October 3rd was the Anniversary of the Reunification of Germany. Having arrived in Leipzig just days earlier, I decided to take a long walk with my friend Olliver Wichmann. Though we covered nearly 20 miles that day, we saw no national flag on display, only an East German one in Grünau, a neighborhood of huge, Communist-era apartment blocks.
“This is remarkable, Olliver. In the US, you can’t walk a mile on any day without seeing flags.”
“Generally, the only Germans who display flags are far-right ones. During big soccer matches involving the national team, it’s also OK to display flags.”
Nationalism has become a dirty word for many Germans. Along the Karl-Heine-Kanal, I spotted a sticker that said in English, “FIGHT NATIONALISM AND NAZIS,” then beneath that, “BY ALL MEANS NECESSARY.”
The huge influx of Middle Eastern and North African refugees has triggered a backlash among German nationalists, however. Each Monday, there is a large rally in Dresden and Leipzig. The lead marchers in Leipzig carry a banner that proclaims:
“FOR HOMELAND, PEACE AND GERMAN CORE CULTURE.
AGAINST RELIGIOUS FANATICISM.
AGAINST ISLAMIFICATION AND MULTICULTURALISM.”
These flag waving folks, LEGIDA, have also declared that they are neither left nor right, and certainly not Neo-Nazis. At each Leipzig rally, they are met by an equally large contingent of counter demonstrators who whistle, shout, shake tambourines or bang on drums to drown out their opponents’ speeches. Hundreds of cops are on the streets to keep the two camps apart.
Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germany is in danger of being split in two by this refugee crisis. At the University of Leipzig, there’s, “ONLY A COSMOPOLILTAN LEIPZIG IS A BEAUTIFUL LEIPZIG. NO TO LEGIDA,” and at Moritzbastei, a downtown arts center, there’s a banner, “FOR TOLERANCE, OPEN-MINDEDNESS, GOOD MUSIC & AGAINST RACISM.” By St. Peter Church, I saw a sticker, “Better Living—No Nazis!” and another in English, “HATE NAZIS.” In contemporary Germany, to oppose refugees or immigrants is to risk being called a Neo-Nazi.
What you have, then, is a battle between those who seek to defend a national culture based on at least a shared heritage and language, if not ethnicity, and those who subscribe to a more universalist concept. To these multiculturalists, a nation is just a collection of whoever happen to be in it, no matter their differences in core beliefs, since we’re just one big human family, after all, and all resultant frictions are more than compensated for by the varied benefits.
It’s notable that this argument is taking place almost exclusively in the West, in countries that are still mostly white and nominally Christian. Of course, Germany, France, Holland, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Italy, England and the United States were also Colonialists that used Christianity as a pretext to conquer the world. Even as they slaughtered or enslaved, they saved, and a spin on that narrative is still extant today. As led by the US, the West is still meddling all over, thus generating the millions of refugees now swarming into Europe.
As is, Leipzig is a very cosmopolitan city that’s filled with international eateries. Within two blocks of my apartment, there are Thai, Indian and Turkish restaurants, plus a Doner Kebab stand that’s run by a friendly but mirthless Palestinian who came here from Jordan 20 years ago. There’s a Thai non-erotic massage parlor and a small Vietnamese-owned grocery. Another Vietnamese business, Mr. Quan’s Bar and Restaurant, has gone under. To round out the eating options, there’s a Subway, a German bakery and World of Pizza, a German chain.
WOP, as it is known, is basically a purveyor of American fast food. Besides pizzas, they sell spare ribs, buffalo wings, chicken nuggets, burgers and fries, and their pizzas have names like Montana, Philadelphia, Hawaii, California, Georgia, Kansas, Texas, Western and Spring Rod [?]. There is an Italiano, but no Napoli, interestingly enough. There is one called Zingaro, however, the Italian word for “Gypsy.” English is all over WOP’s menu.
At a strip mall in Grünau, I counted a Croatian, a Turkish and a Vietnamese restaurant. As Olliver and I sat eating outside the Turkish joint, we could see Russians, Turks and Arabs walk by along the wide, tree lined promenade.
“See those three little girls?” Olliver pointed out. “The one on the left is German, the one in the middle, on the bike, is Arabic, and the one on the right is Russian. They don’t see any difference. They don’t care.”
