I've Never Had a

I've Never Had a "Why" to Travel to Germany... until Now.

by Kenneth Rayman on May 2, 2019

This video was a random YouTube recommendation and, curious, I clicked. The song gave me a narrative exploration for Germany that I'd like to explore. Before, I'd always said I wasn't interested particularly in seeing Germany because of the argument, "oh, you're of German descent so you should want to automatically see it." Not necessarily, in my eyes. I'm quick to say it's not an ancestral grudge regarding the scarlet mark my heritage has on history, it's a matter of not having a "why" to visit.

I immediately assumed the band were German, yet they're Swedish, and further digging showed their niche to be writing music to educate and paint stories of bravery in major battles or of bravery in historical events overall. My curiosity was piqued, however; what is the German education of that period like? Germany, I know from passing, has undertaken massive efforts to distance itself from the Third Reich but also knows they will never be fully forgiven. I remember the controversy, years back, with Germany pledging UN peacekeeping support in the war between Israel and Lebanon, only for it raise questions of German boots on Israeli soil in a haunting legacy of World War 2.

When I first learned of the battleship's history, I was young enough that some things were out of my comprehension. Nazi Germany was the bad guy in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" yet I also knew it was a real historical entity, but nothing else. I was exposed to the Bismarck story through "Exploring the Bismarck," a book by oceanographer Robert Ballard, about Robert's search for the ship wreck, it's exploration, it's lore as the mighty ship of the German fleet (particularly after the HMS Hood's sinking), but also the survivors' stories of their shipboard experience and of their rescue after it's sinking.

Once again, I had a story behind the story view through veterans that nowadays hold little to no animosity towards the other. As I said in my article on my Majdanek visit, it doesn't change what happened nor is it meant to, but the story was different through another lens.

I rolled my eyes at the asinine comments like "The British are hearing Boss level music," a video game reference to the Hood's sinking. I remember seeing the photo of the Hood's crew, reading the caption that only three from the photo survived, unable to fathom that reality as a child. I moved on rather than giving those comments the satifaction of my attention.

Shortly after listening, I found James Cameron's 2002 documentary on his visit to the Bismarck site, which told more of the soldiers' story from a standpoint of total respect regardless of nationality, without the political narrative of time playing into anything. I was emotionally moved to hear them read the inscription of the plaque they laid at the site honoring the fallen, both British and German, of the Battle of the Atlantic in English and German. Then, one of the Bismarck survivors said a personal respectful message to his fallen comrades, making it even more emotional. For me, it signified an attempt to move beyond collective responsibility to personal healing between nationalities, while avoiding the overarching narrative that will never be forgiven.

In short, the song gave me a question to ponder and the documentary gave a narrative to investigate should I get to go to Germany. How has Germany persevered with the eternal mark of scorn upon them? What is the personal side of Germany beyond the narrative they will always be known for in the global consciousness?

James Cameron's 2002 documentary, "Expedition: Bismarck"