What a fantastic time I had in Germany — adventures in learning behind the Iron Curtain. I learned a lot about Germany’s national hero, Martin Luther, and about the spirit of the German people — their music and scholarship and literature. I dined like a king and enjoyed the warmest hospitality you can imagine.
When it comes to Americans, German tourism has a tough row to hoe, what with two world wars and the Holocaust. But as I have written elsewhere, anyone who blames these tragedies on the people of Germany has sadly missed the point. America could and should have supported democracy in Germany after WWI and things might well have been different — but don’t ask me, ask George F. Kennan.
The only German most Americans know is, “Vast is lost?” which is what the German sentry says before the American commando garrots him. I confess that when I got some rather sharp orders at customs in the Frankfort Airport, it made me a little nervous, because in every movie I’d ever seen, anyone taking orders in German was in a very bad situation indeed.
Then there was the Cold War, when two superpowers came close to blowing the world to smithereens. We knew the freedom-loving people of West Germany would stand shoulder to shoulder with us against the freedom-hating Soviets, but the East Germans were something else again. It sounds so strange today, but people actually believed it.
Thankfully East Germany has disappeared into the mists of history, like North Vietnam, and now we can sit down to a great meal and a great beer and talk about the lessons of history. That’s progress, honest-to-goodness concrete evidence that the world is becoming a better place.
We had a luncheon with Dr. Reiner Haseloff, the Premier of Saxony-Anhalt, in what used to be East Germany, and he told us about listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival and John Lennon and Yoko Ono and Bob Dylan and learning that the times were a-changing. I look back to the time when I was taught to crawl under my desk in the event of nuclear war, and I get a warm satisfying feeling. The human race is moving inexorably forward.