Class war or beauty spa?
Germany is looking for its new ghettoes, the secluded enclaves, whose economies and culture are so foreign to the rest of society?
Kronberg. Frankfurt-Westend. Berlin-Zehlendorf. They are everywhere, but no autocratic mayors write books about them. Neighborhoods where no one will ever open a methadone clinic or a youth center, where parents can hire a doctor and a caretaker for each of their sociopathic kids.
For three years I attended a Gymnasium in the wealthiest neighborhood of one of Germany’s richest towns. Students could walk to class in the forest breeze without suffering the sight of a single high-rise. The older ones left their shiny Minis or VW Golfs in the school’s own multi-storey car park, which was funded by parent donations to the school’s endowment fund. It was rumored that generous parents could buy passing grades, and judging from the administration’s conspicuous generosity, many did.
“Probation” ran from 5th to 10th grade. During this period, teachers “sorted out” working-class children, whose parents had been insolent enough to enroll them in a Gymnasium, when their grades dropped. Many teachers boasted that this tradition gave preference to the brightest minds. They did not mention that the selection was deeply classist, and that many imbeciles were able to graduate because their parents bailed them out.
Although teachers regurgitated religiously the eltitist creed that “performance” mattered, it was usually lacking social polish, not knowledge, which caused kids to fail. The (dis)advantage of family background was exacerbated, not alleviated in school.
The number of kids from “problematic” backgrounds who enrolled was usually decimated by graduation time. Like Roma children in Hauptschulen, children of non-academics were seen as trouble-makers who never lasted long among the elite. Public buses were available, but the school’s hillside neighborhood was difficult to access if you had no car or lived in a different neighborhood.
Apart from a deadly bomb attack on the CEO of Deutsche Bank in hearing distance back in 1988 and a Green mayor, the town survived most of the post-1960s leftist movements unscathed. Old Money still sees my former school as a public alternative to boarding schools. Its graduates typically go into politics, business, law, medicine. The strongest political organization is the youth wing of the Christian Democrats.
Not all students were spoiled preps. I met many admirable characters, but the teachers – Jazz pianists, retired Colonels, conservative Christians – were a corrupt lot, and the principal had a kind heart, but also a drinking problem.
When I was in 8th or 9th grade. Some boys from the town’s comprehensive school, including sons of a Morroccan family with 8 to 13 siblings (depending on whom you ask), managed to sneak into a ball at the school. A bloody fistfight ensued. Some of the perpetrators with previous convictions received short sentences in a juvenile detention facility and the school organized no more parties for a while.
Even the tougher boys at the Gynmasium were horrified of comprehensive school students, who were rumored to assault and rob “Bonzen” on sight if they met them in parks, at bars or funfairs. Gymnsasium students who dropped out were sent to boarding school, if their parents could afford it. If not, they were reluctantly admitted to comprehensive school to get into university by detour.
At the comprehensive school, the bad kids from the good school usually completed their mutation into rapping, weed-smoking track suit mobsters, assuming their rightful position in the consumption hierarchy.
Even the smarter kids cared little about politics. Rich and poor were absorbed in media-propagated youth cultures and took the status quo for granted. You could be anti-social – a bus-stop dweller, street bully, cell-phone thief, cigarette bummer, football hooligan – but no one questioned the legitimacy of the order that produced anti-social behavior.
The social relationships in my town are reflected in the categories identified in the colloquial language of local teenage boys. Some terms are extremely offensive, but they are used frequently nonetheless.
- [Expletive for female genital] – Women. Used by boys of all backgrounds against women not prohibited by incest laws.
- “Kanaken” – (Orig.: Members of an obscure South Sea tribe.) Lower-class immigrants or Germans who grew up in a neighborhood with many apartment blocks. Also used against immigrants in general, but an immigrant who goes to a good school is usually considered a cross-over.
- “Kartoffel” – (Lit.: “Potato”). German, or someone “acting German.” More readily used against middle-class Germans.
- “Skater” – Not just a member of a subculture, but also a middle-class dropout. Skater culture was imported to comprehensive schools by Gymnasium dropouts, hence lower-class kids who dress like skaters are snubbed as upstarts by their social peers.
- “Bonzen” – (Lit.: “Party/union functionary.”) Rich kids, preps. Early adopters of Hilfiger polo shirts and sailing shoes. Acceptable targets of aggression.
- “Assis” – (Lit.: “Anti-socials.”) Lower class people. Sometimes used instead of “Kanaken,” if user does not want to highlight the racial aspect.
- “Hooligans/Nazis” – “Football Germans,” often aborigines of the town’s incorporated villages. Children of tradespeople, mechanics, local homeowners.
- “Assideutsche” – Not to be confused with hooligans. Germans who act and speak like lower-class immigrants, because they were raised in the same neighborhoods.
- “Zecken” – (Lit.: “Ticks.”) Punks, antifascists, indie rockers. Almost nonexistent in the Emperor’s former holiday retreat, where most classes accept or defend Capitalism.
There are plenty of other terms for boxing people in, most referring to particular ethnicities, neighborhoods or youth cultures, but these are the ones I encountered most frequently in my region. These are also the terms with the most obviously classist connotations.