The historical amnesia is stunning. This morning, buying a sandwich on a sunny square in Nuremberg, I had a dialogue with a friendly baker who told me that everything I knew about Estland was wrong. This started when I announced that I lived in Estland, although I am a New Yorker, expecting some kind of European comradery, and instead was met with big eyes and "Strasvoitye" or however the hell this well-known Russian greeting is rendered in the Latin alphabet.
"No, no. That's Russland," I told the baker, "not Estland." "Yes, but they are all speaking Russian in Estland," she told me. "No, they speak Estonian in Estland. It's like Finnish." "Oh, yes, they spoke that long ago, but now everybody speaks Russian," she answered. "No, I live there, trust me, most people speak Estonian," I continued. "Well," the baker harrumphed and put her hands on her hips. "That's not what I learned in school. I learned that they all speak Russian." "But they don't. They actually have a lot of German words in Estonian, kviitung, kassa, treppe ..." "That's not what my teacher told me," the baker fired back. "Kuulge, kui te tahate ma võiks rääkida teiega eesti keeles," I shouted over the counter. That really frightened her and she sort of waved me away back out into the square.
It's funny because the Rathausplatz in Nuremberg looks a lot like the Raekoja plats in Tallinn. Here, I am reminded of the anecdote about the German who booked his flight to Estonia in anticipation of visiting some kind of little Russia and was disappointed upon landing to find himself still in Germany. But the Germans don't seem to know these things, and this begs the question, who wrote the post-war history books in Germany? In an effort to expunge all imperial urges from the German national character, were all mentions of the German people's historical legacy in the east cleansed from local memory?
Modern Germans may not know a lot about Estland, but they seem to know a lot about football. Last night's football/soccer game -- Germany versus Greece -- had the aura of some ancient war. The national anthems were played and the cameras slowly panned across the faces of the brave warriors who had come to battle over national pride by kicking a ball around on a field. The squares of Nuremberg were thronged by people wearing patriotic garb watching screens positioned outside of every bar, including a large screen in one particular square where tents were set up to provide the masses with their choice of alcoholic beverage. Each time the ball came close to the Greeks' goal, the crowd gasped and some even began to cry, only to let out a disappointing sigh when the ball was kicked beyond the goal into the crowds.
This reminded me of the time I fell asleep watching Italy play Brazil in the summer of 1995 and woke up an hour later and the score was still 0-0. An exciting game that was. Yet, eventually Germany did score, and then Greece scored, and it was a game. "There's a political element to this game," a friend yelled in my ear. "The Germans are pissed at the Greeks because of the crisis, and the Greeks are pissed at the Germans because of the terms of the bailout," he said. "But the Greeks are a bunch of lazy pieces of shit," he went on. "They sit around and smoke and eat stuffed grape leaves and then expect to retire at fifty with a nice fat pension. Well, that's not going to happen anymore ..."
I'm not sure if the rest of the Germans on the square felt the same way, but there was no shortage of national pride each time they scored. My God. The close ups on the sweaty faces of the players, the hair in their eyes, like Henry V's bloodied men at Agincourt. And then there was that woman dancing around on the sidelines who I was convinced was an impersonator of Angela Merkel until my friend informed me that it was actually the Chancellor. She was in on it too, every dance another thousand votes locked up for the next election. Look at Angie go!
This is it how Germans do nationalism these days. They are too busy winning football matches to worry about who speaks what language in Estland. If their high school teacher told them that everyone in Estland speaks Russian in 1988, well, it must be so, actual person who lives in Estland telling them otherwise right in front of their face in 2012 be damned. And there is a sort of unquestioning rigidness in the German character that perplexes me, this odd tick that makes them believe their teacher over the man in the store, or follow rules simply because they are rules. But who is making these rules, eh? Is it the same chap who's been writing these history books? Tell me please, oh Nuremberg baker woman. Who is this faceless Saxon pied piper that so many so enthusiastically follow?