It’s been a gradual process of finding out about the Germans, brick by brick over close to thirty-five years. I’ve married German men twice, so I’ve spent time with their parents and their family lore. I became a stepmom to a German girl when she was nine—and now she’s twenty-nine!
Living abroad, in a different country than where you grow up, makes you think about how the country is governed, about whether you feel both safe on the streets and politically represented. My encounter with a two-time whistleblower in 2018 could have metamorphosed into an essay, thinking through whether he in fact lived by the values he professed, and about the societal pushback he experienced twice. The feeling just wouldn’t let me go, however, that there was even more to explore.
Then came the COVID lockdowns, the inability to travel for 1.5 years, and I began reading intensely: about the integration of the East Germans into the larger Federal Republic post-reunification, about the lingering effects on Germans of denazification after WWII. I watched history documentaries and discussed what I was learning with my husband Jens. I looked ever more deeply at both the whistleblower’s experience of Germany and at my own. At the same time, I became more aware of those living here who were not born in the country, or whose parents weren’t, making up some 26% of the country’s residents (and often citizens). People “become American” all the time. I asked myself whether this society is even prepared for people outside its borders “becoming German,” as I’ve done.
This book is my attempt to grapple with all the questions that cropped up for me about contemporary Germany, a nation of eighty-three million people smack dab in the middle of Europe.