As citizens, we celebrate our national holidays and heritage. As people of a faith and/or culture, we celebrate our religious holidays. However, how many days do we take to celebrate cooperation between nations? Are we capable of realizing ourselves as planetary citizens, and celebrating that together? The only other holidays I can think of that are shared by more than one country are remembrance days. One has memorial days for the soldiers and civilians who died in World War One and Two, or other memorial days for when people do horrible things to one another. However, where are the days where we celebrate the positive interactions between nations? They are there, we just don’t know a lot about them.
For example, German-America Day has been in effect since former President Reagan signed Resolution 109 for it in 1987. How many Germans know about it? Even less US Americans seems to know, and yet it’s been faithfully celebrated on or around Oct. 6th for 29 years, now. The Federation of German American Clubs has a lot to do with this, and I am grateful to have participated in this weekends event in München, perhaps one of the most “German” of all cities.
When I got to München Hauptbahnhof (main train station), I was presented with a site of trains, Brezn (Bayrisch for pretzels), and Trachten (traditional Bavarian clothing). Finding the city that hosts a lot of Germany and the world for Oktoberfest (fun fact: Octoberfest is over by the first week of October), this came as no surprise. What continues to surprise me though, is that this is the image people have of Germany. Raised by a north German and spending almost all my time when in Germany in the north, I think of many other things when I think of this country. However, of course my perspective comes from the fact that I have more experiences and encounters than Munich train station and Wies’n.
Still, my view of Germany would also not be complete without having been to this beautiful city. I can count the previous number of hours I’ve spent in München on my fingers and toes. I’d only once spent the night here, and that was this past summer. This time, I was spending two nights in the city. They were full days.
I was lucky to have been invited by the VDAC (Verband der Deutsch-Amerikanischen Clubs, Federation of German-American Clubs) to be a part of the orientation seminar for US students who had just come to start their exchange year in various universities throughout Germany, and the return seminar for all the German students who had just come from a year in the US.
Long readers of my blog will remember that I started this blog to report on my experiences in Germany while an exchange student. Now, I happen to be pursuing my PhD independently of the VDAC in Berlin, but that does not mean I am not still involved with them, and in many ways I can be grateful for their support, past and present. Visiting the seminar this weekend was an attempt to give back a bit, provide my experiences and advice as a US alumni of the program, but somehow, they managed to spoil me again. I leave again in the debt of having free room and board, and a great cultural and political program provided. In a desperate attempt to show my gratitude, I turned down the offer to reimburse the travel costs. I just have to remind myself that while members of the VDAC are well to do, they work hard for the money to host 40+ students for these seminars, not to mention the scholarships themselves. I can’t contribute generous paychecks, but I can be generous with my time and with the money I would have spent anyway to spend a good time in Munich.
I mentioned a great cultural program… and opera fans will be jealous to know I got a behind-the-scenes look in the Staatsoper, home turf of the ridiculously good-looking Jonas Kaufmann. I also got to sit in the old Ratshaus, or town hall, and drink a good Dunkles in a Bavarian Brauhaus. Of course, there were the seminar sittings where new and returned exchange students talked about cultural differences (post to come out about that soon!), differences between colleges experiences in Germany and the US, and first impressions/practical tips. I like to think that as the only US kid having gone through the VDAC there, other than the guy coordinating the whole thing (his experience lies a few years back), I had some good advice to give, but the German students reminded me that there are some things about the system I still have to learn. Still, I’ll repeat a bit of what I said in future post as well.
Then there was the main event of the weekend, celebrating German-American Day 2016. Short story, a bunch of speeches were given, national anthems sung, returning students given certificates of having gone through the program and in honor of supporting cultural change, a very prestigious medal awarded to an important facilitator of German-US relations, musical interludes, and a reception with drinks and some of the best mini-wraps I’ve ever had. Long story- the speeches were incredibly well-given and thought provoking, and I had more fun at the reception than I would have thought.
The most memorable quote of the evening for me was that memory and gratitude cannot always sit at the same table as politics (loose translation of Friedrich Merz, recipient of the Medal). The history of Germany and the U.S. , especially after WWII, is filled with a lot of reasons for the Germans to be grateful to the US. However, current politics cannot always be driven by this thankfullness. Just like the British settlers were once grateful to their British forefathers for making travels to the “New Land” possible, they also learned to come into their own in relations with the Brits. A friendship should always be shared by equal partners, and in the case of the US and Germany, they are constantly figuring this out for themselves. But it’s good, and that’s why dialogue is so important and it’s good to see it successfully being carried out through events like these.
I hope to be able to attend the next year’s events, which will be the 30th anniversary of the first German-American Day of October 6, 1987.