Just a few months ago the media was filled with headlines about the rise of anti-Semitism in Germany and the rest of Europe. Then in the past month the headlines switched to a quite different set of messages. A recent survey of 20,000 people in 20 countries found that Germany tops the USA as the world’s favorite country and just last week I learned that among 1800 cities, Berlin was named the most fun city in the world. The revelry over the 25 year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, trumpeting modern Germany’s free and democratic character, was an added flourish to the favorable image the media disseminated to global observers.
How can we make sense from this hodgepodge stew of news bytes that yank our thoughts and feelings in such opposing directions? If we are living in a new dark era of danger, then why are global fun-seekers flocking to German bars, clubs, museums, and shops? Why do I continue to hear from readers who are eager to have their German citizenship restored?
There have always been ebbs and flows of anti-Semitism and other forms of extremism in Germany and they naturally correlate with major events such as last summer’s Gaza conflict. But that does not mean that Jews in Germany face the same threats of persecution as in earlier eras or that, as Maxim Biller recently claimed in Tablet Magazine and Die Zeit, “all anti-Semitism is the same.” There is ample documentation that Germany has become a more tolerant society, such as one recent study which found that “acceptance of anti-Semitic statements….dropped significantly, from 8.6 to 3.2 percent.” Yes, it is a fragile tolerance that may become strained as a result of various social and economic pressures, but this is nothing unusual for an advanced democratic society.
Sorting through the mixed messages from the media can be a challenge, which is why I tell people to come to Germany and see what it is like for themselves. Whether or not you decide Germany is your favorite country or Berlin is the most fun city in the world, you will probably have a lot of fun and find many reasons to celebrate.