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Europeans, raise your hands!

Lincoln sent me this link, a transcript of a speech by the German director Wim Wenders. There are a few quotes that ring true to me, but I'm not sure if I really get the point he's trying to make. If you're European and read this, what do you think? Is he right? (Read the whole thing, it's fast.)

"One has the impression
that Europe is a wreck, (...)
if you think back to the constitution disaster,
reflect on Europe's actual political influence
or on the lack of enthusiasm shown by its citizens
for "the European Cause" in recent times.
"The Europeans" have had it up to here with Europe...

On the other hand,
Europe is heaven on earth,
the promised land,
as soon as you look at it from the outside.
Over the last couple of months,
I have seen Europe from Chicago and New York,
from Tokyo and Rio,
from Australia,
from the heart of Africa, the Congo,
and, just last week, from Moscow.
I am telling you:
In each case, Europe appeared in a different light,
but always as paradise,
as a dream of mankind,
as a stronghold of peace, prosperity and civilization."

"Here in Berlin, I am German,
in the meantime with all my heart.
Yet, hardly do you set foot in America,
then you no longer say you are from Germany, France, Italy or wherever.
You come "from Europe," or you're about to return there.
For Americans, this epitomizes culture,
history, style, "savoir vivre."
It's the only thing they feel strangely inferior about.
Even rather permanently. "

I can relate to the transformation into European once you step outside, the lesser need to actually identify yourself as German or Italian or whatever. Why is that?

On the other hand I am also familiar with the Europeans' self-loathing (Ueberdruessigkeit waere das richtige Wort.). Why is that? Why is it commonly so unfashionable and childish to love our own culture? It seems some Europeans cannot kill traditional European culture fast enough, just look at the modern theater and music productions. Or let me say it this way: How much pig's blood on a canvas do we really need?

Posted at 11:10 AM on January 11, 2007

I don't know whether I get the point Wim Wenders is trying to make.His statements about Europe are right, to some extent. What I don't agree with is, that"Americans feel strangely inferior about culture,history,style,etc."One has to be very careful speaking generally about a nation of about 300 million people.I think,that our observations always have an objectively relative meaning although we often put them as absolute truths.In my eyes is the speech a display of Wim Wenders'controversial emotions and experiences.Seeing Europe as paradise of promised land is a poetic exaggeration/understandable from the Congo or Moscow perspective/.Europe,as any other human community,has its own problems to cope with.Imagine more than 450 million people in EU,who are not a monolithic nation/25 different nations are members of EU with their own autonomous governments,languages,culture,religion,etc.There are 506 translational combinations in EU headquarters in Brussels with more than 3500 interpreters and translators.Millions of pages of different documents are being translated/The EU was established to unite its nations and prevent new wars.The founders had a bright vision,but we are not living up to it yet.Unfortunately all EU nations are, in some sense,still permanent competitors,striving for national importance and material prosperity.Europe needs a soul-said our beloved late Holy father JPII.Everyone of us Europeans should try to get back to our Christian roots.Materialism and economic prosperity is way too weak ideal to free us from national enmities and self-loathing.European constitution desaster is a logical consequence of our interior emptiness and lack of orientation.We still benefit from our social security networks, organized poverty fight etc.,but hte question is ,how long?Yes, we are killing our traditional European culture very often,but not only through poor music productions and Hermann Nitsch's loathsome actions.We are killing our unborn children too.Apart from this general and discouraging analysis/which is relative, as I said before/,ther are still many Europeans who try hard to live up to their ideals,based on natural-divine law and don't lose hope that any,even so tiny,good deed will bear fruit.If all of us tried to engage more actively in promoting,supporting and doing good,we might see a brighter future.This is.probably, not the answerto Wim Wenders' whys;it is just my personal opinion on what we should do.

Posted by Baka at January 15, 2007 7:01 AM

Dinka... I wanted to come by to say hello and what I ended up doing is examining Europe through the lense of Wim Wenders (whose films I always find extremely thought-provoking, by the way). I read his essay through twice - once to myself and then outloud to my (German) husband. Much of what Wim Wenders says definitely strikes a chord with me. I do agree that the Europe we know and love has become an external image and has lost much of its internal soul. I do hope to see it return very soon! However, I think much of the western world in general has lost touch with its soul, I don't feel it is just a European phenomenon.

