By NINA BERNSTEIN, The New York Times, March
BERLIN A few blocks
east of the old Checkpoint Charlie, stands a high school once named after
Theodor Winter, a German anti-fascist who spent World War II in the Soviet
The school, now renamed
for Charles Darwin, survives between glittering new shops and the dour high-rise
apartment buildings that still line a boulevard of broken Communist dreams.
Many Americans might think
this terrain should be the epicenter of German gratitude to the United States,
for its role in getting rid of Nazis and Communists. But the view is quite
different at Charles Darwin High School, where 12th-grade students of English,
from formerly East German families, were discussing world events in recent days.
Philip, 18, who wants to
be a doctor, called for a statute of limitations on gratitude. "I think
Germany has been grateful for more than 50 years," he said. "I think
after 50 years one can start being independent."
And in an outburst
directed at an American visitor, another student, Susie, also 18, opened the
floodgates of resentment. "The idea that we have to be grateful to the
Americans why?" she asked. "We have financed the gulf war. Why
should we be grateful? Thirty thousand refugees have been bombed out in Dresden,
so we have to be grateful? Why?"
It wasn't hard to figure
out where she got her information. A recent best seller, "The Fire,"
by the historian Jörg Friedrich, questions carpet bombings that killed hundreds
of thousands of German civilians late in World War II. And documentaries shown
almost nightly on German television in recent months are part of a lengthy
national re-examination of the Allied air war.
Though the documentaries
carefully placed the Allied bombings in the context of the Holocaust, the images
of Dresden and many other firebombed cities, with smoking ruins and children's
corpses, have heightened the emotional pitch of German opposition to a war in
Iraq. Most nights, the film clips from World War II are only a click away from
news reports about American impatience to bomb Baghdad.
Gabriele Dietze, a
professor at the Free University's John F. Kennedy Institute of American Studies,
likened the effect on the young to "a shortcut in the brain." The
ritual evocation of America's role in World War II, instead of instilling
gratitude, may reinforce a stereotype of a trigger-happy United States, she said.
In contrast, a fondly
comic view of East Germany is now prevalent in popular culture. The latest box
office hit is "Goodbye, Lenin," a bittersweet comedy about a loyal son
trying to recreate an East German life for his dying mother, as her society
crumbles under a flood of western goods and Deutsche marks.
In the east, teenagers'
cynicism is fueled by their parents' disappointment with reunification. In 1990,
many economists said the east would be as prosperous as the west within a few
years. More than 12 years later, unemployment in the east is still running at 20
percent, double that in the west.
"In my opinion,
capitalism didn't win," said Andreas Schutt, 23, a part-time computer
programmer, whose 50-year-old father was just laid off. "In my opinion,
Communism lost. Now capitalism is failing, too."
In a recent poll, 61
percent of Germans under 30 said President Bush was more dangerous than Saddam
Hussein, or equally dangerous. In contrast, only 48 percent of Germans 60 and
older had those views.
Yet when asked if they had
more positive or more negative associations with "the American way of
life," young Germans were two to three times more likely to be positive
than Germans over 45, according to the poll, conducted by the Forsa polling
"There is a total
disconnect," said Gary Smith, president of the American Academy in Berlin.
"They wear jeans and listen to Eminem, but this is not relevant to the
America that these students are afraid of. In the end it comes down to America's
power in the world."
Zitty, a popular Berlin
weekly, recently ran an article titled "Farewell to America?" In the
antiwar protests here, the article found evidence of a "new European spirit"
impatient with worn-out American reproaches of ingratitude.
"To tell you the
truth I've never seen so much anti-Americanism in my life, not in the Vietnam
War, never," said the novelist Peter Schneider, 62. "Since Bush is on
the stage, he has alienated a whole generation. It's anti-Bushism first, and
then it gets mixed up with anti-Americanism."
At least one older German
was appalled. "All of Europe owes the U.S. its liberation," Wolf
Biermann, a songwriter and poet, wrote in an acerbic essay about the recent
antiwar marchers in Der Spiegel, a news magazine. "Many of those who want
peace at any price evidently don't want to acknowledge that in an indirect way
we owe our release from the Soviet People's Jail of the G.D.R. to nobody so much
as to those weapon-crazy Americans."
Mr. Biermann has a special
perspective. His father died at Auschwitz, and he was a dissident in the
Communist German Democratic Republic, until he was stripped of citizenship in
Before the 1991 gulf war,
some prominent Germans of his generation bucked antiwar sentiment by likening
Saddam Hussein to Hitler. Now, for some young Germans, the comparison that Susie
voiced in her English class works better. President Bush is "a second
Hitler," she said, and the attack on the World Trade Center was the
equivalent of the Reichstag fire.
However outrageous such a
link seems to Americans and the German justice minister was fired last fall
for voicing a less virulent version it evoked little disagreement from
Susie's classmates. On the contrary, several chimed in with conspiracy-laced
challenges to the official version of events. Of the Sept. 11 attacks, Franzeska,
18, said, "There are a lot of rumors that the Americans did it alone."
A boy named Marian added,
"We can't imagine that the C.I.A. didn't know something about this."
Then, he asked rhetorically, "Did you think that Americans were really on
THIS was not an electronic
chat room or the Arab street. These 18-year-olds were in the capital city of a
democratic, reunified Germany the very Germany that President Bush has cited
as a model for what military intervention could achieve in a postwar Iraq.
In the old days, students
here studied English from Communist textbooks, and built their image of America
from a mixture of fear and longing, recalled Herbert Schkutek, the 53-year-old
"It was either a
dangerously unknown territory or an earthly paradise," he said. "Now
they have more realistic views."
Their views, more
outlandish than realistic, were bolstered with selective history. Next, the
students were going on a school field trip to learn more about America. They
were off to see "Bowling for Columbine," the biting documentary by
Michael Moore about paranoid, gun-loving, dangerously manipulated Americans.
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