Hello dear author. I have a question. I liked reading your texts when they were still completely available online and i also bought the book in 2011. But unfortunately i had to discover that i prefer reading it in English because i feel the translation does'nt manage to transfer the humourous taste of your language. So now i miss the english texts on your blog. Can you help me to get them in English please? Sincerely RF
The blog is still completely available online. The 20+ exclusives for the book have never been available in English. Click on “contents” to go to the archive.
For some Auslanders who are struggling to adopt to the elite German lifestyle, the day might arrive to pack up and say goodbye. Could be you were asked by your boss to move to another city, and you, being the brain dead, anti-intellectual, zero-creative-potential corporate automaton you always were, blindly obeyed.
Regardless of whatever reason has come up in your life that makes it necessary to leave Berlin, it positively means you have failed miserably at blending in wiz ze Germans — because if you had succeeded, you simply would have no life, and certainly no exciting things happening in it that necessitate moving away. Berlin would have been that final solution to all your ambitions and dreams, as it is for most elite German people, and you would spend your life irately defending its alleged coolness on sad internet comment threads.
Yet, since you gave up on blending in wiz ze Germans, at the very least, you need to confirm to a few basic guidelines and rules on how to quit ruleless, nonconformist Berlin in the universally accepted way. The timespan between the day of your announcement and your actual departure marks a phase of high emotional involvement for your elite German acquaintances. No, not because they are sad to lose a friend, but because it challenges that precious, set-in-stone consensus they once reached with themselves about Berlin being the cultural pinnacle of humankind, which nobody interesting, important, or perpetually adolescent would ever want to abandon.
You will soon learn that there is an easy way, and a hard way to leave Berlin. What’s that about, you ask? It is a distinction made on the place you move to next. Time to share a little secret: Elite Germans are at all times painfully aware Berlin is actually not the most interesting place in the world. Shhh! You’ve got to keep that voice down, Auslander! You are not supposed to know about the fundamental hurt from which the never ending, passive-aggressive pissing contest better known to its purveyors as cool young Berlin has arisen. Elite German people would rather drink a Müller Milch than ever admit this to anybody, including themselves.
The easy way to leave Berlin is to move to any one of the three places the elite German population of Berlin has sound reason to feel superior to, which are: Wiedenborstel, Kleinbockedra, and Bebra. If you happen to move to one of these three, you can stop reading after this paragraph. Simply tell your friends you’re moving to a rural shithole, and enjoy the many beer-spilling dive bar binges you will get invited to out of pity.
However, it is more likely that you won’t be allowed to leave Berlin the easy way, because you just had to act like a total dick again and choose one of the many cities which make elite German people twitch nervously with population envy.
Just a passing mention of a city with 10 million people will involuntarily trigger a built-in, natural defence mechanism, quite similar to that Malaysian ant which, when attacked, explodes into a venomous fountain of guts: They will explode in a sudden rage at the fact you finally managed to rise above them in that devious little hierarchy they so desperately deny to exist.
Do you even realise what you impose on them? While you are getting ready to leave it all behind, enjoying your last few days in Berlin, wasting not a single electron of brain activity on organising the transport of 15000 rare Detroit-techno vinyls, because, like, you knew better than to get into that sad, phlegmatic hobby of collecting records, they are forced into another episode of DIY trauma therapy, brooding in dimly lit rooms to come up with a line of reasoning that will re-inject sense back into that fragile inner microcosm of unwarranted superiority your announcement so viciously shattered.
Once the cat is out the jute bag about your impending departure, elite German people, even those you barely ever met, are allowed to stop you on the street for a session of authoritative questioning. Your emigration interrogation will always start with an encouraging “I heard you’ll be leaving us…that’s so greeeeat for you”, which is meant to make them appear well-meaning and on your side, like psychologically trained detectives questioning a suspect in another lame episode of Tatort.
Never take them at face value. Because they love little more than gossip, they probably already know the answer to their next question: “Where are you going?”. Answer by stating your destination in a calm and non-threatening way, like so: “I am going to New York”.
Now, let’s take a close look what this sentence triggers in an elite German person. Because this really is a life-or-social-death situation for their self-image, their brain, in the split of a millisecond, switches into survival mode. They are now in a state of elevated cognitive abilities. Their breath quickens. Their rhetorical skills slightly improve. Their memory backlog is extended by at least one decade. It’s like that overdose of Ketamine back in 2008 never happened. An elaborate program, like a piece of software code, is set in motion.
The objective of this program is to neutralise as much as possible of the agonising grandeur that, in their spoiled minds, is awarded to anyone leaving Berlin for a bigger city. A grandeur whose existence you weren’t aware of, and never meant to exude, but is very real and very challenging to every elite German person. It is driving them mad with furious envy, which of course they can’t admit to in public, so they try their hardest to candy-coat it with pushy, dishonest empathy.
“Ohh, Neeeew Yooork…!” they’ll say, “we have a lot of friends there!” Don’t be surprised by this. No matter what city you go to, you can count on your elite German acquaintances to already have an extensive network of uberinteresting people in place. The subtext of course being that they are absolutely unimpressed by you moving there as well, and that any claim of individuality enhancement on your part (which you were never going to make) would be absolutely ridiculous to them. Never ask for details about those friends they are talking about. They’ll lecture you anyway. Better prepare for their next move:
“So, where exactly in New York will you be living?” Because you are probably 8000% less sentimental than the average elite German person about what neighbourhood and type of building you live in, you probably don’t know yet or can’t care enough to remember. Elite German people feel tremendous pressure to cover their conventional upbringing with a fabricated cosmopolitan veneer, and therefore maintain a roughly ten-years-obsolete concept about the cool neighbourhoods of the world’s cities.
This is their chance to catch you off-guard. If you don’t want to open a shallow side argument about what parts of what cities are cool today, just think back 10 years and say “Williamsburg.”
“Ohh, Williamsbuuurg…!” they’ll say, “didn’t Finn, Leni, and Hartmut recently move there, too? We should totally give you their number, so they can show the new guy around.” Likely, a major part of your motivation for going abroad is to get away from elite Germans as far as possible, so you should answer in a non-committing way, like “oh, I will be very busy in my new job so I probably won’t have any free time in the next few…years”
Sensing that they won’t gain much ground in their struggle to make you feel small by pointing out how mainstream your oh-so-special destination really is, they’ll quickly change their focus to the nature of your new occupation:
“A new job? That’s soo great for you! What is it?” If you’re a straightforward person who’s thinking along the lines of “a job is just a job”, “it pays the bills”, “can’t be choosy in this economy”, you might be just naïve enough to say truth, for example “I’ll work at an internet company.”
Notice how your interrogators are becoming more excited now, sensing a chance to gain the upper hand: “An internet company! Good for you! Well, I guess you won’t click with Hartmut, Leni, and Finn then, because they all work in creative professions!”
For old times sake, you could just engage in one last round of elite German combative communication, and say “Well, my job could be characterised as creative as well, it has to do with photography…”
“Photography! What a coincidence! Leni, Finn, and Hartmut are photographers! In fact, they are assistants to Ellen von Unwerth, where they meet really exciting and famous people every day! I guess having a connection to Hartmut would be quite exciting for your little, what was it again, web design company? Jürgen, can we give out Hartmuts private number? We just have to bring you two together so he can show you all the cool places in New York, you know!”
At which point you might just stop caring and start to fuck around with them: “Oh, did I say web design company? Sorry, must be the tough weekend in Berghain. Actually, I meant to say I will be the new Director of Art Buying at MoMA, with a side job as Terry Richardson’s new muse, in the case I ever get some time off my frequent mid-day outdoor threesomes with my two new girlfriends Zooey Deschanel and Chloë Sevigny, of course…”, which will make your elite German stare at you in disbelief and finally say in a notably less excited tone: “That’s so…great for you…”
P.S. It is an unwritten, yet absolute certainty that if you ever run into Hartmut, Leni, Finn, or any other elite German person who was described to you as a hip expat god breaking new ground abroad, in the bleak light of day-to-day reality, things look a little less glorious. They might just have planned to go, but never actually left home, or they might have visited the city on vacation, but never lived there, or they did in fact live there for a few months, but only found bar jobs and ran out of money, or they actually were photography interns, but not for Ellen von Unwerth, but Ellen Krapszinsky, alcoholic wedding photographer. Don’t bother to report back to Germany about such tiny, irrelevant particularities, though — you´d look awfully nit-picky and uptight.
Puritanism is often defined as the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy. Nonconformism, on the other hand, is often haunted by the possibility that someone, somewhere, may be more miserable. Someone in your ungentrified neighbourhood might be in a more open, less gender-specific and less gratuitously abstruse relationship. This applies to both sexes, and any in-between. In Berlin, people have finally broken free from the bourgeoise straightjacket of monogamy, a fact that would make the men of Mitte very happy indeed, if only their full-time brooding commitments allowed them.
Nihilistic despair may have been pioneered by French intellectuals as a way of getting the ladies horizontal, but the Mitte Man (Homo Pretentious) has enthusiastically picked up the baton, together with the smoking habit. That they are fashioning themselves after a beat poet half a century after the original movement began might put a slight dent on their revolutionary credentials, but why should recycling be limited to beer bottles when it can be applied to relationships as well? Anyway, the sort of women they are targeting with this reprocessed rhetoric either think that Kerouac is Keanu’s less well-known brother, or the closest they have come the author’s work is to Instagram a second-hand copy of On The Road that they found while perusing a Flohmarkt. It goes without saying that as a woman you should be blown away upon learning that the Mitte Man has freed himself from the shackles of biology. This admiration should ideally translate into uncontrollable sexual magnetism, a completely unintended side effect of being so firmly above the rules of attraction that seem to afflict mainstream men, who are ruled by their sex drive rather than their non-conformist drive. The Mitte Man will tirelessly parade his unwillingness to participate in the “dating charade” through the cafés and bars of Berlin, in the hope that it will have a similar effect on the female population as bathing in Axe deodorant and legally changing his name to Johnny Depp. Sitting in your Stammkneipe, the Mitte Man will fluff up his scarf so as to resemble the neck of a pigeon in heat and demand the same level of attention with his demonstrably nonchalant “over here, laydeeeehs!!!!” pose. Also, the sounds emanating from his turntable will occasionally resemble those of a horny bird, although the similarities will be more marked if he is into freestyle jazz. A successful courtship will emboldened them and the clichés pulled from his Freitag bag will come thick and fast. Let’s take a look at some of the usual suspects and what that they actually mean:
“I totally agree with Houellebecq: humans are just not monogamous creatures” I am certainly not monogamous, and, as my current object of desire, neither should you be. To be honest I have no idea what Houellebecq’s opinion on monogamy is, but I saw Atomised at the Babylon and Franka Potente is hot! Sleep with me.
“The problem with the establishment is that it asphyxiates the individual and stops them from expressing their true sexuality. I am very open-minded and would never judge anyone” Apart from people who don’t agree with my stupidly narrow worldview. I really don’t like people who get in the way of expressing my true sexuality, particularly women inexplicably oblivious to my obvious charms. Please sleep with me.
“Have you ever considered an open relationship?” I will only respect your opinion as an intelligent woman entitled to hold her own opinions if the answer is “yes”. Otherwise I might have to play the “repressed” card. It worked for Freud. I will still respect your cleavage. Why aren’t you sleeping with me yet?
“At the end of the day, we’re all animals” A very specific animal. I’m picturing myself as a heavily anthropomorphised lion, king of the urban jungle, napping the day away while his harem of lionesses do all the work. The idea of being an imperial penguin who is not only paired for life but who has to sit on a giant egg freezing his beak off in arctic temperatures and star in mainstream documentaries voiced by Morgan Freeman doesn’t appeal to me. And no, the praying mantis is not a good example either.
“I don’t ‘date’. This is a term popularized by restaurants, cinemas, and other commercial enterprises with the aim of maximising their revenues. You can’t put a price on romance” I even burnt you copy of Photoshop! Why won’t you sleep with me?
Additionally the Mitte Man will remind you that Berlin is the city of true romance. This might have eluded you, as the title is, often wrongfully, given to such conventionally beautiful places such as Paris, a town that has trapped less visionary minds in the mainstream matrix with its elegant boulevards and enchanting squares. Berlin, on the other hand, with its communist cement and the postmodern Alexanderplatz, is somehow overlooked. Fear not, you will soon be reminded of the city’s unconventional romanticism with the same unforgiving, implacable enthusiasm displayed when highlighting its hipness.
Berlin is the single most paradigm-bashing, mould-smashing and mind-blowing megalopolitan melting pot in the annals of human history. And while it is still acceptable, nay positively encouraged, to remind everybody of the city’s intense awesomeness during those never-ending borderline arctic winter months, when the only coolness found is firmly located at the bottom of a thermometer, this fades when the temperature creeps above zero. Come spring and Berlin might once more seem positively inviting with its many pleasant parks and placid lakes. Pointing out the city’s attractions might mark you out as a tourist, a summer scenester who is there for the sunny season, when the place is not only habitable, but actually enjoyable. In short, one of those people who don’t get Berlin in all its dank, gloomy, relentlessly harrowing glory. The Mitte Man’s virility is directly proportional to how many winters he has endured. With this he hopes to impress all the new arrivals who will picture him as a sexy fearless Amundsen, and not as a man that has to spend four months of the year wearing long-johns. And when this fails, he will relentlessly promote Berlin as a dystopian Venice of the North by pointing out its higher number of canals.
In short, there is not a single fact or figure, not a single idea, that the Mitte Man won’t shamelessly appropriate to mask his vapid, chronically insecure self. Every morning he will add three extra heaped spoons of delusion to his flat white to pretend that the age old rules of attraction are beneath him, when he is in fact so up his own backside that he could perform his own colonoscopy, and has lost all sense of perspective or self-critique. For somebody so vocally against the bourgeois society of spectacle and status, it is slightly contradictory that he would invest so much time publicly parading his radical credentials like a particularly pretentious peacock. Likewise his tendency to label everything and everyone that enters his field of vision like some kind of OCD-addled librarian following a flimsy counterculture classification. The sad truth is that in his neurotic attempts to appear a free thinker, the Mitte Man comes across as revolutionary as a Grateful Dead tribute band.
The following is a conversation between Farorientalism, the pseudonymous author of the self-titled, utterly brilliant and necessary blog about the image of Far Eastern countries in Germany, and Wash Echte.
Farorientalism’s author is a Berlin-based journalist who prefers to stay anonymous. Make sure to visit his blog at farorientalism.blogspot.com (currently not available).
Wash Echte: The other day, I was thinking about booking a trip to Japan, so I thought, let’s read some German language books about the country. After a few pages, I had to stop reading, as all of these books were basically a sequence of stereotypes and the sort of ethnocentric anecdotes that should have become non-publishable by the year 1867. My irritation rose with each book, until I was so aggravated that I put “orientalism” into Google and your blog turned up. When I first discovered Farorientalism, it was one of those “Thank you, Internet!” moments. There’s comfort in knowing that there’s another person out there who’s as bothered by such a specific, yet extremely irritating phenomenon as yourself. So what was it that triggered your desire to write a blog about this topic?
Farorientalism: I guess it was a number of things I experienced over a span of years. During my university years, out of a diffuse fascination with Japan, I took up learning the language, and also traveled there a couple of times, and later on also stayed there for an extended period of time.
So, along my way, I repeatedly bumped into Germans, who really annoyed me. Like this one time I attended an official presentation for a student exchange program catering to German and Japanese students. Two young Germans, a dyed-blonde woman in a Manga-T-Shirt, and a bearded Gauloises-smoker, were scheduled to report about their experiences. Both were in Japan for the first time, both didn’t speak the language at all. They did this slide show of photos they took during their four-week stay. One slide showed a bunch of six or seven-year-old pupils in school uniform. The blonde woman commented this slide by saying: “What a pity, those poor children all look the same, no sign of individuality, and they don’t even realize their situation! Even on their holidays, their schools made them come in for some kind of sports project, you know, those Japanese and their work-centric life…”
What followed was a dozen or so similar slides spawning similar comments, peaking in the statement, made by our bearded friend, “Individualism - a concept the Japanese have yet to learn.” How convenient, I thought, that the Japanese finally found such competent drill instructors.
Blondy and the Beard might just have been extraordinarily stupid, but generally speaking I found this kind of nonsense to be quite common. Most people I met suffered from projection bias, based on half-truths and clichés, which of course revealed more about them than about the subject matter.
They believe to be in possession of the single correct stance on any given topic, which of course is the “Western” one.
It is just like religion - so I call these kinds of people “the wise men from the occident”. So to go back to your question why I started blogging - I think I was looking for some catharsis from them and situations like the one described. To always be confronted with the same old stereotype can be tiring, but also quite amusing.
Wash Echte: When we agreed to have this conversation about German writing on Japan, neither the earthquake nor tsunami had happened yet.
