German Of The Day: Heile Welt

Heile Welt

To grasp this trauma (the refugee crisis) it helps to understand the German zeitgeist that developed (mainly in the former West Germany) in the post-war years, and lingered in the reunited country. Germans call it Heile Welt. The term means something like “wholesome world”, and describes an orderly, idyllic state. It may connote the nurturing environment parents create for their children to protect them from life’s ugliness, or a private oasis of peace amid public chaos. It was a state of mind that Germans clung to after the second world war…

Foreigners were allowed into this Heile Welt, but not entirely accepted. To man its assembly lines, Germany invited workers from southern Europe and especially Turkey. The millionth arrived in 1964 and got a motorcycle as a gift. By the time the programme ended in 1973, 4m foreigners lived in West Germany. But they were called “guest workers” rather than immigrants, on the premise that they would ultimately leave again. Unsurprisingly, most stayed. Yet mainstream Germany continued to see itself as ethnically homogenous—a Heile Welt in a tribal sense…

Gnomic wisdom: Some Germans react by fleeing into ever tinier Heile Welten. “We are becoming ever more like our garden gnomes.”

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