- Christian Armbruester
Germany in the 1980s was a weird place and not just because of bad hair and shoulder pads, but more so with regards to the very real threat of imminent nuclear destruction. The so-called “cold war” between the East and the West was at its climax. The two great empires were in perfect opposition in terms of ideology, and modern technology unleashed ever more fierce capabilities to destroy one another. In 1985, there were more than 61,000 nuclear weapons in existence, all of them more powerful than the ones that were dropped on Japan, 30 years prior.
Germany was literally right in the middle of this, with a wall dividing the country (and the world) entirely. Everyone knew that if things came to a head, the battle would start in Germany. As such, most of the weapons were also squarely aimed at Germany, even from the neighbouring and allied countries of France and Britain. The thinking was I guess (and still is to a great extent), well they started (and lost) the last one, so might as well let them have it first.
Now imagine growing up with this as a child, as I did when I came back from America to live there in 1981. Every day, you wondered if a giant mushroom cloud would suddenly appear in the sky, and the imminent end that everyone kept telling us about had finally arrived. Somehow that was okay though, because you know, there is this great guilt we should all feel because of the things our forefathers did. One particular anecdote on this topic occurred when I was having dinner with someone and his wife a few years ago. She had asked me how I had come to marry my wife, who is Armenian, and I recollected how I had to call her father and ask for permission, as it is custom in their culture. And whereas I described the rather funny episode that ensued, she asked: “But didn’t you feel ashamed?”. “About what?”, I replied, and she said: “Because you are German and all of the things you did”.
Needless to say, I pointed out the hypocrisy with her stemming from the country that gave us the Spanish Inquisition, and which had wiped out the indigenous population of an entire continent a few hundred years ago. But what struck me at the time was how warped peoples’ perceptions can be, so they can feel better about themselves. Why am I telling you this? Well, apart from the excellent TV show (Deutschland ‘83), which I binge watched over the holidays and describes this time perfectly, there is this feeling that we have been here before. And as I watch the proceedings in present times, we are reminded that the threat of nuclear war is ever present. Only this time, the weapons are aimed at everyone. Welcome to my world.