Today started off pretty normally–my alarm went off, I hit snooze
for an hour a couple of times, jumped in the shower, choked down some coffee, and hopped on my bike and headed off to work. I’m excited for this week, and I prepared lists in my head as I pedaled towards the city center of work to do, train tickets to book, documents to print, and groceries to buy.
Southern Germany is (finally) looking pretty green these days, and the sun came out as I passed Nymphenburg, and I thought back to how green Ireland was a few weeks ago, and how happy I am that spring seems here to stay.
As I was nearing Königsplatz, I started to pass media trucks and camera crews assembling equipment, and the bike lane was blocked off by brown-shirted police officers. German police are a rather intimidating bunch, and I tend to overestimate how many German traffic laws I actually obey on a daily basis (whoops), so I followed the lead of a couple other bikers and went into the street, where the crowds and police presence started to thicken, and then I saw all of the signs, and heard voices over megaphones exclaiming auf Deutsch in all possible ways: “We are here today against racism! We are here today in memory of those murdered!” And then I remembered that this trial is starting today.
This is a big deal in Germany, and rightly so–an underground neo-Nazi terror group allegedly went undetected for nearly a decade while German law enforcement attributed murders of and other crimes to the Turkish mafia. The trial is focusing on the only surviving member of the right-wing group–a 38 year old woman who is described across the media in terms such as having an air of “girlish innocence” and who appears as if she “couldn’t hurt a fly.” What is more, everything I’ve read about the trial suggests that she won’t testify at what is expected to be a two-year (at least) long process.
Obviously, this case is about much more than this one woman’s actions. I take much issue with how she is being portrayed in the press, focusing on her appearance, the fact that she took her two accomplices as “lovers” (ew, that word) and the apparent disbelief of many that a woman (a woman!) could be capable of the type of evil with which she is charged. Furthermore, this is a high-profile case involving right-wing extremism, which will always be a tough topic for Germany, and will never not inspire questions about how far Germany really has come in terms of race relations, etc. in the years since the war.
After I pedaled past the crowds and realized that the trial is taking place a few short blocks from where I work, a memory of talking about these so-called Döner murders (for the Turkish kebab, a number of the victims were small business owners who sold these) in high school German class surfaced, and the ensuing discussion about right-wing thought in Germany today. Frankly, it’s terrifying, and this morning was easily the most removed from Germany I’ve ever felt. It’s easy to do this in a foreign country–I’m an American, so Germany’s problems aren’t mine, right?
This is strange, because when the US has been shaken by terror and natural disasters this year, I’ve felt disconnected from America as well. My Twitter feed filled with news of the shooting at Newtown late on a Friday, and I didn’t know the magnitude of the situation until I woke up the next morning. When the bombs went off on Boylston street, I fired off an email to my sister to make sure she was okay, and then I reacted as a runner–I felt like someone had attacked my friends. Neither of these events made me be like, “Ugh, America, gross. Look at what’s going on there. Glad I left.” and neither did they inspire me to don a flag shirt and seek out fellow expats (even though, I mean, most of my friends are expats) to discuss what had happened. I mean, these are America’s problems, and I’m far away, right?
This is terrible, escapist response to these events. Until now, I’ve chalked my disconnect up to distance–if you recall, I nearly forgot about 9/11, too, which I’m not proud of. Yet, I’m down the street from this trial, I have read about and seen firsthand prejudice–and worse–directed towards immigrants in Germany, and I’ve (subconsciously, apparently) been aware of this trial for quite some time. It’s painful to admit that there is a shadier side to the places I live and the people with who I interact every day, but it’s not enough to remove myself from the news, to read as much as I can but refuse to acknowledge my part in these societies. It remains to be seen how the trial will unfold, but it will forever remind me that work done to promote tolerance at the very least, and acceptance and understanding as the ultimate goal, will always be worthwhile.