So, apart from prose, we now have this overwhelming build-up of lousy journalism to talk about. Actually, most of the reporting was of such poor quality that I was close to stop bothering at all.
Farorientalism: I have similar feelings. I haven’t read any newspaper since weeks now. Or rather, I just read the sports section. What I did is check the BBC every morning to see if Japan still exists. And again in the evening. That was it.
Wash Echte: Do you prefer the BBC’s approach to journalism to that of, say, Der Spiegel-type journalism?
Farorientalism: I usually favor the BBC’s style of reporting. The recent developments in Egypt, for example, I watched only on the BBC.
Wash Echte: Might be that the English media is more competent in international reporting. Positive repercussions of having had colonies.
Farorientalism: Also of having more correspondents, and less ideology. I haven’t read Der Spiegel for quite a while now, and only when I have to - for professional reasons. Apart from them, there have been other examples of intolerable journalism in the German media.
Wash Echte: The more drama and hysteria, the better. I’d say there are two types of far-orientalism in popular culture: The first being the orientalism of the everyman who gets his information exclusively from Western sources. And then we have the Western pundit with first-hand experience. Which type is easier to let off?
Farorientalism: Definitely the first type. Because it is less presumptive and can even have an amicable side to. It’s normal to have little information about a faraway country. The second type, the pundit’s orientalism, is the really insufferable one.
Somebody who considers himself or herself an expert, yet hasn’t got the slightest grasp on the subject matter, is infuriating, and also comical.
Wash Echte:Your blog started out with a piece about Christoph Neumann who wrote one of the most commercially successful German-language books about modern Japan, or actually about alleged cultural differences between the Germans and the Japanese. And in fact, I have met quite a few people in Germany who take his book at face value, and cite it as a source whenever they talk about Japan.
Farorientalism: Oh dear god. Where do I start? Have you ever seen a picture of Neumann?
Wash Echte: Yes…
Farorientalism: In his book, he styles himself as some kind of Don Juan. Which I think is a big giveaway. Yet, much of the stuff he writes isn’t factually wrong, as I described in my blog. He simply shares the general view on Japan found in Germany or the western hemisphere. But he completely fails to reflect that his view isn’t the only one. He’s so self-assured about himself being the bearer of the universal truth.
Wash Echte: You call him “Würstchen”, which I thought was interesting. Is this simply another case of low self-esteem, someone pulling himself up on the alleged superiority of their own culture?
Farorientalism: Right. Japan has a strange attraction to these people, because there, they aren’t as easily typecast as they are in their home countries.
Wash Echte: So the source of this way of thinking is really an inferiority complex.
Farorientalism: Hmm. Suffer in Germany - heal in Japan? I doubt that works. All I do know is I felt a lot of embarrassment-by-proxy while reading that book. In order to avoid portentous terms such as “racism”. Then again, to ponder the thought if a book like this had been written about African people or Jews…that would be unthinkable.
Wash Echte: To slag off most of what you find in a foreign country as “worse than home” and “ridiculous” points to the possibility that this person must have felt even less accepted there, than back home, so he sought out a way to make up for the hurt he suffered.
Farorientalism: I am all for making fun of stuff. But please, be classy about it. Something that Neumann’s writing seems to be lacking in every aspect.
German publishers have found out there’s a market for books like his. The concept being “German people report about the foreign country they chose to live in”. You can find such books about Sweden, Finland, Great Britain, France, Italy, and Greece…so of course, some guy at some publisher one day said, “let’s do one on Japan”. What all these books have in common is that they try to be amusing. And what country is more apt to be made fun of for it’s alleged whimsicality than Japan? The buyer of such books expects to read amusing anecdotes.
Wash Echte: So, Germans like books about foreign countries, but only as long as those books don’t threaten the idea that the German way of life is superior and closest to the “natural state”.
Farorientalism: Exactly. They are daft, but ultimately harmless books. Where they become problematic, is in the reader’s domain. The type of reader who takes these books at face value, who even forms their image of a country based on them, just can’t be helped.
Wash Echte: Is it really all the reader’s fault? I think the marketing of such books is often misleading. I have never once seen them advertised as, “A jolly potpourri of lies, stereotypes, and personal bias to pad the self-esteem of the author”, but always as “authentic, insightful, inside information from the inside!”
Wash Echte: You said that writing the way Neumann did about Japanese people would be unthinkable if the subject matter were Africans or Jews. Am I right to suppose that the German audience also would disapprove of such blatant stereotyping and generalizing of individuals if the target group were, say, Americans? Have Germans come around to think of Americans as individuals rather than as a homogenous, faceless group, and if so, is it due to the ubiquity of American culture in Germany?
Farorientalism: Yes, that surely is true. This lack of familiarity also has a role in the current reporting about the Fukushima nuclear plant. In German media’s editorial offices, you will be hard pressed to find anyone with a sound knowledge about Japan. We do know American writers, musicians, geography, and cities - our image of America is manifold. Japan is also a manifold country. Take the conflict between East Japan and West Japan, for instance. In Germany, is anyone is aware of it?
Talking about the French affection for nuclear energy, just yesterday a Japanese friend from Fukuoka wrote me: “Paris-Berlin: 876 km Fukushima-Fukuoka: 1084 km. Good luck with that!”
Again, the fact that a reactor leak in Fukushima doesn’t mean that instantly, all of Japan is contaminated requires only basic geographic knowledge, but even that seems to be too much to ask.
Wash Echte: Every conversation with people here in Germany about the disaster in Japan seems to follow this exact script: German person: “Isn’t it horrible what happened in Japan?” Me: “It sure is, more than 12000 deaths caused by the Tsunami.” German person: “What? What are you talking about…I was referring to the radiation! Isn’t it just horrible?”
Farorientalism: Exactly. The catastrophe that really happened stopped being of interest to Germans since day two. By the way, this wasn’t the case in the BBC’s reporting. In Germany, the only two aspects that are still of interest are nuclear energy and exploration of the “Japanese national character”: Why the hell aren’t they panicking yet? I am not aware if anything like this has happened before - people responding with pure hysteria to a dangerous situation happening more than 9000 km away.
Wash Echte: Me neither. And Germans don’t seem to fathom out why the Japanese aren’t interested in being “educated” by the much more liberal, nonpartisan western media.
Farorientalism: What stood out for me was one of comment left by a reader below the interview: “The true feelings of Mishima are revealed when he talks about the desired response of the West to the Japan crisis: Send money, don’t ask questions.” This guy seems to think he should be awarded a seat in the Japanese parliament before he gives one Euro to charity.
Wash Echte: I can’t shake the feeling that we Europeans have grown to see our society and our way of life and thinking as the “natural state”. As the optimum any living person should ever strive for.
Farorientalism: And most importantly: That you can only feel happiness as a European person. Happiness being the crucial term here, because since it’s been proven that the Japanese are the more commercially successful nation, the image of the “inferior Asian” can’t be held up anymore.
Wash Echte: That’s where we’re hurting.
Farorientalism: Yes, so luckily, we can now play the happiness trump: “Maybe they’re more successful, but look at the miserable lives they are living.” I just wonder then why life expectancy is higher and Japanese people are healthier. I have never got the impression that they’re especially miserable looking.
Wash Echte: That may be the reason why a European person, expecting to see only miserable, overworked people, is driven into an inferiority complex once confronted with the reality there.
Farorientalism: Or, in a misguided attempt to make reality go away, the European person will then argue that the Japanese just haven’t realized yet how miserable they should really feel, if only they knew. Anything goes to coerce reality into the narrative of the “inferior Asian”.
Wash Echte: That’s what your blog is about, isn’t it - describing all those defense mechanisms people come up with to reassure themselves of their hypothetical superiority.
Farorientalism: Yes. I think this European attitude, or at least that of many Germans, has totalitarian qualities to it: There is only this one way to think and live, and, one day, the whole world has to become like us.
Wash Echte: Totalitarian thought-patterns, imposed on subjectively positive values such as those held up by the students of 1968, who were fighting totalitarianism.
Farorientalism: The same old story, in a new packaging - with a bit of added philanthropy.
Wash Echte: Let’s go back to writers. There are less blatant examples than Christoph Neumann. Have you read “Zehn” by Franka Potente?
Farorientalism: I sort of skipped over it.
Wash Echte: One of the ten stories is about this emotionally inhibited Japanese man, who fails to grasp the opportunity when an outgoing, impulsive Scandinavian woman he met tries to start a relationship with him.
Farorientalism: …that outgoing Scandinavian women of course being Potente’s Alter Ego.
Wash Echte: Probably.
Farorientalism: Sexuality is a fitting topic. About 150 years ago, the Europeans started to go to Japan, and found it to be demoralized, mainly because homosexuals were left alone over there. Today of course, Europeans go to Japan to fight for same-sex marriage rights. Isn’t it ironic?
Wash Echte: Today, it is automatically assumed that homosexuals have it better here than in the Far East.
Farorientalism: Which isn’t an easy call to make. But it makes it obvious that the Japanese don’t need any reeducation from the Europeans.
Wash Echte: That Japanese guy in Potente’s story…isn’t he going against human nature in rejecting that impulsive Scandinavian party-animal?
Farorientalism: Yes, even more so as the Scandinavian, from the classic left-wing point of view, portrays the noblest specimen of mankind: Ecologically correct, socially secured, emancipated, and Arian. Oops, strike Arian, that’s the opposite school of thought. Anyway, the world will never be like Scandinavia, which can be called a blessing for climatical reasons alone.
Wash Echte: Why then, despite presenting us with such shallow, ethnocentric character sketches, does the German feuilleton still praise Potente’s punditry on the Japanese?
Farorientalism: Those guys often don’t care about facts or life outside of their offices anyway. Feuilleton mostly is introspection.
Wash Echte: It’s not like there’s only one example. The book is full of such ideas.
Farorientalism: Tell me more.
Wash Echte: Okay, so this Japanese person comes to California as part of a student exchange program. But when it’s time to go home again, the student, in a change of mind which must have been so obvious to Potente she’s doesn’t even try to explore it, decides to not want to go back to Japan, because compared to life in the US, it now feels like going back to prison.
Wash Echte: So, is this book maybe less of an insight into the Japanese character than into the projection bias of its author?
Farorientalism: I’m speechless. I’d like to ask her why we haven’t seen a mass exodus from Japan yet. I sense oblivion.
Farorientalism: He’s really one of a kind. The old school of Far East correspondents - the guys with the straw hats. Whenever I see his documentations on Phoenix, waddling his way through some arbitrary Vietnamese village, I am always looking for a rickshaw in the background, already waiting for him - that’s like Scholl-Latour’s idea of journalism, minus the insight.
Wash Echte: That doesn’t keep them from writing book after book about the topic.
Farorientalism: Like “Tokyo Tango” by the former FAZ-Correspondent Uwe Schmitt. You can find him in my blog as well. Basically, what he writes is vain blabber, with the pretension to write beautiful prose. The Berliner Morgenpost gave him a full page to open up about his feelings on the earthquake. Funny, I thought, as in the meantime, he had been sent to work in Washington. I quite like the idea to not just ask the people in Japan who were directly affected by the quake, but a correspondent sitting in Washington.
Wash Echte: Is it lack of money, or carelessness to fail to come up with a journalist that speaks the language of the country he has to report on?
Farorientalism: I think the German media is really bad at networking. Also, most journalists are now too scared to go to Japan, for their fear of radiation. But I was speaking about “Tokyo Tango”. What a sad piece of writing.
Wash Echte: Sad for presenting the same old half-truths and stereotypes instead of depicting everyday reality there, which might turn out to be more livable than ours?
Farorientalism: Well, Schmitt did dutifully read much of the Western standard literature about Japan, especially the outdated and the highly critical, without questioning the information he got from these books. Then, for example, he came to the conclusion that the Japanese “salary men” (people following a conservative career path, the ed.) must live a miserable life. He took that idea and ran it through some kind of “lets-write-like-Thomas-Mann-if-he-had-been-a-journalist” - machine, and the result was “Tokyo Tango”, a book that has earned much praise from the Feuilleton.
Wash Echte: Apparently, the Germans have a problem with people who dedicate their life to their workplace. So next time I go to a German bakery half an hour before they close shop and ask to buy something despite all the displays already having been emptied, should I take the rude retort they’ll certainly give me as a symbol for the freedom and superior quality of life of the German working class?
Farorientalism: Germans mainly see work as a means of self-realization. Which wouldn’t be such a bad idea, if it weren’t for the fact that 80% of work that needs to be done - working in a bakery, delivering parcels, being a janitor - will hardly leave room for self-realization.
Wash Echte: On the contrary, if you think about the people working in Japan’s supermarkets, who are usually friendly and helpful even at late hours, should you be worried that these people lie awake at night to grieve about the sour grapes life dealt them?
Farorientalism: Definitely! It’s normal for the Japanese to cry themselves to sleep every night because they weren’t born Europeans ;-) The general image of the Japanese, for the regular German, is that of an odd, often whimsical, yet kamikaze-grade disciplined person.
Wash Echte: And obedient to authority.
Farorientalism: Correct. The “hardworking member of the ant colony” stereotype.
Wash Echte: So we talked about the image of Japanese people among the insecure and uninformed, but what about the group of people I like to call “elite Germans”, who consider themselves to be progressives. Take alternative, globetrotting, young actress Franka Potente, for example. To me, what she writes about Japan is simply kitsch, akin to those yodeling Africans in Lederhosen you can see on ARD. Yet, nobody seems to be bothered much by it.
Farorientalism: Part of the problem is that the Japanese seems to represent a concept from which we Germans have long struggled to distance ourselves. We consider ourselves as not being obedient to authority anymore at all, as individualistic free thinkers - yet we all have the same basic opinion, as we can currently see in regard to nuclear energy. The Japanese doesn’t have the best standing in our hip communities.
Wash Echte: Which is China’s chance to take its place there.
Farorientalism: Yes. But the Chinese trigger new, different anxieties. Do you know this book by Amy Chua?
Wash Echte: Oh, that woman in the US with her rigid ideas of how to bring up children?
Farorientalism: Yes, the so-called Tiger mum. Granted, she’s quite a nut-job. A majority of Chinese people would probably never raise their kids like her.
Wash Echte: Nonetheless, the “rigid Chinese mother” stereotype has already been consolidated…
Farorientalism: It is highly provocative of her, an intelligent woman, to boldly say, “I will raise my kids the Asian way”. The only thing the West is worried about is whether they now have to adopt her ideas to stay afloat. That scares people. Until recently, the West was calling the shots on this planet. And now, god forbid, a new age has broken where things are vice-versa? This, I think, is interesting to observe.
Wash Echte: The one straw we clutch to being “creativity”. To make ourselves feel better, we entertain this idea of a spiritual, mysterious creativity, which “cannot be learned”. At the same time, we deny “the Asian” any creative potential - even if they ever had any when they were children, it is erased by the “harsh” drill they “all have to go through”.
Farorientalism: There’s this well-meaning article in Die Zeit, which seemingly speaks against an exoticism-riddled view on Japan, only to go back to that same exoticism a few paragraphs later.
The author talks about negative aspects of Japanese culture, and in that context makes a statement like, “creativity is repressed in Japan”.
Seriously - I know many Japanese people from varying backgrounds, and I never once got the impression that they were less creative than the Germans I know. If anything, the opposite is true. But I do know where this stereotype is coming from.
Wash Echte: Because Japanese people don’t live in Altbau apartments in Berlin-Mitte?
Farorientalism: That’s it. But that doesn’t explain how someone who knows a few Japanese people, let’s say outside a business context, can come around to believe this stereotype to hold any water.
Wash Echte: Like the person who wrote that article for Die Zeit.
Farorientalism: If you read that article, it becomes clear that he has read the odd book about Japan, and may even have visited the country. Also, he definitely is well meaning. I fully understand how journalism must generalize. Still, why articles like this one are greenlighted, escapes me.
Wash Echte: Concerning Japan, apparently negative aspects of its culture are generalized and persist, while positive ones usually fall through the cracks. Back to your blog, Farorientalism - did you get any negative reactions to it?
Farorientalism: Not many. The other day, someone wrote: “Much of your criticism I’ve heard before - coming from the Japanese themselves. They miss the sort of enlightenment which would enable them to question the status quo and voice their opinion (…) there’s no point in turning a blind eye towards the problems of the people there out of sympathy for their country (…)”
Wash Echte: This sounds like one of those German people who love to cite critical opinions on Israel voiced by Jews. Which coincidentally are the only Jewish opinions they usually cite.
Farorientalism: “My Jewish friends say…” ;-)
Wash Echte: Thank god for the whistleblowers.
