never really felt Jewish. Even when I lived in Idaho,
among Mormons, political extremists, Christian Identity
fanatics, neo-Nazis and militia members who believe in
the existence of the ZOG, the Zionist Occupation Government
that secretly runs America, I still felt American. Even
when a few of those fanatics actually burned a cross on
the front lawn of the only rabbi in town.
of the reasons I moved to Europe in 1998 was I no longer
wanted to feel American. I wanted to feel off-balance,
foreign, like my life had a more difficult purpose than
deciding which mall to shop at. I was high on self-transformation
which, ironically, is the most American of dreams and
desires. In many ways to leave America is the most American
thing an American can do.
four years as an expatriate, Ive discovered the
most dangerous illusion you can hold is that you can fit
into another country, another culture. Believe me, Ive
tried. Ive lived in a Swiss ski resort, the 11th
arrondissment of Paris, a 16th century apartment on the
Grand Canal in Venice, a house among the vineyards and
olive trees of a small Italian village and now a town
in Germany in an area some of the worst members of the
Nazi party called home. You can imagine my reaction to
seeing the Mengele Brothers moving van racing down the
A8 autobahn on its way to Gunzburg. Youd think the
family would at least have had the good taste to change
its name, like the Hitlers did.
Culture is a result of language, history and tradition.
As Americans we can learn languages, we can study history
and even to some extent try to understand traditions,
but we can never really fit in. Walking through the drunken
crowds during the Fasching carnival celebration here in
February, I thought: I will never look good in lederhosen
and an Alpine hat. Never. My friend Bill Grim had a great
time, however. "Germans in funny costumes,"
he laughed. "Some things never change."
is a time-bound and time-honored tradition in Europe.
A thousand years of persecution and pogroms do not evaporate
out of the air overnight. In Venice, theres the
old ghetto. In Rome, theres the old ghetto. In Paris,
theres the old ghetto. In Prague, theres the
old ghetto. Constant reminders of a long past of Euro-Christian
hatred, reminders that dont exist in the good old
US of A.
written here before about my experiences with anti-Semitism
in Europebut the point I want to make here is that
after four years abroad I feel more American than ever.
In Germany, I truly feel like an outsider. A Jewish outsider.
not so much incidents of anti-Semitism as an entire cultural
and historical force field. You start noticing the little
things, like the Mengele Brothers moving van. Or a magazine
article about fun things to do in Dachau (seems the concentration
camp gives an otherwise pleasant town a bad name). Or
the fact that to rent the DVD of Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph
of the Will you have to be a foreigner (if youre
German you need a letter from a professor giving you permission
to watch it). Not to mention actually watching Triumph
of the Will here. Thats surrealism, folks.
the look in peoples eyes when they ask if youre
Catholic or Evangelisch (Protestant) and instead of saying
"neither" or "Im a Buddhist,"
just for the reaction you say, "No, Im Jewish."
The flare of the pupils and that pause. Or going out with
German girls. Jewish men have always been abnormally attracted
to shiksas, non-Jewish women. Read any Philip Roth novel.
Watch The Heartbreak Kid. Or Carnal Knowledge. Or any
Woody Allen film. Seinfeld called it "shiksappeal";
I call it trouble with a capital T.
then again, Im a shiksaholic and German girls are
the ur-shiksas. My god, all these tall, blonde, blue-eyed
Frauen striding down the strassen, sitting in the cafés,
calling out like the Rheinmaidens to Alberich. When I
mention that Im Jewish theres the flare of
the pupils, that pause. Theres the temptation. Something
taboo. Something dangerous. Something circumcised. Sixty
years ago their grandfathers in the Einsatzkommando would
have shot me. Now their granddaughters date me. Talk about
a scene in Free Enterprise, a fine but little-seen film
about Mark and Robert, two Jewish filmmakers who grow
up obsessed with Captain Kirk (as another character in
the film says "all the great starship captains are
Jewish"). Mark is trying to score with a blonde German
actress-model-whatever; when he makes his move she stops
I think its a little too soon for me.
Given what your people did to my people during World War
II, Id consider a little kissing and breast fondling
minor reparations at best.
