Our Indian readers must have seen the Lufthansa tele ad where a grandfather and his grandson are travelling to New York on a Lufthansa flight. The grandfather goes on to prepare his grandson about ‘the German airline’ by telling him how Germans are not like Indians in their hospitality and their food. Once in the flight the child is so pleased with the homely treatment that he almost thinks they’ve boarded a wrong flight.
I have had a long association with many Germans and contrary to popular belief my experience has been much like the young child from the commercial. I have always found Germans to be large hearted, warm people. Having said that, until recently, I had seen very little of Germany and couldn’t grasp its uber sensitive attitude towards its history and how a lot of its present is viewed in the shadows of its murky past.
And then I visited Berlin amidst the rising immigrant crisis in Europe to participate in the Asia Europe Young Leaders Forum. Our four day program took us to the first half of the previous century bringing us face to face with the atrocities of the Nazi regime at the ‘Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe’. We then travelled to East Germany where the wall still stood tall, at the Stasi Records agency we saw the lives of others, organized, numbered, filed and neatly stacked in file compressors.
Traveling through time our conference concluded in the here and now, at a refugee home on the outskirts of Berlin. As I reluctantly stepped into the accommodation quarter of a Syrian refugee, inside his humble home on a plain white wall was the photograph of a middle aged woman, I squeekishly asked if that’s his mother, he smiled and said mother number 2.
I was almost moved to a tear when it occurred to me that the photograph on the wall was actually of the German woman that manages the refuge home. As I conclude this post I imagine two Germans from different times, one from the 1930s that’s wiping off Jew blood from the streets of a concentration camp and a German of today that’s trying hard to make amends relentlessly trying to wipe the pages of history clean.