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Contemporary debates, German Language, Immigration, Multiculturalism

Henryk Broder about Contemporary Germany

Henryk Broder’s talk at Emory University last night provided an entertaining overview of contemporary Germany. True to his self-styled role as one of Germany’s foremost agents provocateurs, Broder chose to describe to his American audience what he considers the most laughable and hypocritical elements of contemporary German politics and culture. He mocked in eloquent and pointed language Germany’s self-imposed role as global moral authority, stating that–and I’m paraphrasing here–because the Germans have been so willing to wage two wars in the twentieth century now everyone else should be peaceful. Special scorn was reserved for the peace and environmental movements in Germany, which, according to Broder, has sufficient energy to pursue legal action on behalf of a rare bug species through all levels of Germany’s justice system but fails to protest efficiently against Syria’s killing of its own citizens.

The “monster” (Broder’s term) of political correctness was another prominent target of Broder’s ridicule. Showing a clip from a TV series he co-authored, “Entweder Broder,” he addressed what he perceives as the exaggerated and baseless accusation of Germans as xenophobic and racist. As evidence he referred to a sequence in his clip where he donned a Bhurka and, together with his Muslim co-author dressed in Bavarian Lederhosen, visited the Munich Oktoberfest. They engaged in joy rides, target shooting, and beer drinking, and the only people taking offense were a group of male, teen-aged Turkish-Germans. It was entertaining, although the conclusion Broder took from this “ethnographic” exploration of Germany is rather problematic in my view: According to Broder, the fact that no mainstream Germans–white “native” Germans, I presume–accosted the pair or took offense at the Bhurka-clad Broder, is evidence that Germany has no problem with its minorities but that the minorities, whether they are Muslim, Jewish, etc., have a problem with Germans and Germany. Based on the facial expressions some of the “native” Germans make in the clip, they were very puzzled by the person in the Bhurka, puzzled beyond verbal expression. To take the silence as a sign of tolerance or even acceptance means, in my view, to misinterpret the reactions.

At the end of the talk, Broder acknowledged the privileged position of the provocateur by describing himself as an incarnation of the two sides of Germany and Germanness: cosmopolitan, curious, and friendly on one side; pent-up, stuffy, and moralistic on the other. And if you address him as the one side, he will quickly change into the other, continuing his amusing hammering away at the German (self)image.

Here is a link to an English-language excerpt from one of Broder’s latest books, Hurra! Wir kapitulieren!

And here is another clip from the “German Safari” à la Broder:

If anyone else heard the talk and would like to chime in with their perspective, you are very welcome. Just use the comment section below.

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About GG

Gundolf Graml is Associate Prof. and Dir. of German Studies at Agnes Scott College. He has a Ph.D. in German Studies from the University of Minnesota and has published articles on German and Austrian film and tourism. He is currently writing a book about tourism and Austrian national identity after 1945. Other research projects include critical whiteness studies and, most recently, investigations into the connection between memory and nature. At ASC, Gundolf Graml teaches courses on a broad range of topics, from German 101 to German and Austrian Cinema and Afro-German History and Culture.

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