After a Muslim couple passed, Olliver observed, “They’re Turks.”
“How can you tell?”
“By her conservative dress. The typical uniform of a godfearing Turkish wife is a headscarf with an overcoat down to the knuckles, even on summer days in the nineties. Many of the Turks came here from the more backward parts of Turkey, like Anatolia. The Syrians and Iraqis, on the other hand, are more Westernized. They don’t dress that much differently than Germans.”
“And they just got here!”
Olliver is an autodidactic encyclopedia. Of working class background, he’s underemployed, like many people in this region. Abstaining from both meat and alcohol, Olliver is going bald, has a five o’clock shadow, takes photos during endless walks, plays chess against himself in his mind and composes electronic music whenever he starts to hear things. In his youth, Olliver gravitated towards Sartre, then freebased Joyce, Dostoyevsky, Camus, Strindberg, Hemingway, Marquez and Kafka. “In hindsight, I don’t quite like his convoluted style.” Among contemporary political commentators, Olliver pays attention to Noam Chomsky, Andre Vltchek, Michael Parenti, Bill Mitchell, Michael Hudson, John Pilger, Andrew Korybko, Pepe Escobar, Paul Craig Roberts and The Saker. He hates political correctness. Although Olliver’s English is deft and fluent, he becomes exasperated and even apologizes whenever a word or phrase doesn’t come to his mind immediately. Born in Hamburg, Olliver has been in Leipzig for more than 15 years.
Moving with the help of a walker, a German pensioner asked if he could share our table. He had a large bottle of Ur-Krostitzer, the cheap yet excellent local beer. Among the pleasures of being in Germany is the freedom to drink alcohol in just about any setting, a public garden, outside an eatery, strolling down the street or relaxing in a square. Germans don’t have the American hang-up with getting buzzed within sight of kids and other immature beings. The legal drinking age here is 16.
Prodded by us, the affable and serene old man revealed that he had worked for 47 years as a locomotive mechanic. A widower, he lives alone and has one daughter. Born in Leipzig, he lived through the Communist years without problems by not paying any attention to politics. He just put his head down and worked.
Leipzig’s Nicholas Church was where weekly demonstrations in 1989 eroded the Communist government’s legitimacy and helped to tear down the Berlin Wall. LEGIDA and PEDIGA (in Dresden) see themselves as a part of this tradition of peaceful protests. Scuffles have broken out between them and counter-demonstrators, however, with each blaming the other for the violence.
Americans can learn from the persistence of German protests, for they don’t just march for an hour once or twice a decade, give each other high fives then drive home in their SUVs to watch sports on TV. Contemporary German protests are also allowed a stage and microphones, so there’s no need to relay each sentence quite robotically, creepily and time consumingly as happened during our Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.
Germans, on the other hand, don’t need to be encouraged to follow our example in anything, for they already ape America aplenty. Olliver, “We are not just an occupied nation physically, but mentally. People know about the 40,000 American soldiers here, but who’s talking about the occupation of the German mind?”
At the Cineplex in Grünau, we saw five movies advertised, Straight Out of Compton, Ladies First, Er ist wieder da, Fack yu Göhte 2 and Maze Runner, so three out of five are American, with the two German films featuring Germany mocking itself. There is a war between those who aim to restore German swagger and those who mock such an effort. An anti-Neo-Nazis group calls itself, in English, No Tears for Krauts.
Fack yu Göhte is a moronic or post-literate, millennial spelling of Fuck you Goethe, and on its billboard, there is also the misspelling of “klassenfahrt,” class trip, as “klassnfart.” Get it? Fart! The image is of a Rambo parody, with the muscular man holding a cross bow made from a slide ruler. Instead of going to Vietnam to rescue POW, the cast is romping to Thailand to fack each other.
Based on a best selling novel by Timur Vermes, Er is wieder da [He’s back] has Hitler waking up in 2011 Berlin. The ensuing confusion results in a series of comic scenes, with Hitler reduced to a harmless buffoon. To promote the film, Hitler lookalikes were placed on the streets of German cities. Whatever the professed intentions of the writer or director, the popularity of this Hitler resurrection belies a nostalgia for a more muscular and assertive Germany, I think. Though the Führer is mocked, his face is huge on the screen, and Adolf is presented as human and even likeable, not a caricature of evil. At another movie theater, I saw an Er is weider da poster with a plastic rose stem, almost tribute like, next to it.
