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Living in Germany has taught me more about contradictions than any other place I have lived. I have watched Germans rush to exit the subway only to calmly wait in a perfect single file line on interminably long escalators.

I have seen health-obsessed Germans smoke while riding bicycles.

Germans make fantastic pastries that flake and crumble in just the right way, but they make terrible coffee to accompany those yummy morning morsels.

The men’s clothing here is beautiful and perfectly tailored and women’s clothing is so ugly it even frightens hipsters.

But, this is a land of more than superficial contradictions.

Germans appreciate hard work, good jobs and nice cars. They also view family time as almost sacred and fight fiercely to protect work from infringing on this special part of their lives.

They are proud of their ancestry and their local products. They tout their nurembergers, their berliners, and their beer as the best in the world. Yet, an undercurrent of shame makes them wary of being too proud of their nation.

Germans live with legacies of both terror and wonder. Their nation holds one of the world’s top economic positions, but they are aware that they have been in positions of power before only to reap disaster.

To be German seems to mean living with a past that is both too painful to consider, and too horrible to ignore. To be German seems to mean living in the contradictions.