The one thing those of us born outside of Germany are told is that when we visit Germany we are not to mention the war. It is a subject that is strictly verboten. It’s probably because we all grew up watching this episode of Fawlty Towers
Ok, so maybe that was just me then. Still, many of us come to Germany believing that the war is a topic that is taboo. However, the Germans talk about the war a great deal. It is taught in all German schools across all subjects and they go into great detail. Every German graduates with full knowledge of all the atrocious that occurred during the war, in the hope that with this honesty about the past that it and anything like it will never happen again in the future. Also every city in Germany has Stolperstein (stumbling stones) on the pavements outside the homes & businesses where Jews who were killed in the Holocaust lived & worked. It is a subtle yet extremely powerful memorial to the horrors of the Holocaust.
However, in Germany, just like in the rest of the world, the war is not a topic that is brought up in casual conversation at the dinner table or when you greet your neighbours on the stairs. There is a time and place for it and it is best that you do not bring it up with anyone who is just a casual acquaintance. Leave it for discussion with people who are close friends. But don’t be surprised if it is brought up in your German language class. I’ve personally never talked so much about the war as I do in my German class but by the same token, I’ve also never learnt as much about how Germans view the war either. It is extremely educational regardless of how personally uncomfortable I find it.
Germany does have some rules, however, that stupid tourists fall foul of which leads to the myth that it is verboten to mention the war. It is illegal to make the Hitler salute, so please don’t think it is funny to get a photo of yourself doing it in front of the national monuments as that’s the quickest way to experience the German justice system first hand. It is also illegal to display the swastika and to own Nazi paraphernalia (naturally, museums are exempted from this).
Be respectful of Germany’s painful past but if you do get the chance, talk to Germans about it, but let them be the ones to bring it up first. I, for one, find it fascinating how the war is dealt with in German culture and many countries could learn a lot from how Germany has been honest and transparent about the atrocities committed in its past in dealing with similar dark times in their own histories.