Who was the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany? Diagramme his family tree (paternal and maternal) back to the 14th century.
Germans have been shocked lately to discover that a lot of their schools suck.
The schools in question are typically Hauptschulen, the lowest in the tripartite German division of secondary schools (the others are the Realschulen and the Gymnasien.) Traditionally, the Hauptschule was designed to ensure a basic education while providing vocational training and facilitating its pupils’ entry into an apprenticeship. Not all that long ago, people in other countries looked upon Germany’s programme of vocational education with considerable envy.
Things fall apart, alas, and the centre cannot hold. These days many German firms can select their apprentices from out of the ‘higher-class’ Realschulen, and many inner-city Hauptschulen have become mere dumping-grounds. Worse, they are all (or are all perceived at this moment by the populace to be) festering hotbeds of nigh-American levels of intra-schoolchild violence, though there might be rather fewer firearms in the schoolrooms.
But what has really grabbed the Germans by the collar about this issue is that it is not really about schools. Rather, it is about the very serious question of what it means to be a German. Or, as all too many Germans see it, it is about the strangers among us.
Inner-city Hauptschulen are dumping-grounds, and the dumpees are the poor and excluded. It is as unsurprising at it is disheartening that these are disproportionately immigrants and the children of immigrants. For far too long, Germany indulged itself in the fantasy that it knew no immigration, and this over decades when it was one of the primary immigration countries in Europe, with immigrant numbers rivalled only by the USA — a nation that long defined itself (at least, until recently) as a nation of immigrants. That fantasy engendered the hens now coming to roost.
Goethe is the brightest star in the firmament of German literature. Write out his entire oeuvre by hand in the space below.
So long as Germany could pretend that it had no immigrants, nobody here had to worry very much about integrating them. For vÃ¶lkisch-minded Germans from the Union, the fiction that these hewers of wood and drawers of water would in the fulness of time depart for their distant homelands provided great comfort. And if I am honest, I must admit that plenty of people more politically congenial to me than the Union let warmhearted notions of multiculturalism distract them from the fact that these new Germans needed to be integrated into society.
For many years, Germany had a racist law of citizenship. The roots of this law lay in the Bismarckian unification of Germany and were, by 19th century standards, quite progressive. But things change, and their meanings change too. In a postnazi Federal Republic, Germany’s ius sanguinis was indefensible. A few years ago, an SPD/Green government partly reformed the citizenship laws over the anguished howls of the Union. The period immigrants had to wait before applying for naturalisation was shortened significantly; German-born children of immigrants would, for the first time, be Germans by birth, so long as their parents had been legally resident in the country for a minimum period.
Alas, implementation of the reformed law lies, in part, in the purview of the LÃ¤nder, and some of the LÃ¤nder are governed by the Union. The suggestion of the governments in Baden-WÃ¼rttemberg and Hessia has been to make applications for naturalisation subject to a very long and difficult test, intended to measure the applicant’s knowledge of German history, politics, culture and societal values. In principle, there’s nothing at all wrong with that. In practice, many have remarked that the tests proposed by the governments of B-W and Hessia, if given to native Germans, would lead to their forced expatriation in huge numbers.
— It is unacceptable to live one’s life according to values dictated by arrogant, obscurantist, illiberal, bigoted, misogynistic clergy, unless of course those clergymen be native-German Roman Catholics.
— Stuff me into a crate and ship me back to Wogistan!
To make things worse, various voices in the Union have piped up now to suggest that the recent and long-overdue reform of the citizenship laws be revisited. I understand and sympathise with the worries these people have about the shortcomings of integration thus far but, I am sorry, their suggestion could not possibly be more wrongheaded. For a few, the point of the suggestion is to draw a racial distinction between ‘Germans’ and ‘non-Germans’. I think better of the majority in the Union. I think most of them are merely confusing the notions of integration and assimilation, and throwing up their hands in despair that a NeukÃ¶lln-born Turk is not very much like a Franconian farmer (as though anybody should be surprised at that).
Assimilation is one thing, integration another. If pious women of Turkish descent wish to wear the headscarf, fair play to them. That is no hurdle to being a German. Indeed, until quite recently many rural German women would themselves have worn colourful headdress for religious reasons. Headdress and other oddments don’t matter. What matters is that every citizen assent to the following: I live here, I accept that I live in a pluralistic democracy; I demand the right to live by my values and respect the right of others to live by theirs. ‘German-ness’ can never again be what it was 50 or 100 years ago (and thank heaven for that); but Germany can rightly expect all Germans, whether their origins lie in Swabia or in Anatolia, to uphold the values of a democratic and tolerant republic. Like it or not, dÃ¶ner is now an essential part of the German national cuisine. It is incumbent on German society to make clear to the purveyors of dÃ¶ner that (i) they are welcome as fellow citizens and (ii) that citizenship carries responsibilities.