OLD ALTERNATIVES: THE RETURN OF NATIONALISM TO GERMAN POLITICS

By Marc Camanag
Staff Writer

Six years after a seemingly innocuous entrance into the political sphere, the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) has grown into a nationalist powerhouse that holds the third-largest share in the country’s federal parliament. Echoing similar movements across Europe, the AfD’s platform has tapped into deep-rooted, populist fears to launch itself on a trajectory that no party has ever pulled off in such short time. As the first far-right party to set foot in the Bundestag in nearly sixty years, the AfD raises the question: Why has nationalism returned to German politics, and why now? 

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European Indians: Germany’s Fetishization of Native American Culture

European Indians: Germany’s Fetishization of Native American Culture

By Nick Vacchio
Staff Writer

When Berlin was liberated at the end of World War II, American soldiers were surprised to find German children familiar with concepts of the Old West. Just like American boys and girls back home, German children could be seen playing imaginative games dressed as Native Americans in deer skin and feathers (“Ich Bin”). Today, the practice continues on an even grander scale with Wild West clubs, festivals, plays and museums dedicated to indigenous American Indian culture captivating the interest of Germans and other Europeans of all ages. It seems strange to think of Europeans being so engulfed and captivated by a particular period of history in which they played no part. The Old West’s past is filled with unique tales and folklore specific to its country of origin: The United States. How Germany became obsessed over a culture they have no connection with whatsoever is a compelling tale with modern ties.

European interest for Indigenous American culture stems from the works of German author, Karl May. Influenced by James Fenimore Cooper’s famous novel The Last of the Mohicans, which depicted the events of the French and Indian War in 1757, May occasionally spent time in prison reading about the Wild West and soon began to pen his own stories. When he was released from prison, May desired to move to America but instead became an editor and eventually the most popular author in German history (Haircrow). His most famous works revolved around an inexperienced German explorer named Old Shatterhand who moved to America and befriended a fictional Apache warrior named Winnetou. May wrote several well-read novels about the duo’s heroic adventures across the Wild West. This helped to support Germanic conceptions of their national identity as well as carve a specific place in their hearts for Native American peoples and their customs (“Ich Bin”).

May’s western stories were all purely fictional. The most ‘western’ place he ever physically set foot in was Buffalo, New York. This is in no way close to his imagined setting of the Great Plains (“Ich Bin”). Despite the lack of historical accuracy, May’s works found their way into the lives of a German people desperate for a role model. Up until his first Winnetou novel was published in the late 1880’s, Germany lacked home-grown literary characters it could identify with and be proud of. During this time, Europe was developing into an industrial capitalist machine. May’s books provided a form of escape from this lifestyle and had significant influence on both Albert Einstein as well as Adolf Hitler (“Ich Bin”). In 1987, Author Frederic Morton summed up the famous writer’s impact stating, “The legendary in Karl May’s books saturated (and still saturates) just about every Central European boyhood,” (Morton).

Today, May’s works continue to leave their impact on central European culture. Ever since the 1950s, the Karl May Festival has taken place in the town of Bad Segeberg. The festival lasts for the course of the summer and includes a fantasized Indian village set in the era when May’s stories take place. The real draw to the festival though is the yearly play which is derived from one of May’s many stories about Old Shatterhand and Winnetou. Last years festival season brought in a total of 346,677 people which set a record for the third consecutive year (“Treasure of Silver Lake”). But May’s posthumously successful festival is not the only place where Germany celebrates the Native American way of life.

