I keep meeting good people.
The world is full of them, though they are often hidden behind what governments project in order to well, govern, and what their armies do when they do what they do, and what we easily label them when we are too lazy to meet them person to person. Word did not like that run-on sentence, but I’m sticking with it.
A recent trip to Germany for a few World Cup Matches drove home the point I’m making here. I had funny feelings about Germans all my life. My Grandfather’s war stories were filled with invective and hatred. And he was entitled to it, having been shot off his feet in a trench in St. Mihiel in 1918. The fact that he later married one (well, and Austrian but who’s counting) did not back him down one bit. If you sat down with Grandpa, you would get one of three stories, and they all ended up with damn Germans?. My father’s fascination with the movie Where Eagles Dare was the source of most of our boyhood history on the Second War. It had something for everyone: respect for authorities (Dad), grand theatrics (brother), Clint Eastwood (mom and my sisters). And it ended up with, of course, Allies outsmarting Germans. We watched it every time it came on, no matter what hour. We weren’t told, but we were somehow taught: we were free because of the two wars we had won against these people. And that’s all I knew for many years.
But the Germany I saw in June of 2006 was very different. And the Germans themselves I found charming. I think the first healthy thing I observed was that they now look at their history as one that is 1,600 years old. The National Museum makes that point clear. The Knights Teuton, Frederick the Great, and Westphalia are featured prominently. The two wars are as well, but so is the triumph of the Fall of the Wall and Communism right behind it. It’s a rich and long past, and Germans time and again said to me yes, that happened. All of it. I was not part of it, but it is part of me. Now, let’s move forward?.
And so they are rebuilding their city (again), learning how to do business in a global economy, and asking question after question about how to do things better, faster, cheaper. To a person, they each revered and respected America and Americans. Their gratitude for rebuilding their country after the war and helping it escape communism was palpable. And so World Cup was their first world party they would be hosting, re-united. Logistically, it was a masterpiece of German organization. But again, it was the people that stood out; in two instances for me. The first was the flag waving: remember, this is a new unified flag. And they got in a lot of trouble for big parades and banners in the late 30?s and 40?s. So, honestly, they first waved sheepishly and as if they would be shut down any moment. But as the Cup wore on and Germany moved on, the pride welled again and the flag was waved high, often, and in huge crowds. Over 1,500,000 gathered in Brandenburg park to watch the semi on TV screens. (Germany lost in the 88th minute).
Which is when the second instance of German distinction appeared: rather than pout as a nation about their loss, they rallied in their role as hosts and did not let the loss by their team ruin the party. It was one of the great ?chins up? moments of the year for me, and an entire nation, led by their defeated team pulled off one of the classiest moves I’ve ever seen.
Germany is more than two horrible wars, more than the bad guys in one great movie, more than a semi-final loss to Italia. The people have an old school class I won’t soon forget. Now the mix of architecture… I’m not so sure!