Friday, October 03, 2008

A taste of German unity: cheap. Certainly cheaper than the real thing.

It's the Tag der deutschen Einheit today, on which Germans mark ('celebrate' might be too strong a word) their reunification in 1990.

We dealt with it typically low-key style, which meant sleeping in a bit, taking an afternoon walk through the vineyards and treating ourselves to some nice Butterstrudel from the local bakery.

It also made me think of a moment from our recent French road trip. We had just left our friends in Carcassonne and had stopped by one of those ubiquitous French hypermarchés to stock up on diesel, baguettes and cheese for the long trip up to the Normandy coast.

I spotted one of those little machines that you might remember from your childhood: you put in some money, turn a dial, and out pops either some kind of candy or a junky toy-like thing encased in a little plastic dome. I used to love these things.

Anyway, what caught my attention was one of the excellent treats you could get -- if you were lucky -- for a measly 50 euro cents.

Notice it?

Yes, it's that curious little button in sky blue with the German flag on it.

Quelle bizarre!

Now, beyond thinking that this was an odd addition to a selection of what looked basically like a bunch of cheap -- and possibly toxic -- Chinese-made fake jewellery for children (no other flags were visible), I considered something else.

Just what, do you think, would run through the mind of the French child who, having parted with their precious 50 cents, turns the dial, opens the plastic dome and is confronted with the black-red-gold banner of their eastern neighbour?

Are they happy? Disappointed? Merely bewildered?

I don't know.

But sitting here on the Day of German Unity (in what a German friend of ours called 'the Germanest part of Germany'), I sort of wish I'd been willing to part with 50 cents.

Who knows, I might have gotten lucky.


headbang8 said...

These machines are filled with the cheapest tschotschke the owners can find. Usually, these things are left over, unsellable anywhere else.

With the unspoken taboo against Germans displaying any signs of nationalism, it doesn't surprise me that a brace of German flag pins should languish in a warehouse.

After the 2006 World Cup, though, a groundswell of national pride seems to be emerging, however slowly. More sentimental than chauvinistic, this low-key pride strikes me as healthy. Finally, Germans may be overcoming the shame of their past.

Kris said...

Does anybody celebrate it? It seems a long way from the party time that it seemed (from this side of the world) in 1989!

J. Carter Wood said...

We're on the road (again, but only briefly this time...more details soon) so no real time to reply coherently.

But thanks for both your messages.

Kris: 'celebration' would probably go too far, but I think that the day does have some meaning for most Germans. Though I can't say that I've really heard anyone here talk about it...other than as a day off.

This being Germany, there are no 'German Unity Day sales' along the lines that you find in America for, say, Memorial Day.

Headbang: Nice to hear from you. I agree that a kind of low-key national pride is becoming more acceptable in Germany. And I also think that this is not a bad thing.

Otherwise, they may have to depend on sentimental ex-pat Americans to do their patriotism thing for them.

And outsourcing patriotism is a step too far in terms of globalisation...