Arminius – Barbarossa – Hitler? Images of Germany in texts by Harry Mulisch and Cees Nooteboom

Maria-Theresia Leuker

Abstract


The changeful history of Dutch-German neighbourship has brought forth numerous clichés and stereotypical notions that have served to conceptualise the respective neighbours’ supposedly typical attributes and distinguish their own traits from those of the other. In more recent history, the Dutch image of Germany and the Germans was greatly influenced by the experiences from the era of National Socialism and the German occupation of the Netherlands in the Second World War. Literature played a significant role in forming a German hetero-image. With this in mind, I shall examine Dutch images of Germany as they can be seen in two books which process impressions made while travelling in Germany: Harry Mulisch’s De toekomst van gisteren (1972) [The Future of Yesterday] and Cees Nooteboom’s Berlijnse notities (1990)/Roads to Berlin (2012). Both books attempt to understand the foreign by seeking it out in culturally familiar forms. Among other things, the travelling protagonists visit two German lieux de mémoire: the monument for Arminius, who unified the German tribes in the fight against the Romans at the beginning of the Common Era, and the monument for the medieval emperor Frederick Barbarossa, who became a symbolic figure of the German pursuit of unity as a national state in the nineteenth century. In Mulisch’s conceptualisation of German history, Arminius and Barbarossa are interpreted as the predecessors of Hitler and his Thousand-Year Reich, whereas Nooteboom’s Berlijnse notities approaches them from the perspective of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and German reunification in 1990. In comparative analyses, I shall attempt to clarify whether – and if so, to what extent – Mulisch’s and Nooteboom’s books critically question German self-images and whether the authors take a distanced stance on their own Dutch identity. 


Keywords


Harry Mulisch, Cees Nooteboom, the foreign / het vreemde, national image / nationale beeldvorming, hetero-stereotype, self-stereotype, Germany / Duitsland

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