Tank Museum and admire their collection. If it was OK for me to have an interest in World War II tanks, I told myself, surely it was normal for a German of roughly my age to have an interest in World War II aircraft?

In fact, we soon learned that Josef had worked in the Navy, as a liaison officer for groups of British sailors. I tried to imagine being a German in charge of a bunch of drunken English sailors. He’d probably heard slurs I couldn’t even begin to dream up, but I didn’t particularly want to talk about them, and dodged a couple of conversational gambits.

Like Berlin, Hamburg has a bombed-out church spire in the middle of the city, acting as an unforgettable reminder of war. The city was extensively bombed and most of the inner city was totally rebuilt, so inevitably the war crops up as a topic again if someone mentions when certain buildings were constructed.

While we were there, an unexploded American mine was found in Hamburg, resulting in a minor evacuation of the surrounding area.

No, the idea that Germany has forgotten about the war is one of the most ridiculous myths I’ve heard from English people. No, Mr football supporter, they really don’t need to be reminded about it.

We saw a few flags flying on cars. Ute explained that during the World Cup celebrations, neon goalposts had been set up on buildings throughout the city, and people had suddenly started flying the German flag everywhere. Gas stations had sold clip-on flags for cars. She said it was the first time she had seen so many flags, that previously it had simply been socially unacceptable to fly the flag.

In a strange kind of way, I can understand that. In both the UK and USA the national flag has been hijacked as a symbol of mindless right-wing patriotism. Most Americans I know wouldn’t fly the stars and stripes from their cars.

We tried to find a bumper sticker with the German flag and the coat of arms of Hamburg. We had seen the combination flying from a few buildings. However, trying to find a German flag on a bumper sticker is probably easier in Texas than it is in Germany.

Anyhow, right now it’s America that’s rounding up innocent people, keeping them in camps, and torturing them—and the UK is collaborating. So it’s way past time we cut Germany some slack.

© mathew 2017