We’ve had friends visiting from Munich for a few days. This weekend, I offered them an improvised historical walking tour of central Philadelphia.
We wended our way through Independence Square, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Fairmount Park, and my beloved Rittenhouse Square. We stopped there for cheesesteaks—from a street cart, the way Betsy Ross intended—and ate them while listening to buskers and political protesters. At various points, our guests seemed especially interested in Philadelphia’s public monuments, particularly our battalion of statues.
As we headed back toward the car, we passed yet another cluster of Founding Fathers iconography: tributes to Thomas Jefferson, this time seemingly out of nowhere.
Conversation ensued. I think it had been brewing for a while.
Let me tell you, it really focuses the mind when a German observes that your society seems unusually susceptible to hero-worship.
In this short video, Katharina Matro, a high school teacher who works in Maryland but grew up in Germany, reflects on the benefits of confronting hard truths about the national past. The video was recorded for the American Historical Association’s “Teaching History with Integrity” project.
Matro refers in this video to a great line in the 2020 memorial address by Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the president of Germany: “This country can only be loved with a broken heart.”
Today marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of V-E Day, when German armed forces surrendered, ending World War II in Europe. Public celebrations in various countries have been dampened by the pandemic.
You should definitely take fifteen minutes of your day to listen to this extraordinary address (dubbed in English) by Germany’s current president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
We had made enemies of the entire world. Today, seventy-five years later, we are forced to commemorate alone. But the difference is, we are no longer alone. And that is the happy truth of the present day. …
It has taken us three generations to admit it whole-heartedly. 8 May 1945 was indeed a day of liberation. But at the same time, the vast majority of Germans did not perceive it as such. … This country had descended too far into the evil and the guilt. …
It is a struggle, though, that continues to this day. A remembrance can never end. There can be no deliverance from our past. For without remembrance, we lose our future. …
This country can only be loved with a broken heart.