Farorientalism: Right. But something else I found to be even more remarkable: The allegation that I turn a blind eye on the “problems of the Japanese”. I don’t want to sound mean, but if there are such problems, then the Japanese must solve them themselves. There is no need - and this the exact point I am trying to make - for us Germans to pose as “super-nannies” who help the Japanese solve their problems. I’m not so stupid as to think of Japan as a perfect place. During my trips there, I rather had the feeling that we Europeans haven’t even realized our problems. I doubt that becoming like Germany should be a goal for any country.
Farorientalism: To give a fair answer: No, it isn’t that bad everywhere. But generally, it is pretty awful. Ms Reinhard may not even be the worst example.
Wash Echte: Well, she didn’t even know that there was a time difference between Germany and Japan, so she called him on the phone late at night in his time zone, and had to apologize for it later.
Farorientalism: I thought the actual Manga-related article that apparently was the result of this research wasn’t that bad after all. It was definitely better than this story in “Stern” which was basically a potpourri of all known stereotypes mixed together: Kamikaze, Samurai etc..
Wash Echte: I didn’t read it.
Farorientalism: To understand how bad that piece is, imagine this catastrophe had taken place in Germany and the foreign media would illustrate their reports with SS troops and spiked helmets. To quote that article: “(…) there are stories like that of this old woman who is rescued from a car wreck and apologizes to have caused an inconvenience for the rescue workers. Or that of people who were evacuated, but didn’t dare to enter the gym (which was set up as a shelter) without taking off their shoes first (…)” What’s wrong with this description? First of all, this woman simply used the most common Japanese idiom for saying, “Thank you”. Nothing else. And second, the people who take off their shoes before entering the gym do the most common thing imaginable. Why would they want to “dare” something different in the first place? Where did the author get this idea that they “do not dare”?
Wash Echte: A good example.
Farorientalism: …that suggests that all Japanese, deep down, have a heartfelt desire to not to take off their shoes when entering a living place. But they just don’t “dare”, because they will be shunned by “the group”.
Wash Echte: So, leaving your shoes on when you walk into a place other people live in, should be understood as the “natural state of human existence”.
Farorientalism: Like you are supposed to say, “Guten Tag” when entering a store, even if you actually couldn’t care less if they have a good day.
The people who wrote that article are probably not stupid. But they lack all intercultural intelligence. Or they switched if off for professional reasons.
Wash Echte: Does Germany need a complete overhaul of the way journalism is taught here?
Farorientalism: I don’t think so. A more critical audience would be nice.
Wash Echte: Then again, if you take a look at Stern, you immediately know what kind of journalism to expect. But Der Spiegel on the other hand claims to be Germany’s number one source of “quality journalism”. With the reporting of the past few weeks, I rather get the impression that those questions from Nora Reinhard to Mishima are the better indicator for the quality to expect from Der Spiegel.
Farorientalism: Like I said - I tend to categorize Spiegel Online as a tabloid anyway.
Wash Echte: They are more insidious than your usual tabloid…
Farorientalism: Everything is a “Eilmeldung”. Also that unfortunate “liveticker”. As if the situation in Fukushima was a football match and they’re waiting for the first goal. Hyperventilating the news in hope to manufacture a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we took the reporting in Der Spiegel at face value, it’d be a miracle that anyone in Tokyo is still alive and the city not in ruins.
Wash Echte: What Der Spiegel excels at are cunning headlines. Maximized shock value disguised as factual information.
Farorientalism: It’s just speculative, badly researched, and unethical journalism. What they aim for, of course, is attention and eventually “page impressions”.
Wash Echte: The “Let’s turn everything into a slideshow” school of online media.
Farorientalism: Right. To say it like Sarah Kuttner or Nora Tschirner “Spiegel Online - Das geht gar nicht.”
Wash Echte: I thought it was “Ich glaube es hackt”?
Farorientalism: That’s by Judith Holofernes, our trusty old Bild-boycotter. You don’t like her very much, do you?
Wash Echte: I haven’t really formed an opinion about her, but I do find the uniformity of her audience a bit suspicious. Isn’t it tragic that you will find a huge crowd of Germans who will rally behind such lazy rebellion while at the same time they seem to be completely uncritical of what Der Spiegel feeds them?
Farorientalism: To take Bild seriously is nobody’s fault but your own. For example, saying, “es hackt” about Bild just strikes me as old thinking. It’s common knowledge in Germany that the Japanese allegedly trust their media “blindly”. But look at the Germans - they are the ones who fit this description as much.
Wash Echte: I think they are even worse.
Farorientalism: In Germany, the easiest way to position yourself outside of society is to say: “I am in favor of nuclear energy”. Of course there are good arguments against nuclear energy. But the level of uniformity in opinion is scary. It reminds me of the citation of Kaiser Wilhelm II, “I recognize parties no more; I recognize only anti-nuclear activists!”
Wash Echte: Do you think that freedom of speech still exists, meaning that one is able to openly be in favor of nuclear energy without having to fear bodily harm?
Farorientalism: I wouldn’t go so far as to say freedom of speech is in danger, apart from certain areas of Berlin maybe. I’m amused by Germans who call the Japanese a “group-oriented” society who always adapt the group’s opinion as their own - the very same thing the Germans do.
Wash Echte: I again suspect that it’s 100% projection bias and Japanese are actually less group-oriented than Germans.
Farorientalism: To prepare this conversation, I re-read a couple of newspaper articles, and got the impression that the Germans are almost as angry with the Japanese “not learning their lessons from Hiroshima” as they are angry with the Jews “not learning their lessons from Auschwitz”.
Wash Echte: :-) Can the performances of people like Hetkämper or Reinhard serve as evidence for the provincialism of modern Germany? After all, Hetkämper works for Germany’s biggest and most important TV network, ARD.
Farorientalism: What else could it be? But to differentiate a bit, in the case of Hetkämper, I believe his mishaps to be sheer incompetence paired with lack of motivation and the convenience of being a veteran foreign correspondent for a large public TV network. He simply can’t be bothered. Reinhard, on the other hand, is proof that not only the Japanese have trouble with the English language ;-)
Wash Echte: As a consequence, isn’t it preferable for Germany to not play a major role in international politics? The general public seems to lack basic knowledge of foreign countries, and worse, still accepts stereotypes and ethnocentric pseudo-journalism at face value.
Farorientalism: That’s a hard question. You can find that sort of bad journalism in the US as well. I never understood the reasoning behind why Germany strives to play a bigger international role, anyway. Germany does export loads of weaponry to who knows what countries to. Japan doesn’t, at least not to the same extent. Yet, we Germans like to think of ourselves as a refined, thoroughly peaceful nation: “We learned our lessons from history, you know - unlike those Yasukuni-visiting Japanese”. The troublesome aspect of this ethnocentricity and lack of knowledge is that we aren’t aware of it.
Wash Echte: I fear this conversation is quite pessimistic. There surely must be exceptions to the rule. Germans who are able to competently write about Japan?
Farorientalism: Hmm. Let me see. I like Petra Kolonko of FAZ, who earlier worked as a correspondent from China and now from Tokyo. She’s fair and balanced, yet critical, and rarely falls back on cultural criticism. She is able to categorize aspects of Japanese culture in a way that signals: Everything is relative and can be found, to another extent, elsewhere. By the way, I also like the guy who does China for FAZ, Mark Siemons. He is definitely competent. Also, what you can find in Die Zeit about the Far East is usually not too far off the mark.
Wash Echte: Interesting, because I thought they rank among the worst. Their flaunting of the whimsical is unmatched. The number of articles like “in Japan, robots are caring for the elderly" you can find in Die Zeit in sum means a distortion of reality, because it creates a false image of homogeneity that fails to do justice to the complexity which is inherent not only in the Japanese, but any modern society.
Farorientalism: It’s true that you can find awful writing there. Sometimes though, a really good one also makes it into print. I remember one about Japan’s foreign policies. It’s hit-or-miss with Die Zeit.
Wash Echte: Would you like your blog to help change the status quo of reporting on the Far East?
Farorientalism: The main motivation for writing is to catalog my own thoughts in a “just for fun” way. Having said that, I’d of course be happy if my blog leads some of the “ants” from this “ant colony” called Germany, which to me looks quite uniform, to reconsider their thinking about the Far East and not blindly trust what the media feeds them, I’d be happy.
Spring 2011. A catastrophe of apocalyptic dimensions has hit Japan, an ongoing tragedy that reveals the inability of a whole commercial sector, whose underlying structure of misinformation, lies, and blatant manipulation of facts for the sole purpose of profit, is suddenly brought to light. The incompetence of those involved proves itself to be so profound, that no one in their right mind can ever be able to trust these people with anything ever again.
What’s that? No, I’m not talking about Fukushima, radiation, or anything happening in faraway countries, but about the tragic and complete meltdown of journalistic ethos, methodology, and human dignity of most of the German media in the face of the current events. The sheer amount of ethnocentric vitriol and small-minded idiocy concerning Japan found in the German media has rendered any satirical approach useless. So let’s take a shot at some entirely amateur gonzo journalism. Or as the Germans call it, journalism.
Surely there must be at least some people in Germany who can write about Japan without mentioning vending machines for used knickers or the “contrast of tradition and modernism”? After looking really hard, I found something. This text, Stadt der Träume for taz is such a good read that I just had to talk to the guy who wrote it. Turns out the author, Dr. Roberto Lalli, an Italian playwright living in Germany, has a very interesting view on why the German reporting about Japan is in such poor state.
Interview with Dr. Roberto Lalli
WE: What was your motivation for writing about Japan?
RL: I have to admit that Japanese culture fascinated me since I was a little kid. Probably very early in my life I realized that European art was not as modern and revolutionary as it seemed to be at first glance. Jugendstil or Art Deco, as it is called outside Germany and Austria, had been influenced heavily by Japanese minimalism or purism, a perspective on life as well as on art that came up in Japan hundreds of years before it struck artists like Van Gogh and later Picasso like lightning. I remember the effect the preparatory drawings of Van Gogh had on me - he was not at all the wild, irrational painter many believe him to be: ‘Wow, I thought, this is pure Japanese reduction to the essential!”
I will never forget the first time I went to a German “Völkerkundemuseum”. At some point I entered the Japanese section and noticed a glass shrine with black, shiny, ultra modern teacups, and I wondered if someone had put their brand new IKEA cups in there. Well, I approached the cups to read the tags, which said, “Japanese manufacturer, 12th century”. Oh dear, that was like a kick up the arse. Real fun. Later I read a lot of Japanese literature, ancient and modern, and among the modern writers especially Kenzaburo Oe fascinated me because of his essential, sometimes crude, and still touching language. So, that was the beginning of my passion for Japan, no, not for Japan, but for Japanese art, cinema, architecture, philosophy and economy. Maybe the movie “Lost in Translation” reminded me at somehow, that there was not only Japanese culture as a way to deal with life over here, but also a living Japan, waiting to be discovered. So I took a plane and went there.
WE: Before visiting Japan, did you have in mind any stereotypes about modern Japan? Did you experience affirmation for any of them?
RL: The only thing I anticipated was a particular kind of foreignness that it was going to be very difficult to communicate with the Japanese. Not because of the language barrier, but because of an impenetrable seriousness, which shields most emotion, and I found that to be true. What took me by surprise was the fact that Japanese people, when communicating with strangers, barely exchange any subtext at all. This particularly European mess of hidden desire, shame, and constant searching for the other’s soul, this constant judgment, eyeballing, and competing, in Japan simply doesn’t exist between strangers. The individual there feels no need to reflect itself in others, because outside of work or family, it isn’t on a constant quest to self-discovery. When a Japanese person is among other Japanese people who are strangers to him, he in a way ceases to exist, but reappears once he interacts with peers known to him. I found it to be amusing that the stereotype of “losing face” has some truth to it. When I was lost and asked a Japanese person, who didn’t speak English, for directions, he just passed me with a fixed stare, simply to avoid embarrassment for both him and me.
WE: Is it natural for a European to feel “alienated” by Japan and the Japanese, or is this feeling of alienation more like a self-fulfilling prophecy?
RL: I’d say: Both. Asia and Europe are fundamentally different, under objective criteria, and this is no illusion. On the other hand, there will always be a sense of alienation once one delves into another culture. We Europeans are mainly defining ourselves through the people around us - to a much greater extent than we happen to be aware about in our natural “habitat”. An example: If you’re a handsome man or woman, when you’re walking around Tokyo, or when you’re riding the subway there, you will soon find out that no one seems to notice your good looks, let alone react to them even in any non-verbal way, so it may appear to you like you’re a time traveling, invisible man. Our ego, in the Freudian sense of the word, is a reflected projection. When that reflection ceases to exist, part of the ego also fades away. Accordingly, the meaning of “travel” is to become aware of the fact that whatever we think our ego is, actually isn’t our ego. So, what is the ego then, I ask.
WE: In your piece for taz, you oppose the usual clichés of the Japanese as whimsical “others”, caught in an eternal conflict of traditions and modern life with a unique, favorable view on the Japanese society. In your piece for taz, Tokyo for once isn’t the hypermodern, inhuman place it usually is stylized as in western media, but rather an actually existing utopia of a fairer, more livable capitalism. Isn’t the do-or-die, psychopathic society of loners, that western media purports Japan to be, closer to reality?
RL: Make no mistake: Capitalism by nature is just that, an at all times inhuman system - not only during the time of crisis, when the whining about “degenerated capitalism” is at its loudest. Which to me is really just laughable. People should read what Rosa Luxemburg said a hundred years ago about the capitalistic tendency of increasingly radical accumulation. Japan is different to Europe in that people, in return for submitting themselves to this logic of capitalism, at least receive some kind of compensation. They get a better deal than the Europeans - on all levels. The Japanese capitalism is not necessarily more human than the European one, but the participants receive a greater share. In Europe, the corporations can get rid of 150 years worth of social standards and comforts without anyone in the media complaining much. At the same time, they receive tax break after tax break from governments, regardless of their political orientation. In Japan, companies pay a higher price to the country and society for being allowed to participate in the market. Having said that, the capitalistic pressure on people, even the youngest, is enormous in Japan as well. Suicides rates are high, even among 10-year-olds, and adolescents rather try to make a living by selling T-Shirts than do like their fathers and dedicate their lives to a corporation.
WE: Is this fairer type of capitalism in any way caused by the same traditional morals and values that are often mocked as being antiquated and limiting in comparison to the hedonist western lifestyle?
RL: No, this is a trait of the Asian capitalism in general, the most important trait of the “Tokyo model,” which differs from the “Washington model.” Refer to any given history book: All countries that have succeeded at implementing industrialization and produce goods which can compete on a global scale, have in fact started out in seclusion, meaning that they used protective taxes to make their economies immune to cheap imports. Japan is still keeping up this way of regulation, especially in the agricultural sector. This effectively prevented a rural exodus and helped stabilize society after the Second World War. Had Japan, at that time, followed the absurd ideas of the IWF, like so many countries in Africa in South America, who are still being told that an unconditional opening of their markets will strengthen their economies, it would probably have become another “developing” nation. The Japanese were much too clever to be led astray as the Washington model only serves Washington and its industrialized allies.
WE: Would it be a fair assessment to call Berlin, due to its absence of most of capitalism’s landmarks, like skyscrapers, and its wide-spread suspicion of even the feeblest forms of consumerism, and on the other hand its decadent nightlife and skepticism towards conservative forms of employment the exact opposite of Tokyo? Is Berlin after all the more modern city of the two, where ones’ ego hurts particularly bad?
RL: Surely the ego hurts a lot more in Berlin than in Tokyo, because here in Germany we’ve traded in all those conservative elements of society for a certain kind of freedom. The kind of freedom which at heart is merely just a consumer’s freedom, limited to those with money to spend. Japan, in many aspects, is still a conservative, and in some aspects even authoritarian country, which to a great extent resembles the German empire of Bismarck. Its values, though, have never been filtered through such an epic identity crisis like the one that came over Europe (Ed. note: The revolts of 1968), which, as the lowest common denominator, lead to nothing but materialism. Japan’s values did suffer by their defeat in WWII, but the Japanese still do believe in and lead their lives after certain, century-old values such as loyalty, personal dedication, integrity, and readiness to sacrifice. Voiced in Berlin, such vocabulary would earn you nothing but laughs, and rightfully so once you consider the significant abuse of these values by the Nazis. In Japan on the other hand, they do live on.
The good news for us Europeans is that we’ve been atomized to an extent that we’ve come to a more radical concept of the ego than any other place on earth. This opens a view to change, a new spirituality, and a new definition of the “persona” in the context of others, which we had to re-learn. This is something which seems to be lacking in Japan on an objective level, yet not on the subjective level. For these collective-oriented societies, it is easier to create sense for the individual, which seems like a paradox but really isn’t.
WE: Is Japan especially alienating to somebody who lost his innocence, naiveté, and faith in the goodness of this world?