Many Germans are participants in this imagined and fetishized Native American lifestyle. There are Wild West theme parks such as El Dorado which are popular vacation spots complete with saloon, Indian village, wooden fort, and everything else that comes to mind when thinking about the traditional imagery associated with cowboys and Indians. For those who are more serious about getting in touch with their “inner Native American,” there are over 400 clubs where members pay dues so they can pretend to be American Indians. Pow-wows are hosted throughout the year by Caucasians in native dress and some people even take up the art of making leather gifts and additional knick knacks. Others learn to shoot a bow and arrow, ride horses, play drums, and dance in the way they imagine Natives did hundreds of years ago. Participants in these activities sometimes refer to themselves as rote Indianer or red Indians and give one another traditional fantasized names like White Wolf or Old Bull. Some even go one step further and head out into the countryside for the weekend to set up a tipi campground. There, they adorn themselves in the furs of various animals, cook meals on an open flame, and discuss what it truly means to be Native American (Haircrow). They are, of course, not actually Native Americans, which has left more than a few members of indigenous tribes in the United States and Canada offended.

Some German Indian hobbyists believe that they are keeping the true spirit of Native American culture alive. They look down on the actual Natives who struggle with poverty or alcoholism and do not seem to appreciate their own unique customs (Haircrow). However, as part Apache and Cherokee, Red Haircrow notes that this harmless fantasization is anything but:

They have not lived with the centuries of oppression, racism and genocide, part of which is still on-going for Native Americans, and the others we are still trying to recover from. Fantasize about being raped, murdered or having your family, your children raped and murdered in front of you. Losing your homes, your land. Being taken away from your family. (“Pretendians”)

Essentially, it is unfair for a group to embrace the positive aspects of a particular culture without experiencing the pain and misery that also come through being a member of that particular culture. You cannot have the good without the bad. It is also hurtful in a further sense because the genocide of Native Americans came at the hands of the white man.

Despite these negative opinions, not everyone thinks that this cultural appropriation is harmful. Some Natives living in Germany as well as North America find the deep interest in themselves and their culture flattering. This profound intrigue into Native American culture has led tribes to get in touch with some of their fans overseas. Groups like the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association promote and educate receptive audiences in their customs including history, art, food, and dance (Haircrow). Central Europeans are desperate to hear authentic stories from real Natives instead of the books, plays, and movies cemented in a time no longer relevant to modernity.

Whether one sees Indian hobbyists in Europe as offensive and distorting the image of what it means to truly be Native American or as a benign practice and surprising blend of two distinct cultures is a debate that is not going away anytime soon. However, there should be a consensus that it is healthy and beneficial to get away from industrial, commercialized and capitalistic society every now and again to get back to our roots as a global population. Attempting to connect deeper spiritually, taking care of the environment, forming close bonds within a community and appreciating what it truly means to be a human being on this planet are things that seem to be easily forgotten in our fast-paced and disconnected modern society. These core pillars are still prevalent in Native American culture and it might be wise that we explore them more deeply.

Works Cited

Haircrow, Red. “Germany’s Obsession with American Indians is Touching – And Occasionally Surreal.” Indian Country. Todaymedianetwork.com, 23 Mar. 2013. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.

“Ich Bin Ein Cowboy.” The Economist. People.uwec.edu, 24 May 2001. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.

Morton, Frederic. “Tales of the Grand Teutons: Karl May Among the Indians.” The New York Times. Nytimes.com, 4 Jan. 1987. Web. 23 Nov. 2015.

“Pretendians: Why Offensive to Indigenous as a Whole.” Songs of the Universal Vagabond. Redhaircrow.com, 7 Nov. 2015. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.

“Treasure of Silver Lake.” Karl May Spiele. Karl-may-speile.de, 2015. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.

Image by Julius Beckmann

WHAT A TANGLED WEB WE WEAVE: ALLIANCES IN THE MODERN AGE

Anti-Surveillance Protest in Germany

By Aarushi Gupta
Staff Writer

The conflict between Israel and Palestine took over July’s headlines; each hour brought a new development, every week brought a new cease-fire and new attempts to rekindle negotiations to end the endless brutality and warfare. The conflict between these nations is not new, but both nations are as far away from a solution as they were in 1948 when the Israeli state was introduced. The current peace relies on shoddy truces and feeble agreements. However, as relations between Israel and Palestine and the United States’ influence in the region both deteriorate, new alliances and partnerships have risen to tackle the inevitable hostilities that will return to the region. New collaborations between the United States and Germany, Qatar, Turkey, England, Italy, and France have come together to better address the problem; Qatar and Turkey were recently inducted into the coalition of international superpowers that claim some influence over the workings of the world – as neighboring countries, they represent strategic allies that also constitute sympathy for Hamas, the Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.

