Tom Vater

Tom Vater

Irreverent, informed and downright eclectic crime fiction and reportage from Southeast Asia and beyond

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Southern Germany – Land of Smiles vs. France – Land of Gypsies

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Southern Germany is conservative and a bit too far away from the real world for my liking, but while people look pretty stiff and sullen on the street, they are friendly, noticably so after a trip around Europe.

Tried to get a tram from Mannheim to Heidelberg a while back and had no change for the machine. The driver got out of the tram and, after inspecting the ticket machine and ascertaining that we (three people) did indeed not have enough cash, suggested we ride with him for a few stops, until the tram reached a stop where a more sophisticated cash machine would allow us to buy tickets. A few stations on, he helped purchase the tickets. The tram had by this time reached a different ticket zone, which saved us several Euros. The driver probably broke countless rules and laws to get us on board. A few stops later, the shift changed and the driver left the train, smiling like Bruce Willis at the end of Armageddon. An everyday rebel with a cause?

A few stops on, an old man who looked half mad, tried to lift a hopelessly overloaded wheelbarrow-type contraption onto the tram. Well, he would have tried, had he been able to open the doors of the carriage he was standing in front of. Next to the carriage door, a group of young  street kids of Turkish origin, aged between 14 and 16, sat on a bench, dressed in track suits, heads shaved or nearly shaved, sharing a cigarette. When the boys realized the old man wasn´t going to make it, they jumped up, got the door opened, climbed into the carriage, heaving the wheelbarrow in after them, and made sure the old man had time to stumble up the stairs to a seat, before they skipped back onto the platform to return to their loafing.

Interesting observations, at a time when a high profile representative of the establishment, one of the heads of the German Bundesbank, Thilo Sarrazin, spews out racist vitriol against Muslims in a recent book entitled Deutschland schafft sich ab (A pun that has two meanings – Germany is working itself to death and Germany is getting rid of itself), in which he paints an all too familiar vision of a Europe overrun by Islamic hordes with low IQs.

While the German chancellor has criticized Sarrazin’s devisive rethoric, he is still out there, running around in a pin stripe suit, doing the chat shows, making the world a grimier place. Not that the Turkish kids at the tram station would have ever heard of him. They are hardly educated enough to read the paper, a fact that aforementioned bank manager Sarrazin has taken to heart and lists as a reason to stop the immigration of Muslims to Germany.

For once, lack of education appears to be of use. Young Turks are unlikely to come across the type of hate speech this wayward representative of Germany´s elite is promoting.  More recently Sarrazin has claimed that Jews are 15 % more intelligent than other people because of the selective culling of their fellow people in Europe in recent centuries. Far right politicians across Europe are applauding, and the international media is having a field day, but perhaps not for long. Times are changing and hatred of people different from one´s own community is no longer the (in any case imagined) monopoly of Germans.

While Thilo Sarrazin is breaking taboos that are well beyond their shelf life in Germany (we should stop stopping people spouting nonsense about Jews) and might actually do the country a favor with his outlandish missives, Germany´s elite has pulled its socks up and is in the process of ousting the aging firebrand. The widespread support for Sarrazin´s paranoias amongst sections Germany´s population is another matter.

For now though, the battle for Fortress Europe continues across the border in France where diminutive President Sarkozy is doing his best to offend reasonably minded people with his forced deportations of gypsies. Perhaps the French President should take a lesson in tolerance from friendly Germany. That might reduce the number of cars set on fire by kids in the Paris Banlieue every night. Alternatively, Sarkozy’s wife Carla Bruni might want to offer Thilo Sarrazin a French passport. Who knows, it might strengthen ties between the two neighbors.


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