My only education of Germany was from history class in high school, so my main narrative on it was that it was the “bad guy” in both world wars. I hadn’t met any Germans at that point, I didn’t like the German food I’d had, the language seemed too extreme for me, and people seemed too black-and-white in their thinking, whereas I lived more in the gray. So, I figured I’d take a pass on Germany and learn about the rest of Europe.
I didn’t hate Germany, I just didn’t like it very much.
The problem was, my perspective was wholly incomplete, and thus skewed.
When I landed in Stuttgart to visit some friends, I was confronted full-on with the culture I thought I knew. And to be honest, Stuttgart was pretty culturally similar to that assumption. People did their duty. They seemed largely happy to be by themselves and with the people they knew well. But what they weren’t was aggressors. And I felt sorry for these people who might have to still deal with others’ assumptions that Germans are “bad” people.
It was as if someone sunk a shovel into the ground and pried up the earth to expose a small piece of racism that I buried long ago. I hadn’t hated anyone and the few German people I’d met seemed nice enough, but there was a small lie packed away deep in my heart that I didn’t even realize was there. It said that German people are, in some way, not as valuable as others.
It was small piece of a big lie that I didn’t know existed, yet it did.
But when it was exposed to air, it already began to die. As soon as that thought came into my head and I asked what it was, I saw it for what it was and that it was unfounded. My time in Stuttgart helped unearth and kill an old lie—for which I was ever grateful.
Afterwards, I trained on to Luxembourg, only to return to Germany two more times bussing in and out of Berlin—traveling through much of Eastern Germany. There, I experienced a completely different Germany, culturally, than in the west. Art, creativity, and free thought breathe much of the life into Berlin, something resonated strongly with. And it was there I became friends with one of my favorite humans I’ve yet had the pleasure of meeting.
During that time, my mother sent me an email with some of our European family heritage from her side of the family. Although I knew there would be French, Scottish, and Norwegian, what I didn’t expect to see was that I had German relatives. A few of them.
In fact, I had passed through one of the towns they lived in centuries prior as I trained to Luxembourg, and I distinctly remember that town above the others. Something about it allured me, with the castles over the river and the farms on steep embankments. I was amazed.
I came to Germany with a bit of hidden death in my heart and I left a month later with a newfound fullness of life in its place, thanks to my long-overdue proper education of the culture in new and beautiful ways.