Joining in the merriment, PEGIDA leader Lutz Bachmann snapped a photo of himself as Hitler and posted it on FaceBook in late 2014. The resultant furor has forced him out of PEGIDA, but more gravely, Bachmann is being prosecuted for calling asylum seekers Viehzeug, Gelumpe and Dreckspack [cattle, garbage and filthy rabble]. Bachmann may be jailed for up to five years. Free speech in Germany is limited, and one must not, above all, publicly criticize Israel or Jews, or raise questions about the Holocaust. France has the same prohibitions.
As for the American films, Olliver told me that German distributors used to translate their titles, but now leave them as is, so folks here must decipher, for example, “Straight Outta Compton” themselves. In my early 20’s, I thought of my goofy self as au courant for knowing N.W.A. and Ice-T, etc., but now Niggers With Attitude has become part of the universal education. Before settling in to your mesmerization, you can even buy a Coors, I kid you not, from the “American-Diner-Stil” concession stand.
American culture shows up everywhere here. English is routinely inserted into advertisements and many stores have English names only. On each police vehicle, there’s “VERDÄCHTIG GUTE JOBS” [“SUSPICIOUSLY GOOD JOBS”]. In tourist infested Markplatz, I saw a big band playing Jazz standards. Swinging along rather ploddingly, all songs were belted out in English. Not too far away, there was a middle-aged German dressed like a country music singer, though in a straw cowboy hat. Twanging or growling in English, he channeled Glenn Campbell, Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan, sometimes all within the same song. Well, at least he sounded like an American.
Strolling by, a teenaged girl chirped “hello baby” into her cell phone. Olliver, “It’s how they talk now. It’s cool to insert English words into a conversation. They would say something like, ‘Alles easy. Ich bin voll happy. Das ist nice. See you!’” Years ago in Iceland, I heard a woman complain that English syntax was creeping into Icelandic conversations. English was rearranging their minds’ furniture, in short. The internet has accelerated this linguistic hegemony. Hör auf bitching! Alles groovy!
Downtown, there are bars with names like Texas, Big Easy and Papa Hemingway. One night in Staubsauger [Vacuum Cleaner] Bar on trendy Karl-Liebknecht-Straße, I caught the young bartender reading Mumia Abu-Jamal’s We Want Freedom: Ein Leben in der Black Panther Party. Franziska studied media in college. I also chanced upon a Mumia sticker along the Karl-Heine-Kanal. He’s bigger here than in his native Philly, apparently. Mumia was also made an honorary citizen of Paris in 2001.
Liebknecht, by the way, was a founder of the German Communist Party. After Reunification, most of the street names in Leipzig were left alone. It is curious that Kathe Kollwitz, a very minor artist, is given a busy thoroughfare, while Max Beckmann, among the greatest painters of the 20th century and a Leipzig native to boot, is relegated to a short, serpentining lane. Like other European countries, at least Germany does name its streets after painters, writers and musicians, even foreign ones. When you name a street after a cultural figure, you also educate the people, but in the States, we waste too many street names on trees, stones, animals or real estate promotional monikers.
On October 5th, I tried to observe a LEGIDA rally. Following a handful of Polish house painters walking home, I managed to pass through two police barricades, but still couldn’t get close enough to see anything but the cops. Seeing me photographing, a group of giant men in black uniform approached my sorry ass. Maybe they were not Polizisten but the German basketball Mannschaft. I did as Dirk Nowitzki commanded and deleted his and his buddies’ likeness from my camera.
With so many streets blocked and cops everywhere, Monday in Leipzig these days means slower or practically no business for many stores in the vicinity. As tension ratchets up, who knows if we will see street battles? America’s accelerating collapse ensures that there will be more US-instigated wars, which will send even more refugees into Germany to exacerbate the already rancorous division within its society.
In small, depressed Saxony towns like Riesa, Trebsen and Bautzen, the National Democratic Party of Germany has made serious inroad. Its main slogan, “THE BOAT IS FULL—STOP THE ASYLUM SEEKER FLOOD.” An extremely xenophobic area is also known a National befreite Zone [National Liberated Zone]. Since such a realm is not marked by fixed boundaries but by the mindset of its people, you won’t know if you have strayed into one until you’re suddenly greeted, say, by a highly unpleasant welcome.