RL: A good question, to which the answer I believe to be “yes”. We Europeans basically do not believe in anything anymore. This will actually be the crucial factor in the ongoing competition of who is going to run the world. What is it exactly that we can do so much better than China, India, and Japan? That we do not believe in anything at all. And what is the biggest advantage of those countries over us? The fact that we don’t believe in anything anymore. I do not even dare to start contemplating the extent of catastrophes we’d have to face to become open again to rediscover the humanism of early European capitalism, which I personally think is the greatest accomplishment of the Europeans. The belief that every single person is precious from the moment they enter this world, and that nobody can be happy alone because love and personal fulfillment can only be experienced together with others. It is exactly this heritage, which we lost and sold out for the sort of “promise” that you can carry home in a plastic bag. A promise never kept.
WE: In Germany, there seems to be huge demand for writers who claim to have a stereotype-free insight into the cultural differences of Japan and Germany. I found it especially remarkable how publishers go out of their way to attest these writers a deep knowledge of Japanese culture, yet after a few pages, it becomes clear that despite all the reputed insight, you’ll always find the same patronizing, ethnocentric European viewpoint. You, to the contrary, were able to avoid it. What makes it so hard for German writers to see what you have seen?
RL: I am not an oracle, god beware. A point where I, and many other somewhat well read people might differ from those authors is that I believe in knowing a countries’ history helps to understand its people. The history, the dynamics of power, the economical structure. It doesn’t matter how much time you have spent in Japan. You will only see what you’re capable to understand. Whatever you don’t know, will escape you. This is the benefit of education. It makes you see how things relate.
WE: In German literature about Japan, take German Franka Potentes’ book “Zehn” for a recent example, one is often startled by this inherent, knee-jerk assumption that any Japanese person having lived in a Western country will automatically come to prefer the Western lifestyle to that of Japan, mainly because the Western world is allegedly more in favor of individualism. I often get the impression that these books aren’t actually about exploring a foreign culture, but about manufacturing proof for the superiority of ones own, “western-alternative” lifestyle. Would you say German writers make a valid point by claiming that the stereotypical Japanese “salary man” is secretly hoping to be liberated by an alternative Western Uebermensch?
RL: First of all, I don’t think of Nietzsche as a figurehead of a philosophy that puts the freedom of man first. Quite the contrary. His idea of “eternal recurrence” is a rejection of the struggle for freedom as for Nietzsche, man cannot escape fate, but only has the choice to radically accept or not accept it. Yet, to answer your question, if a Japanese person, having lived in a foreign country, can ever go back to see the Japanese lifestyle as the “default”, or if he’ll from then on long for the “alternative” Western lifestyle…I’d like to answer this with the words of Ernst Bloch, who in contrast to Nietzsche, said that utopia is a function of human spirit, because that is what’s waiting for us in the future. So we bear a certain idea of it, which pushes us forward on the time axis, in the direction of utopia, with the intent to eventually make it reality. Utopia in this case being another, more fitting, more human existence in harmony with ourselves, nature, and all other forms of life. And this very longing for a different, utopian, yet in principle possible existence, is felt all the same by Japanese students, Italian managers, or Spanish accountants.
The paintings and sculptures in our museums are nothing but a window to this very utopia, and what else do we read about in the myriad of Dante’s, Goethe’s, or Scott Fitzgerald’s words if not about the longing for a more human life, where we and everything else will finally stop being nothing but wares.
That feeling of life we sometimes grasp in those rare moments yet is impossible to achieve in our globalized capitalism, and probably lifetime. This longing, and the unbearable pain that comes with it, isn’t European or Asian, but human, because the souls of man and their thirst for liberation of their inherent possibilities and love are universal. This is what I believe.
Then, apart from this universal longing, there is a practical, personal longing for change. An example: I live in Mannheim, and for years I’ve pondered the thought to move to another place. To the seaside, back home to Tuscany, or to Spain. Why? Because there are aspects to these places that I think of as better, more beautiful, or simply more fitting to my needs. And - who wouldn’t think this way after having set out foot in the world? Who doesn’t dream about waking up somewhere in Provence, or fall asleep in Mali, breathing in the musky odor of its soil, under the brightest firmament ever seen? The Japanese students who return from their University studies in Europe might feel the same way, but not because Germany or Italy are such awesome countries, or because we Europeans excel the Japanese in any way.
What we find in foreign countries is an inkling of wholeness: Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could live in a mixed existence of French, Italian, Chinese, American, and African influences, instead of everybody simply bumbling about their own Starbucks, whether it is in Tokyo or Auckland.
You know, I am really struggling with the term “individualism”. In the sense of a mature, self-determined life in relation to other people, “Individualism” isn’t a word I am able to take serious before capitalism and the objectification of our existence is overcome. As long as individualism merely means that I can buy a BMW in 16 different colors, but otherwise lead a hollow, lonesome, inauthentic life among the masses of the disaffected, I’d prefer any tribe of the Brazilian rainforest, or any Japanese family with their rituals and collective rules to the “great freedom” we live in.
WE: Is Japan such an easy target of clichéd and subjective observations because both the distance, and language barriers are very hard to overcome for the average western person? Would it be met with the same acceptance to publish similarly misguided views and factually wrong information about a country like the USA?
RL: See, in Germany culture and “Kulturkritik” is a function of the currently ruling commercial interests and strategic alliances. Everything American is good, everything French is good, everything Russian is evil, and everything Japanese is ridiculous, or simply “inferior”. If you’d like to learn about how a certain country is stereotyped in Germany’s cultural circles, you should study our current foreign trade balances and military alliances. What we have in Germany is a synchrony of the press, which in this aspect defies all description.
WE: This makes me wonder if trade balances are a sufficient explanation for the ethnocentric and subconsciously arrogant view on Japan these writers can’t seem to overcome – especially writers who are part of a so called counter-culture? I guess most of them would vehemently protest any claim they are taking sides in capitalist rivalries.
RL: The term “counter culture” makes me laugh. What is it supposed to mean anyway? It reminds me of the German movie “Berliner Ballade” starring Gert Fröbe, from 1948, where at one point, the “Lied vom Kampf” (Song of the battle) is performed to mock the specifically German trait of constantly having to campaign against something.
Even if we give that term counter culture the benefit of doubt: The true protagonists of German counter culture do not write articles or paint pictures, because they’re dead buried, and for the most part, forgotten. Whoever seriously rebelled against the status quo has been murdered, driven into exile, or put into jail, which is as good as death. Remember the German peasant’s war (1524-1526, the ed.), Heine, Dutschke, Einstein, Rosa Luxemburg, and Karl Liebknecht, all those who were part of the resistance in WWII, like the Delp, Scholl, or the unknown soldiers who refused to take part in the murdering only to become victims of murderous obedience themselves. Where are the monuments reminding us of these people? Where in Germany is this counter culture who stands in this very tradition and builds on its strength to plan cities differently, speak differently, love differently, debate differently, and decides to work, eat, and learn differently, hence practically live a different culture? What I do see is a culture of change. People who want to raise their kids sort of differently, leave their car in the garage now and then, eat mostly vegetarian, and dutifully vote for green parties - a kind of change that safely stays inside certain limits but never questions the distribution of power to the few. This culture of change does work, no doubt about it, and Germany did in fact change for the better over the course of the last 30 years. I was born in 1963 and who knows what would have happened if back then the German minister of foreign affairs decided to come out about his homosexuality? Which is a good example to demonstrate the limits of this culture of change. It has been very successful in the private realm, and partly successful in parliamentarian politics, but it couldn’t and wouldn’t at all touch the basic structure of a society where the few own almost everything and get to decide, while the majority remains powerless and unheard.
When the minister of foreign affairs wears trainers, but engages in super nationalist, imperialist foreign politics, which again only serve very few people, but hurts a majority, then that is not counter culture. Counter culture would mean to raise taxes for corporations, and to prioritize the concerns of common people instead of theirs, to demand the same on an international level, and to lower the reliance on imported energy through the development of own resources, instead of securing them internationally by military means. This would have brought forth very different, historically significant effects compared to the laudable, but less fundamental changes to our daily, so-called “private” lives.
You know, it has become very hard to understand international politics, capitalism, and globalization. I tried, and it took me the better part of 20 years to publish even a thin, yet hopefully enlightening book that I titled “Diktatur als Demokratie”. Therefore, it doesn’t really come as a surprise, and can be forgiven, that many Germans, Italians, and French people who write about Japan and the Japanese do from a middle-of-the-road “Gutmenschen” (do-gooder, the ed.) point of view, which in a way reminds me of Marie Antoinette’s motto “Let them eat cake”, which probably is a misquote. But the basic idea to save galley slaves with cigarette breaks and six weeks of holidays can be easily transferred over to Japan: Capitalism as a brilliant concept, which merely needs some cosmetic changes here and there. Japan is suited very well for the European “Gutmensch” who argues from this point of view, because at first sight its capitalist organization looks much more archaic than that of Germany or Italy. Salary raises by age, discipline, hierarchies, mandatory drinking binges after work - wow, don’t we have it better here in Germany! Over here, a young, trendy, cool “head of the agency” comes to work at 2 a.m. with free Pizza for the poor souls who work all night to meet next days’ deadline – isn’t life great? No, you know, it’s just crap, simple exploitation under the disguise of the latest aesthetical fashion.
Like the guys on that ship in that “Beck’s” advertisement, who 20 years ago had to look like career-driven mods, while today they look like career-driven, 18 year old hobos. To that I’d prefer a less cozy, Marxist analysis. I am quite sure that Marx would see the current German capitalism as much more encompassing than the Japanese one, just by looking at the relationship of the government to corporations, and vice-versa. Engels, on the other hand, would simply ask what a Japanese worker’s salary is, how many hours he’s working, and under what conditions, and after how many years can he buy his own house. How about the public health care system, or the pensions? I am not an expert in these areas, but I bet that the Japanese system would look good compared to the German, Italian, or French one.
If there was one newspaper, magazine, or TV network in Germany who published the actual figure of how many taxes German corporations have to pay, then we’d have a chance to compare it to the amount of money that Japanese corporations pay for public wealth. I am quite sure: It is less.
WE: In your opinion, why do most Western writers seem to be unable to meet modern Japan on eye level, accepting it as an autonomous model, and walk straight into the trap of evaluating it as a deviance, if not even perversion, of their own, Western “Leitkultur”?
RL: But then I pose the question: Who still buys into the concept of Western “Leitkultur”? It has never existed, at least not outside of the Western world. What we Europeans refuse to accept is that this world is a sphere. Take one look on a map - what is right in the center: Europe. Our world maps are even proportionally incorrect (they scale up the north and scale down the south). But for most people on this planet, Europe isn’t the center of the world. The first humanoids lived in Africa, and most of what mankind has discovered and invented was discovered and invented in Assyrian territory, China, or Persia. On a Chinese world map, of course China is in the center. Did you know there has never been a Chinese “Foreign minister”? That is because, with some justification, China considers all other countries to be inferior to China.
Sure, we have had a good run with ancient Greece and the Roman empire, Dante, Shakespeare, and Mozart, Kant, Einstein, Beethoven, and Hemingway, but all this isn’t singular and could be found in the respective heydays of past empires and cultures, with the only difference being us not remembering or simply never having heard of them.
Persians or Arabs have invented all modern European math, pharmacology, medicine, and astronomy, yet nobody seems to care much about it. The Sumerians, at 2000 BC had cities that in large parts were similar to our cities of today, yet we think of ourselves as God’s gift to science.
But we are not. What we Europeans did rule are those 500 years between the 15th century and today, which in the grand scheme of things is nothing, a thing of the past. The next 500 years of human history will be shaped by China, India, and maybe Japan, regardless of what the US will undertake to prevent it.
WE: Are you planning to write about Japan again? What projects are you currently working on?
RL: I’d like to spend half a year in Japan, or live there for a longer period of time to better get to know the remote areas. My colleague Garr Reynolds, the “Presentation Guru” is an associate professor in Osaka and I’d like to visit him there for an interview. And to study Japanese fairy tales - I love fairy tales.
Dr. Roberto Lalli has published the book “Diktatur als Demokratie” for Edition Fatal, which can be purchased here. You can visit his personal website at www.robertolalli.de
Once you’ve settled down in Berlin, the single most exciting and nonconformist conglomeration of buildings, streets, people and dirt that ever graced the surface of this planet, you will automatically turn into a one man travel agency for your fellow Auslanders back home.
Prepare yourself to spend a few hours each day to answer the requests from your friends, distant acquaintances, and random substance abusers that some idiot passed your email address on to at a party, asking you for advice and information on the many different things that make Berlin so irresistible to them. Which are parties, clubs, drugs, parties, casual sex, and parties.
Despite their loudmouthed claims to be widely traveled cosmopolitans, you’ll be surprised to learn about your friends’ dire need to make perfectly sure they’ll enjoy their trip to Berlin before they even consider spending a single unit of their respective currency to go there. Which puts you in the unfortunate position to take most of the liability for their staycation to live up to the infamous Berlin hype, which you had no part in perpetuating but plenty of opportunity to grow unimpressed with.
So how do you protect yourself from your auslandish friend’s inevitable complaints that you misrepresented Berlin (which you didn’t) and haven’t warned them to not believe everything they’ve heard about it (which you did)? Despair not. Because, you know, there is a failsafe, fun method to safely guide any Berlin novice through their own decision process to find out if Berlin would be the right place for them: The Kanye West analogy.
It works like this: Because Kanye West is an uberfamous rapper with a Nobel-prize worthy ego and manic dedication to direct all attention to him, every single person in the world has a well-developed opinion about the guy. As will be demonstrated in a moment, through what can only be caused by a quirk in the space-time continuum, it just so happens that Kanye West and the part of Berlin “that matters” are so similar in the way they are endlessly impressive to imbeciles, that it is perfectly safe to assume anyone who likes, or even can be arsed to still pay attention to, Kanye West, will likely also have a heck of a time in Berlin.
Not sold on the idea yet? Consider this, Auslander:
Kanye started out as a promising hip hop artist and talented producer who was able to land a few hit records in the musical genre called Hip-Hop. But after having barely survived a car accident, something in Kanye’s brain snapped, and since that day he opted to continue his career as the autotune-abusing cyberpop muppet we know him as today, or in his own words, “the voice of this generation.”
Get it? Berlin and its people had the reputation to be a promising, if a bit unambitious new player on the circuit of world capitals, until one day, by accident, the Berlin wall came down, and Berlin’s elite, in a lazy pose of self-grandeur, felt that their city could now be whatever it wants to be and decided that the result of this awkward, forced epiphany was to proclaim that Berlin is now the “new New York” and the best place for young people to follow their dreams at.
Kanye West mainly made himself a name for having an ostentatious, if a bit predictable fashion sense, and signed responsible for so many mediocrity-ridden, auto-tuned cyberpop crapfests that you start to wonder how anyone could come to the conclusion that Kanye is still a hip-hop artist.
Like Berlin: Apparently, for a city widely claimed to be the “new New York”, Berlin has to work off quite a backlog of attributes that make a city big. Like, you know, tall buildings. Busy streets. Non-white people. A proper airport. A wide variety of scenes and cultures. 24/7 grocery shopping. Hell, 24/7 anything, for that matter. Somehow this new New York didn’t get old New York’s memo about it being “the city that never sleeps,” and not “the city that sleeps in until around noon, skips the shower, and wastes the day in a nearby cafe passing smug judgement on normal people.”
Kanye is infamous for stating he “wants to win every award,” and is known to throw temper tantrums whenever someone else is awarded instead. From which can only be deducted that he a) is one of the few people left on this planet who still gives a damn about awards and b) he is such a deeply insecure person that he constantly needs affirmation from external entities in order to feel any self worth.
Enter Berlin: Once you mention even the slightest matter which you think isn’t absolutely perfect about it, or god forbid, some tiny thing that you liked better in another place, then be prepared for the conversation to rapidly turn into an awkward, passive-aggressive pissing contest during which the Berlin fiend will, without fail, launch into a pedantic diatribe to shoot down the unthinkable thought that any other place in the world could be in any way better than Berlin. Just like Kanye’s egomaniac approach to awards, anytime Berlin loses, it is never its own fault but always some hater holding Berlin down, probably because this hater is simply too mainstream to grasp Berlin’s paradigm-changing role in the world of clubs, amateur fashion design, or the invention of euphemisms for unemployment.
Even if, after all of the above, you’re inclined to give Kanye the benefit of doubt, because, so you argue, it’s a thin line between genius and insanity, and the jury’s still out on which side of that line he’s on, then that sort of ill-fated genuflection must come to an abrupt halt once you have the misfortune to witness the utterly misguided, preposterously imbecile, and ludicrously idiotic way in which the guy deifies himself in, like, every single interview he gives. Still in doubt? Then watch this short press conference in which Kanye, during the course of a few minutes, manages to make a fool of himself by saying he is just like the “kid in front of the tank in Tianmen square“, that he’d like Michael Jackson to twitter his reasons for dangling a toddler out of a window, and what an utterly selfless thing it was when he took the mic from Taylor Swift to engage in some faux activism in favour of poor Beyoncé and her video director.
