Opinion Pieces / Essays

How I see Germany fitting in internationally

When I look outward, beyond what has happened to me, I create opinion pieces and essays. In 2022, I began publishing op-eds in American newspapers.

Here are two that have only found a home here.

Disturbing news in the German press inspired me to write this opinion piece in January 2024


The German nation means what it declares about living by democratic principles this time around, right? I’m safe here? After all, a few years ago I watched the authorities at the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt use an enormous hole-puncher to render my U.S. passport invalid. I’d been an American citizen all my life at that point, for 53 years. Still, a somewhat queasy feeling about assuming German citizenship recurs now and then.

I can “pass” as a German, since I’m white and fluent in the language. But irritations are frequent. My mother-in-law will speak casually of an encounter with a Brown person who helps her onto the tram: “He was a foreigner, but actually quite helpful! And he spoke good German!”, asserting that he was foreign merely on the basis of his skin tone. There’s a constant flow of unsettling pronouncements. There are controversies in numerous cities around minarets not exceeding church spires in height; a young German footballer asserted bitterly recently, “When we win, we’re all Germans, and when we lose, we’re the Blacks.”

Last week it was revealed that a secret conference was held in November in a south Berlin villa; at it, far-right politicians, mostly from the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, some of whom serve as representatives in Germany’s federal and state parliaments, discussed with neo-Nazis a master plan to expel, to deport “to north Africa” all asylum seekers, foreigners with a right of residence, and “unassimilated” German citizens. The truth is even worse: there were a series of such conferences, as many as seven; the attendees discussing “remigration” also included heads of industry and finance, as well as elected representatives of the center-right CDU and CSU parties.

Though led by Westerners, the AfD polls the highest in the five East German states. Concerns are high about the three states holding elections in 2024, where the party that originated on the right fringe, kicking off with an anti-Euro zone platform, looks set to receive the most votes. Experiencing a push in the pandemic years by fulminating against lockdowns and vaccinations, they’ve become the party of discontents, with a strong focus on anti-immigrant rhetoric. “Critics have accused individual members of promoting neo-Nazi ideas and using neo-Nazi language. Detractors say that the party follows a strategy of targeted breaks with anti-Nazi taboos in an attempt to appeal to right-wing extremists.”

Political journalist Can Dündar, sentenced in absentia to 27 years for espionage in Turkey, has lived in exile in Germany for the past seven years. Completing the last steps towards attaining German citizenship, he expressed in a column his concerns: since an expedited process is possible only if one is particularly well-integrated into the society, he checked repeatedly whether he had all necessary documents, and was extra-punctual. One fundamental concern: though he “knows German history and literature well,” he still mixes up the German articles der, die, and das. I wonder too how to prove I’m ready to become a German.

Over cheesecake, my German husband attempted to reassure me by emphasizing the literal impossibility: “They would never do it. And besides, it’s against the German constitution, and European law. Though it would be good if some credible German politicians would stand up and say that …”

I don’t truly personally fear being deported, “sent back.” I know columnist Mely Kiyak’s humorous take: “Will they deport us with Flixbus?” (Flixbus is a rapidly expanding operator of inexpensive long-distance bus services.) Her 2019 column for the Gorki Theater was reprinted in this context: “It doesn’t matter where I am. Everywhere people are telling the same stories. Everyone’s asking themselves: is the end coming soon? Does it first have to crash and burn before things can be normal once again? Do we have to go? When? When exactly did the others decide to go?”

This impassioned short personal essay--intended as an op-ed for a major American newspaper--did not find an external home in October 2023. Thus, I am proud to publish it here.


My friend and I leaned in, looking around to ensure there were no disapproving Germans near us in front of the Berlin cinema. “This new war is shocking,” I said. “Yes, and that Israeli military officer in a dapper uniform stating that the Palestinians have brought this on themselves …” “The children in Gaza, are they responsible for what parents they were born to? No one is!”

