Friday, September 4, 2015

Almaniya – the Promised Land

from this morning's Guardian (see below)
The news today comes from Munich’s Central Station. Everybody who goes to Germany learns the word Hauptbahnhof right off the bat.  It’s every traveler’s point of reference.  Today it’s a scene of near chaos because the Hungarians have relented and allowed the trains filled with Syrian refugees to proceed.  For days they held them up until it became clear Budapest’s Keleti Station would burst at the seams if something didn’t give.

When I lived in Munich in 1960-61 I went in and out of that station dozens of times.  Always I was filled with excitement.  On my way to someplace new, to Venice, to Hamburg to meet my uncle for the first time, to Vienna.  Or to meet friends I had met on the boat from Brindisi to Athens.  There’s nothing like a major international train station to make the heart beat fast and the imagination run wild.  I like to think some of that positive karma continues to flow from the people who have reached their destination there today.

In this morning’s Guardian is a picture of a kid and an old man and a young German policeman with a scruffy beard – not the image of the old “we must have order” Germany at all.  The policeman has put his hat on the kid’s head and there are smiles all around.  “Germany greets refugees with help and kindness” reads the headline.  It’s sentimental and surprising and heart-warming and wonderful and you think to yourself – Germany, the Promised Land – that I should have lived this long!

I love this new Germany.  I’m proud as hell that they have taken in the lion’s share of refugees.  Shame on the rest of the EU for not stepping up and taking more.  And it's a necessary antidote to some of the examples of the other Germany, the slow-moving, the fearful, the xenophobic folks in Saxony.

No discussion on the plight of the immigrants from Africa and war-torn Syria is going to be fair.  The two sides both have compelling arguments.  Conservatives argue nobody can allow people to flood in in an undisciplined fashion.  It’s bad for the country, bad for the refugees themselves.  There has to be some order imposed, some regulation.  And that means barriers to keep people out.  At the other extreme are the people who look into the faces of the desperate and see the need.  To them there is evil in the law’s delay.  It’s a problem that demands instant action.

I’m touched by the fact that volunteers are rushing to Munich’s Hauptbahnhof with food and water and clothing and nappies for the babies, and that they organized themselves on Face Book, and not through the usual channels, which were apparently too slow.  It’s a modern solution to a modern problem.  People are taking the train in from surrounding towns to join in the welcome.

I know this is a media thing.  One can look at the dark side, the bureaucratic delays, the obvious arguments that the more you welcome the needy the more needy you end up getting.  And one can look, as this Guardian article did, at the warmheartedness of people who know how to cut through the crap and make good things happen.  You’re not getting the whole picture.  You’re getting the picture you want to see.

Fine.  I want to see this picture.  I want to see Germans learning to be flexible.  I want to believe the lefties who say because Germany’s population isn’t growing it needs immigrant labor to maintain the economy.  I want to see Germany continue on this path of making Hitler turn over in his grave by becoming a land of mixed races and creeds and life philosophies and opportunity.

I’m with the Guardian on this.  This is a very bright event, and I think we should celebrate it.

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