Likewise Berlin. Even in the most favourable, indulgent and tolerant people, contentment trades places with red-hot aggravation against elite Berliners once exposed to a tiny dose of the trademark self-congratulatory haranguing those hoards of daft, insecure, Berlin-as-an-ego-crutch using wannabe-artists-with-a-mortgage are busy secreting into every verbal exchange they succeed to get wind of, online or offline. If you like to think of yourself as a person who’s quite tolerant towards these rants, I challenge you to read this gem without gnashing your teeth to fine dust.
There you have it: The synchrony of Kanye and Berlin is such a peculiar gift to marketing, it’d be a shame if it couldn’t be used to either party’s financial gain. A total win-win situation: Every true rapper needs a city to represent. New York is repped by Nas, The Game represents LA, Too Short reps Oakland. Kanye has yet to name a city which is a match to his alleged creative genius and determination to annoy the hell out of mankind. Also, just look at him - he could instantly blend into any Neukölln flat share of wide-eyed Scandinavian fashion students. Everything about Kanye just screams Berlin.
So here’s some free advice for the Berlin tourism board: Hire Kanye West as your city’s new mascot. While you’re at it, why not update the Berlin coat of arms in the process? Sure, that body-popping bear was an incredibly forward thinking character in its day inasmuch it foreshadowed both the clientele which Berghain became famous for AND their favourite dance move, but you can’t live off that forever. So hurry up and replace the bear with a picture of Kanye West, and you’ve got the most perfect visual summarisation of what Berlin stands for today.
It had to happen sooner or later. Starting tonight, Mad Men, the hit TV series that’s been pocketing more awards than the average Mitte beardo pockets horse tranquilizers on a Sunday morning, is coming to Germany by way of the unencrypted, yet infinitely cryptic TV network ZDF Neo.
Unless you have been living under a rock, you’re already painfully aware of the fact that Mad Men is this year’s The Wire, i.e. the high-budget, mainstream television series from America that absolutely everybody loves and talks about, yet somehow serves those same everymen the pleasant feeling they’re members of a secret circle of insiders that’s culturally versed enough to recognize quality TV that is still under everybody else’s radar.
Mad Men was, until today, an elite German’s only valid excuse for spending long, passive hours in front of the TV. Your elite German friends loved the fact that they could easily beat those boring normal people at their own game, i.e., watching too much television, and keep up the carefully built facade of being super-individual, nonconformist rebels who are too clever to watch TV.
But now, there’s trouble in paradise. You’ve certainly noticed that the amount of mentions of Mad Men has recently increased exponentially. That’s because now that they have reason to fear their precious TV show could break into the mainstream and therefore forever lose its magical individuality-enhancing powers, elite German people have become feverishly invested in letting everyone know that it is them who are the biggest fans since minute one.
Just mention that you heard Mad Men has finally come to Germany, and they will launch into a heated diatribe about how awfully crap they think the German marketing campaign for Mad Men is. Once they say “it totally manages to mistake everything what the series is about – I will so ignore the German version,” give them a hug and tell them that you think they’d surely have done a much better job copywriting the German Mad Men campaign, and that it’s a pity that true creativity often goes unnoticed in our awfully mainstream society.
It is extremely important for any Aulander trying to blend in to never burst this fragile bubble of Mad Men-induced self-confidence that shields elite German people from their true, boring selves. Rather confirm to them that they were the first people in Germany / Berlin / Mitte / their street / their building / their flat share to correctly recognize what makes Mad Men great. They will thank you by once again reminding you that they usually never watch any TV, and only make this rare exception for Mad Men because “it’s, like, so authentic – the sets and costumes are so well designed and, whoaa, it totally inspires me to start a career in Television or something!”
Tell them that you admire their seemingly natural ability to evaluate the authenticity yield of a foreign TV series about a 1960s advertising agency and its characters, and they’ll think of you as a close friend who sees their true self, one who they’d consider inviting to one of their frequent pasta-and-four-euro-red-wine dinners.
Once you earn their trust, they might even invite you to a Mad Men theme party, where they dress up in arbitrary retro clothing, smoke and drink like there’s no tomorrow, and desperately try to be the most promiscuous person in the room. You know, in total contrast to what they do on the other 364 days of the year.
To the untrained eye, it may very well look like elite German people love Mad Men because it is a well-made series with a fairly complex plot. Think again, Auslander. The actual reason they love Mad Men is because it enables them to show off their own greatness. Each and every statement praising Mad Men is really a disguised praise about themselves or their lifestyle choices. Knowing this is a powerful tool. By decoding the code, you can gain valuable insight into the minds of your elite German friends. Those childish, insecure, utterly conformist minds.
Let’s look at the typical statements elite German people make about Mad Men and what they really mean:
You know, I first thought Mad Men was a bit boring and I wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about, but after giving it some time, I became addicted and couldn’t stop watching!” I know you find me mind-numbingly boring and frequently curse the day you met me, but if you’d endure my self-important, hackneyed stories a bit longer, you just might change your opinion about me.
"I love Mad Men because it totally celebrates the 60s, you know like, when times were less boring and people were drinking, smoking, f*cking, and generally enjoying life." I feel really guilty about smoking, drinking, and sleeping around too much, but seeing those stylish people in Mad Men do it too makes me feel superior towards those boring normaltons again!"
Isn’t it alarming to see how backwards the United States were only fifty years ago? The perception of women, race, and gender roles was truly archaic and Mad Men to me is a stark reminder that we should never forget about those dark times.
"America is the devil. I hate America!"
Mad Men, at heart, is really about a man, and a country, finding out who they are, all at the same time.
"I am an intellectual who grasps the essence of everything way before everybody else does and isn’t afraid to pompously talk about the obvious as if it was a brilliant observation."
It’s really inspiring for me to see how simple the advertising business worked back then. Everything seemed possible and there were fewer rules!
"I am a talentless, self-taught graphics designer struggling to find jobs other than designing free flyers for my brother’s hobbyist band."
Don Draper and the other guys all look so stylish. The men of today should really take the hint and start dressing in a classier way!
"I sometimes feel self-conscious and ridiculed by my friends for having to wear formal clothing at work."
Mad Men ist ja grossartig!!
"Ich bin ja grossartig!”
The real merit of Mad Men is that it serves as a loophole for elite Germans who are traumatized by the unbearable stress that comes with pretending to be creative, urbane cosmopolitans who’re too busy creating to ever do mundane things such as watching TV. Mad Men allows them to keep their sanity by spending a guilt-free, lazy day in front of the TV, which they won’t even have to hide from their vapid elite friends. Who knows – if it weren’t for Mad Men, they’d probably all have gone mad already.
If you haven’t discovered this by now, you will soon find out that going to exhibitions occupies a central place in an urban nomad’s heart. This is because, to the Club Mate intelligentsia, no single quality is more desirable than the ability to create. Asked to describe themselves and their activities, an elite German person will use the word “creative” more often than a Tibetan monk chanting a particularly cherished mantra. Yet despite their constant efforts to be seen as a spiritual persecuted minority, it soon becomes apparent that owing a moleskin or making a mix tape are enough to be considered to be creative activities. This is partly because vintage tops or neon leggings drastically increase a wearer’s creative output, and partly because elite German people have a worryingly lax take on what is considered “creative”, and believe a strict adherence to semantics to be an evil bourgeois plot. It is therefore no exaggeration to state that these zeitgeisters spend 99% of their time engaged in creative projects, a “project” being an even more ambiguous term than “creative” itself. Given the term’s flexible nature, it will come as no surprise to discover that watching other people being creative is also labelled as “creative”, like a möbius image perpetuating ad-infinitum outside the confines of mainstream.
Creative people watching other people being creative is, of course, an unnecessarily long way of saying “going to exhibitions”, as when galleries use “non-verbal expression” instead of “painting”. Attending exhibitions, particularly if you beat everyone else to it, will mark you out as a visionary urban commentator straddling the bleeding edge of now. But you have to attend the right sort of exhibition. A visit to such a mainstream place as the Pergamon is not going to get you admiring glances at Club der Visionaere unless it was done in an ironic manner as part of one of your “projects” or it was host to a temporary exhibition on the bread baskets of an obscure Javanese tribe oppressed by a former European colonial power.
So what should you be looking for? What constitutes the perfect exhibition? Below is a list of keywords to keep in mind when scouting for creative arcadia. It will hopefully help you reach the 100% creative target whilst using 1% of your intellect. Any exhibition worth seeing should at least include two of them, and if you manage to combine them all then congratulations, you’ve got creative bingo! Although refrain from saying this aloud.
Abandoned: As a rule of thumb, museums should be avoided in favour of art installations (preferably guerilla ones) or pop up galleries. Not only are museums full of tourists and other philistines, but they are also buildings that were designed specifically for the purpose of displaying and housing art collections. Instead you should look out for abandoned warehouses / power stations / horse hospitals / brothels / horse brothels, because nothing reflects the capricious transient nature of urban topography more than projecting an 8mm film onto the walls of a former syphilis hotbed.
Ephemeral: Modern art installations always seem to be described as ephemeral, “ephemeral” in this case being a synonym for “little effort”. Plus there seems to be a widely held belief that being constantly reminded of our fleeting presence on this earth will make you sound like a fearless existentialist instead of stating the blinding obvious. In other words “WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE, LOOK AT MY COLLAGES, THEY’RE SO DEEP, BECAUSE WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE”. This is known as a circular argument, although you’re advised not to bring this up, most elite Germans wouldn’t recognise logic if it approached them as a contiguous, coherent sequence of events. It is also not recommended to dwell on your own mortality in a similar logical vein, or you might be wondering why you’re not, say, in the Bahamas indulging in debauched acts of hedonism instead of standing in an exhibition that just couldn’t be ephemeral enough for your liking.
Interdisciplinary: You have probably been to an exhibition that consisted, perhaps, of some illustrations hanging on one wall, a film projected on the other, some random graffiti on the third, some distressed textiles hanging on the fourth, and top it all off, a random tree trunk sculpture holding court in the middle. You might also have, erroneously, asked yourself “Gee, I wonder where the curator is?”. And yes, to the untrained eye, “interdisciplinary” will often equal “we didn’t bother curating it”. You’d be wrong! Art is not only ephemeral but also fluid. It refuses to be labelled, hence the many “untitled” pieces that populate galleries. Nomenclature is for the narrow-minded and not for the ambiguous multi-faceted Renaissance Person you should aspire to become. Every self-respecting artist should be interested in at least three disciplines. Although note that “showing interest” doesn’t necessarily equate to “being good at”.
Playful: Because the average urban flaneur seems to reach puberty round their mid-thirties, it should come as no surprise that they regard art as play. Consequently, many creative events often include terms such as “playground” or “sandbox” in their names. Elite Germans love these creative ball pits, as they consider themselves carefree spirits that have not lost their child’s sense of wonder, which in their minds puts them on par with Chagall. By surrounding themselves with such creative pursuits as DJing, silent film projections and light installations they can achieve optimal creativity, maximised by the consumption of cheap ironic beer and other less legal substances. Just like children.
Subversive: All art should be subversive, even if it often only subverts good taste and logic. A much favoured subversion technique is placing two seemingly incongruous objects together to create a new meaning (see also interdisciplinary), like a piano next to a basil plant, or a Moomin next to a cheese grater. What these unholy alliances are subverting is anybody’s guess. It frankly doesn’t matter, as long as it hasn’t been tried before. Though like asbestos inhalers, it soon becomes clear why nobody has taken this daring step before.
It should also be noted that subverting culturally accepted models of femininity is a particular popular fecund and never ending source of material amongst female artists. In this department, unexpected facial hair is apparently a timeless classic. Recent examples include the omnipresence of crudely added handlebar moustaches to photos, although you can always go for the perennially popular monobrow as sported by a certain Mexican artist in her self-portraits, even though she never had one in real life and by all photographic accounts was not precisely oblivious to her physical appearance.
Pushing boundaries: This is closely related to subversion. You should aim to have your boundaries pushed and your perceptions altered at least 30 times a week, without chemical aid. An exhibition should always question previously held cultural assumptions, even if they’re perfectly sound ones, like not finding moustachioed women attractive. The viewer is also encouraged to question things, as long as it is not “why am I here?”, which is a tad too subversive.
Urban desolation: Finally, no exhibition is complete without a healthy dose of unfiltered raw urban grit. This gives the whole enterprise depth and clearly signals that the exhibition is by and for middle class people. The more it closely resembles a drug den the better. A drug den with an unusual high number of MacBooks. Ideally you shouldn’t be able to find the door, and be forced to wander up and down the street cursing under your breath pretending not to look lost, until you start getting curious looks from locals whilst a little voice in your head keeps haunting you with a simple yet recurring “WHY?”. Don’t fret, this is an essential part of the experience. By the time you find the entrance you will have turned into a tortured soul torn between the siren calls of logic and your apparent duty to contain gentrification by wandering around abandoned warehouses with rolled up cigarettes. This state will enable you to view yet another set of over-exposed/over-saturated/over-rated photos of graffitied walls/doors/kebab stands/kebabs without that pesky common sense getting in the way. Should you run out of beer or just simply wake up from this self-inflicted lobotomy and start screeching like a deranged hyena, just claim that you’re reenacting Edvard Munch’s The Scream in a contemporary dystopian setting as part of one your “projects” about urban alienation.
If it’s true that 35 percent of all internet traffic is used for transferring porn, then the remaining 65 surely must be clogged up by the ramblings of elite Germans in skinny jeans and granny dresses who brazenly teach an unsuspecting audience about all those vapid little aspects that, in their acutely voiced opinion, make the particular part of Berlin they recently moved to the only place that’s still interesting to live at.
Yet, as the famous saying goes, “You can’t please all of the people all of the time,” it feels like most of these people are currently living in Berlin.
How so? Because now, as the hype they painstakingly created turns out to be working, in that droves of young, easily impressed people are crawling over each others’ shoulders to secure their place in one of the thousands of hyper-individualistic flat shares in the city of their uniformly predictable dreams, elite German people have come to the foreseeable conclusion that there is a downside to their desperate pursuit to become interesting by association with a trendy part of town.
Upon closer inspection, the irritation seems to arise from the simple reality that it isn’t them who are in control of the immigration to their Altbau neighborhood. Although elite Berliners will argue that they are, in all likelihood, the most tolerant people on the face of earth, they throw tantrums as soon as someone moves in to the apartment next door who isn’t exactly like them. Oblivious to the paradox how they, arriving in Berlin as bumbling, provincial oxygen thieves barely able to hide their Osnabruck faces under a hastily grown, messy beard, resented being labeled as gentrifiers, elite Berliners tend to become extremely angry and insecure towards anyone who moves in after them.
That’s because the true German elite exists beyond the space-time continuum. Disproving Einstein’s theory of relativity, it is never them or their buddies who are gentrifying Berlin, but, you guessed right, the folks who move in a month, a week, a day, even just an hour, after them. The good news, Auslander, is albeit you might have been called a gentrifying yuppie pig, because, uhm, you didn’t obey the council of elder gentrifiers’ memorandum about the maximum acceptable salary for your specific neighborhood, you can rest assured that there exists one group of people who your elite German friends still hate more than you: Schwaben.
Any self-respecting and -appointed Mitte bohemian is obliged to despise anyone from the south-western state of Baden-Wuerttemberg who dares to share their ubernonconformist fondness for Berlin’s trendy neighborhoods. Schwaben, so the insinuation goes, make Berlin less hip because they all are nouveau riche, culture-averse countryside simpletons with way too much money and way too little enthusiasm for alternative art, crowd-sourced creativity, or old geezers publicly pleasing themselves at the Kit-Kat Club.
The accusations that all original gentrifiers can agree on is that Schwaben a) talk in an awful dialect that’s only remotely reminiscent of proper German and b) drive up the apartment rents because they are good with money. No word yet on whether elite German people also reckon that Schwaben have a weird physiognomy, you know, like huge, crooked noses.
Oddly enough, the more obvious criticism — that Schwaben are hopeless johnny-come-latelies still in firm belief of the Berlin hype who are all-too-ready and gullible enough to trade in their narrow, yet likeable south-western environment of well-paid jobs, favorable climatic conditions, and tasty cuisine, for the despicable ambition to belong to a crowd of equally uninteresting pseudo-urbanites living in a perpetually up-and-coming city which, on a good day, feels like an abandoned suburb of Moscow — should better be kept to yourself.
To the curious observer, the true motivation for the hatred is quite easy to grasp: Your German friends hate the Schwaben for holding a mirror up to them. Watching the hordes of corn-fed Schwaben roam the Berlin streets in naïve amazement about having accomplished the unthinkable by moving to a bigger city than Stuttgart, even the most narcissistic, full-of-themselves elite German people will come to the sobering realization that, in spite of all the blood, sweat, and tears spent in their effort to shed the marks of their own regrettably normal upbringing and become cosmopolites, all they are able to achieve is to barely stay two miserable months ahead of the average greenhorn from Tuttlingen.
