75 years ago, the world sighed in relief. After six gruesome years and over 70 million lost lives, World War II was finally over. May 8, 1945, marked both the end of a ruthless regime and the war in Europe. The Allied Forces had brought the German Wehrmacht to its knees, and at 11:01 p.m., the war in Europe was officially over. In the U.S. and the UK, the day is celebrated as “Victory in Europe Day,” and for decades, May 8 (and in some cases May 9) has been a holiday in various European countries – but not in Germany. However, for its 75th anniversary, the Day of Liberation has been declared a one-time holiday in Berlin.
was late in June 2015. I was on a trip through the southern United States and decided to take a quick detour to explore the area around South Carolina’s statehouse in the city of Columbia. Here, only a few days earlier, Brittany (“Bree”) Newsome, had scaled a 30-foot flagpole to take down the Confederate flag, an act that had captured national and international media headlines. This incident was one of several notable recent flashpoints in the culture wars that rage over issues of historic commemoration.
2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that granted American women the right to vote. That is certainly reason to celebrate! But before you break open a bottle of sparkling wine, let’s review a few facts so we can put that momentous achievement into context for our readers less familiar with U.S. history.
Suffrage, the right to vote, was not extended to women at the same time it was granted to blacks in 1870. The first formal attempt to pass an amendment for woman suffrage – and there would be many – was introduced in 1878. For the next 40 years, that amendment was put to a vote in each session of Congress. Yes, 40 years! Let that sink in for a while…. Then, in 1918, the 19th Amendment finally passed the House and the Senate in the following year and was ratified on August 26, 1920. But these are just a few of the details:
After that long struggle, however, many women did not actually take advantage of their right to vote in the 1920 and 1924 elections. Apparently, they thought they already had achieved equal rights. Does that sound familiar? It should. It is exactly what some of the people who oppose the Equal Rights Amendment are saying in 2020.
“Today we are laying the cornerstone of the American Memorial Library. It is to be open to all who desire to enter and learn what men of all nations and all beliefs have thought and written. It is the freedom to learn, to study, to seek the truth. This is the essence of a free society. This is the source of our greatest strength.”
It’s the year 1952 – a hot June day in West Berlin. The city’s mayor, Ernst Reuter; U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John McCloy; and American Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, are laying the cornerstone for the first American public library in Germany, the Amerika Gedenkbibliothek (American Memorial Library). In his speech, Acheson not only gives hope to the people of Berlin – who live in a divided city after a horrendous war – he also delivers a message that is perhaps more topical than ever.
Ask any Native Studies scholar in Europe, and they will be well aware of the European fascination with Native peoples of North America – a fascination that can be traced back to the novels of 19th century writer Karl May who furthered the noble savage stereotype. The preeminent scholar for Native Studies, Hartmut Lutz, even coined a term for it: Indianthusiasm. When we heard about the 8th Indianer Inuit Festival in Stuttgart from February 6-9, 2020, two questions came to mind: Would this Indianthusiasm come to life or be deconstructed at the festival? And is “Indianer” even a term that should still be used in German-speaking countries?
So we packed our bags and took the 5½-hour train ride from Lüneburg to Stuttgart to investigate. The festival’s program was quite extensive, encompassing documentaries, short films, feature films, children’s films, and music videos produced and directed by Indigenous artists from North America and beyond. Apart from visiting the film screenings, we also encountered fascinating people who gave us an inkling of the impressive variety of contemporary Native artistic expression.
“[This] again proves my theory that Germans love David Hasselhoff,” concludes Norm Macdonald on his Saturday Night Live segment “Weekend Update” in the early 90s. The crowd roars with laughter, the punchline has become a favorite among them for quite a while. “Those silly Germans,” Macdonald’s eyes seems to say.
Over twenty years later, the joke might not be remembered but the sentiment certainly persists. Many Germans complain on their travel blogs about getting asked about “The Hoff” while traveling around the USA. Some of them barely know who he is. Indeed, today’s young adults might only faintly remember Hasselhoff for running around in red shorts, talking to cars, and having his drunken misdemeanors captured on camera. This has not always been the case.
During the 1980s, both of Hasselhoff’s shows, Knight Rider and Baywatch, were largely celebrated in Germany. That is to say, not only in Germany. Baywatch was exported into 144 countries with over a billion people worldwide sitting in front of their TVs every week. His shows featured elements that were exciting for German viewers: futuristic technology and attractive young actors in very little clothing on sunny beaches. “The Hoff” consequently made his way into German magazines for teens – like Bravo and Mädchen – but so did John Travolta and Patrick Swayze. What made Hasselhoff so different?