Yesterday I was in a design studio in Architecture. I spent some time looking at each student’s exhibits. Some were really funny, like Batman’s grandma decked out walker and a punk doll. Each student had multiple creations in their space. One assignment that semester must have had to do with Word War II, because every student had one picture collage with Nazi stuff on it. Some were funny, some were serious. To me it’s always a little weird being confronted with questions about WW II and paraphernalia from it here in Texas because I never know which way that conversation is gonna go. Growing up in Germany, you talk about it in every subject area in high school: geography, history (duh!), German, religion, etc. And it’s always very serious and has an undertone of “Let’s never let that happen again.” Makes totally sense to me!
Here in Texas, it has a different touch when people talk about it. Some people seem to be oddly fascinated with the fact that such a small country would try to take over the world like that. Other people know nothing about Germany other than its affiliation with WW II. I’ve actually had a number of people tell me all the German phrases they know from war movies and documentaries when they find out I’m German. Gee, that really makes me feel comfortable! Anyways, seeing all this art displayed yesterday I first had this weird slightly uncomfortable feeling I usually get when people here bring up WW II – mainly because I don’t know which direction that conversation is going to take. Then I thought, oh well, it’s art. And then I thought, how dare they make fun of such a dark part of history this way – since there were quite a few “funny” posters. In the end, of course all of that stuff is in my head. Art is art and it should be that way. But I was also reminded that people here have a different relationship with Germany’s past than I do. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but they have a much more distanced view of it. Me instead, I’ve been flooded with pictures, movies, facts throughout high school and since it happened in my country, it feels too close to home to make fun of it.
Years ago, somebody told somebody else a pretty inappropriate Nazi joke about France. I really don’t want to write it down here because this is where I draw the line. I know we all make jokes about other culture and countries from time to time. And sometimes they are really funny, but one always has to be careful not to go too far with it. And for me, Nazi jokes are a step too far. We have plenty of jokes about Turkish people or Polish people because we have a lot of immigrants from these two countries. Even these jokes can be borderline. Jewish jokes don’t exist in Germany – or at least not in the mainstream media and majority of the population.
I remember the first time somebody called somebody a Nazi here in front of me. I must have looked shocked because they proceeded to explain to me that it has the same meaning as being anal. I wonder how that came about? Maybe because of all the rules? Either way I’ve gotten used to it being used that way over the years. However, it did feel kind of inappropriate when somebody at work used it like that a few months ago. Things that I accept in social life, don’t necessarily belong in the workplace I think. I’m schizophrenic that way…
So, for all you non-Germans out there, here’s a little tip. Most Germans don’t mind talking about WW II with you, but be aware that this conversation is almost always going to be a serious one. Just remember that it’s a sensitive issue for many of us since we have a different relationship with our past that you do.