It's a much better place, in my view, in no small part because it has opened itself to the world. It is a land of immigration. It now has excellent relationships with all nine of its neighbors and is a leading force, with its one-time nemesis, France, in fostering the concept of European unity. It is alive, and an exciting place to be.
I remember being in a streetcar one time in Kassel, an out-of-the-way town better known for its copper statue of Hercules than for its world sophistication, when I spotted two black kids sitting across from me. I assumed they were the kids of American GIs and was about to speak to them in English when they started talking to each other in the local Hessian dialect. They weren't Afro-Americans; they were Afro-Germans. Hitler, eat your heart out.
This was many years ago - about forty now, if I remember right, and I ought to be used to people of color speaking in Bavarian, or the Berlin equivalent of Cockney, but it still catches my attention.
Today I tuned into a talk show* which featured among its guests a man named Andreas Bourani. He was born in Egypt but adopted by a family named Stiegelmair** in Augsburg. He spoke beautifully about a favorite cause of his, the problem of children who have been "shaken." We know a lot about the sexual abuse of children. We know much less about the problem of children abused, usually by their parents, by being shaken, sometimes to death, thrown against the wall, kicked, burned, abused in all manner of physical violence to their person.
It was a horrible account of the dark side of life, and I might have turned the program off if I were not so taken with the striking looks of the handsome man telling the story. I didn't recognize him as a popular singer - German pop music is not my shtick.
I remember struggling with all the jokes about how ugly the German language sounded as a kid.*** It was (and I think to a large degree still is) a deplacement for a way of disparaging Germans - for their Nazi history, for their stodginess, for whatever reason. And I remember being on a student bus to Paris one time during my students days in Munich. The bus guide was a stunningly beautiful woman, and I remember being taken with the sounds coming out of her mouth. I grew up with loving people who spoke German, but I had never thought of the language as beautiful before. I suddenly became aware how much your view of what constitutes a beautiful language depends on any given speaker.
Obviously, what grabbed me wasn't just that Stiegelmair/Bourani's German was easy on the ears; it was also that he spoke so passionately for his cause, calling attention to child abuse. In any case, I decided to check this gorgeous man out.
Turns out I'm way way behind the times. You can trace Bourani (I'll go with his name choice) back some fifteen years or more now. Here he is sporting an Afro, singing "Nur in meinem Kopf" (Only in my head) in 2011, for example.
But here's the song he's known for most recently, a marvelously upbeat number which translates to "Here's to us!" The lyrics include:
Here’s to what lies ahead
The best is yet to come
Here’s to what keeps us together
Here’s to now.
Bonus feature. Unless your heart beats for Berlin, as mine does, the shots of all those ferociously ugly Stalinist buildings in what was once East Berlin may not tickle your fancy. But to counter all that, for LGBT people, don't miss the several shots of gays and lesbians smooching it up.
What's not to love about an Egyptian named Stiegelmair feeling positive about the modern Germany where gay men and lesbians are part of the mainstream.
Meanwhile, back in the US of A we've got us a president who thinks the neo-nazis and KKK have some good sides to them.
Excuse me. It's time for my future shock pill.
photo credit: photo from Andreas Bourani's Face Book page (advertising an upcoming benefit concert for those suffering from blood cancer)
*The show was yesterday's Markus Lanz show, available on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QnZGIh1krFs
**He gave up the name Stiegelmair and went back to his original name, according to his German Wikipedia page, "to keep his family name out of the public eye." Maybe so. Methinks it's far more likely his public would find it harder to take him seriously as an artist with the name Stiegelmair.
- "French is clearly the most beautiful language in the world," says the Frenchman. "Just listen to how we say "butterfly" - papillon!
- "No no no!" says the Spaniard. "That's nowhere near as beautiful as the sound of mariposa!"
- "You've both got it wrong, " says the Italian. "Nothing can compare with - farfalla!"
- To which the German responds, "Und vot's wrong mit Schmetterling?"