Back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, more than three decades after the end of WWII, my playmates and I used to fight the Germans twice daily, hiding in the long grass behind the classrooms, invisible machine gun in hand, waiting to ambush the enemy.
It wasn’t ‘real’ xenophobia; it was ‘casual’ xenophobia.
It did not matter, because we did not know any Germans, and so, to us, Germans were not real.
No-one got hurt. Except us, except our ability to rightly recognise people from other countries. Which might just be played out in the present, in how my generation view Europeans, or in how we are encouraged to de-humanise those we go to war against in other parts of the world. So perhaps, just maybe, it is not true to say that no-one got hurt.
It did not matter that we had to take our turn being the Germans, being the bad guys, the enemy. It did not give us any empathy; just a ridiculous way of categorising and labelling those who were less popular.
I am deeply thankful for the Germans I met at university, and those I have met since. Deeply thankful for the friendship of some beautiful men and women, with whom I have laughed, and shared meals, and listened to their stories, and discovered common interests, and visited places together, and co-authored memories.
Today, I choose to remember friends, some of whom I am still in contact with, and some with whom I have lost contact but still remember fondly.
And, in a climate where xenophobia appears to be on the rise – or, at least, more vicious – I reflect on the importance of both what we choose to remember and how we choose to remember, and the stories I need to pass on.