There are those who say that these nativists, xenophobes and Neo-Nazis altogether are such a tiny minority, they’re more noise than substance. A Leipziger in his 30’s assessed, “I’d say 90 to 95% of the people here have no problems with immigrants. We need them since they will contribute to our economy. Many of them are highly educated. The LEGIDA and PEGIDA rallies are getting smaller and smaller, and they’re not all local people. Many of these far right fanatics travel around to attend these rallies. Outsiders may think these rallies are a big deal, but they’re really not. We’re doing fine.”
Sharply disagreeing with the above, a friend emailed me from Frankfurt, “Tensions are rising in Germany—while hundreds of thousands flee to us, Germans are beginning to understand that it will cause massive problems in the future […]
Germany still is a rich country—but that doesn’t mean, that all Germans are rich.
On the contrary, the number of poor Germans has been rising for the last 20 years—and the number of homeless people has doubled in the last five years (still only 400,000—but way too high in my view).
Now the little German worker with his shitty job or the poor pensioner, who can buy less and less with his money each year, because pensions are frozen and prices are rising, is seeing these thousands and thousands of mostly young men coming in—and they see them getting health care for free, having doctors treat them for free, that they all have these trendy smartphones, that they do not need to buy a ticket for the bus or the train, because they are refugees, while HE, the German, has to pay some extra money for the doctor and has to pay for the bus etc.
It is mostly well meant, what German officials and actors and ordinary people do, to help the refugees—but since nothing is done in the same way for German homeless people and since some Germans have to leave their apartments for refugees (there were some cases where people in social housing had to leave, because the landlord or the government wanted to put in refugees—in Munich, where my brother lives, they wanted to use a facility for coma patients, but backed off when the parents of these patients complained)—in short, it is a social disaster rising.
There are no jobs for these people. Most of them are not qualified for the labor market here. There are no houses for them. In fact, the German housing market for people with little money is down—so the poor will compete with the refugees.
At the moment most of them are in former military areas or even tents. When winter comes, the mood will get worse on both sides.
At the moment, anyone saying something against the refugees is considered to be either a bad man or even a Nazi—and because of this, a critical view is seldom expressed in the media.
And this also contributes to the anger of many people, because in their view, the refugees keep coming, THEY have to pay for it (rising taxes will come—
it is only a matter of time)—and so it is the perfect storm, which is brewing here.
Unfortunately most Germans are so ill-informed about politics etc. that they will not get the bigger picture—that it is a great chess game we are in—and we are an expendable pawn.
Germany has done its part in US plans—now (meaning the next years) the chaos shall rise so that we will accept anything and everything our masters present to us as a solution, when the real riots come.
Martial law? Yes please! No civil rights anymore? Please!
Alright—we will protect you. Just give us all your money and your freedom—There! Have it! Please protect us!
It’s kinda odd to watch that, Linh—I just hope, that my parents will peacefully pass away, before the real chaos starts.
We shall see.”
So it’s not alles easy, baby. A long, bitter winter is swooping down. I’ve said all along that the only way to solve the refugee problem is to stop bombing one country after another, so to save its own Arsch, Europe must say fick dich to Uncle Sam and regain its autonomy. If you help America bomb, you’ll also reap the chaos that comes with it. Let’s close with Rammstein, a Neue Deutsch Härte band named after the US Airforce base in Germany where most of the drone strikes worldwide are coordinated. Deutschland, you have blood on your hands again, but it’s not from your own choosing. Sense!
“We’re all living in America,
America ist wunderbar.
We’re all living in America,
We’re all living in America,
We’re all living in America,
This is not a love song,
this is not a love song.
I don’t sing my mother tongue,
No, this is not a love song.
We’re all living in America,
Amerika ist wunderbar.
We’re all living in America,
We’re all living in America,
Coca-Cola, sometimes WAR,
We’re all living in America,
Linh Dinh is the author of two books of stories, five of poems, and a novel, Love Like Hate. He’s tracking our deteriorating socialscape through his frequently updated photo blog, Postcards from the End of America.