"They All Seem So Nice...."
So, some time ago now I promised to give the story of the Munich walking tour taken by the EYM and me. We chose the "Hitler's Munich" tour.
Now, sure, a guided walking tour is pretty hokey, but this one looked quite interesting, and it turned out to be darned good. Our guide, Shadlich, was Tunisian-French, and spoke terrific, idiomatic English. He also had a very dry sense of humor, and liked to ask questions and stare at us sadly while we all stared at our large comfortable American shoes.
Anyway, we did in fact, as the name "walking tour" suggests, walk around different parts of Munich, to the Hoffbrauhaus, to a number of squares and plazas where events happened in the period 1923-1934. I liked it a lot, and would recommend the tour. For one thing, you learn a bit about the streets and major platz-es. So, good for the tour generally, good for Shadlich in particular. (Washington Post story of someone who took EXACTLY this same tour. So I will leave out most of the details, which are told better in that column).
The other tourists, all American....the review is more mixed, I have to say. One lady, in particular...well, let me tell you. First, some background. There are a little less than 80 million people in Germany who call themselves "German." In the U.S., there are nearly 60 million people who call themselves "German," in the sense of being a "I'm half German on my mother's side," or something like that.
There are some parts of the U.S. where the proportion is much higher. Cincinnati, OH, for example. That is one German city on the river. So, to paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy, "If you are blonde, blue-eyed, and look like you like beer, bread, and kartoffeln, and you are from Cincinnati, then you might be German."
Well, there was one woman on the tour....blonde, blue-eyed, substantially zaftig, and from Cincinnati. And she did feel free to share her views on a variety of topics. She was one of those people missing a clutch; if the brain turned over, the mouth rolled.
So, after we had been looking at the place beside the Feldherrenhalle, just before the Odeonsplatz, where the Nazis had put up a placque and memorial for the 16 Nazi martyrs killed in 1923, the failed putsch, we turned back toward the alley. Shadlich told us that people who walked by the memorial without giving the Nazi salute were likely to get (at best) an involuntary meeting with the Gestapo as a result. So, many people took the Viscardigasse, or "dodger's alley," to avoid walking past the Nazi memorial at all.
At this point, the obviously German woman from Cincinnati is moved to announce, very loudly, "What is wrong with these people? They seem so nice? How can people from Germany be so evil?"
This outburst produced a reflective silence, while Shadlich stared at his stylish German shoes. Then we went on the rest of the tour.
I do want to pose a question, though. Or perhaps just present a list, a "top 5." You may have your own favorites.
1. Systematic genocide of Native Americans, followed by consistent violation of signed treaties and contracts, guaranteeing land rights.
2. Slavery, then Jim Crow and segregation, AFTER passage of Amendments to the Constitution that clearly outlawed same.
3. Rounding up and interning thousands of American citizens of Japanese descent, including many who had sons serving at that same time in the American military
4. Propping up of heinous dictators all over the world, teaching techniques of "interrogation" that are, by any standard, torture.
5. The war in Iraq, extraordinary rendition, Guantanamo, Abu Grahib, more torture.
What is wrong the THESE people, who would do such things? Well, there are other things, too. Good things. There is no "those people," ma'am. America has done a lot of good things. And some really awful things. So has Germany. Germany has faced up to its past. I am not sure that the U.S. really has. Partly because some of our "past" is so recent, as in #5 above.
So, I am still proud to be an American, proud of our people, achievements, and institutions. We can do better. But we may need a little work on the "dealing with self-criticism" front.