I am a sucker for images and how they can affect me. I do believe they are used as very powerful weapons, indeed! But I don't think that Europe is necessarily missing the boat any more than other western countries. Of course, I think Wim Wenders has higher expectations of Europe compared with many other countries in the western world. It is expected that America be the mess that it is. I do agree that we need Europe to get its act together, to help us find a moral foothold again and to pull us out of the rut we are in! If there is any place that can do this, it is Europe.

My personal view is that the entire western world has succumbed to fear... especially economic fear. I have noticed that each time we are in Germany, the voices of family, friends and the media are of a kind of economic doom and dread - programs being cut right an left and stories of people losing jobs and unable to find new ones.

When we are fearful of such things, the first to go (ironically) are the things that actually are most important for keeping us alive and full of spirit. Anything that has to do with the arts seems to fade away... funding disappears, the interest in such efforts seems to wane. People lose their joy of life when they are living with fear and have a hard time seeing beyond their front door.

This is one aspect in the US that hit me very strongly when I arrived back after time abroad. People were running acting like they were about to lose something. And this seems to have only gotten worse! Many of my coworkers work like there's no tomorrow because they are worried they might get laid off. Others because they want more money and can't wait to move up the ladder. They are working themselves to death, running after something larger than themselves. Not everyone does this but it is surprising how many feel they are on the edge of losing it all if they don't give 120% to their job every minute of the day - even on weekends! And yes, this used to be seen as an American phenomenon which I see more and more in the streets of Europe. How sad I am to see that these influences are the ones that are passed to Europe, not vice versa where Europe teaches us to slow down and smell the flowers now and then. When we were in Vienna, we saw shops are starting to sell espressos to go, something that every American is used to. What does this say about changes in the European way!

Ok, I know, I am digressing. In the end, I think that Wim Wenders' essay is essential to at least get us thinking and talking and waking up! A worldwide focus on economics on such a scale is so frightening to me. When the world is defined by economics alone, then our souls really are in big trouble.

Bloggers unite and bring back the soul of the world!! :-)

Posted by Corey at January 19, 2007 4:04 AM

Thank you for your thoughts. I thought there were more Europeans reading this site but APPARENTLY NOT (YES I AM TALKING TO YOU, MY SISTERS. TRAITORS.). Anyway, I agree with both of you. Corey, your comment about the coffee to go... no way. When I moved here I was a little stunned why everyone needed to have insulated cups with them at all times. Can't you got without coffee for half an hour? What fun is it to chug it down by yourself at your desk or running from office to office? But that's another post entirely. It is indicative though of a lack of appreciation for down time, or what the Romans would have called "otio" as opposed to "negotio".

(Yes, I did just drop some Latin in there.)

Posted by dinka at January 24, 2007 10:14 AM

gosh you guys are being so darned intellectual ...this coming from a very tired mommy now .. I'm sure you totally sympathize as you've just posted on sleepless nights and what that does to one's brains. So let me see whether I can think straight for a couple of minutes to write something semi-coherent on the topic of Europe. On Europe, you say. Since I live smack in the middle of Europe these days I've lost that macroscopic "Europe" identity that you're talking about. Also, I'm only half European, so maybe that has something to do with it.

While living in the US, I always found it extremely irritating to be thrown into the general "Europe" pot. There was a lot of talk about "those" Europeans, about "Eurocentrism" in arts and literature, and European "culture" in general. As if we're all the same, a unified culture and language. So I just wonder what that is supposed to be: "traditional European culture."

Maybe you have enough distance to Europe to be able to define it succincly, but if you asked me to do it, I really couldn't. Living smack in the middle of it makes me a bit blind to European culture, maybe ...

Posted by Alice at January 25, 2007 3:48 PM

Alice, I can see how reducing it all to "European" is unnerving. I had a similar experience.

On the other hand I found - like Wenders - when living in the US for a while that your European identity emerges, much more so than when you live in Europe. I would guess it's the distance, that makes all the borders and differences seem small and insignificant, or at the same time makes the the common traits of all Europeans suddenly stand out.

It's true Americans tend to throw it all under one big term, but then again, I'm willing to claim that there are some fundamental differences between "American" and "European" and so the generalization isn't always out of place.

Posted by dinka at February 1, 2007 7:00 PM