She and I are both more German than any other national identity—my friend immigrated here with her parents at the age of four; born American, I became a naturalized citizen after thirty years of residence and taxpaying. Our concern about being overheard has to do with the overwhelming messaging we perceive from all public levels of German society: every politician, every public figure has been super-quick to announce their solidarity with the Israelis, to say “Never again!” with serious, shamefaced expressions, to speak out against any signs of anti-Semitism.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz flew to Israel before all other world leaders to show solidarity and support in the face of the surprise Hamas attack. President Frank-Walter Steinmeier told demonstrators gathered on Sunday in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin: “It is unbearable that Jews are living in fear again today—in our country of all places. Every single attack on Jews, on Jewish institutions is a disgrace for Germany.”

An acquaintance on LinkedIn thanks someone for his “clear words”: “What happened on Saturday surpasses what was done in the Holocaust by Nazis to Jewish babies, children, and young people. Not in terms of quantity, but in brutality …” Jumping to publicly state one’s on the right side—that virtue-signalling irks me.

A few days ago, I helped an academic putting together a small, international seminar. When a Palestinian artist wrote that she was scared of the racism she might encounter in Berlin, the professor hastened to confirm that the mood here was “heated, almost hysterical.” The university administration edited the phrase out.

I admired how the UK’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was able, after expressing his solidarity with Israel and with the Jewish community in the UK, to state to the British Parliament in an unagitated way: “I also recognize that this is a moment of great anguish for British Muslim communities, who are also appalled by the actions of Hamas but are fearful of the response. … let us say it plainly: we stand with British Muslim communities, too.”

I wish German leaders were able to speak with similar clarity. No prominent German would stand up now and say the same thing as unequivocally, despite some 7% of Germany’s 83 million residents being Muslim. A newspaper editor writes that—unfortunately—any Palestinian intellectual asked what they now think must first follow three rules: distance yourself from Hamas terrorism; prove you have nothing to do with the Israel boycott movement; and state you explicitly believe in Israel’s right to exist.

An estimated 200,000 Palestinians live in Germany, one-fifth of them in Berlin. An article captured the current confusion and ambivalence of Palestinian Germans. An 18-year-old: “It’s being discussed in Germany like all Palestinians support Hamas. That’s crazy—of course I find Hamas awful.” A 19-year-old says people write her on Instagram that they should take away Palestinians’ passports, not even let them into Germany. “I’m happy to discuss it with them, but it’s so exhausting.” She has decided to use social media only to share information from the United Nations or charities.

A 28-year-old says she worked as a teacher in the “difficult” areas of Berlin with a mixed population of migrants from many places, and saw how helpless the teachers were to deal with the realities of Palestinian schoolkids. “In the Middle East conflict there was no room in class for stories outside Germany; the focus was very much on Germany’s responsibility to Israel as the land of the perpetrators of the Shoah.”

In Tel Aviv last week President Biden said: “I caution this: While you feel that rage, don’t be consumed by it. After 9/11, we were enraged in the United States. … we also made mistakes.” Zeit author Lenz Jacobsen considers the passage an eloquent warning against self-righteous anger, and called attention to the damage that had arisen from stressing the “clash of civilizations.” He continued that, “Blanket bans of Palestinian demonstrations are wrong—even if some Hamas supporters yell out their anti-Semitic hate,” as is forbidding the wearing of keffiyehs at Berlin’s schools, since school should be a protected space. Yet, “in both cases, moderate positions are considered evil.”

And that’s what’s making me uncomfortable too: the self-righteousness, the lack of willingness to express the historical awareness that Palestinians have suffered greatly since the founding of the Israeli state, the kneejerk, “Never again anti-Semitism!” words that don’t acknowledge in the next breath that the situation is very complicated, that urging 700,000 poor people in northern Gaza to flee immediately so that their neighborhoods can be bombed is a terrible, immoral idea.

published in The Seattle Times, August 12, 2022

published in The Seattle Times, March 18, 2022

published in Exberliner, April, 2022

In 2020, like so many of us, I was thrown by the pandemic and lockdowns and wrote a couple of impassioned blog entries. My readers wrote me: “a super text,” “fantastic,” “I empathized,” “beautiful and thought-provoking,” “nuanced and thoughtful,” “a wonderful take on complex feelings,” “so eloquently written,” “as always, great writing and right on!” “open and multi-faceted,” “broadens horizons and adds depth to insights.”

My COVID blog

capturing voices from friends around the world in March and April 2020

COVID blog - Part 1
COVID blog - Part 2

I published my initial reactions in German as well: Berliner Gazette