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In the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung was the headline

Gauck: Wo ist nur die Zukunft hin?

with part of the article as follows:

Gauck stellte die Frage: "Aber wissen wir es wirklich besser als die Akteure von damals? Oder wissen wir lediglich etwas mehr, nämlich wie die Geschichte weiterging?" Der Präsident mahnte, nicht die Geschichte über die Gegenwart siegen zu lassen. Vor lauter Jubiläen, Gedenktagen und Erinnerungen frage man sich manchmal: "Wo ist nur die Zukunft hin?"

What does this question "Wo ist nur die Zukunft hin" mean? If it were "Wo geht die Zukunft hin", I would understand that it means "Where does the future go". But as the question is, I can't make sense out of it, even after looking at different meanings of hin. And what is "nur" doing there?

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The core phrase

Wo ist sie hin?

can indeed be translated as

Where did she go/disappear (to)?   or depending on context as   Where's she headed?

while the attempt of a literal traslation shows that the phrase doesn't contain any verb denoting movement:

Where's he to?

The movement is conveyed by the combination of sein and the adverb hin (~to somewhere).

A possible analysis is that hin is the remnant of a past participle, like hingegangen, making it grammatically easier, especially because the phrases tense is perfect, leaving geht out as a replacement.

Yet hin sein, together with a locative adverb (standalone it means "to be kaput"), could also be seen as a self-sufficient phrase. Especially since comparable phrases, that cannot be extended, exist. "Wann ist er zurück?", for example, has future meaning.

The modal particle nur has little meaning here and can even be directly translated as "only".

Meaning

Combining the above with die Zukunft gives us

Where did the future only dissapear to?

Without context, this could be interpreted in the way the other answer suggests. But judging from the preceding sentences, I don't think that is the intention here. Here's an abstraction of the last few sentences: There's a set of things (our) society is attentive to. This set has become increasingly past-oriented. So where did the element "future" disappear to? More naturally:

Among all the [things dealing with the past] one shall ask:
"What in the world happened to [dealing with] the future?"

  • A very vague expression. Gauck may have had an idea, but he didn't manage to formulate it in a way that others might grasp what he meant. I wouldn't rack my brains about such a vague expression as "Where's the future gone to?". The future is the future and it goes nowhere. – rogermue Oct 8 '14 at 9:47
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It's an idiomatic expression, meaning just what happened to the future?

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I think Grantwalzer's answer is the most valuable so far. I just want to point out that we cant say for sure what Gauck ment by this as this is not a common expression or a derivate of a common expression. So you really can only speculate: As Grantwalzer said

"What in the world happened to [dealing with] the future?"

is already very good i think. Waht i think he means is, that there were times, people did care much more about future which actually led to great expectations according the future. Nowdays many people might think that the future will be "horrible" (affects of global warming, resource wars....etc.). So speaking of "Zukunft" it might have an already positive annotation like "Zukunft = gute Zukunft" (future = great future), so the other way around "no future = bad future" it leads to saying "there is no future", which of cause means that future will be horrible. So, now, asking "where is future gone?"("Wo ist nur die Zukunft hin") can be interpreted as a retorical question "where is future gone?" -> "away!" -> "There is no future" -> "future is bad".

  • Your interpretation of Gauck's expression is not bad at all. Then Gauck should have said " Wo ist nur unsere optimistische Zuversicht in die Zukunft hingekommen? Then anyone would have understood his idea. – rogermue Oct 10 '14 at 18:26
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If it were "Wo geht die Zukunft hin", I would understand that it means "Where does the future go".

In fact, both expressions are equivalent. I will give you an example. If you wanna ask someone, where he would like to go, you could say : "Wo wollen Sie hingehen"? or "Wo wollen Sie hin"?

In an exact manner, "Wo bist du hin" is the same as "Wo bist du hingegangen".

Coming to the "nur" you mentioned. It is in this context a "filling-word". This means it has no own meaning in this specific context, but Germans are used to stick it that way in their speech. Such filling-words include "also", "ja", "doch", "mal", etc. e.g: "komm doch mal nach Berlin". It simply means "komm nach Berlin".

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