When I lived in Germany, I had a moment of holy-shit realization while walking home alone one night.
There are no flags flying.
I was shuffling through my university campus, holding my jacket tighter and trying not to trip over a mole hill, as this constant rhythm followed me. Clink … clink … clink … I looked up and there stood an empty flag pole, not a strip of cloth on it.
I thought about it the whole walk home.
In the US, flags fly everywhere. Literally. On people’s porches. Schools. Tailgates. Car side mirrors. College dorm room windows. Basement meeting rooms. Churches.
The US national flag is everywhere.
America is proud of its Stars and Stripes. We sing songs about it. We have heated debates about punishing people who “desecrate” it. We plaster it all over things—candy, shower curtains, shoes, underwear.
Germany does not do that.
The German national flag does not whip proudly in the wind at every government funded building. It does not lay limp on a humid day in front of the local Texaco. It is not strung up across someone’s window as statement decor.
Why? Because Germans still sit in the shadow of their country’s actions during WWII.
Nationalism was the currency of the Third Reich. Hitler set out to make Germany great again after the Treaty of Versailles, when Germany was held solely responsible for WWI and was required to pay for the damages incurred. (Which was dumb because Germany was not the sole country responsible).
A downtrodden populace that couldn’t afford bread because of the outrageous inflation of the Deutsche Mark elected the leader/party that was for the people and promised to take the country back to its former glory.
Of course, they didn’t know it’d be at the cost of millions of lives.
Now, 70+ years later, and Germany still feels the weight of responsibility for the actions of a generation that has almost passed out of existence. Their sense of national pride has dwindled to small space of acceptability—the World Cup and the Olympics. Plus a few more venues, like government buildings.
The patriotism we take for granted in the U.S. is frowned upon nationalism in Germany.
In America, patriotism is instilled in us since our first steps to our life choices, and is the filter through which we view the world. Whereas in Germany, nationalism is the lens through which they view themselves. They recognize, every day, the role they took in WWII and the Holocaust. How can they not when the whole world, themselves included, reminds them via memorials, literature, history lessons, old concentration camps, and pop culture?
And all this has led to a flag pole flying nothing but air.