You might have noticed that our family has a German connection. I mean, my kid is named, “Otto,” right? And we don’t just say it like “Odd-dough.” That’s too American. We stand up straight while shouting firmly and with very, very hard, “T’s”: “Ott-toe!” We frighten each other when we express our love: “Ich hab dich LIEB!” My children are familiar with variety of sausages and can explain the appropriate mustard and meat* combinations. They wear Dirndls and Lederhosen. For a woman who hails from California, I am doing my best to embrace both their cultures and raise them as little Bretz’l waving, Apfel-schorle drinking, Hausschuhe wearing Kinder. (With straight white teeth and winning smiles, that is. They do hold American passports, after all).
However, we don’t embrace every German stereotype. Like I don’t allow my son to wear tights under his clothes in the winter. My daughters might have house-shoes, but we usually run around bare-foot, much to my in-laws’ horror. I don’t force them to dress for every possible weather condition at all times. We do not return every single soda bottle back to the original store of purchase for our “Pfand.” And we most definitely do not pride ourselves on our use of “alternative” medical therapies. To quote my hero, Paul Offit, (Do You Believe in Magic?) there’s medicine that works and medicine that doesn’t. Aspirin comes from a plant, as do morphine and digoxin. I’m not saying we don’t respect “natural” products. But we don’t waste our time listening to claims that can’t be backed by scientific studies.
Homeopathy was invented in Germany. Plenty of studies have shown it is no better than placebo and sometimes can even be harmful, but that doesn’t stop many Germans from proudly spending their hard won Pfand on bottles of the stuff. Go to any “wellness” center in Germany and you’ll find scores of nearly naked people—young and old alike—soaking in sulfur baths and lying motionless under infrared lamps. It’s all a bit weird, to be honest. Sometimes downright scary depending on the level of nakedness. I mean, I’m all about relaxation but I don’t believe that salt-water baths will cure arthritis or that a week at the ocean is a solid remedy for pneumonia.
I believe in science. Which means I believe in vaccines.
Now this is presenting a little problem for the Germans. A German toddler in Berlin has recently died from measles. There have been over 600 cases in that city since last Fall. Vaccination is not mandatory in Germany but it is recommended. Parents who have fallen prey to the lies and misinformation spread by the anti-vaccine agenda have declined vaccination. And now a child is dead.
“German measles” is actually a different disease known as “Rubella” which causes profound birth defects if a pregnant woman becomes infected. “Measles” is an entirely preventable disease that causes common complications and in some instances is fatal. But this case of Measles in Germany might just cause a shift in policy over in Lager Land. Because the Germans don’t take any more kindly to the unnecessary death of a baby than they do to an American refusing to put a hat on her baby in summer. (And believe you me, that got me an earful in the airport, on the street, at the park. Wow.)
Change is in the air, to quote the song. If we are in a situation where the Germans are contemplating mandatory vaccination while simultaneously running homeopathic hospitals, then we really need to think about where the line between personal freedom and the right to live in a society should be drawn. I love a comment made on my Facebook page that essentially said one person’s freedom ends where another’s nose begins. Freedom to sit under a red lamp, inhaling incense is not the same as the freedom to put the lives of children at risk. Think about that. (Denk mal!) The Germans may be ready to declare that mandatory vaccination is necessary if we want to live within a society. When they do, it will be loud and scary, for sure. As is everything said in German. But also very, very welcome. Zum Wohl!
Ich hab dich Lieb: I love you (familiar)
Dirndls: traditional Bavarian dress for girls
Lederhosen: you have to ask?
Apfel-schorle: half apple juice, half sparkling water, only allowed on holiday (my rule)
Hausschuh: house-shoes or slippers that live in a basket by the front door and prevent your street shoes from dirtying the house while simultaneously protecting your feet from the same house which is supposedly now clean
Pfand: bottle deposit which must go back to the exact shop you bought it in
* Sweet mustard really is only for the white Bavarian sausages and do NOT let a German see you put it on a pretzel. Just trust me on that.