by Bruce Bawer
A dispatch from Vienna.
I've always enjoyed being in German-speaking cities, even though my German isn't what it used to be (and wasn't even much back then), and even though it's hard not to be reminded, now and then, of, well, you know. In Germany, to be sure, they go out of their way to remind you of that unpleasant interval from 1939 to 1945, filling their cities with hideous examples of what you might call the architecture of atonement – brutalist eyesores that we're supposed to perceive as heartfelt proclamations of sincere Holocaust remorse. At the same time, however, paradoxical though it may sound, they're determined to put their past behind them.
And behind you, too. In Berlin, that once gray but increasingly shiny city, you get the distinct impression that the inhabitants desperately want to pretend that the world was reborn anew after World War II and that a dynamic, hyper-contemporary Deutschland, its sins washed entirely clean by all those flagrant public gestures of apology for Auschwitz, is leading us all into a post-national, post-historical utopia, hoisting the EU banner aloft and singing Beethoven's Ode to Joy in joyful chorus. Yes, if you're visiting Berlin, by all means do your duty by wandering around that dreary landscape of stone near the Brandenburg Gate that purportedly memorializes the dead of the Shoah – but then get your ass out of there, head down the Eberstraße, and start shopping like crazy at the high-end boutiques of ultra-glitzy Potsdamerplatz.
Vienna, where I am right now, is of course a German-speaking city, but it's different in key ways from Berlin – or, for that matter, from any burg I know in Germany. Like Rome (also a Catholic capital), Vienna has a feel of being utterly at ease with its history, its cultural heritage, and its national identity. Around the corner from where I'm staying is a shop crammed with immense early nineteenth-century portraits of Austrian aristocrats. In the front window of a nearby chocolatier is a big poster of a court painting of the same period. And a local taproom is decorated with framed photographs of Franz Josef-era military officers. All over town, national, but not EU, flags abound – the opposite of Germany.
These differences make sense. They can be traced, in part, to the fact that after the war, the Allies treated Germany as a vanquished enemy but Austria as an innocent land that had been the Nazis' first conquest. The fact that most Austrians cheered the Anschluss, that many fought in the Wehrmacht, and that Hitler was one of them, born and bred, was delicately overlooked. Hence Germans born after the war grew up saddled with guilt – which is why so many of them hate their flag, adore the EU, and continue to embrace the self-destructive immigration policies pursued by the soon-to-retire Frau Merkel. If Germans seem even more prepared than other Western Europeans to accept Muslim “refugees” at a well-nigh suicidal rate, I suspect it's because, on some level, they want to turn their Bundesrepublik as fast as possible into something as different from the Third Reich as possible, even if it spells their own doom – and their children's and grandchildren's.
When Germans and Austrians are compared, Austria doesn't always come off better. Vienna-born Walter Slezak, who became a Hollywood character actor (cf. Hitchcock's Lifeboat), said that Germans had been Nazis once, but that Austrians still were Nazis and always would be. Was he right? Or was he just baring some childhood wound? Yes, the Austrians did elect a former Nazi, Kurt Waldheim, as their president – but, then again, the nations of the world installed that same Kurt Waldheim as Secretary-General of the UN. Kurz has been smeared mercilessly by the left, but nowadays what brings the Nazis to mind in these parts isn't Kurz's strict views on immigration but the reckless arrogance of Merkel, the sinister muscle-flexing by European Muslim leaders, and the ever-burgeoning tyranny of Brussels.
Granted, fond as I am of Germany and Austria, every time I run afoul of some surly service worker in this part of the world, my first thought is inevitably: yes, I can see this one as a concentration-camp guard. I was going to add, “At least the Austrians don't have that Prussian stiffness,” but then I realized that Hitler didn't, either. Look at casual snapshots of him: he doesn't have that starchy, rigidly tucked-in look perfected, then as now, by real Germans. At times he even looks kind of rumpled. Indeed, one thing that hits you while walking the streets of Vienna is that none of these people look even remotely like the tall, glamorous blonds whom Hitler prized as Aryan archetypes – and whom Leni Riefenstahl captured by the thousands on celluloid. In fact, while such Hitler Youth types are quite thick on the ground in Scandinavia and the Netherlands, the average Viennese guy today, in height, build, hair color, and facial features, falls into pretty much the same category as the Führer himself.
But that's neither here nor there. Nor is the fact that, judging by several meals at well-reviewed eateries, the Wiener schnitzel in the city that gave it its name isn't nearly as good as what you can get at the Munich train station. (By the same token, New York pizza beats Rome pizza by a mile.) The point I want to close with is that, judging by what I've read and seen and, yes, felt in recent days on the streets of Vienna, this is a city whose people cherish their culture and history – with that one mammoth exception – and who are definitely not on board with the project by other Western European countries to surrender to the imams. Which, needless to say, is something to cheer.
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