by Marco Malaguti

From Wandervogels to Greens, via Hitler

Germany, we know, has always been the capital of environmentalism.

The relationship between Germans and, more generally, Germanic peoples and the natural world has also long been studied by scholars. The Italian medievalist Vito Fumagalli has long contrasted in his essays the soul of the Germanic aristocracy, linked to the forests and hunting grounds, with that of the clergy and merchant bourgeoisie of the Italian peninsula and the Neo-Latin countries, rooted in the regulated and reasoned space of the cities and the centuriated countryside, which would later give rise to the Enlightenment.

The Germanic cultural counteroffensive, which took the name Romanticism, once again returned to focus on the forest as the refuge of the people's primal imagination, inhabited by supernatural beings who represented the mythical centerpiece of the Germanic imaginary. The proto-environmentalist experience of the Wandervogels was the glue that laced the nineteenth century with the twentieth, all the way to National Socialism, which, as is well known, was among the first political systems in the world to enact laws protecting animals and forests.

Today's Germany, we can say, has only nominally disavowed those experiences, and the great electoral success of parties such as the Greens (in whose founding sympathizers of National Socialism itself took part) proves it. There is, in short, a green thread, throughout German history, that links seemingly unconnected and very distant historical, political and social experiences, a green thread that did not fail to creep into the German Democratic Republic, east of the Iron Curtain, as well, with the ideas of the Marxist philosopher Rudolf Bahro, who, from a Marxist point of view, began to import environmentalist and degrowthist themes into the GDR and ended up becoming, when the wall fell, one of the main ideologues and noble fathers of the Green Party.

A green thread along German history

When we talk about environmentalism in Germany, therefore, we are not talking about a passing fad or a pose for influencers, but rather about a kind of ur-ecologism that sinks in and resurfaces karstically from era to era, each time in different forms. The recent emergency - true, false, partially true or partially false - is thus grafted onto a cultural background that is very deep and still extraordinarily alive and that, among other things, does not belong only to the leftists (think of the deep connection between the sylvan world and two giants of literature and philosophy such as Ernst Jünger and Martin Heidegger).

The contemporary insertion of climate change, however, has insufflated into the complex relationship between Germans and nature a new element: terror. Mind you, the terror of technology and related development is also a distinctively German Leitmotif: Heidegger's grim resignation about the technical day, Jünger's aestheticizing melancholy in On the Marble Cliffs, Fritz Lang's bleak visions in his Metropolis, Walter Benjamin's pessimistic reflections about the alienation of the working masses in Berlin, are all expressions of a national spirit deeply troubled about the problematic relationship between man and technological development.

A new nightmare: the apocalypse

Climate change adds to this Angst something even more unbearable: the fear of extinction. That is, humans do not (only) risk to survive as a life form self-alienated (a fear already present in Benjamin and the Frankfurt School), but risk all-out extinction. It goes without saying that, in times of environmentalist conformism and one-way information, the results of such a brew are likely to be as nefarious as they are unpredictable. Who would hesitate, faced with the prospect, believed to be real and indeed likely, of extinction, to make even the most extreme acts in order to avoid it?

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German environmental movements such as Ende Gelände ("End of Ground," EG) or Letzte Generation ("Last Generation") and German offshoots of international movements such as Extinction Rebellion have easily moved from words to deeds, initiating a series of mobilizations, bordering on violence, that are little talked about in the rest of Europe.

Blockades and occupations of the roadways of the Berliner Ring (Berlin's equivalent of Rome's "Grande Raccordo Anulare") by environmental activists are almost the order of the day, with consequences that are also beginning to have economic repercussions, while the EG movement systematically occupies fossil fuel deposits (seven major occupations in as many years, mainly in the Rhine basin, compounded by repeated clashes with law enforcement in numerous German cities).

Supposed apocalypse, real threats

Hardline environmentalist movements no longer even hide their violent attitudes, relying on the institutional support of a governing party, the Greens, which is also often challenged and accused of "compromising" with polluters.

On May 16, Extinction Rebellion activist and spokesman Tino Pfaff said in a Bundestag hearing that he found infrastructure sabotage "very interesting and very exciting," with no component of the chamber except AfD having anything to disagree with. Words that were echoed in an interview with the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung" by EG spokesman Elia Nejem, who said that if Chancellor Olaf Scholz continues to remain deaf to the movement's demands, activists will be forced to escalate against ports, airports and other major public and private infrastructure. Harsh words, however, that did not keep one of EG's founders, Tadzio Müller, from issuing a veiled threat to the institutions, declaring that "it is possible that a green RAF will be formed."

The reference, in almost apologetic terms, to the RAF i.e., the Rote Armee Fraktion (the communist terrorist group that caused bloodshed in Germany with murders and car bombs between 1970 and 1993) is something unheard of in German politics but it is shocking, even more so, the total passivity of politics; which, while not deigning to pay attention to the activists' demands, neither condemns nor prosecutes in terms of the law these statements, in fact encouraging them.

Cultural background, fanaticism and institutional passivity are very dangerous ingredients for a country, moreover, that is getting impoverished and flogged by inflation.

After the brown Weimar will we also see the green one?

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He has been dealing with politics and is a cultural and opinion editor for over ten years. Co-founder and animator of the portal of information and in-depth analysis Progetto Prometeo. A student of philosophy, he has been working for years on the theme of the revaluation of nihilism and the great German romantic philosophy.