Posted by: Raphael Orlove | February 16, 2010

What is a Glas 1700GT?

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.



  1. A fascinating post. One question might be, are there any elements in the demonstration (or set of demonstrations) that could help you get a handle on what makes Germans German? As a historian, you are trained to read documents…perhaps there are some fliers or statements (from the various demonstrators or from the government) that would hold key concepts. Wiedergutmachung, that’s a word that to me encapsulates a great deal from an earlier phase, and maybe some other word captures things in this phase.

    Or perhaps there is something about the way that people moved, using space and time–precisely the bits that historians wish they could see and hear, but can’t.

  2. This has always troubled me about Germans and Europeans in general. They typically have greater political freedom than we do in America, however the police seem to always take the brunt of European arguments.

    It is curious to me how, in this case leftists, fight intolerance with intolerance. Overturning cars and throwing stones at police is a neanderthalic act that does nothing but display hypocrisy and ignorance.

    However, the overall question to what is German is far easier to answer than the question what is American. Germans have centuries of history and culture to observe. America is geographically large and politically young with no common culture from one region to another. For instance, Californians share little in common with New Yorkers or Texans.

    A German is someone who identifies with the prevailing culture that has existed for generations. Anyone can be German, including myself, if they fully adopt and integrate into the culture. But if you adopt two or more cultures, you are hyphenating yourself as we do in America (Mexican-Americans, Asian-Americans, African-Americans), which creates a new separate culture.

  3. Isn´t it sad and telling, that people who demonstrably want to do nothing but to remember the by now admitted most monstrous war-crime ever committed are criminalized as `nazis´? Also, the car is as German as sauerkraut, it was designed by Hans Glas, who designed numerous first rate automobiles and scooters, 2-strokes, 4-strokes, boxer- & in-line engines; 2,4,6, & V8 engines and ALL of them world-class. The body was designed & built by Bertone, according to Hans Glas´design ideas. Unfortunately he also had Bertone built the body, with the the resulting horrendous rust-problems as an `Italian bonus´. I owned a Glas 1700 GT & a BMW 1600 GT & know whereof I speak. Gerry Frederics

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