For reasons that I myself can not fully comprehend, I got on a bus next to a freind of mine in the freezing darkness of six in the morning on Saturday the 13th, bound for Dresden to take to the streets and blockade some five thousand neo-nazis planning a recently-legally-approved march throught he city on the 65th anniversary of the allied firebombing. I was joinin in with around 10,000 other is an attempt to close off every avenue and boulevard from nazi progress. The nazis would be arrivingg on train, and the leftists would be blockading every street leading away from the Hauptbahnhof. As I said before, I can not fully articualte why I spent the day in Dresden. To be sure I felt that I could not sit by in the comfort of a sleepy Saturday in Berlin while thousands of nazis attempted their biggest march since the 1940s just two hours South of me, and certainly there was a kind of morbid curiosity at the whole goings-on, but one feeling that I can put my finger on I wish to discuss here. I went in search of an answer to the question of German-ness. The question itself is difficult to phrase. What does it mean to be German? What is the German identity? No one question directly addresses the hole I feel in my unerstanding of the German people. Who even are the Germans? Germany, with its borders drawn not quite on ethnic lines, had a hard enough time answering this question at the turn of the 20th century, in the face of nationalism. Again the question was raised with horrifying results in the thirties and forties, and post-war immigration, the European Union, and globalization have only muddled the question further. Clearly, as I listened to a Berlin native studying in Dresden I had met as the protest was winding down attempt at explaining the problems of immigrants in urban Berlin to me as we both walked past smoldering trashcans overturned in the streets watched over by riot-control water cannons, the issue of who is German and what it means to be a German is still present on peoples’ minds.
Without attempting to minimilize the issue of racism and fascism, let me look to the Glas 1700GT. It’s certainly much easier on the eyes than black-clad anti-fascists pelting snowballs, then rocks at police officers seeking to keep the two polar opposites of the German political system apart from each other. The beauty of the Glas, however, leaves me just as perplexed as the ugliness of the clashes I saw at the protest. This car represents a now-shuttered German car manufacturer, bought up by BMW in the late 1960s. Built by the same corporation in charge of the Goggomobil, the Glas was a nice piece of contemporary design to reach German showrooms. The cars themselves, though representing a German manufacturer, were penned by one Pietro Frua, a leading man of Italian design at the time. So, pretty as the Glas is, with its smooth, uncluttered lines and delicate, expansive glass area, how well it represents Germany and German design is difficult to address. as it looks much like any other car designed by Frua, or even keeping with the trend of italian design, popular during the early 1960s, as seen in, for example, this Fiat.
The protest was much the same: though it was certainly taking place in Germany, and certainly dealing with a very German issue, much of the time I was there, if elt as if the protest could have been anywhere, or about anything. The way that those angry with the police shouted and cursed, the way people linked arms, carried banners, paraded giant puppets as they danced to a drum cirlce, dreadlocks bouncing. There was little to put your fingger on saying, “This is unique. This is German”, just from what you might have seen, dropped into the middle of the protest. My search for what defines the people I live amonst for these eleven months grows ever more confusing as I acquaint myself with Germany’s ambiguities. From its streaming, featureless autobahns, to its foreign-designed consumer goods, to its faceless protesters, wrapped in black just as they are everywhere else in the world, it seems. I left for Dresden unsure of what I would see and experience, and I have returned, still unsure of what I saw.