By Joseph Kulve
Back in the late 1990s, I once complained about the quality of the tap water to my German colleagues in Bonn, Germany. It was full of caulk. Disgusting. But they lectured me that the water was great and that it was full of caulk because it had to be reclaimed. Otherwise, we would run out of water. My mocking reaction that caulk is not water and that we were just a few miles from the massive Rhine river did not endear me to my colleagues. Everyone knew that everything German was world-class, except me, apparently.
I had an old Russian Jewish friend in Stuttgart back then with whom I often discussed cultural misunderstandings. She told me about an old anti-Jewish joke in Russia about tap water: “If there is no tap water, the Jews drank it all.” The Jews were always a good target to deflect blame for the massive failures of European societies and their “Caesars” (“czars” and “Kaisers”). My old friend had immigrated to Germany as a Jewish retiree-refugee about the same time I got a job there. She loved Germany, but she, sage that she was, always warned me (her so-called “adopted” non-Jewish son) that the political system and the human condition had not changed in Germany as much as everyone thought.