Monuments are treated with reverence for their contextWolfgang Staut

In the first months of dating a German man, there was one incident that crystallised our cultural differences like no other. After a pleasant evening of shouted small talk at a bar with my friends, we split a taxi home. It was at this point that one of my friends lobbed a cultural frag grenade: “Is it true that you all legally have to visit a concentration camp?”

I don’t doubt that it was not malicious in intent, yet I was mortified to hear my boyfriend patiently explain how the Second World War and the Holocaust are treated in the German education system.

While we’ve experienced other cultural barriers as a couple – trying Vollkornbrot was almost the last straw – nothing else has made his country feel more alien than how eager non-Germans are to rehash the 20th century around them. Even when Germany accepted hundreds of thousands of refugees, Daily Mail commenters sniffed that they were only hoping people would forget the Nazis.

Nothing could be further from the truth, of course. In Berlin, the bleak labyrinth of the Holocaust memorial is visible from the city’s symbol, the Brandenburg Gate. The former head of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, speaking at the opening of an exhibition about German history this month, praised the “rigorous and courageous” German confrontation of difficult truths. "What a contrast", he said, "to the British way of viewing our past, distinctly 'sunny' chapters that reassure us that we were 'always deep down good people'."

Despite our self-deprecation, we Brits don’t go in for national shame on the same level as the Germans. One could argue that this is just the old adage – history is written by the winners – in practice: the price of defeat is German penitence, even for those who were totally unconnected to and disgusted by the Nazis’ regime of terror.

And yet I can’t help but fear that Brexit has only driven us to further ignore the darkest shadows of British history, as politicians broadcast a looped highlights reel of Britain, our prospective model for a non-EU future. Boris Johnson, prior to the vote, made an impassioned case for Brexit by doing just that: appealing to halcyon days gone by while simultaneously ignoring the consequences of British hegemony.

“We used to run the biggest empire the world has ever seen,” he boasted, with childishly misplaced confidence. Much was made of what Churchill would have done, despite the fact that asking ‘what would Churchill do?’ in any other 21st-century situation would be absurd.

This emphasis on evocations of our imperial heyday only reinforces the fact that Brexiteers played on the desire of British people to see our history as a matter of pride: a shining golden age just waiting to be repeated once we are freed from Brussels’s tyranny. Much like "long-term economic plan" in May 2015, I’m developing a migraine from the relentless repetition of the phrase “independent, sovereign nation”.

We have a vision of our history so whitewashed that we can’t feel the discomfort in openly evoking the horrors of the Empire. In a 2016 YouGov poll, 44 per cent of Britons looked back on this period with pride. Real education seems to have been so eroded that all that’s left is an older generation’s memories of the implementation of infrastructure and democracy.

To illustrate: I learnt approximately nothing about colonial practices in school, and yet we managed to study the medieval crop rotation system more than once. The National Slavery Museum is situated in my home town of Liverpool, as almost a third of all African slaves taken to America were transported on Liverpudlian ships, and the city prospered due to the slave trade. That I have only come to learn this aged 21 is galling.

In contrast, the German education system ensures that even 15-year-old school leavers have studied the rise of the Nazis, the timeline of the Second World War and the Holocaust itself. If you stay through to the A-level equivalent, you can expect to study it three times.

Here, however, atrocities like the almost 30,000 Boers who perished in British concentration camps during the Boer Wars are erased from the Brexiteers’ history. Even as Johnson blusters on, he finds the time and lack of self-awareness about that very empire to lament the “loss of sovereignty [Britain] has suffered” under the EU, as if colonialism did not subject multiple nations to even greater suffering.

Our history is long and problematic, like most. No country or individual is without flaws by modern standards. Yet to uncritically craft a vision of post-Brexit Britain that invokes our historical hegemony – without the necessary complexity – carves out a worrying path for our nation. Perhaps a little honest German  fortitude would stop us careering into a self-congratulatory echo-chamber, as outside the consequences of our history still resonate.

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