It cannot be stressed enough how important the ritual of moving is among elite German circles. Moving house is a tried and tested way to socialize with German people and stay in the center of their attention for a considerable span of time. From the announcement of your plan to move, the well publicized, crowd-sourced search for the perfect apartment, to the actual day of moving, a simple move of house can give you up to a full year of boosted interestingness if you play your hand cleverly. And that doesn’t even include the month-long aftermath of complaining about your stingy ex-landlord and the renovation nightmares that caught you, like, totally offhanded.
To dispel all concerns you might be a mainstream, career-driven person with more money than them, make sure to plan your move with the lowest possible budget. The biggest gaffe would be to hire professional movers to do the job for you. What’s that? You’d rather spend some money on the move than micro-manage every little aspect of it yourself, using two weeks of paid company holidays, just to return to work totally exhausted and ready for a proper vacation? What are you, some kind of silver-spoon-fed aristocrat? Doing your own move is beyond you, yeah? Well, here’s the problem: If you have your move done by professionals, chances are it will be an eventless, even pleasing experience that saves your sanity, or in short, an extreme fail. Still puzzled where the problem lies? Let’s spell it out for you: There will be nothing to talk about next time you meet your German acquaintances at that infamous new dive bar, and another person will quickly sashay into the center of their attention. What you want to do is aim for the maximum possible dramatic and error-prone course of events.
If you currently see no apparent reason for moving house, it is perfectly fine to invent one. You could purposely split up with your love interest, so the need to move out and think things over for a while arises. Better yet, you could move inside your existing apartment and shoot an artsy documentary about the process which you’ll then show at a guerilla art gallery in Wedding. Don’t bother with an explanation for the move. It is understood without saying to be a regular necessity in any elite German person’s life. As a rule of thumb, you can move house up to six times a year, but absolutely be prepared to move at least twice a year, just to appear normal.
So how do you cut down on budget? German people consider an expenditure on a service they could do themselves as an awful waste of money which could be invested towards owning property or recreational drug use. As most elite German people are self-employed with no imminent deadlines in the way, the resource they have easiest access to is free time, while the scarcest one is cash. The result is a blind understanding among elite Germans that nobody should ever be forced to spend money on hiring movers, hence the average elite German person will be very frank to invite everyone on his Facebook account to join his moving party featuring cold beer, snacks, and live deejaying. Take notice how the invitation to such a party always closes with a phrase like “if at least five people show up, which won’t be a problem, we’ll be done in two hours tops”.
Once the day of moving has arrived, on the way there, make sure to stop by a cash machine and take out at least 300 Euros - you’ll need them later. As a rookie Auslander, you probably feel obliged to show up at the exact given time. Oh well. You’ll likely be the very first person to arrive. The guy who’s moving will open the door still in his pajamas, and say, “Wow, you’re early. Thanks for coming, by the way. I kinda just got up because we had some artist friends over, so I’m in the middle of having breakfast and going through today’s feuilleton. Make yourself at home, if you can find a seat between all those boxes”. Once you sit down, glance over the scenery to find out the ratio of readily packed stuff to stuff that still needs to be put into boxes is less than 50%, meaning there’s no way the move will be done in the advertised two hours. If you have any further appointments that day, cancel them now.
Chances are the German person has repeatedly claimed to possess great taste in interior and product design. When a German person claims to be into design, it means they love to clutter their apartments with design classics which they source from eBay or flea markets. More often than not, the stuff is half broken or severely yellowed, which, as its new owner begs to differ, only serves to give it that special charm which you don’t get from just buying it in a store like an ignorant yuppie would do. Elite German people consider buying half-broken, nicotine-stained gadgets from the 60s or 70s to be an irresistible bargain up to 150% of the original price. The more times a German person stresses their individuality, the more likely you will find one of the following items in their apartment:
A Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chair
A few original GDR cafeteria chairs that were stolen from an abandoned factory, to give the apartment an air of workaday simplicity and prove their owner has an eye for the beauty found in simple and cheap things.
A shelf system by Dieter Rams, “which was a bitch to install!”
Several rolls of vintage GDR wallpaper which your friend never got around to actually put up
At least one pricey fixed-gear bike displayed in the living room on special, imported hinges.
At the very least 2500 vinyl records neatly kept in one or more Ikea Expedit shelves. In each compartment, one of the vinyl records, if it has a design the apartment owner deems worthy, is put face forward in front of the other vinyl records, creating a wonderful collage of inspiring graphics design.
A DJ deck with two Technics 1210 turntables and a small mixer, on which, upon closer inspection, traces of piece or other recreational drugs can be found.
Some pieces of self-made art, often with crass symbology showing phalli in context with 9/11 inspired stencil art, courtesy of the owners’ current girlfriend who’s an aspiring fashion blogger-slash-journalist from Copenhagen and the number one fan of Banksy.
A lava lamp which your friend will quickly comment on by saying, “I know, it is so lame to own a lava lamp, but I heard it contains really bad chemicals so I can’t throw it away”. You are expected to like your friend a little more for saying this.
Over the next 1-2 hours, a few of the people who promised to help moving will arrive, and, with no exception, have a bad hangover, the reasons for which they’ll discuss in at least 45 minutes of allusive weekend chitchat. There will always be significant less people showing up than promised by the mover, who will proclaim “you can be sure I’ll really scold those non-showing morons,” which of course will never happen because the people who’re missing are always his best mates who he regularly does coke with.
The gathering will then, finally, move their attention to start the actual move and you’ll likely assume that things are finally picking up steam. Don’t laugh too soon, Auslander. The person assigned to box the vinyl will soon discover some kind of musical gem, like a super-rare Moodymann vinyl that was only available to buy for a single day back in 1992, and whoever plays this record at a club will be considered really interesting and in the know about the history of electronic dance music. This person will be so excited to tell everybody about his discovery that the other guys, who are of course all massively into electronic dance music, will stop whatever they are currently doing and join the guy responsible for the record collection, abandoning their tasks. For the next hour and a half, your German acquaintances are caught in a blissful trance, in which they make little stacks of records they plan to borrow for an important upcoming gig, totally ignoring the fact that the move was supposed to be almost done by this hour.
When, finally, everything is packed into boxes, the moving German person will admit that he didn’t have time to pick up the rented van. That’s right: Even though elite German people always seem to brag about who they know and how many interesting people they meet, they are usually blanking when it comes to knowing someone with a car, much less so, a van. That’s why they usually have to resort to rent one. Now’s your turn: Ask the moving German person to accompany them to the car rental company. Why? Arriving there, the elite German person will be caught in total surprise to discover that there is a 300 EUR deposit for renting a van, which, after much huffing and puffing, he will agree to pay, but as he already maxed out his EC-Karte at IKEA the day before and is now broke, it looks like the whole moving party must be postponed to another day. Now is your chance to gain respect and gratitude by helping him out with the cash you prepared earlier.
Back home, the actual move finally starts. Check your watch. If the time is now less than 5 hours over the originally planned start time, you can congratulate yourself on finding some really get-things-done, no-fuss German acquaintances. Never mention the concept of being late to an elite German person. You would be seen as a very pushy, stuck up person with zero talent for socializing, improvising, or dilettante art.
Arriving at the moving person’s new apartment, don’t be confused by the fact it looks almost exactly the same: Of course it will be in an art nouveau building, on the 6th floor, with no elevator. It is now time to gather all the strength you can muster and start carrying those awfully heavy boxes of rare electronic dance music vinyl up to the new apartment. Once you’re done, there will probably not much life left in you and you’ll be, for once, excused for leaving early.
A couple of days later, you’ll be contacted by the moving person to be told that, on the way to the car rental company, he managed to put a dent into the van, losing the deposit. Patiently listen to his wordy promises how he’ll pay you back as soon as possible. This means it will take another six to eight weeks and numerous phone calls on your part until you finally get your friend to meet you and pay you back, but never without passive-aggressively joking about how he never would have thought you could be so pushy with money.
Don’t let that keep you from helping your German acquaintances move in the future, though. It is one of the highest rewarded favors of the whole German friendship point system, and once it is your turn to move, you can be sure that at least a small percentage of the people you helped moving will show up to browse your vinyl collection.
With the World Cup upon us, it’s about time you learn how to use the coming four weeks of football and partying to receive the maximum possible attention and affection from elite German people.
Remember: Your declared mission objective is to be accepted into the very inner sanctum of elite Germany, so you won’t have much success acting like a typical football nut. Although the tens of thousands of impeccably unique, improbably brilliant, and undisputedly creative artists and intellectuals in and around your city’s alternative Altbau quarters love to playfully associate themselves with the working class in self-important dive-bar small talk, they’d rather eat a battery chicken’s egg than share a single interest with the proles.
Elite German people just can’t bring themselves to be into football the same way normal people are. It’s easy to see why. They’d have to deal with people who are different from them: Football fans.
Aren’t they disgusting, with their genuinely enthusiastic, irony-free approach to football? Just look at them in their stupid wigs and jerseys, faces unabashedly painted in their own countries’ colors, getting drunk on mainstream beer brands, and cheering their team on without the slightest sign of ironic self-awareness.
Then there’s the players. More often than not, they too are inarticulate brutes with Guido haircuts, obscene, gas-guzzling sports cars, and wives and girlfriends that are the exact opposite of the universally accepted gold standard of elite German femininity, i.e. confused, dark-haired girls: The frisky blonde babe. I mean, come on…how could you ever idolize someone who prefers Gucci over American Apparel and would never make the Berghain door?
Most importantly, though, they are opposed to the commercialization of football. Elite German people are very good at telling the exact point in time somebody or something has sold out, which means it has become popular with the wrong type of German people to a degree that flaunting it ceases to give them that sweet feeling of superiority and importance. Whenever an elite German person starts into another heated rant about how football has become a multi million Euro business run by faceless banker-types, and how this has destroyed the true spirit of the game, make sure to nod in perfect agreement, as if you were admiring their politically correct assessment of the evils of capitalism, though the real opinion forming in your head is probably more along the lines of: “Just look at this bitter little man’s mouth open and close!”
Modern football, and especially the World Cup, poses a problem for elite German people. The way FIFA has sold out the World Cup to evil, multi-national corporations is an insult to their intellectuality and something they must always keep a critical distance to, yet they sense that standing around with a frown while everyone else is partying would give away the fact that they aren’t the easy-going, free-spirited hedonists they always claim to be.
Elite German people solved this problem their way: By overemphasizing certain other, nonessential aspects of football, they created a complex hierarchical system to assess another person’s interestingness, much like they did with popular music. They named this system football culture. Finally, elite German people gained a way to show how far above of those football-crazy, drooling simpletons they really are. Suddenly, football became a very acceptable topic to impress other elite German people with in nasally spoken, vapid party conversation.
It didn’t take them long to turn the straight and simple game of football into another nerdy gimmick to deck up their alternative image with. Thanks to elite German football fans and their bible 11 Freunde, the perfect football magazine for people who hate football, it isn’t sufficient anymore to just know the results of the past match day. No, this new breed of hipster football connoisseurs won’t shut up until they’ve overanalyzed each and every aspect, however minor, tiring, or gossip-y it might be, in endless pseudo-intellectual ramblings so boring they’d make virgin philatelists at a Finnish Trekkie convention roll their eyes. It is the elite German people’s very personal little revenge for being ridiculed as overweight, mollycoddled four-eyes who were always getting picked last in gym class.
When you talk football to a bunch of elite German people, make sure to spare them lame and boring topics like scores or strategy talk. To convince them you’re an interesting individualist, keep the focus on quirky, leftfield topics that revolve about all those hip little things your thick-rimmed glasses wearing friends care about. Topics like:
"Have you seen that awfully tacky haircut on Hertha’s Marco Pantelic? He still sports a mullet! I am so glad he has left Bundesliga for good. If Union ever buy a player with a haircut that tacky, I’ll have to look for another team to support!"
"We should set up a website that lets people vote which player has the best taste in music! I think it’s really important to know which music each team member likes. Imagine you start to like a certain player and later you find out he listens to Katie Melua!"
"The World Cup? Big friggin’ deal…to a true football connoisseur like me, there’s little of interest happening at that over-commercialized, corporate event. Did you know the truly exciting football is played in the minor leagues? The spirit and sense of unity there really is unmatched. If you like, I will take you with me to the next match of my favorite team, FC Auf-Gehts-Konsteinburger. They play every Sunday on this totally cool, abandoned GDR factory lot near Ostkreuz. Chills man, chills!"
"I love how intellectual Paul Breitner looked in the 70s. He had this ubercool afro and I heard he even read Mao’s theories. It really was the golden age of football, before the bankers and lawyers took over! And they had these great, retro-looking jerseys. I’d wear those to Panorama Bar in a second!"
Next, you should choose a team you are going to pretentiously associate yourself with. To elite German people, supporting Germany is just one of a number of options, often the least attractive one. To show everybody how special and cosmopolitan you are, you should repeatedly announce your support for a foreign country. Which one you choose depends on what image you like to portray to your elite German friends. Here are a few popular choices:
England: Elite German people love English football and often confirm to each other how fast and more exciting the Premier League is compared to backwards Bundesliga. German intellectuals love the idea that pretentious support for an English team will magically supply them with that much desired working-class air. Use this to your advantage. Tell them how you miss getting down to Anfield Road to chant “You’ll never walk alone” with some really ace chaps from Liverpool. Rooting for England may not be the most original thing you can do, but it is a safe way to gain respect as a true expert on the history of football. A quick word of advise: You should have a backup team ready from the quarter finals onward, in the unlikely case England gets eliminated early.
Brazil: The traditional go-to country for any elite German person who thinks they’re clever. Rooting for Brazil means rooting for beautiful, winning football, and, more importantly, for not offending anyone. Every elite German person loves Brazil for its easy-going way of life, ethnic musical styles that sound great in lounge-y bars, and poor people who, despite being poor, smile and laugh a lot. Choose Brazil and you’ll be seen as a relaxed, fun-loving person, and if Brazil gets eliminated at least you’ll have everyones pity.
France: France’s status for the 2010 World Cup is a bit of a mystery. It used to be the intellectual’s choice, who, in their skewed minds, thought they could impress thick-rimmed glasses wearing girls in bars if they self-importantly talked about how they think Zinedine Zidane is the most complete footballer of our time. Since that guy ended his career, and Les Bleues are a bit hard to evaluate, it is a gamble to support France. Still recommended if you’re an androgynous person who loves to wear black turtlenecks and smoke filterless cigarettes while discussing dialogue-heavy movies from the 60s starring Alain Delon.
Turkey: Rooting for Turkey will give you an instant morale boost. An elite German person rooting for Turkey will be seen as an ambassador of good will, someone who is clever and mature enough to not get involved in silly patriotism over a football match, but rather use the occasion to improve Germany’s relationship with its minorities. If you root for Turkey, don’t expect those Turkish guys celebrating down the street to give much of a shit about your noble ambitions, though. Think of it as a good deed that will mainly serve to make yourself feel superior to your peers. Don’t let the negligible fact that Turkey this time didn’t even qualify for the finals hold you back (thanks, Matt).
North Korea: The North Korean team is the FC St.Pauli of the 2010 World Cup. The ultimate underdog. It goes without saying that associating yourself with this team will instantly make you a better person with built-in moral high grounds because everybody will feel bad making fun of you and your team will likely be sentenced to death unless they bring home the World Cup. As a convenient side effect, by rooting for North Korea you make a bold statement against US imperialism and pro mild stalinism, a concept the intellectual elite of Berlin has never fully written off. That, and you get to wear the most ironically fashionable jersey of this World Cup.
Germany: Supporting Germany in Germany is a difficult move only recommended for true masters of irony. Get a tiny detail wrong and you’ll see yourself categorized as the wrong type of Auslander, a label that is very hard to get rid off. If done right though, elite German people will line up to applaud you for taking a wildly interesting, down-to-earth stance against the pretentious, try-too-hard Germans who childishly support a foreign country. Say something like “well, I was so fed up with everybody rooting for other countries, so even if I am not a real fan of Germany’s team, from now on I’ll cheer them on to spite the hipster idiots!” German people will think of you as a postmodern genius and take turns to pay for your cheap, ironic beer in the coming four weeks.
After a few encounters with elite Germans, you’ve probably been scratching your head who this Ricardo guy is they are constantly talking about. Ask a fellow Auslander in an unobserved moment and he’ll be able to confirm that unfailingly, in any conversation, elite German people will at one point start speaking in the most appreciative manner about this mysterious Ricardo as if they were referring to some kind of deity.
