When I was 15, the Berlin wall came down.
Things had happened whose consequences I could barely evaluate. Whether in school or in my private surroundings, it was the first time that I perceived some kind of uncertainty with authoritarian adults. The masks had begun to fall.
It was an incredibly exciting time!
History took its course. Germany was re-united. I still had to go to school, but I observed this new big country to which “we” now belonged, attentively. There was so much that was new to me.
The way people behaved publicly.
The way people debated.
The way people dressed themselves.
The way people expressed appreciation – or not.
The way people make themselves appear.
The way people talked, without saying anything.
The way people exposed what they believed they possessed.
There were a thousand things that were different that I learned from my observations.
There was a lot to learn.
Later in university, when I sat in law lectures and learned about citizenships, I began to think about this more thoroughly.
Citizenship was an identity. The matter that I once had a citizenship in one country and now have a citizenship in another country was somewhat irritating.
I had no idea. Emptiness. I didn’t feel any loss, confusion at most. I didn’t really know what to do with it.
After my studies, and some initial years of professional experience I started traveling. I felt the exigency of getting out. I applied for a work-and-holiday visa for Australia and New Zealand, and decided to go abroad for some years.
Australia is a friendly country for travelers. Although making contact is a rather superficial business there, it is easy to get in touch with locals. I have met people of many nationalities there, and for the first time ever I had the opportunity to observe different behavior patterns and social norms, and be able to interact with them.
A never-ending experiment of observations had just started, and slowly, insights begun to rise.
Out of my own personal history, I didn’t know something like national pride. That was foreign to me.
The self-image of the GDR was that of an underdog: subversively inferior, looking for contact and closing of ranks to the mighty Soviet Union, to belong to something bigger. What else was there to do? Just the widespread slogan of “Taking over without overtaking” boded ill.
The re-united Germany didn’t have any national pride. I slowly learned that Germany has had a hard time with processing its history. It was like an open wound, not necessarily like raw meat, but like a stigma. A big, ugly scar that nobody seemed to have an idea what to do with.
In short, I have had no feelings of pride for my national background. I realized that on this big, dry continent in the South Pacific I met people who enjoyed their nationality as a matter of course and sheer persuasion, and also communicated this vociferously. It felt strange to me, and most of the time it confused me.
Still, it wasn’t totally unbeknownst to me. When I am honest, it did shine through occasionally: in the states of rapture after good matches of the German football national team. – But these were such fleeting moments!
I continued my observations of other cultures and nationalities for many years. I travelled many countries in Asia, Africa, Europe and America, sometimes for a shorter period of time, sometimes longer.
Sometimes, it was ambivalent. I didn’t like every country I visited. I didn’t always like how people treated each other. I didn’t always like how children were treated, or the animals. And I also didn’t always like how tourists were dealt with.
But there was one thing I always liked – no matter where I was, and that was nature.
There is no country on this planet, where I haven’t found some place in nature, just for me – and where I could feel peace.
The feeling of being at home in a foreign country; the security to let go of the walls for a short time. Being able to breathe. Assimilating the colors of nature, eavesdropping on the bird’s songs, listening to the pulse of Mother Earth… and knowing everything is well.
And when you then re-enter the reality bubble – where you are currently a tourist, where you are in country X or where you identify yourself as a German, American or French – then you also know that this is somewhat not true. You know it is just a concept. A concept that all have agreed to tacitly believe. And all believe in some way it to be true because it always has been this way.
When I returned to Germany after two years, I had one of the worst times of my life. Reversed culture shock. Not funny.
Without any doubt, Germany is an interesting country, but it is also harsh country. Relatively.
The friendliness, and ease of handling, that radiates out from those sunny places in the pacific, is totally missing in Germany.
After two years of absence, I began to see Germany with different eyes.
At that time I lacked the understanding that this was another phase in my experiment of observation. I was also in a process of disentanglement. This phase of reversed culture shock was enormously important for adjusting my identity.
I began to setup an inner distance to my German identity: distance towards tacit behavior patterns that tighten the conviction of what nationality is, distance from perspectives, distance from propaganda.
I started asking questions.
How can it be that within a well-defined territory [a state], certain behavior patterns are legitimate and accepted, whilst they cause raised eyebrows in another well-defined territory [another state]?
How does the so-called consensus reality work, this tacit consent of how reality is being received and what is true and what isn’t?
What exactly is nationality?
What is my identity? Now that I feel this inner distance to Germany, who else am I?
Who am I at all?
Europe is an interesting blend of diverging nationalities. Upon growing up in Europe, one cannot miss the fact that some people are different, want to be different, and insist on being different. May it be so.
As expected, this causes conflicts occasionally. From history we know that there have been lots of wars. Borders have shifted, migrations have happened. When watching this short video about the territorial changes in Europe, one gets a rough idea, that the idea of national states is actually nothing but an ideology.
“An ideology is a system of conceptions that impose an explicit or implicit claim to be absolutely true.”
Taking all my experiences together, I do not define my identity solely by my nationality any more. Identity is so much more than this.
Life for me has unfolded in such a way that I do not live in Germany. I do speak the language and I do associate some of my personal story with Germany. But I feel uneasy when saying “I AM German”. When I am being asked about it, I respond that I hold a German passport. A social affiliation to a non-homogeneous mass of people that 1) I don’t know and 2) whose social norms do not always correlate with my personal norms; simply doesn’t make sense to me.
The passport is a travel document, which allows me to travel from A to B in this current construct of reality.
My identity is far more than my nationality.
Those who limit their identity to their nationality, end up in a cul-de-sac.
Then neighbors become foreigners, and refugees become invaders. The big wide world is perceived as a threat instead of an adventure.
Life becomes a fight, instead of a play.
Nationality is a cul-de-sac.