Germany: In the grip of multiculturalism

Two blocks away from our hotel we pass by the intriguing ‘Monument to the murdered Jews of Europe’ several times a day. Wedged between East and West Berlin of the cold war days, the maze of 2711 grey slabs conceptualised by US architect Peter Eisenman is both a graveyard of nameless tombstones as well as a play-place for children. Eisenman wanted the Holocaust monument to become an integral part of the everyday life of Berlin after it opened in 2005. To the Germans, it serves as a constant reminder of what should never have happened.

The burden of Germany’s recent history bears down heavily on its capital. A brooding, slate coloured building that housed the offices of the air ministry during Hitler’s regime is used by the finance ministry today. The ruins of Hitler’s bunker lie buried not far from the Holocaust memorial.

The Berlin Wall
But the past has also interwoven itself into the everyday. Like thousands of other tourists we pose before what now remains of the Berlin Wall — only 2 km of the 43 that once divided Berlin, have been retained. Jostling for space is a group of young, urbane Japanese executing a fashion shoot with a punk-styled model.

In Berlin, it is impossible to ignore the psychological imprint the Wall left on its citizens. On the pavement, we are standing either over what was once East or West Berlin. The Wall put up in 1961 came down in 1989. Pavers today mark the original path that once cleaved Berlin in two, so that Germans will never forget. Chancellor Angela Merkel was expected to balance the budget better because she came from the once-deprived East Germany, we are told.

By coincidence, we are in Germany at the peak of the World Cup fever and the Eurozone crisis and our hosts attempt to give us a perspective of the economic and political situation. The 90 minutes of the Germany-England match were the only moments of relief Merkel has had in the past eight months, says Florian Gathmann, political editor of Spiegel Online as he outlines the discontent brewing with the affairs of government.
But out on the streets, the public mood in Germany seemed unfazed by Eurozone worries and stimulus exit debates that weighed down advisors in the corridors of power. Young people zipped past us with German flags pegged proudly on their cars or to the handle-bars of their cycles. Football fever was everywhere, and for the first time since World War II the Germans seemed to have breached their reticence to display their national colours. “What we are seeing is quite unusual,” said Sandra Breka, head of the Robert Bosch Foundation. Breka, of Serbian-Croation-Slovenian descent is part of the growing multi-cultural Germany, reflected perhaps most aptly by the young German team.
Germany’s dream run to the semifinals was cut short by the Spanish Armada. But the new patriotic fervour stirred by its World Cup success with one of the most diverse teams in the competition, is the talk all around the country. In Kreuzberg, home to thousands of Turkish immigrants, Werder Bremen midfielder Mesut Ozil (of Turkish descent), is a hero. The fact Ozil and Sami Khedira (part Tunisian) chose to play for Germany is perhaps the beginning of something new in a country where one-fifth of its population is immigrant.

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