Four words that tell us something about German culture

Four words that tell us something about German culture

Culture of remembrance

Roughly translating as “culture of remembrance,” this word refers to the structures of society designed to commemorate and maintain awareness of the horrific crimes and atrocities of the Nazi era.

Erinnerungskultur is characterized by a multitude of campaigns, commemorations, memorials, monuments, programs and more that serve to underline its most influential message: “nie wieder”, which means “never again”.

Remembering and honoring the victims of the Holocaust and the persecuted groups who suffered during this time is extremely important to German culture.

Erinnerungskultur also often focuses on the premise of witnessing and bearing witness to the crime, destruction and brutality inherent in Nazi Germany.

Many Germans see this as a way to hold themselves accountable for their past, given that statistically the majority of their grandparents and great-grandparents passively activated or acted in the interest of the Nazi Party. It is about recognizing the full gravity of the atrocities of their national heritage, while committing themselves to act against such injustice in the future.

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Participation in this Erinnerungskultur was previously seen as a prerequisite for belonging to the wider community, but this is increasingly questioned as German society becomes more diverse: after all, why should- is it the responsibility of immigrants unrelated to the perpetrators, or of people belonging to groups that have been persecuted?

Erinnerungskultur is not only a dominant cultural mood, but also a key factor in foreign and domestic policy to this day.

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Fabien Sommer

READ ALSO: How Germany remembers the Holocaust

Vergangenheitsbewältigung (‘the process of working through the past’)

This term has similar content to Erinnerungskultur, describing the process of shaping and accepting shameful aspects of a country’s past, especially when these events suggest the guilt of the population of the country as a whole.

As a feminine name, it is formed as a compound of Vergangenheit (the past tense) and Bewältigung, which refers to a process of overcoming. An often used synonym is “Aufarbeitung der Vergangenheit”, which was popularized by a lecture by Theodor Adorno entitled “Was bedeutet: Aufarbeitung der Vergangenheit? Or ‘What do we mean by’ working through the past?

A sticker saying “No to the Nazis” at a demonstration in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Christoph Soeder

It is mainly used in discussions of Nazism, war crimes committed by the Wehrmacht (armed forces) during WWII and the Holocaust. However, it has also been suggested as a strategy for countries to recognize the atrocities of their colonial past. The same term has also been used in the context of examining and studying the crimes and injustices of the East German Communist dictatorship.

Although the Vergangenheitsbewältigung shares many of its key tenets with Erinnerungskultur, it differs from the latter by also involving a psychological process of denazification, a complete mental overhaul to recognize and condemn the atrocities of the Nazi state in their entirety.

Central to the concept is the idea that remembering the past in its fullness and commemorating those who have suffered will prevent history from repeating itself, although the notion has been criticized in recent years as complacent.

Feierabend (‘end of the working day’)

Feierabend refers to the period after the end of the working day, when you should, according to the Germans, draw a strict line between your job and the rest of your life.

In recent years, it has become the famous Germans’ ability to maintain a healthy work-life balance and has an almost mythical status as a driving force behind the incredibly high levels of productivity within the country’s economy. . In many countries where it is common to work outside normal working hours, the German insistence on adequate leisure time combined with their recognized efficiency is a point of envy.

The word has been around for centuries and once structured the division between hours spent at work and hours devoted to religious life. The Feierabend was once marked by church bells, after which there were evening prayers.

Munich people appreciate Feierabend. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Elke Richter

It would be a lie to claim that Germans also sometimes have no difficulty disconnecting from work – surveys suggest that the average German full-time employee still works an average of five hours more than he is for. under contract.

But the heart of the Feierabend idea is to make a mental transition from the desk to the living room sofa, whether it’s switching from work clothes to loungewear, stepping away from technology or having your first drink in evening – and this is only more and more important in the era of “working from home”.

READ ALSO: Why every country should embark with the German Feierabend

Waldeinsamkeit (“forest loneliness”)

This word, which literally means “forest loneliness” or “forest loneliness,” roughly translates to the feeling of sublime peace and enlightenment that you could achieve while being alone and in harmony with nature.

Germans love forays into nature as a way to work through their philosophical reflections, something that exploded during the pandemic as we found our options for safe and remote fun suddenly limited. Fortunately, there is nothing more socially distanced than contemplating your thoughts and feelings alone in nature.

A cyclist in Daugendorf, Baden-Württemberg. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Thomas warnack

But the word also speaks of a wider infatuation with the natural world, and in particular the forests, which are at the heart of German culture. It is considered a mysterious and mystical space full of possibilities for self-discovery and adventure. Anyone who has read one of the Grimm’s fairy tales as a child will intuitively understand this – in German folk stories the forest is always a space teeming with fantastic supernatural events and beings.

Forests and nature also occupy an important place in German medieval and romantic texts, and they strongly marked the national consciousness like nowhere else. If you visit the beautiful forests of Germany, you will certainly understand why – and be sure to pass for a scheduled personal epiphany.

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