Obviously, talking about Ricardo is some kind of elite German ritual anybody aspiring to blend in will have to master. The Ricardo they’re speaking about is, of course, the already legendary Berlin-based Techno-DJ and producer Ricardo Villalobos. “Ricardo who?” you’re asking. Ah, right, there are a number of sound reasons why you wouldn’t know: Being an adult, for instance. Or not sharing the Germans’ assessment that raving to electronic dance music is the most avant-garde thing you can do in 2010. Or even more likely, having a life. Well, that definitely has to change. The good news is, you came to the right city to shed any suspicion you might have a life.
Let’s go through some background info: Ricardo Villalobos was born in Chile, a country German people love for its sunny weather, rich culture, and opportunities to start over after they’ve been accused of helping history’s worst dictator with his eccentric plan. At a young age, the Ricardo’s family left Chile for political reasons and came to Germany. With his longish hair, messy beard, and ragged demeanor, he’s not only the most “Berlin looking person this side of Ostkreuz, but also the most perfect incarnation of Sesame Street’s Manah Manah to date. Even his name has prophetic qualities - as an omen for his popularity with elite Germans: “Villalobos”, when translated the right way, means “he who charms the villagers with music.” In short, Ricardo Villalobos seems to be a decent, if a bit moony, guy who’s just doing his thing. The problem is that you’ll never find out if he’s actually the supernette, ubertalented, and improbably interesting person he’s constantly made out to be, because after three days in Germany you’ll bear such a massive grudge against Ricardo Villalobos from having to listen to a never-ending stream of club reports, wild weekend stories, and hardly disguised personality cult, that at the next namedropping by another insecure German person, you want to leave everything behind and take the next flight to Mongolia to live with the local nomads because somehow that looks more promising in terms of finding some likeminded people to click with.
More likely though, you’ll complain on a blog for a while but ultimately stay in Berlin. To make your life easier, do as the Germans do. The expected reaction to yet another tale of what your German acquaintances saw Ricardo Villalobos do, heard him say, or thought he was thinking, is wide-eyed amazement. If, for example, they say, “Ricardo was, like, sooo cool the other night,” or “soon after you were gone, he really rocked the floor,” or “Ricardo actually went back home with us for some after hour session. He pulled out these totally, amazingly eccentric records, like traditional music from his South American home country or something, wooow, that was intense!”, then the only acceptable answer for you is to repeatedly say “Äääächt?” (meaning “no waaaay”) as if you were envious or interested.
This will give your German acquaintances a feeling of true superiority for having been closer to Ricardo Villalobos than you, which in turn may earn you some pity points. Don’t go overboard encouraging them with your drawn out “Äääächt?”s, though. It could send them over the edge and into telling this long-winded tale about their prior encounters with Ricardo Villalobos, or their friend’s encounters with Ricardo Villalobos, and what witty and deep remarks Ricardo Villalobos voiced during these encounters, and what they meant to their friends, the Berlin techno scene, culture, our future, the universe, and whatever it is the universe is contained in.
A word of advice: Being exposed to your German acquaintances’ “Ricardo” talk isn’t just insanely dull and mind-numbingly predictable. In anybody who hasn’t adjusted to the elite German way of life yet, the vapid and pointless nature of your friend’s conversations can lead to severe under-stimulation of the brain, which in turn will set off a chemical countermeasure inside your head to prevent a non-recoverable shutdown, a.k.a coma. Look, it’s a complicated procedure nature has imprinted on your genes over thousands of years, so let’s just say your mind kicks into hallucinatory mode to give your braincells something to chew on.
The symptoms are always the same: Three minutes into the conversation, suddenly your perception of their elite German faces becomes weirdly distorted. Your whole field-of-vision is now occupied by obscenely huge mouths that open and close in super slow-motion, repeating the name Ricardo over and over in a barely comprehensible, time-stretched moan. You are struggling to keep a grip on reality. Later, when you’ve long lost all sense of time and space, unable to tell if hours, days, or months have passed, at the point of deepest introspection, the voices suddenly stop, the nausea is gone, and as you inwardly chuckle at the amusing thought if this is in fact how it feels to die, an overwhelming and profound insight manifests itself before your inner eye, and you realize that to become an interesting human being, you must namedrop Ricardo Villalobos as often as possible.
If you manage to get through a few of these experiences unharmed, you’ll soon become a pro at mastering any conversation. Your new powers can even help you to determine how elite a particular German person is. Pay attention to the way they refer to Ricardo Villalobos. As a rule of thumb, the shorter the moniker is they use, the more you want them to be your friends. There are five known degrees of referral:
“Ricardo Villalobos” - Avoid people referring to Ricardo Villalobos by his full name. This is a dead giveaway you’re talking to a German person who’s hopelessly out-of-the-loop, e.g. someone working at “Die Zeit”.
“Ricardo” - This is the most common way of referral in the for elite Germans. If you hear someone talk about “Ricardo” repeatedly, you can be sure that a) that person is close to the inner circles, and b) a try-hard loser who refers to minor local celebrities by their first name to make believe they’re on friend’s terms with them, even when they aren’t. You want to be exactly like these people, so “Ricardo” is the way to go for you. Never let your guard down by asking “Who is this Ricardo guy you’re always talking about?”. Disgust and incredulous stares are the only reactions that kind of blunder will earn you.
“Ric” - If you’ve at one point, in some way, worked together with Ricardo Villalobos, this is the way to refer to him. Maybe you’re an aspiring DJ who once did the “warm-up” for him, maybe you shoot documentaries and are trying to resurrect your fading career, or you’re in the music business and are looking for a way to secure your cocaine, errrm, revenue stream by signing Ricardo Villalobos, then yeah, you should definitely call him “Ric”. You need to set yourself apart from those “Ricardo”-using plebs. Remember: If you don’t have his private phone number in your contacts, you’re likely not in this group.
“Errr” - The biggest fans and supporters of Ricardo Villalobos don’t actually need to use any moniker, but just make a face as if they are pronouncing the letter “R” without an actual sound ever leaving their throat. These “gods walking among men” are often seen in close proximity to Ricardo Villalobos which in fact makes their first names worthy to drop whenever you are talking to your elite German friends.
“Me” - If you’re referring to Ricardo Villalobos by saying “me”, then congratulations, you’re probably the most interesting person in Germany. By the way, do you think there might be a way for you to make your followers a little less annoying, please? Maybe by composing a pretentiously over-arranged, 30-minute piece of educational electronic music. That’d be ace, dude!
Introduction: An often repeated opinion you’ll hear from German people is that it is extremely hard for a man to understand “the women”. When you’re with a group of German men, you can score some easy empathy points by saying: “Women - can’t be with them, can’t be without them!” Your German friends will respond by nodding contemplatively and think of you as a weathered veteran of complicated (meaning: interesting) relationships.
Elite German women are very aware of their quirky, mysterious image, and each of them strives to become the most arcane being of their current Altbau neighborhood. As a male Auslander, it is highly recommended that you play along and never let it show that you are able to figure out the allegedly quirky and mysterious ways of the elite German woman in less than 5 seconds. You don’t want to come across as the Hans Landa of inter-sexual cognition. In Germany, only a woman is trusted to be able to really figure out other women, so what’s more fitting than have one write about women’s haircuts? Nothing, that’s what. Ladies and gentlemen, here’s Dolores Overgaard.
Women’s haircuts by Dolores Overgaard
In this article, we will learn about the politics of women’s haircuts, and how to impress your German friends with your nonconformist haircut. It will cover the basics of the female bohemian haircut and hopefully avoid future embarrassments. There is no point in dressing yourself in ironic 80s retro clothes if they are crowned by the wrong sort of hair. Your outfit might say urban intellectual, but your hair is screaming ordinary, or even worse, mainstream. All those hours sifting through second hand shops and Flohmärkte will be wasted. And your romantic prospects, particularly if they involve freelance graphic designers, will be severely diminished. This brief guide will throw you hair first into the zeitgeist, and will ensure that Germans bond with you at the next guerrilla art installation about urban alienation. Remember, hair is an essential part of your carefree yet committed cosmopolitan persona. To retain the requisite spontaneity, you should always remain vigilant and under no circumstances let your guard down, lest you risk social death. Thankfully, not being part of the café intelligentsia no longer leads to actual death, but to understand the origins of the revolutionary haircut, we must take a brief detour back to the end of the 18th century.
During the last years of the French Revolution, many young members of the bourgeoisie, eager to show off their newfangled revolutionary credentials, ditched their powdered wigs and adopted cropped hair. These short tresses were meant to evoke the hair displayed by guillotine victims, who had theirs cut by the public executioner to make for a cleaner decapitation. Now, you might wonder about the symbolic ramifications of sporting the hairstyle of a guillotine-bound aristocrat. I mean, you couldn’t get more unpopular without turning up to Robespierre’s housewarming dressed as Marie Antoinette. Was it a covert display of sympathy for the Ancien Régime? Support for the new government’s bloody measures? A clean cut - literally - from the past? Well, there’s no need to over-think things. The overriding concern of any young member of the bourgeoisie is too look really hard at all times. Regardless, of course, of the often contradictory implications their sartorial choices might hold. Wearing a hat shaped like the Bastille (yes, really) does not mean that you were there on the 14th of July, torch and pitchfork in hand, storming the beejezuz out of any government building in sight. No more than a Che t-shirt is a sign that its wearer has joined the guerrillas in the depths of the Bolivian jungle and plans on beating the living lights out of the Man. That’s frankly too much effort and involves far too little time spent in cafés pondering Issues and consuming Olympian quantities of fair-trade coffee.
Like any good bourgeois, the German elite know the importance of displaying one’s revolutionary credentials through something as seemingly mundane as hair. Hair is a shortcut if, like 99% percent of the population, you have never read Das Kapital. There are many ways to establish one’s anti-establishment credentials, as long as they are alternative of course. Everybody is into the alternative scene.
As a woman, you’ve a few options available to you, as long as they don’t involve hairbrushes, hairdryers, hairspray or other hair paraphernalia. Give up your accessory habit right now. Obvious high maintenance is the ultimate faux pas, and pray none of your Teutonic acquaintances ever catch you with a pair of straighteners or, even worse, a comb. You should always display that tussled ‘just out of bed’ look, regardless of when/if you actually got out of bed. This air of carelessness should be carefully maintained, as it casts you as a free living spirit that is not bogged down by society’s norms and constraints. Also it saves you a lot of money on shampoo that you could spend on nonconformist stuff like Club-Mate and squatter chic furniture. There are of course different ways of showing this commitment to the bohemian ethos:
The postmodern haircut: You’ve probably come across confused dark-haired girls that seem even more confused than usual, and to the uninformed observer, look like they have had a rather unfortunate encounter with a similarly confused, and possibly drunk hairdresser. Why is their hair longer at the front than the back? Why has it been shaved on the left side but left shoulder-length on the right? What’s with all this asymmetry? And more importantly of course, did she actually pay for this? Not so fast, Auslander! What you might think is the result of being dragged through a hedge backwards by Edward Scissorhands is actually a postmodern deconstruction of the very concept of a haircut, a statement so radical that it shakes the very foundations of human grooming. It’s Existentialism in a haircut. Also it’s €10 a snip. This might be 10 too many for what is essentially an accident, and you might be tempted to do it yourself. Just make sure that you use the Existentialist scissors (like Occam’s razor, but without the logic bit), or failing that, some seriously ironic clippers.
The Patti Smith: If you don’t want to embrace the postmodern millennium by looking like a member of an 80s New Wave band, you can always go for a well tested classic - the Patti Smith. Again, you might wonder why looking like an aging hippy would be deemed edgy in the year 2010. You might even have the temerity to suggest that this do is pretty mainstream, given that it has been the default look of every woman with an acoustic guitar for the last 40 years. Including your mom. It is however the original confused dark-haired girl cut, and is therefore forever imprinted in German minds as the counterculture hair. This is regardless of the fact that most of its earlier adopters are now part of that complacent Audi-driving bourgeoisie so reviled by their children, who will express this generational clash by sporting exactly the same hairstyle.
The pixie: Of course, if you want to take this approach to the extreme, you should cut off all your long unbrushed locks, so you’re left with short unbrushed locks. This will make you look androgynous, which is the pinnacle of postmodernism and has been for at least 200 years. Since, as we’ve mentioned previously, the French revolution. Cropped hair has never lost its alternative aura and its followers always ooze boyish charm and gamine elegance. These fearless women, blurring gender boundaries by sporting a man’s haircut! I mean, you would have thought that after 200 years, those boundaries would be practically smeared.
The paint brush: Maybe you’re in one of those annoying intermediate stages between a pixie and Patty. Should this be the case, you’re strongly encouraged to adopt the paint brush, also known as the postmodern ponytail. This is because it undermines the very purpose of a ponytail. Being a stub poking out at the back of your head, it has neither the traditional length of a ponytail, nor does fulfill its primary function, i.e. keeping hair out of your face, as your hair is not long enough at that point. Its main function, it seems, is to act like some sort of bohemian antenna that sends out beatnik waves to its surroundings, and alerts other iconoclasts in the vicinity of your alternative credentials.
The Amélie : Another way to draw attention to your status as a disaffected urbanite is by wearing your fringe/bangs two inches above your eyebrows, at least, in the hope that this will make you look like that quirky bohemian Amélie, and not like that pointy-eared dude in Star Trek. Everybody knows that a short fringe is awfully avant-garde, and not at all reactionary, like the one sported by war-mongering crusading Medieval monks. But what about the short spiky fringes often seen on the wrong kind of German, normally complementing a mullet? Those Germans whose hair hasn’t evolved since the fall of the Wall, and who actually listen to Looking for Freedom in a non-ironic fashion? Auslander, haven’t you learnt anything yet? Their hair has obviously not been touched by Existential scissors, just by normal ones. Only Existential scissors can bless your hair with enough irony to make it kitsch and not just a really bad haircut.
Burn your hairbrush, liberate yourself from the tyranny of grooming and embrace your carefully crafted uncoiffed look. Though it might be wise to keep a comb for that seriously messy look - emulating the look of a tortured artist driven to tear their hair out over the banality of polite society. This look requires much enthusiastic backcombing, but don’t tell anyone.
Ask them for the reason why they moved to Berlin, the usual explanation given by Auslanders and elite German people alike is that they felt a strong urge to break free from the confinement of their original surroundings to live the unconventional life of an artist in what they believe to be a more laid-back, non-conformist, and artistically inspiring place.
The tried and tested way for anyone who strives to live like an unconventional, creative part of the Boheme is to adjust their lifestyle, looks, and attitudes to exactly match those of the people who moved to the place earlier. The mission objective is to be different in the same way everybody else is. As soon as you set foot on the stomping grounds of your adolescent dreams, you are automatically an avant-garde Bohemian, and you must act the part without any self-doubt. Getting a neon-colored leotard at American Apparel and growing a messy beard will buy you some time. But as German people take great pride in acting authentic, being an artist is not just a style thing. Well, on second thought, it is mainly just a style thing, yet elite German people like to think of themselves as non-conformist intellectuals who never even once stoop down to the shallow levels of pure aestheticism, so they constantly feel a certain peer pressure to have a true interest in intellectual matters.
That’s where they usually run into obstacles. Even the most progressive, city-slicking, counter-culturally versed, avant-garde, nonconformist German people are at heart country bumpkins with the very same unsophisticated cravings they constantly ridicule normal people for. Regardless of how much time they appear to spend on creating improbably brilliant music, design, fashion, art, or literature, for some reason they always seem to have a lot of free time for networking in cafes, dive bars, or the Berghain toilet.
The chasm gaping between their struggle to meet the stiff demands of bohemian Germany and the worldly desires their regrettably conventional upbringing irreversibly etched into their genes, inevitably leads to cognitive dissonances. It is fair to say that elite German people’s social interactions are driven by nothing but them. The behavior, attitudes, fashions, and ideologies that constitute Berlin-Mitte are nothing but manifestations of the raging inner conflict to resolve these very cognitive dissonances.
Unaware of the German way to tackle this problem, your approach would probably be to start working really hard to actually become the artist you claim to be. You know, put some old-fashioned effort into something, become an expert, then dedicate your life to it, try to reach beyond what others have reached for, fail at it, and fail at it over and over again, driving you into a severe alcoholism, then a drug habit that almost kills you, then outright madness that makes you obey the voices in your head telling you to cut off an ear, wrap it into tissue to give it to a prostitute, and finally taking you to the edge of suicide, because the very matter you dedicated your life to, has betrayed you, until finally, one day, in a time of greatest possible desperation, something else, something that has been hidden deep inside you, takes over, and suddenly every step you need to take is clearly laid out in front of your inner eye, and you walk the walk, ascending to a higher level of knowledge, forever shedding your limited comprehension of the world, leaving behind your entanglement in pretentious and shallow counter-culture kitsch, engrossing you with nothing but amused alienation from the activities and values that once mattered, because finally, life has turned you into a true artist.
