Much “Achtung!” About Nothing. Episode 5

Waiting For Zero Hour


Purging the German past. The orderly precision of German poetry is not for everyone.

The Krampus is coming.


“There are three things that can not be united: intelligence, decency and national socialism. You can be intelligent and nazi. Then one is not decent. You can be decent and Nazi. Then one is not intelligent. And one can be decent and intelligent. Then you are not a Nazi.”

– Gerhard Bronner

Many citizens of the modern Federal Republic of Germany would like to believe that 1945 was Stunde Null”, or Zero-Hour, and that before that there was nothing.

This is simply not a tenable position. The crimes committed during the 12 years of Nazism were crimes committed by Germans, for Germany, and the majority of those criminals simply melted happily back into society when the war was over. In fact, in the post-war years, many of the most brutal and hardcore Nazis found themselves in positions of power in private industry or in comfortable government jobs.

De-Nazification was carried out on a haphazard and arbitrary basis.

Little changed except that they stopped wearing their uniforms to work. They continued to influence the workings of the German government and economy, as well as the attitudes and beliefs of German society for decades after their military defeat. This is one of the themes which have preoccupied 20th Century German authors such as Gunther Grass and Wolfgang Koeppen.

I spent a good deal of time and effort trying to understand how the country’s present relates to that dark past, and how the horror of those years has been dealt with both at an official level, and in the popular psyche. But as one digs deeper into German history, it becomes clear that there are many layers of horrors to be uncovered, interspersed with lenses of enlightenment, all of which had global repercussions. Germany’s physicists and chemists have contributed immeasurably to the World’s understanding of the universe. It’s possible that the rest of the world should also be thanking the Germans for the internal combustion engine.

The Germans have also contributed much to Western philosophy, psychology and music. Germany could be regarded as the birthplace of modern opera, for example. Germans say they were once the Land of Poets and Thinkers. The jury is still out on the poets. As long as poetry is regarded as a purely mechanical linguistic device then technically Germany has been a land of poets. Schiller, Goethe, Heine, and hundreds more before and after have filled reams of paper, but poetry is supposed to touch the heart. Later Brecht and other poets of his generation broke the mould and produced work of real value – partly because they realised that the maxim “Ordnung muss sein” has no place in poetic expression.

There are many things about Germany and the Germans which I found fascinating, amazing, and even charming. Walpurgisnacht, for example, or the Christmas Krampus.

On a cultural front, I’ve tackled things the way one could expect any outsider would when faced with a culture based on unfamiliar mythology with all its unfamiliar rituals and unfamiliar surroundings. That is to say, I’ve approached it on an emotional and highly subjective level. I have however given a great deal of thought and research-time to uncovering the historical roots of many of the peculiarities which I encountered in German society.

The Krampus comes at Christmas and eats children who have misbehaved.

In some instances I believe I may have dug up some uncomfortable truths, sometimes I will have come oh-so-close to some elusive insight but not quite nailed it; and in other areas I fear I may always be in the dark, an outsider incapable of comprehending. There were of course also things about Germany and the Germans which I found fascinating, amazing, and even charming. Walpurgisnacht, for example, or the Christmas Krampus.

As far as possible I have tried to be historically accurate, and have generally used information from multiple sources to try and build up a composite picture. However, I’m no historian and this work is not meant to be used as historical text book. There are many excellent sources listed in my bibliography to which the reader can turn for a strictly factual and academic historical account, if you enjoy the sound of cold, dry statistics crunching like frost underfoot.

I’ve taken the works and musings of those serious historians, dropped them into a bathtub of rum which my uncle distilled in his shed, and synthesised a different (and, I hope, more appealing) substance from the base ingredients. There are of course occasions when I found a certain fact or figure interesting and have included it in a quite distorted, biased and sensationalist way. I’ve retained some of what I picked up during my time on that Murdoch newspaper in Alice Springs.

Many people who I met during my time in Germany feature in these pages, though often I have taken character traits of several people and mixed them into one character to simplify the storytelling.

The names have been changed to protect the guilty and the facts have been changed to protect the innocent. They will probably know who they are.

In the years I spent in Germany I made my own voyage into Europe’s heart of darkness. I emerged from the experience a changed person, hopefully a little wiser for my perseverance. Perhaps, with time, I will be able to stop reading books about Germany and start reading about something a little more uplifting. The rise and rise of Donald Trump, perhaps?

Anyway, I feel like I’ve spent far too long justifying myself; so now I promise to get on with the story. Is everybody sitting comfortably? Then let’s begin.

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