Letters from Abroad: The Trust Factor

Janie Feldmann ’15, Abroad Columnist

As much as I have willed it not to, my time in Freiburg is slowly coming to an end. Though I would gladly stay here for another month (or two or three), it has been nice to reflect over the past few weeks about what I have learned so far in Germany. The other day, I had the privilege to hear a live speech by Chancellor Angela Merkel. It was an incredible experience in general, but I came away with a few unexpected thoughts.

When you take any German classes, it is a matter of necessity that you also learn about Germany’s difficult history. So, when Merkel spoke of her pride in Germany’s continued forwardness, and when everyone sang the national anthem, I was brought directly into this collective past. I do understand that, as an American, I will never have the same understanding of what it means to live in post-World War II, post-Cold War Germany. I have learned about it in classes, but I have another perspective, and my own history to cope with. Though Germans do not by any means shout nationalism from the rooftops, Merkel noted the willingness of Germans to move forward together. And I think Germans can be proud, if nothing else, because of one incredibly important value that they maintain every single day: trust.

Plain and simple, the Germans (at least in Freiburg) trust each other. When I get on the bus, I do not have to pay because the driver trusts that I have my regional card with me (I always do). This is the capital of the Black Forest, and people (not just students) leave their bikes around with no locks because they trust others not to steal them. This cultural difference has astounded me, but I have also come to value it extremely. It is one of the most wonderful and understated feelings to be trusted, and to know that you can trust others.

To put it simply, trust is the best way for Germans to move forward from such an incomprehensible past. Most of the elderly people at Merkel’s speech were around if not during World War II, then close to it. Almost all of the people in the room lived through the divide between East and West Germany. And yet, you get the sense that everyone genuinely trusts each other – both to remember this collective past, and to continue striving for a brighter future.