Please weigh in, agree or disagree, thoughtfully and respectfully. Ferocity and passion are encouraged; disrespect is not. Thank you for reading, and seeing this as a conversation rather than a monologue.

March 24, 2011


Three weeks ago I commended Boz to his new family. I saw him last weekend, and he is doing well. He was glad to see me, and I him. He is more mellow now, owing, I think, to the more regular stimulation his new living situation provides. He goes to work with Dad, on walks with Mom, and is learning how cats and 16 month olds work. I imagine he never looks at his new family and wonders how long it will be until they put down the book or leave the keyboard. But it’s interesting, how one can grieve in response to a change that is, according to all available evidence, good for the one for whom you care.

Yesterday I left home, commending it to Lauren, my long-time friend and, now, house sitter. I was ready. I had packed night before last, for the most part, so last-minute additions and changes were kept to a minimum. The only glitch was that I had read my flight’s departure time as 2:45 instead of 12:45. Fortunately, I checked my flight status by flight number on my iPhone app, Flight Tracker, and discovered my error just before 11 AM. My error cut short my time with my friends, but we made it to the airport by a little before noon; not a soul was in line at the Southwest counter; and I was sitting at my gate with half an hour to spare.

Speaking of time to spare, my 3 hour layover at Chicago Midway has stretched to 4.5 hours. And there is no Wi-Fi working here. Which is why I can be productive now and write the first blog of this new adventure.

I am going to Germany to learn the language, learn about the people, discover why they are so green (as opposed to America, which thinks of climate change as Al Gore’s false prophecy), and to dig up some family roots. I hope to return to America in September, via freighter or cargo ship, imitating as best I can the voyage my mother’s forebears took to come to America in the mid to late 19th century. Between now and then, the unexpected awaits. I will remain in Zurich for a few days to get over jet lag, before going to Freiburg to begin my studies.

But why am I really going to Germany? I’m not sure I can answer that. It occurred to me a minute ago that it feels a bit like migration: a kind of psychic imperative. Last year the imperative was physical: to flee the heat of Southern Europe. This time I am more drawn than repelled by anything. Germany seems an adult country, compared to America’s adolescence. Certainly this is not necessarily a favorable comparison, given Germany’s crimes against humanity last century. But they seem to be unflinchingly (permit the generalization, please, though I know it’s wrong in some particulars) aware of their past crimes, yet able to move on and meet today’s challenges with brio. Of course, part of the draw is the knowledge that I am a quarter German (Mom’s Father’s side), but it feels less like a personal inquiry or journey of self discovery than it is an anthropological or philosophical excursion. So, while I may indulge in some travelogue of a personal nature, I hope to focus more on what Germany represents, who the Germans are, and how defining a people or person based on one part of their past, no matter how archetypically heinous, may be inadequate.

So the migrations in question are not just geographic. I'm not sure which adjective fits. "Psychic" feels too Sedona to me, but that's partly it. As migration is in a bird's nature, so is change in ours, whether we are a people or a person. We are capable of improving, or of declining – or even doing both, at the same time, in different aspects or relationships.

America is the country of atrocities to Native Americans and Vietnamese and Iraqis. We are also the home of jazz, skyscrapers, the concept of Pattern Language, the moon landings, the laptop computer, and so many more good things. Germany is the country of the Holocaust, ground zero of 20th century (and before) anti-Semitism.It is also the home of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Fassbinder, Durer, Nietzsche, BMW, Einstein, Porsche, Adidas, Leica, and more.

We can say that O.J. Simpson was a great football player and a passable actor without in any way qualifying the hatefulness of his crimes. Saying what was good about him makes the picture more complete and true, and makes his story more complex – and so, more likely to be real and true to life. Saying he was a great football player does not imply approval of his hateful crimes. It may, instead, help us to understand that people who have been respected before, who seem to be like us (only richer or more famous), may suddenly succumb to their inner Mr. Hyde. And so they become a cautionary tale for us, rather than a monster story that has little or no connection. We begin to be able to understand different points of view, like why some people may have supported him initially, before the truth became widely known, and why some people who knew him liked him.

I'm hoping to gain some perspective on Germany and the Germans, thereby gaining perspective on human nature. I will share what I am learning, and hope you will join me in discussion.

Auf wiederbloggen!


  1. Bravo! Looking forward to more!

  2. Gorman Beauchamp wrote in 2007 that our “mania for apology stems from a radical sort of ‘presentism’: the belief, in practice, if not fully articulated, that the actions and actors of the past should be evaluated, and usually condemned, by present-day standards.” My point is that it is important to avoid making assumptions or evaluations based on what we know now vs. what was known then. I wonder what interesting personal stories you will hear from the people you meet and whether you will be able to draw any general conclusions from them, and whether anyone will feel the need to apologize for the past.

    Perhaps this endeavor, although not intended for self-discovery, also will change you: will the “who you are today” recognize the “who you are now” at the end of the trip?


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