Drifting Away In the “middle” of “extremism”
Summers in Germany are usually temperate. The humid winds from the West and from the North keep temperatures at a decent average, letting people enjoy sunny, but not torrid days, while also safeguarding some vital sales of the traditional beer. Away from the proverbial workaholism, Germans can also find their ways for letting off steam. Some of them do it in the ‘Biergartens’ of the ‘Vaterland’, while most of the others jump on the plane to Mallorca to work on a tan which is unavailable back home. “Little Germany”, as Mallorca has come to be known, offers cheese cubes, roast pork (to put it ‘simply’: “Schweinebraten”) or apple salads next to traditional paellas in what has become a ‘saxon-iberic’ mix meant at attracting tourists.
Summer season 2018, though, was not as quiet nor as nice as the average German might have been accustomed to. First of all, temperatures have been far higher than Germans were used to, while, on the other side, Chemnitz and Dresden have reached metaphorical ‘boiling points’ from the heated debates among civic society and in the Bundestag. Things started after a fight that saw the death of a German-Cuban man, with the main suspects being an Iraqi and a Syrian, reopening discussions around immigration matters.
Between the 26th of August and the 1st of September, Chemnitz was the stage of protests, with two mobs standing for two ideologies: the far-right wing (backed up by radical political party Alternative for Germany) protesting against migrants and refugees being allowed into Germany, and the liberal counterprotesters, protecting the latter groups and advocating for social inclusion.
Beyond the back and forth of what happened in Chemnitz, one cannot ignore that extremism is on the rise in Germany. Alternative for Germany might only be the pinnacle of it, the visible top of the iceberg, but there is much pressure below: ultranationalist supporters claim a Germany without foreigners, calling for the protection of the domestic pedigree. The cradle of far-rightism in Germany can be found in the East, in parts of the former DDR.
That many of the radical movements have started from there should come as no surprise. Sabine Rennefanz has captured some of that worldview in her semi-autobiographical novel ‘Eisenkinder’. Herself a teenager around the Fall of the Wall, Rennefanz traces the answers to a serious, though to a certain extent ignored, question: what happened after Reunification to the teenagers (14 to 19 years olds) that started school in Eastern Germany and were ‘mentally programmed’ to follow a ‘career’ in the socialist state apparatus, but were then forced to face a totally new system that very few of them understood? Using not only her own example, the author shows the picture of early 1990, when chaos reigned in Eastern Germany because, suddenly, all that has been attributed to ‘socialism’ was not good anymore, no longer required and had to be replaced with the ‘New’. Yet nobody really knew what the ‘New’ looked like. Professors that were doing their jobs one year earlier were not welcome anymore because of their affiliation to the former regime, mathematics books were not good any longer because they were printed in socialist publishing houses and had to be replaced by ‘Western’ books that only arrived very late, although math was still math… In such a chaos, teenagers sensed boredom and freedom at the same time and wanted to distance themselves from the former regime.
Once the ‘gates’ were opened, the Easterners could restore contact with the Westerners, just that the Westerners could not temper their feelings of superiority, leading to the use of strong language against the “Ossies” and barricading themselves the integration of the East Germans in West Germany. Facing marginalization from society, many East German teenagers started “drifting away” as Rennefanz calls it: they did not feel welcome any longer to their former ‘Eastern’ way of living and they did not want to return to it. They did not belong to the East any longer, but, at the same time, the West did not welcome them either. What could they do, where could they go if they wanted to differentiate themselves from their socialist past? Many of them eventually found refuge in extremist and Neo-Nazi movements, something apart that was neither East nor West, but some sort of privileged club welcoming lots of teenagers that had to abandon school and who were caught halfway through their studies that have been started in the ‘Eastern’ system, but have never been finished because that system has been abandoned.
Drifting away from former habits but not being accepted in the new societal order just after 1990 left many children derailed. School was abandoned in order to join extremist movements. The formation of the critical mass started about three decades ago. It only needed some sparks for rioting. And sparks can be found nearly every week of 2018 Germany, just as in the night of August 26th in Chemnitz, when Daniel Hillig was stabbed to death and two other Russian-Germans were seriously injured. With such events, summers in Germany can hardly be described as mild and temperate.