July 7th, 2006



There's a kindergarten just around the corner from my new flat with lovely folksy decorations. This morning I snapped a few pictures of them.

I was going to give you some spiel about how pre-school decorations like these are a direct route to national particularity, and how much more interesting I find the rooted, quirky imagery here than the "rebellious" (but in fact monocultural and conformist) imagery showcased by the trendy shops slowly taking over storefronts here with their denim and trainers. I was going to talk about how, along with the dress-styles of the elderly, the kindergarten was an exemplary reservoir of "Germanness", reproducing national identity as a series of values to its multi-ethnic pupils at their tiny desks. And I was going to state again that while I'm all for the preservation of national flavours, I'm not for rigid links between national flavours and ethnic groups. Anybody can be the "guardian" of these national flavours, not just an ethnic German. Anyone can go in and rewrite the code.

But then an interesting man came along and told me that his daughter had gone to this school, and that the person who runs it is Polish. So these decorations might be "reproducing Polishness". Suddenly the owl and the little grey woollen kitten looked incredibly Polish to me. Had I got my national stereotypes wrong?

Perhaps not; the putative Polishness of the school didn't contradict my thoughts about the arbitrary nature of national identity. If "anyone can go in and rewrite the code," if national identity is "open source", why shouldn't German imagery be disseminated to the next generation by a Pole? And why shouldn't there be a certain amount of Polishness in Germanness? The border, after all, is just an hour away.