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"German Angst" in Haus der Geschichte: How panic-stricken are Germans?

"German Angst" in Haus der Geschichte : How panic-stricken are Germans?

Do Germans always fear the worst? Do they tend towards panic attacks? A new exhibition in the Haus der Geschichte examines the phenomenon of “German angst”.

“German angst” is an established term abroad. To the Dutch, the fact that Germans ride bikes with a helmet shows just how anxious they are. They always fear the worst, it is said. A new exhibition in the Haus der Geschichte in Bonn is now getting to the bottom of this phenomenon.

“German angst” is usually traced back to the traumatic first half of the twentieth century. First, the First World War, then high inflation that wiped out Germans’ savings until 1923 and finally the complete, also moral, ruin as a result of the Nazi era, the Holocaust and the Second World War. These catastrophes led to a pronounced need for security.

Angela Merkel’s “Wir schaffen das” (We can do this) resounds from the loud speakers in Bonn alongside a model of a Düsseldorf carnival float. The Chancellor is carried away by a “wave of migrants”. There are “Safeshorts” in a display case. If these are pulled down by force, a built in alarm sounds. The advertisement for them works with key terms such as “Cologne News Year’s Eve” and “assaults”.

If there’s one thing the exhibition makes clear, it is that much of this has been here before. “Fear has gripped the Germans, fear of foreigners,” wrote one magazine after a sharp rise in the number of migrants – not in 2015 but in 1992. At that time, many people were fleeing from the civil war in the former Yugoslavia. Germany was captivated by terms such as “flood”, “wave” and “torrent”.

Media comes off badly in exhibition

Bald heads with printed bar codes – a photo warns of complete acquisition of data in 1983, when computers first came out. At the same time, the notion that forests were dying on a large scale sent the German public into a panic. “Nearly every week a report about the dying forest, each week the same frustration, each week this insane fear,” complains one “Stern” reader in 1985. “Is it still worth bringing children into the world?”

It is curious that in West Germany, the German forest was at times almost written off, while there was officially no forest decline in East Germany. The acid rain stopped, so to speak, at the internal German border. It is also interesting that climate change does not seem to be causing a similar wave of panic at the moment. Here, say the exhibition organisers, the attitude is more that we will hopefully still get on top of it. Somehow.

The media occupies a lot of space in the exhibition – and it does not come off well. It is clear in retrospect that it all too often fuels waves of anxiety rather than objectifying the debate with facts.

Hans Walter Hütter, President of the Haus der Geschichte Foundation, believes that today’s social media networks also increase panic. At the same time, the eruptions are getting shorter and shorter: “Next week it’s already something else.”

The exhibition: “Fear. A German state of mind?” runs from 10 October 2018 to 19 May 2019. It is open from Tuesdays to Fridays from 9am to 7pm, Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 6pm. Entrance is free.

(Original text: dpa. Translation: kc)