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Flagless Germany

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Leipzig, October 2015
(Image by Linh Dinh)
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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 Grunau, 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."

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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.

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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.

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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 Grunau, 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.

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Linh Dinh's Postcards from the End of America has just been published by Seven Stories Press. Tracking our deteriorating socialscape, he maintains a photo blog.


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