What Does Difference Mean: Then and Now

In the same way that a university is nothing without the people that compose it, a city’s identity and pulse are dependent on the population that inhabits it. When examining a city’s populace, our natural human curiosity draws us to inquire about the similarities and differences that define it. However, the collective identity of Munich can be difficult to comprehend because of the diversity seen in its demographic. While major American and European news websites make the recent immigration and refugee influx seem to be the defining factor of the city, a local discussion board I stumbled across had multiple posts from locals and recent visitors recounting that you can hardly recognize refugees in the city. I find it interesting that even locals find it difficult to distinguish one type of person from another. Perhaps I should be taking notes. It seems strange that I have grown up and been raised on stories about strangers and travelers in a distant land, but still found myself with the preconceived notion that there was a definitive difference between citizens and immigrants in these very mixed cities. Perhaps that’s one initial preconception already disproved, or perhaps I will have to see with my own eyes what it feels like to experience such a conglomerate population. From the outside in, Munich is depicted as a hotspot for immigration, but from the inside, Munich is simply a city of people. Another preconceived notion I hold is that culturally historic Munich, and Germany as a whole, is still trying to bury its past sins from World War II. Although, Munich was more than half destroyed by bombing in World War II, it has made a great recovery and become quite modernized. Munich is a relatively wealthy city, with a large technology industry, and is one of the more desirable places to live in Europe. However, I still have this feeling that there are remnants of scarring beneath the rebirth façade. World War II was tragic, but Munich rebuilt, even hosting the Olympic Games in 1972; yet, even those Olympics were scarred by the Munich Massacre. Upon digging around a bit, I found that this scarring exists, but in the form of a deep, resounding, unifying regret amongst Germans who feel their duty is to ensure nothing like World War II ever happens again. Hardly anyone is still alive from that era, so many Germans (in first-person blog posts) feel they cannot blame themselves, but can do their duty to humanity and the globalized world to prevent any similar circumstance from ever occurring again. The Holocaust and the idea of a master race are ideas rooted in the differences between people.

Based on these two preconceptions, I am drawn to wonder what the modern city of Munich feels about its historical past rooted in the differences between people in relation to its modern responses and feelings towards those who are different from them. How does a past that feared and persecuted people who were different impact the modern feelings in a city full of different people? Munich’s cultural landscape has evolved as a result of the time that has passed, but also because of the people that now inhabit the city.

In my time in Munich, the observation of the intricate details of interpersonal interactions will be key. Are people in the street welcoming to each other or is there a sense of anonymity amongst strangers? Do certain types of people associate with each other, but not with other groups? Beyond this external observance, I will need to also ask people about their feelings concerning the past, the present, and the intertwined relationship between the two. This will require a certain degree of cultural sensitivity and respect as a nation’s past and the roads people may have taken to get to Munich may be difficult subjects. To understand the cross-century and cross-cultural contexts of my question, I will have to still examine the surface level sights that mark the masses of people, while also considering the depth that individuals provide.

I hope to gain new insights into what immigration looks like as a global issue, especially in our own country. Germany went from persecuting foreigners to accepting them with generally open arms. We’ve all heard the argument that the United States was/is a nation of immigrants. What can the historical and modern insights from the citizens of Munich teach about the modern state of immigration after we leave Europe in June? I’m not sure if I could tell the difference between an immigrant and an American citizen from walking past them on the street. I hope to take home a new view on global community resulting from the influence of immigration in Munich.

-Joshua