- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 10, 2000

At a time when German politicians are arguing over whether immigrants should be forced to adapt to a German "Leitkultur," or "guiding culture," the greater question is, exactly what kind of model culture that would be. Caught between an aversion to the nationalism that spun out of control during the Third Reich and a longing for the rich cultural traditions it threw out in the process, Germany seems to be having an identity crisis.

In an attempt to reclaim some notion of heritage, Friedrich Merz, the parliamentary leader of the country's opposition party, the Christian Democrats, first called for immigrants to adapt to the "Leitkultur" notion in October. Berlin Mayor Eberhard Diepgen went further and said Muslims there must recognize his country's culture of Christianity and humanism. Opposition leader Angela Merkel just wanted a return to "the Fatherland." What was that? Well, she knows it when she sees it.

"For example," she explained to Germany's major weekly, Der Spiegel: "When I'm in Russia and I see birch woods, I know that what I'm seeing is no German landscape." Of course.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has decried the term "Leitkultur" as has his Greens foreign minister, Joschka Fischer. Jewish leaders are naturally upset about it, and some of Mr. Merz's colleagues are warning against it being made into an election issue. None of which actually answers what honoring Germany's identity actually means, but one Berlin administrative court had an idea. For one, it is not an identity offended by prostitution.

The court ruled for the first time last Friday that prostitution is no longer offensive to good moral standards. As proof that the court's opinion reflected that of the general population, the judges said they consulted church, social welfare and economic organizations, according to a report in Agence France Press.

The case in dispute involved one Cafe Pssst, a Berlin bar and restaurant owned by Felicitas Weigmann. Her license was withdrawn last year on the grounds that prostitutes there were making "immoral advances." Mrs. Weigmann argued that such a definition belonged in the 19th century. The court accepted this, and ruled that prostitution was "often not regarded as morally worthy, but at least accepted as part of our society."

Are such socially acceptable practices part of the model culture immigrants would be expected to conform to? Where exactly does one find the culture of "Christianity and humanism" that Mr. Diepgen was referring to? Mr. Schroeder, Mr. Fischer and Mr. Merz's Christian Democratic colleagues were right to be wary of using the term "Leitkultur," and it is clear that Mr. Merz's opinions are not shared by the majority, at least openly. But the furor created over his choice of words reveals Germany's struggle to define its identity in a time when more than 11 percent of its population are immigrants. It may take beyond Germany's 2002 election to figure it out, but at least the hitherto untouchable topic is finally being discussed. Perhaps Madame Weigmann has an idea as to where the next panel discussion on the topic should take place.

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