Auf Wiedersehen, Deutschland
(This will soon appear in Bournbrook Magazine.)
My late grandmother was about as German as they come. Once, upon crossing the border into Austria, she immediately exclaimed ‘Mein Gott! Look at the roads! They are so poorly maintained!’
Of those in the car she was the only one who could perceive any deterioration. We put this perceptiveness down to Teutonic exactness and a compulsively Germanic sense of Ordnung.
Heaven knows what she would make of Germany today. Once a byword for well-ordered cleanliness, the streets of the country’s major urban areas are defined by scruffy unkemptness.
Berlin, long the hipster capital of Central Europe, is a resolute lost cause. Sadly, in regional cities such as in Cologne too, the signs of decay are everywhere visible. Litter lies untidied among pavements criss-crossed by weeds. The Germans like my grandmother who would have picked up the mess rather than have public areas untidy have become too rare a breed to hold back the tide.
The muck on the pavement distracts momentarily from the ubiquitous graffiti. Wandering past what I assumed, thanks to the ‘urban art’ that plastered it so thoroughly, to be an abandoned building or an anarchist squat (of which there are a good many in the Fatherland), I soon discovered it was a building of the University of Cologne. No doubt the academics lurking within regarded the sullying of their centre of learning as an authentic expression of the self, or something similarly ghastly.
As elsewhere, there is a class who get a frisson of excitement from working in the edgy environs of somewhere that looks a bit like a crack den. Gutmenschen is how such types are referred to in Germany, literally ‘good people’. The goodness refers to how they see themselves, having fully basted themselves in virtue signalling. Although the Germany of memory is adorned with Lederhosen-clad Bavarians guzzling comically large beers it is today such worthies who, as across the West, dominate Germany.
The modern German lives among a world built by generations before them, of engineers and businessmen who made Germany into the industrial behemoth that it is. No doubt our modern Gutmenschen look at such figures – all white, almost all male – as utterly despicable, as they continue waffling in their comfortable sinecures. Not that today’s German is alone in such arrogance; this is, after all, a terrible symptom of modernity afflicting all the Occident.
After all, what is a country if not the people that live there? Discussions about the rapidly shifting demographics across Europe and in Germany in particular have long raged – with even Merkel speaking momentary sense when she stated Multikulti ist gescheitert (‘multiculturalism has failed’). Less pondered, but more acutely important, is the change amongst the natives themselves, who inhabit a topsy-turvy world of evident mistruths and sustain an increasingly absurd moral relativism.
It’s such thinking that allows the well-heeled to ignore the sea of drunks and misfits who stumble across Cologne’s pavements, weaving from side-to-side as if navigating a ship’s deck amid a terrible storm. Trousers ripped from waist to ankle and mumbling obscenities to themselves, their insanities are paid no more attention than the twittering of the birds in the trees. Even when they abruptly start screaming at the top of their lungs, the feigned tranquility is only momentarily disturbed.
For the average German in their practical footwear and waterproof jackets – the Volk of Germany being not well dressed but always ready for a spot of light hiking – a blind eye is turned to the degradation of their urban environment. Placed in a mental straitjacket due to their history, they cannot, or do not wish, to call for a bit more order to their surroundings.
Of course, it’s not all bad. The beer is still good and artery-clogging pork dishes can still be found. But it is like much of modern Europe: when returning each time, one is never struck with the thought that things have improved since the last visit. Instead, signs of degradation pop out at you like a row of Pickelhaubes.
The decline of Europe’s urban centres, not merely Germany’s, will one day be recognised for the tragedy that it so plainly is. Having constructed the world’s most beautiful architectural areas, we Europeans bombed, demolished and devalued them beyond recognition.
Like the post-Roman barbarians who came to live among the ruins of ancient cities, perhaps we will one day see how far we have fallen. Like the author of the 8th century Old English poem The Ruin, maybe future generations of Europeans will stand among the remaining shards of ruined beauty amid the graffiti-laden crack-dens of the not-to-distant future in wonder:
These wall-stones are wondrous —calamities crumpled them, these city-sites crashed, the work of giants corrupted.
... the stout-hearted bound wall-roots wondrously together with wire. The halls of the city once were bright…
This place has sunk into ruin, been broken into heaps