Hamburg is a big city. It’s up the top of Germany and it’s a port. It’s where the Beatles really cracked it” as a band. It was bombed to oblivion in summer 1943. They called it ‘Operation Gomorrah’. It’s where we learnt the term “der feuersturm” (the fire-storm). It was then burnt again and again.
Amongst the Lancasters that gathered over the city on those balmy summer nights were those piloted by the kids who’d graduated a year earlier than my father. Flight officers at 18 or 19. My father was lucky, he served in the Pacific a year later, when the might of the United States was on our side. His war consisted of numerous booze-ups and a long pub crawl up the Queensland Coast. His own version of the ‘Good Soldier Schweik’. He was very happy to travel north and not arrive at any place rather than being shot at. A sensible strategy. His father had been more enthusiastic, one of the first to land at Gallipoli, he was quickly shot several times and spent the rest of WW1 in a hospital bed. My father returned to Hamburg as RAAF Flight lieutenant and medical graduate in 1952. In time for the Coronation, and vetting would-be migrants before they left for Australia. Problem, was, the economic miracle, (Wirtschaftswunder) had taken place. Germans were prosperous again, and working a miracle. Father returned to work after partaking in german hospitality, (gemutlichkeit) and enjoyed several years in grim British hospitals as a colonial amid the grim reality of national health, rationing and post war austerity.
It gave him a taste for german art and literature and sadly for us children an obsession with Wagner. When he returned and set up a little practice in suburban east Ringwood, his patients included several ex Luftwaffe pilots, and they would exchange merry stories in german and english about boozing, chasing women, and the stupidity of being an eighteen year old and fighting in another silly war. Through german, we learnt, ‘shadenfureude’, ‘gemutlichkeit’ and ‘weltanschauung’. John Le-Carre, most recently described the influence of his german teaching on his appreciation of language and understanding. He also described possessing another language as being crucial to seeing the shape of things. He wanted to go beyond the terms ‘hande hoc’ and ‘Teufel englander’ and find the nation of poets, artists and dreaming romantics. I stayed with Biggles. Our despatchee from the North, describes the same.
Dual languages give you a window on the world. Mark Twain, described german compound nouns;
(eg: Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz “the law concerning the delegation of duties for the supervision of cattle marking and the labelling of beef”), as being so long they acquired a perspective.
Curiously Germany is now the crucible of western civilisation. Merkel, Churchill-like but without the cigar stands alone. Germany defends the principles of, compassion, humanity and decency. The victorious Anglo Saxon countries have retreated into a sub-feudalism of neo liberalism. They are deaf to the decline of their systems of governance, hijacked by special interests, short termism, and greed. And the party system corrupted by a culture of political donations from anywhere. They’ve forgotten their own sense of history. Germany hasn’t. Germany understands how the creep to fascism, begins with small steps. To our shame we know this to be true, when we talk of homelessness, indigenous australians, and the disparity between the haves and the have nots. Joe Hockey personified the disconnect when he blithely said; “want a house get a better job”. Australia’s “let them eat cake’, Marie Antoinette moment.
At the heart of this disconnect is Rupert. The exalted Lord Rupert, who feasts on Brexit, Trump-ism and Abbott. The G20 will be held in Hamburg. Ordinary germans have a keen sense of irony and history. Without the US, Australia and the UK’s leadership it suffers a League of Nations moment.
But from the G20 something new will prevail. Leadership that looks beyond just economics.
To her credit Merkel rises above the pettiness, the snubs and the ingratitude of peasants. And Britain, dragging, denialist, suffering its own Selbstmort (suicide), weazles on platitudes about human rights and equity. The protesters are being asked to co-operate. We know they sense the irony. This is the watershed of the Anglo Saxon democracies. They’ve lost their mojo. Europe stands alone.
Meanwhile the other side of the globe, the protesters turned out in their tens of thousands calling for a return to democratic government. And from the government that gifted them the Brave New World of, “One country Two systems’ a deafening silence.
Rupert and the Neo-Cons at work again. Job well done!