On living in Hamburg, Germany

2 Conversations

Blinkered, humble bodies shuffle slowly down the street, making mental
notes of piles of dogs**t, which become the only landmarks in this sterile, unchanging scene.

The better to walk in the street and take our chances with the crawling cars, which dejectedly circulate like dispossessed hounds, looking in vain for somewhere to park.

The thought of the residents of these four to six storey blocks all owning cars would probably have appalled the well-meaning designers of the start of the century.

Elaborate ornamentation gives us an idea of the proud wealth on which the city thrived.

Here was always a workers area, but these designers knew that self-respecting workers bring their own benefits. Just around the corner is a building which won worldwide acclaim in 1902 for such thinking. Only now it is being converted into luxury apartments to force the workers out.

What has been built can be redesigned. The occasional concrete bunker stands as grim testament to this, as almost the only buildings left untouched by the war.

So much opportunity for the modernization of inner cities was left amongst the devastation, that maybe the saddest thing is the background of poverty upon which was built.

The shortage of housing required fast action, from the ruins of the firestorms the walls were still standing. Floors were hastily added, and with the admirable efficiency of a people in need, and in a few years the city came to life again. What often goes unnoticed, indeed a fact invisible to passers by, is the haste with which it was all finished. Thus whereas before a family lived on each floor, now there are four flats. The floors transmit noise and vibration to the extent that a telephone on the second floor disturbs the whole house.
Children must be gagged, music peaceful and arguments whispered. Tolerance is in severely short supply amongst the overcrowding, and those who can love to relieve their frustrations by driving unsilenced Harleys up and down the street, which echo in an oh-so satisfying fashion.

As if this was not enough, the nearby airport and the regular emergency helicopters flying 50`` overhead do their best to rob us of our sanity and peice of mind. The occasional earth tremor denotes the passing of an underground train, spewing warm air from the vents in the pavement where the pigeons cluster in winter, taking advantage of progress in any way they can.

The pigeons are widely hated, a shame for this most cosmopolitan of birds. If only the rest of the animal kingdom could adapt so well to our proud environments. Watching them, watching us, one wonders who has the better deal. They live, love, feed and die apparently oblivious to their degraded reputation. I have seen them nesting in the roof of a recycling factory, the responsible parents busily bringing food to their invisible noisy brood.

The better blocks, around the corner, have a Blackbird, who sings illustriously most of the day above the noise of the traffic. I assume they must all have double glazing, or somebody would have shot him by now. Anyone caught feeding the wildlife here faces eviction or worse. Such freebooting must be considered detrimental to the selfish culture for which we are being programmed.

It can only be a matter of time before our feathered friends become citizens, to be cared for in the uncaring way that we humans are housed, fed, occupied and anathematized to cope with the indignity. Before you go running to the false conclusion that I am bent on painting a nightmare scene, with occasional inadequate linings of silver and gold to hold your attention, I must remind you, the reader, that the bottom is usually the only place to start. The triumphant feeling on reaching the summit can only be proceeded by a gruelling climb if it is to be worthwhile. To paint everything black would be missing the point. In fact the greyness of the scene stands in stark contrast with the clashing colours of those who live here. Contained, and generally living comfortably in these blocks is a population as diverse as any on the globe. Asians, Africans, Indians, Turks, Portuguese, you name it, all thrown together in a huge mixing pot. Germans are left in two categories, the younger students and others just passing through, and the bemused older residents, constantly bemoaning the changes, but far too fixed to move. These people operate to a curious psychology, affecting only Germans of a certain age, rare and stereotypical from an outside perspective, but here they are too numerous to count. Fat, miserable & bossy, rude, narrow-minded and selfish. Sounds terrible, but there are reasons for it. Most still haven't managed to persuade themselves that we now live in a world of plenty. Since the terrible winter after the war, ´48, i think it was, when food was scarce, and many people starved or froze, this generation is haunted by a fear of a repeat. They have turned their homes into miniature fortresses, and store enough canned food and noodles to withstand the siege of Leningrad. Shut inside, they feel secure. This, and a hideously sensationalist media, has been the only driving force in their lives for the past forty years.

Everybody outside their tiny spheres is a cause for suspicion and mistrust. It comes as no surprise that they are rude, the only reason they venture out of their holes is on short foraging trips to the supermarket, they have no interest in chatting, just to get back to their holes as soon as possible. It´s tragic that they should be stuck here, they hate it. This is 30% of the residents, 90% of the fear, they do their utmost to spoil the atmosphere.

They are their own worst enemies, it´s hardly surprising that they are
convinced that the Turks, for instance, are a monstrous conspiracy, they speak to them as idiots, when they speak at all. Then the Turkish people (about 15% of the population) stick together, they have had to. I was at first disgusted find out how many second-generation immigrants don't speak german, but now I know why. They do not even qualify automatically for a german passport, and risk being sent to Turkey, to them a strange and irrelevant land, if caught doing something illegal, not difficult in such adverse circumstances.

Ordnung muß sein.

The fascination of a huge brick wall.
When nothing else seems to satisfy, humans gain great satisfaction from rearranging things. In the absence of toys or bricks, there are still countless invisible things to organize, telling people how it must be done fills the gap. This is far deeper seated than this generation, the legacy of feudalism still hangs in the air. It shows no signs of letting up, military service is still compulsory, a chance to form the young to accept discipline. Strangely, german youths seem to need this, the most youngsters are irresponsible in the extreme. Maybe they see it as a coming of age, before which they see no need to answer to anybody. I cannot see it being abolished, the opportunity to twist them seems to powerful a motive. The excuse for it, that a professional army would soon be swamped with extremists, sounds good, after all this has happened in almost every other army in the world, but news repeatedly shows that the right have the upper hand in armies anyway. Nationalism and patriotism are uncomfortable partners when history seems nothing to be proud of.

A fine anathema, armies are trained to do their patriotic duty, to fight for King & Country, yet there is no king (dicounting the government, for whom few young people would risk their lives!) and, on raising questions about what the country is, well maybe that is what I am trying to explain.

A marvellous joke, our modern nations, demanding loyalty and patriotism on the strength of our history books, which invariably recount the successes of the victors and the successful. The ideal. The dream. Nationalism is fading here, a ago. The young complain, and with good reason, that every other nation encourages nationalist thinking as a complement to personal pride. Germany is now a test bed for the rest of the world. Can a nation be managed without patriotism?

The drive towards Europe is a product of this undirected energy. It can be no coincidence that the nations most proud of their identity have created the most problems towards integration. Admitted, they all have their own reasons for this, not only do I sympathise with the smaller countries who understandably want to continue managing their own affairs, as with those who see the spectre of an empire building Match wishing to suck their identity from them.
Can this identity be lost? Has nationalism a place in the modern world? - I suppose that is all opinion and heresay - which you are welcome to learn from sources and commentators elsewhere. But not just those with your opinions, preferably.

Bookmark on your Personal Space



Infinite Improbability Drive

Infinite Improbability Drive

Read a random Edited Entry

Written and Edited by


h2g2 is created by h2g2's users, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the Not Panicking Ltd. Unlike Edited Entries, Entries have not been checked by an Editor. If you consider any Entry to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please register a complaint. For any other comments, please visit the Feedback page.

Write an Entry

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers."

Write an entry
Read more