What is German? Language, blood, and Kulturboden

Although members of an Auslandsdeutsche community are losing their language, their Kulturboden proves more enduring, from which Ross derives further evidence for his model of the role of “blood”.

Traveling through Pennsylvania, Ross encounters people speaking Pennsylvania Dutch. “On most of the farms and in most of the smaller towns, it is still spoken. Of course it was often only the parents who still spoke the old dialect, while their children could only speak English, just as only the mothers wore the old-fashioned bonnets and the fathers the broad-rimmed hats, but not the daughters and sons. But the barnyards and houses, the barns and stalls, they are still purely German, just like the cleanliness and friendliness of the entire settlement and the industriousness and the efficiency of its inhabitants.

“The Germans who emigrated were farmers, and where they remained farmers, they also remained German—of course only in the sense of their national character (Volkstum), their blood-derived disposition (blutmäßigen Anlage), their earthy rootedness with their fields on which they have created a new Heimat”. (81)

This population is losing its language and its cultural practices, as seen in the youth’s choice of clothing. To what degree will future generations continue to be German? Ross draws on a nostalgic, anti-modernist (and anti-urban) celebration of the farmer and the village that originated in the Heimat novels of the late nineteenth century, which spawned the ‘blood and soil’ novels of the interwar period. Yet blood, as we know from other passages in Ross’s work, does not represent for him biological-genetic material (see Claiming Racial Equality). Instead, as we see here, it seems to function as a metaphor for Weltanschauung—a worldview into which one’s offspring are born and socialized, and through which they come to interpret and engage with the world. For Ross, Weltanschauung is developed in a dialogic relationship with the space (as landscape) in which a population resides. Therefore, German farmers will arrive in America and initially construct their space (as Kulturboden) upon arrival as an externalization of their world view. Over time, the American landscape will affect this Weltanschauung. But the result will nonetheless be different than that of, for example, the Native Americans who previously lived in this landscape, and who developed a completely different world view, and a different way of engaging with space as a result.

Kristin Kopp

Colin Ross. Deutsche Freiheit in Amerika. In: Unser Amerika: Der deutsche Anteil an den Vereinigten Staaten. 1. Aufl. Leipzig: F.A. Brockhaus; 1936; 76-78.

Topic: Auslandsdeutsche
Case: Geopolitics

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