Theres the flare of her pupils, that pause... then
she grabs him, throws him to the floor and starts date-raping
is not fiction. Ive had this experience many times.
Take Ines, for example. I met her at a three-day language
seminar I was doing for Nokia. Tall and thin, honey-blond
hair corkscrewed like fusilli, but brown eyes, not blue.
She flirted with me but also let me know she lived with
her boyfriend Jörg, a dentist. A dentist! The ultimate
in comfort, safety and a large income. Nevertheless, we
decided to meet after the seminar for drinks. She talked
on and on about how monotonous and boring and unhappy
her life was, but she remained cold. I mentioned I was
Jewish. Our first kiss in her car that night lasted nearly
half an hour. There followed a four-month affair during
which she actually left Jörg the dentist. She moved
into her own apartment, and like Charles Grodin in The
Heartbreak Kid, I thought I had it made.
a hot German girlfriend (in German, eine heisse biene,
literally a "hot bee") perhaps even I could
fit in! A member of the hive! But the idea of a Catholic
German girl spending her future with an American Jewish
writer, albeit a passionate future no German dentist could
supply, was simply too culturally out there. As Rainer
Maria Rilke once wrote:
it is not inertia alone that is responsible for human
relationships repeating themselves from case to case,
indescribably monotonous and unrenewed; it is shyness
before any sort of new, unforeseeable experience with
which one does not think oneself able to cope."
take to change the way cats take to water. One night I
received a four-page breakup emailin German. I can
tell you none of those Internet translation programs are
worth a damn.
off-center, one toe in the cultural pool, nine toes out,
you notice the little things about your own culture as
well. For example, Ive discovered that nearly every
single American Jewish filmmaker inserts a small satirical
scene in their films, skewering the Germans for their
Nazi past. Im not just talking about the obvious
examples, like Woody Allen or Mel Brooks (although the
actor dressed as Hitler in Blazing Saddles who says "yeah,
they lose me right after the bunker scene" is priceless).
This "tradition" started with Stanley Kubricks
BUCK TURGIDSON: Strangelove. What kind of a name is that
anyhow? Kraut name is it?
He changed it when he became a citizen. Used to be Merkwürdigliebe.
BUCK TURGIDSON: A Kraut by any other name...
The tradition continues, nearly forty years later. This
scene from the Coen brothers The Big Lebowski, for
example, which takes place after the Dude has been attacked
in the bathtub by a group of marmot-wielding Germans:
Fucking Germans. Nothing changes. Fucking Nazis.
DONNY: They were Nazis, Dude?
Oh come on, Donny, they were threatening castration. Are
we going to split hairs here?
They were Nihilists, man. They kept saying they believe
Nihilists. Fuck me. I mean, say what you want about the
tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least its
this little gem from Trey Parker and Matt Stones
South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut. Kyle, Stan and Cartman
log onto a German scheisse video website:
GERMAN PORN ACTOR: Essen meine scheisse.
Click it off, dude, click it off! Dude, what the fuck
is wrong with German people?
can tell you from experience that Germans do not see the
humor in these things.
an old Jewish joke about a man in the Berlin ghetto after
the Nazis have come to power. Hes walking down the
street one day, reading Der Sturmer, the Nazi propaganda
newspaper. Another man walks up to him and says, "What
are you, crazy? Why are you reading that?" And the
first man replies, "Well, according to this were
all millionaires who secretly control the world..."
is truly the Jewish revenge on the German attempt to exterminate
us. People often ask me why I live in Germany. There is
a simple answer: it is the only country in Europe that
will grant work visas to Americans. But theres a
more complex answer as well. Its the joy of playing
the soundtrack to The Producers at full blast, or walking
down the street humming the slow movement from Haydns
Emperor Quartet (a.k.a. "Deutschland Über Alles"),
or reading Daniel Goldhagens Hitlers Willing
Executioners in a crowded café. And yes, dating
ur-shiksas. Especially dating ur-shiksas.
the knowledge that sixty years ago I couldnt have
lived here. Even now, there are still strong feelings
of discomfort, of rejection, of not fitting in, of never
being able to belong to a culture that really doesnt
want someone like me as a member. I will never be Der
Man auf der Strasse.
I wouldnt want it any other way.