However, as Edward Snowden, former NSA contractor, continues to chip away at the United States National Security Agency, tensions may arise among these newfound alliances. This past October, Snowden revealed that “American intelligence agencies shared immense amounts of raw electronic and telephone data on U.S.-based Arabs, and, specifically, Palestinians, with Israeli counterparts over the last few years.” By arming Israeli intelligence against Palestinians who may or may not be involved with military operations halfway around the world, the United States jeopardized its already doubtful neutral stance on peace in the region. Even so, in an unexpected turn of events, Snowden revealed in December 2013 that the NSA had also been monitoring the communications of “then-serving Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.” This severely dented the relationship between the allies, signaling a loss of trust between both nations. Current Israeli President, Benjamin Netenyahu, in a Likud party meeting in the Knesset, stated “in the close ties between Israel and the United States, there are things that must not be done and that are not acceptable to us,” amid an increasingly outraged Israeli public. Following this incident, relations between the United States and Israel have become increasingly tense, resulting in ineffective negotiations mediated by the United States. President Obama first held a phone conference with Netenyahu in an attempt to address the “serious concerns” he had with the “increasing number of casualties in Palestine.” However, the United States’ sway in the region has diminished significantly since the administration’s reluctance to act during the Syrian Civil War in 2013. This, coupled with the Snowden leaks from the NSA, has curtailed the United States’ ability to influence the current conflict. John Kerry visited Israel on July 21 to convince Netenyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) to a humanitarian cease-fire; his efforts were futile. However, the new union formed between the United States and the aforementioned countries may lead to more progressive conciliation.

Unfortunately, the NSA’s secrets do not stop at the US-Israel alliance; Snowden’s most recent reports show that the NSA had been monitoring the private communications of 35 heads of state, including German chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as hiring “a walk-in German agent” who could provide details about the inner-workings of German Intelligence; the information may or may not have been valuable, but the breach of privacy resulted in the expulsion of the Berlin CIA chief, a great loss to national security partnerships for both nations. German indignation at the invasion of privacy swiftly turned into a shrewd proposal towards a security collaboration, which led to the current coalition attempting to mediate the growing tensions that are slowly spreading to other Middle Eastern regions. The irony grows with the fact that German Federal Intelligence Agency (BND) has tapped calls regarding Israel and Palestine from both John Kerry and Hilary Clinton. Apparently, the BND has “repeatedly recorded and reported calls from other U.S. politicians and other friendly nations,” according to NDR, a German public broadcaster. The BND has also kept tabs on Turkish authorities since 2009, claiming that the “PKK, extremist right and left wing organizations within Turkey were allegedly conducting human trafficking and drug trade in Germany.”

It is fair to concede that in modern times, countries have to maintain intelligence on both friends and foe; understandably, German, Israeli and American authorities have to keep themselves posted on the goings-on of their international counterparts. However, resources that could have been used to further progressive deliberations and achieve a mutually beneficial solution with respect to the conflict between Israel and Palestine should not have been implemented to ‘accidently’ tap calls from Secretary of State John Kerry to Israeli authorities and the PLO. The Israeli government was then able to subvert peace talks using the terms of these negotiations. How is that conducive to domestic interests, not to mention international security? In an era where public image and information really determine the extent of a nation’s power, it is important for intelligence officials to realize that security and suspension of hostilities should be the first priority, and that the information they collect must be used to mediate ascension to those goals.

Image by Markus Winkler