After I graduated from college, I headed to Europe to become a writer. At that time, Munich was something of an expat mecca, and I quickly met lots of American artists of various stripes who would cumulatively have a huge influence on my life. I also happened to be in Germany at a pivotal point in the country's history, and had a first-hand view of German reunification and its aftermath. Some of the pieces I wrote then still seem to me to be of interest in presenting a picture of that era of German cultural history, and few of them have been available online, so I've set up a new page here with links to this particular chapter.
This article began as a response to a family friend who wondered how I could live in Germany with a clean conscience. My kneejerk answer was that there were plenty of Jews living in Germany; but I decided to find out what that really looked like. Over several months of research, I learned that the reality wasn't anywhere near as rosy as I'd thought.
On the weekend of November 11, 1989, thousands of people were pouring into Berlin to dance on the toppling Berlin Wall. I went, instead, to the home of a friend who had grown up in a small town a couple of kilometers from the then-East German border. It was an amazing perspective on what the Wall and its removal meant for ordinary Germans, and I documented my impressions and observations of a historic few days.
For many years after World War II, the prevailing myth in Germany was that the SS was "bad" but the Wehrmacht, the German army, was "good." In 1997, a touring show shattered that myth with images of average German soldiers committing atrocities, particularly against Jews. I have never in my life experienced anything like the crowd in front of Munich's Rathaus (Town Hall) at the show's Munich stop: thousands of people, all arguing heatedly, like some kind of nightmare family reunion.
When I was first writing for the Wall Street Journal, I got my story ideas by combing local papers for things I thought would be interesting to an American audience; and therefore in one of my first pieces for the paper, I ended up spotlighting the moment when the city of Frankfurt almost went belly-up.
This was my first commissioned piece for a professional American publication. Opera News didn't give me a word count, and the topic seemed to me so momentous that I submitted a typescript of 36 pages (about 10 times longer than they probably expected). Amazingly, they printed the whole thing, in which I outline a lot of things about what the German opera scene was like at the time, and predicted worse problems, in the wake of reunification, than actually came to pass.