I have enjoyed my stay in Germany — in 2005, 2008 and 2009 — and I long to go back to that country, especially Berlin.
Not just for the European comforts the city offers or the great friends I made there, but mainly because Berlin to me was my open university. And by open university, I mean a place where I learnt so much just by keeping my eyes, ears and my mind open.
I would just wander around the city by myself, many hours at a stretch especially during the weekends, just soaking in the history and the culture the place offered.
It helped that most Germans I met on the streets almost steadfastly refused to speak English, and even if they did it was with that thick German accent that after a point I stopped bothering anyone.
I would just randomly walk to a place and read whatever little English description of the place was available. And the rest of the story, I would just stand and imagine in my mind.
During my various visits and my formulaic rumination, I thought I had pretty much figured out everything I needed to understand about people and politics.
But one question intrigued me always.
In all those videos the Goebbels produced, I always saw Hitler addressing tens of thousands of people. I never understood the words though. All I could see in those videos were people reacting spectacularly to Hitler’s full-bodied orations.
Hitler had an overbearing body language that marked all his speeches. Even though I never understood a word, or for that matter these were silent videos, I would always see him raising his hands and sometimes his whole body would shake as if that energy he was externalising was what was rousing the crowds.
The crowds would behave as if they were on cue. It was almost like a dance.
Hitler would extend his arm, as if he was reaching out to an invisible connection, and the crowds would be delirious as their own connection to some energy was switched on.
One day when I knew I could no longer decipher this by myself, I asked one of my close friends.
“Just what the heck was he talking that made the crowds go crazy?”
“Rubbish,” she said. “Total and utter rubbish. People have tried to translate it literally but it is complete nonsense.”
That’s when it struck me.
Grand orations that fuel hatred and seek to divide people do not have any substance that will make it survive the test of time.
Hitler is gone but his methods remain.