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Documents - German Cultures Today

One of the first things that foreign visitors to Germany notice is the country’s growing cultural diversity. Today, people of all nationalities, ethnicities, and faiths live in the Federal Republic, refuting the long-held image of Germany as an ethnically homogeneous nation-state. A sizable influx of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union has changed the makeup of Jewish communities in Germany’s big cities, turning dwindling groups of Holocaust survivors and their descendants into flourishing Russian-speaking Jewish communities (Doc. 2). At the same time, many former guest workers [Gastarbeiter], especially those from Turkey, put down roots and created their own Muslim subculture, which is still struggling to define its place within the host society (Doc. 9). German athletes with immigrant backgrounds play on German national sports teams – yet another expression of the new diversity of German identity. Even though the older generation might still find it difficult to come to terms with the new demographic and cultural realities, Germany has become an immigration land. The longstanding failure of politics to meet this new reality with the appropriate pro-integration measures resulted in an alarmed debate over the development of so-called parallel societies – societies within Germany that feel bound first and foremost by their own traditions and understanding of justice rather than the Basic Law.

Though some homophobic prejudices still linger, the general increase in social tolerance also manifests itself in an increased acceptance of the gay community and its way of life (Doc. 13). The introduction of civil unions for same sex couples and the fact that gay politicians can now come out without fearing for their careers are clear signs that Germany is among the most liberal and tolerant societies in the Western world.

Traditional celebrations like Munich’s Oktoberfest and Karneval (i.e., Mardi Gras) are celebrated with great enthusiasm, especially in the predominantly Catholic regions of western and southern Germany. Other mass events of more recent origin include the annual Love Parade, which debuted in 1989 and has attracted millions of participants over the years. Born of a subculture shaped by techno and the club scene, the Love Parade originally qualified as a political demonstration insofar as it aims to promote peace and international understanding through music. It didn't take long, however, for some commentators to note that the parade is devoid of any kind of coherent political content, and that its real unifying themes appear to be commercialism, excess, and a total lack of inhibition (Doc. 1). In response to the massive influence of the English language on the entertainment industry, the older generation tends to cling to more traditional entertainment offerings such as saccharine-sweet folk-music television programs set in bucolic Alpine landscapes that seem to suggest a conflict-free way of life (Doc. 10). In the old/new capital of Berlin experimentation and tradition mix to form an amazingly creative atmosphere, which, combined with the city’s low cost of living, has made Berlin a Mecca for artists of all types (Doc. 12).

Yet German definitions of the good life tend to revolve around predictable ideals – ones that differ very little from those of other Europeans. Thanks to generous vacation benefits, many Germans invest their money in vacation packages, especially those involving travel to warmer climes, where they expect to find both exotic scenery and services that meet the standards to which they are accustomed (Doc. 4). In addition to the oft-cited Wanderlust, Germans have also maintained an enthusiasm for driving and modern automobiles. While comparatively high gas prices and a growing environmental consciousness have led many German drivers to purchase fuel-efficient vehicles and drive at more moderate speeds, the idea of the German Autobahn – with its lack of a speed-limit – continues to hold considerable appeal for foreign tourists, including visitors from China (Doc. 5). The influence of foreign cultures and travel abroad has led to the birth of a gastronomic culture that values sophisticated foods from all over the world. As a result, gourmet cuisine has risen to a level that surprises many foreigners (Doc. 8). The success of German models like Claudia Schiffer has given the country’s fashion and design industry a new air of glamour and made it competitive internationally (Doc. 6).

Nonetheless, much intellectual commentary continues to focus on the dark shadows of the past. Although the Communist dictatorship left an ugly trail of Stasi-repression, the disappointments of unification prompted many East Germans to adopt a nostalgic view of the GDR, so that the era of “real existing socialism” looks more pleasant in retrospect than it was in reality (Doc. 3). Finding an appropriate form for Holocaust remembrance – one that prevents the Holocaust from being forgotten but also prevents ritualized acts of contrition from dulling its emotional impact on younger generations – represents another challenge. The erection of a massive memorial near the Brandenburg Gate created considerable controversy and prompted one leading Jewish writer to express his unease with its size and message (Doc. 7). The challenge of reconciling various points of view and producing a comprehensive interpretation of the past has been left to the German Historical Museum in Berlin, whose permanent exhibition opened to mixed reviews (Doc. 11).

Not without the appropriate deliberation, the German society was able, within a short period of time, to develop a democratic and patriotic pride in the accomplishments of its republic. The Soccer World Cup, which Germany hosted in 2006, turned out to be a tremendous source of confidence. Millions of foreign visitors found the country surprisingly attractive, the people hospitable and the infrastructure impeccable, and left with friendly feelings toward Germany. The national team took third place, and many commentators remarked on the sudden eruption of black-red-and-yellow flags and other national emblems, which signaled a non-threatening patriotism and indicated that more Germans – especially younger ones – were beginning to feel at peace with their nationality (Doc. 14). Another positive signal was the election of a former Bavarian professor of theology as Pope Benedict XVI, which indicated that German nationality and its historical implications are no longer considered a stigma in the international community (Doc. 15).

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