STORIES BEYOND BORDERS: 6. Dancing Words ii. Dancing in Diaspora

(Presented between 22nd March and 1st April 2005 at York University, U of T, McMaster University, University of Waterloo, Queen’s University, Ontario, Canada; “Multiculturalism and Cultural Production in Contemporary Germany”)

ii. Dancing in Diaspora

In his 1998 study of the Germans in Shanghai, Werner Noll[1] describes the cultural crisis they experienced, noting that ‘minorities placed in a culturally very different setting mostly feel more nationalist than a majority population in its own country’. He’s quite right. But this ‘nationalist feeling’ can mean all sorts of different things. Someone can feel ‘nationalist’ in taking pride in the values and cultural achievements of their homeland. But foreigners in foreign lands tend to think all too highly of their homeland and in their alien-ness they may wish to present their inherited culture as superior to that of the others around them. It can indeed happen that a minority retreats into a defensive shelter behind their pride and their sense of superiority. Stories and memoirs provide interesting witnesses of the ways in which colonizing minorities lived among the native populations.

Shanghai was not actually a German colony, but this pressure to express one’s culture was strongly felt there. Noll reports: ‘When my father came to Shanghai in 1925, there was already a German community with its own infrastructure: the German gardening club, the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Schule, a German kindergarten, and standing outside the German church, a memorial to the German gun-boat ‘Iltis’, which had been sunk near Qingdao before the turn of the century, where wreaths were laid in a solemn ceremony on Heroes Day. ‘(…) we lived well, as did most of the other Germans and foreigners. (…) It went without saying that anyone who lived in a house, as distinct from an apartment, had a flagpole with their national flag flying from it.’

But things are quite different when, as now, people have to flee to the economically stable countries, coming from regions where their cultural achievements and their cultural diversity are threatened by the terrors of totalitarian regimes or civil war. Forced to leave their homeland behind, seeking a refuge in a strange society, they are bound to endure a cultural crisis: What will become of our language? Must I forget it? What will become of our songs, our music? Can we still dance here in a foreign land? How? The following report addresses questions such as these.

[1] Noll, Werner: Die Deutschen in Shanghai Zwischen Theben und Shanghai, Else-Lasker-Schüler-Gesellschaft, Wuppertal 1998

(It is an excerpt of the essay in nearly 1000 Words. Translator:  Dr. Tom Cheesman, University of Wales, Swansea)

The original text in German “The Dance of Kanakans: Kultur in der Fremde” is in the book “Die galoppierende Kuhherde (Schweinfurt 2001)”.













(Mehrseitiger BLOG / Please Scroll Further!!!)


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