Or, if that sounds too hard, attend a Tatort party. Elite German people at one point found out that they can gain the same amount of respect and interestingness that a true artist receives without putting in any effort. You simply have to redefine whatever painfully normal things you crave to do as being totally edgy, artistic, and non-conformist. Take some guidance from the masters: Attend a Tatort party. It’s the perfect blueprint of how elite German people take a mainstream thing they secretly crave, witlessly yet homogeneously change their attitude towards it, and call it the edgiest and most avant-garde thing ever. Attending a Tatort-Party means learning about the inner workings of the elite German mind.
So where do these elitists meet? Just walk around your trendy neighborhood on a Sunday evening. Tatort-Parties are usually held at young bars and cafes. Once you find a flock of German people wearing black, thick-rimmed glasses and T-Shirts with somewhat witty slogans, who are hanging out in a demonstratively relaxed Sunday pose, clutching on to bottles of ironic beer or Club Mate, while staring at a small, makeshift cinema screen, then congrats, you found a Tatort-Party. Enter and find a seat, then wait until the creepy, blatant staring at the new guy (you) ceases, then prepare yourself for the things to come by ordering the strongest coffee available. You’re just about to experience the longest 90 minutes of your life.
A new episode of Tatort is aired every Sunday. It is Germany’s longest running crime drama, a bit like a teutonic version of Law & Order, just a lot slower and less exciting. That’s the reason Tatort didn’t have a huge following among young Germans until about 10 years ago.
In fact, Tatort is so slow, tedious, and deliberately low-key that one 1.5 hour episode feels like a whole day going by. Halfway into it, you’ll want to inject caffeine into your eyeballs just to make it through the next minute. In good German film-making tradition, everything about it feels painfully over-endeavored and every single character is stock beyond the worst stereotype. But that’s, like, so not the point, Auslander. German people love Tatort for its realism and dedication to pick up controversial topics and social developments to base its stilted plots on in a really contrived way.
Example: If someday, somewhere in Germany a guy who works at a bakery and whose day job is to make spongecake would kill another guy who makes, for example, danish pastry, then the producers of Tatort would waste no time to come up with an episode of Tatort which took a pretentious shot at unmasking the immoral aspects of the spongecake business and illuminating its hidden dark side. The spongecake chef would be borderline psychotic and overweight, and there would be long-winded shots of him in a white spongecake chef’s apron, wielding a palette knife in a sleazy, dark bakery back room, with the cameras slowly panning up from his palette knife-wielding hands, up and up, past his meaty chin, to finally reveal, to much “ooh”-ing and “ahh”-ing on part of the Tatort party’s members, he wasn’t really making spongecake, but staring into nothingness with his totally crazy, murderous, psycho spongecake chef eyes, but the scene doesn’t stop, and we can hear, but never get to see, him stabbing at the cutting board in an increasingly aggressive way, all mounting in a wild crescendo of staring and stabbing, staring and stabbing, staring and…you get the idea, it’s an extremely powerful scene because of the things we don’t get to see.
Don’t blame that poor spongecake chef though. Because Tatort is at heart a very German show, each episode takes plenty of time exploring the social conflicts and circumstances that lead to a crime. Mirroring the German society, in Tatort, everybody is a victim. Even the detectives. That’s because German people love to come up with far-flung excuses for any wrongdoing that wasn’t committed by a well-off person, and go to great lengths to construct a theory which serves to blame all the usual things they fear or disapprove of: Capitalism, environmental pollution, and being identified as Germans when traveling.
In the above example, the spongecake chef’s murder would be explained by the brutal, dog-eat-dog world the spongecake making business has evolved into. There would be a huge, faceless, spongecake-making corporation that aims to rule the spongecake marketplace with cheaply made, but bland products, rendering life for the loveably privately kept, romantically small spongecake-shops extremely competitive and impersonal. The murderer’s deed would be explained by the unbearable fear of the future those evil capitalists brought to this simple, down-to-earth spongecake chef, yet, and this is very important, Tatort wouldn’t take all the guilt off him, leaving the audience at your Tatort-Party in an ambivalent state, resulting in statements like “I’m not exactly sure who’s to blame here, and I think nobody should jump to conclusions. All we can say is, capitalism brings out the worst in people, right? Right??”
When the Tatort is finally over, the Germans around you feel obliged to start an orderly debate discussing the important questions asked by this Sunday’s Tatort. The majority of German people will agree that the evil, faceless pastry company should take 100% of the guilt. It is highly recommended for you to always join the anti-capitalist side of the argument and actively take part in this discussion to secure your role as a knowledgeable media commentator. Discussing a substantially boring, run-of-the-mill crime drama gives your German acquaintances the warm, fuzzy feeling of being critical, self-determined people who are aware of the dangers of blind media consumption, because they are way too intellectual to just watch TV for its entertainment value, which, in the case of Tatort, is close to zero.
It seems the sole reason for the city of Munich to exist is to make Berlin people feel better about themselves. Whenever a conversation changes topic to the city of Munich, elite German people, without fail, will suddenly become very agitated, especially if they are die-hard Berlin-Mitte fans. At this point, prepare yourself for a thirty-minute lecture on how conservative, clueless, and backwards Munich is, compared to the cradle of creativity, individuality, and edginess, that is Berlin.
As it lies in the nature of rants, they reveal more about the sketchy self-esteem and fragile psyche of the ranter than about the subject matter at hand. To a neutral observer, it can be quite a revelation to learn that Berlin, the self-proclaimed capital of art, counter-culture, and affordable wooden-floored Altbau apartments, constantly feels challenged to validate its assumed superiority against a hinterland town that’s just a quarter the size, and advertises itself as being the stomping grounds for a pack of never-heard-of German D-List celebrities. It probably is clever to never ask your Berlin friends for an explanation why the self-proclaimed cultural center of the world obsesses about being cooler than Munich instead of working on catching up with proper metropolises - you would force your German acquaintances to speak very defensively and chances are you won’t be on the guest list for Ricardo Villalobos’ next gig. Rather, use your insight about this weakness wisely to reaffirm their image of you being an individual who’s not afraid to think different: Whenever possible, drop a snarky remark about “that aweful, backwards town in Bavaria that’s full of capitalists.” Generously ignore the fact that Munich is loved all over the world for being exactly that — a mid-size town with money and a charming lack of misguided ambition to compete with larger cities, like Berlin.
Because it is next to impossible to hear an unbiased opinion about Munich, you could be tempted to go there to do some researching by yourself. Shhh, not so loud! They can hear us you know. You must not tell anyone about your plan. If you do accidentally let your tongue slip, not all may be lost. But always be prepared to come up with an acceptable explanation for your trip. One excuse could be: “I have been asked to go to Munich to spin some indie electronica at a vernissage. God, what did I do to deserve this ordeal?”, which will earn you a lot of pity points and your German acquaintances might pay for your drinks that night. Second, and recommended, option: Say you were asked to visit Munich as part of a performance art project, which involves you ironically embracing the trademark Munich lifestyle, complete with spikey, geled up hair, popped collar polo shirt, a white VW Golf Convertible, and visit to a Bayern Munich match, all while filming it with a half-broken Super-8 camera you bought at a Berlin flea market, to later show it at a spontaneous guerilla exhibition in a pop-up gallery in the trendy part of Neukölln.
Arriving in Munich, you will instantly feel right at home because Munich people, just like Berliners, embrace the fashion of the 80s and like to dress decidely retro. Upon a closer look, though, you’ll find out that in contrast to Berlin, there isn’t even a hint of irony in the Munich version of sucking up to a certain decade and adapting its fashion, music, and attitudes, to fill the depressing shallowness of one’s fragile personality. Overall, Munich people seem to have a lot of catching-up to do when it comes to irony. Walking through downtown Munich, you’ll immediately notice how clean and tarted up it is. That’s because people are so far back in all things hip, they still haven’t adapted to the poor but sexy lifestyle that really thrives in a glamorously bleak and gritty setting like Berlin. In fact, the nicest parts of Munich are so clean and posh they look like they have been dreamt up by Walt Disney and maintained by an army of Swiss people with Compulsive Obsessive Disorder. Makes you wonder if Munich will ever be able to catch up with the glorious history of dirt, trash, rot, and megalomaniac immigrants of Berlin, or if it will forever be stuck in all its posh and pretty insignificance. If you are a newbie to Germany who hasn’t yet fully subscribed to the superior, forward-thinking worldview of the new Berlin elite, be warned. During a visit to Munich, you might be tempted by the dark side. In that life in Munich seems to come with all those boring, mainstream, and pro-capitalist perks your Berlin friends have always warned you about, like jobs, cleanliness, and friendly people. It just might look and feel like the Germany you always hoped to find. You might even be deluded into thinking living in such a place might after all make you happier than living in a city that’s trying too hard, and failing, to become a low-budget, low-ambition, small-size imitation of Williamsburg, NYC. Contrary to Berlin, many international companies, like the beloved Apple Inc., have set up shop in or around Munich, so there are a lot of those soul-crushing, creativity-averse jobs on offer. Munich people seem to have never heard about the rise of the creative class and are still showing some kind of perverted pride in having a well-compensated job that’s not even remotely related to art, music, or fashion. Basically, people from Munich are like those eager overachievers back in your school days, you know, those uncool kids who invested all their energy into learning instead of into being different. Even more disgusting is with how little self-doubt Munich people spend their money, the poor consumerist freaks they are: Whether it is expensive hair dyes, flashy cars, or super-high-maintenance wives and girlfriends, if something requires abundant spending and a healthy lack of humbleness, Munich people will be all over it. There you have it: The fundamental flaw of Munich. Her people are still too much entangled in the oppressively paternalistic patterns of the last millennium. Instead of simply becoming members of the urban boheme and cleverly live on the lavish public funding the German government provides for self-proclaimed artists, they prefer to earn their own, selfish money with jobs in evil multinational corporations or retail stores that aren’t even remotely pop-up or guerilla. They just don’t seem to get that being good at something is just so last millenium. What really annoys Berliners is when Munich guys beat them at their own game, for example by becoming the world’s most flamboyant, internationally acclaimed Techno DJ: If a Berlin person ever asks you for your opionion on DJ Hell, say “Oh, you mean that overachieving sell-out who stopped being interesting, like, decades ago? I doubt he’s still booked in Berlin, etcetera?” Remember, you’re visiting Munich to prove to yourself how cool Berlin is, so you should waste no time and start making notes about all the lame (meaning: different from Berlin) things you experience. Back home, talking down Munich using real-world examples and snarky commentary will be highly beneficial for your popularity with Berlin’s elite.
The German people’s relationship with the internet has always been a conflicted one. Even though no German person of the right type would ever describe themselves as conservative, once there’s too much change in too little time, like the paradigm shift the internet has brought to media consumption, then that kind of change will freak German people out.
That’s why, up to until recently, the Germans preferred to use the internet more like a new channel on their television sets, and accordingly, most German websites consisted of gratuitous “Flash” animations of flying type and logos to a backdrop of futuristic, bleepy electronica. The major goal of creating a website for German people was to get the design right, down to the single pixel, until it was a match for the static dullness of a lifestyle mag.
With the advent of social networks, Germans eventually got bored with watching animated type flying towards them, and their internet use finally picked up steam. Soon, they were using Google, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter like everyone else. If one can trust the ads, German people are nowadays able to relax and use the internet the way it was meant to: Lying on an IKEA rug in their sanierte Altbau apartment, on their stomachs, with a Laptop in front of them, having a Latte Macchiato that has a cute cocoa heart on top of the milk froth, with a dementedly smug smile on their faces caused by all that sweet convenience the internet brings to their lives.
As it was established before, German people quickly feel uncomfortable when there is nothing to be offended or worried about. If they currently have no personal reason to be offended or worried about anything, they will go to a bookstore to buy a book written by what they consider to be a much more intelligent person, who happens to be altruistic and kind enough to lecture them about recent developments that they should better be offended or worried about, and that person, more often than not, is Frank Schirrmacher.
Frank Schirrmacher is a weathered journalist, essayist, and co-publisher of Germany’s well read Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper, who recently has made himself a name to be the go-to guy if you’re in need for a bestselling book in the ubersuccessful German literary genre named Betroffenheitsliteratur. Because of his impeccable approach to journalism, Frank Schirrmacher won’t simply publish whatever confused, based-on-false-premises theory comes to his mind, but also go to great lengths to support that confused, based-on-false-premises theory by quoting from an endless stream of stark statistics and studies he researched.
His latest book, which is likely to become another bestseller, deals with the dangers of the internet. To Frank, the internet is at least 99% bad and a health risk for those little neurons who live inside that spongey stuff inside your skull called brain, so he highly recommends to go buy his book and read that until your brain turns numb from all the dull statistics and references to obscure studies. Admittedly, that will save you from having your brain turned into elephant poo by the internet because you can have a really, really intellectual German person do it for you instead. It’s the same tactical approach to health as cutting off your hand to keep your fingernails from growing.
Granted, asking a middle-aged newspaper publisher to teach you about the dangers of the internet is a bit like hiring Silvio Berlusconi as an Au Pair to watch over your teenage daughter when you’re absent. But let’s give him the benefit of doubt and look at some of Frank Schirrmacher’s key theses:
The internet will turn a person’s brain into a messy puddle of grey goo. It could be argued that the human brain, in terms of texture, isn’t too far away from being a ball of grey, gooey mud anyway, but while definitely not the first person to warn humankind of the grey goo problem, Frank Schirrmacher is the first person to cleverly mash it up with another beloved theory of German people: Health-related esotericism. But fear not, just wear the free, foldable tin foil hat you can find in tomorrow’s issue of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Google’s robots will soon know everything you think, say, and do, and will someday use this knowledge to your disadvantage. He might be on to something here. How so? Well, haven’t you seen Forbidden Planet? Man, that Robby The Robot dude sure f@#!d things up in the end, right? You know, that part when he didn’t shoot the monster because he was all like, “beep beep, error error, I was programmed not to shoot humans,” because, somehow, he didn’t have his Google sorted out, and therefore, with his big, stupid lightbulb-for-a-brain brain, figured that the monster was part human, so he wasn’t allowed to shoot it, which caused, like, real harm to his human space friends? See, that’s what happens once you trust those damn robots.
Some evil, all-encompassing internet entity, probably Google, is hard at work collecting all information about you (yes, especially you), which, any given day now, will enable a big German news website to have ads that are, by the wonders of cutting edge computer technology, targeted to specific demographics, like 25 year olds. Isn’t that shocking? The 90s called, they want their technology-related Big Brother doomsday scenarios back. Fortunately, due to the alertness of its co-publisher Frank Schirrmacher, there still is a news website that is definitely free of such tricky, targeted advertising, or, for that matter, any competitive or up-to-date content at all: His newspaper’s online version, found at www.faz.net.
The ubiquity of Email, SMSs (sic), Facebook and “Tweeds” will inevitability lead to the complete loss of your attention span, and skill to concentrate. Yep. He literally used the word “Tweeds”. Repeatedly. You’ll have to decide for yourself if you can get over that show stopper, or rather wrap the book up at the first occurrence of “Tweeds” and send it back to Amazon. You know, they have that no-questions-asked money-back guarantee.
Apparently, looking to middle aged men working in the old school media who’re afraid of losing their status won’t be of much help to a person who is desperate to get a grasp on this mysterious network of computers called The Internet people have lately started talking about so much. If only there was a person in Germany who Germans could accept as the real internet pundit. You know, someone who is exactly as freaky, ke-razy and edgy as this new internet thing itself, and not afraid to show that edginess, craziness, and aversion to anything mainstream by sporting a pretentious hairstyle. You know, like, like…yeah, that’s it: A mohawk. If you see such a person, make him the figurehead of the German Internet User Club and follow him blindly, never questioning his expertise. Your concept of the internet will then, and only then, be in sync with that of a German person.
Who roots for the underdog? Well, German people definitely do — and they won’t be satisfied until the whole world joins them. What’s not to like? Supporting the underdog against an overpowering opponent is a nice gesture and nobody in their right mind would opt to live in a cold-hearted society solely ruled by survival-of-the-fittest. Predictably, elite German people are especially partial to underdogs. In fact, they are so proficient in determining what side to stand on and then passive-aggressively forcing this view on you, they will be completely disappointed should you be so rude and ignore their brazenly worded offer to do your thinking for you. It goes without saying that any sign of being impartial to the underdog, or even rooting for the overdog, will destroy your progress with the Germans for good, and no amount of showing up as the exotic overseas friend at a trendy bar will make up for it.
In order to be accepted by elite German people, you will be expected to join them on whatever side they, or more likely, someone they admire have determined to be the underdog. It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to not take any chances in this serious matter. Do not, at any rate, apply what you learned about irony and join the other side of the argument in jest — German people won’t consider this to be at all funny or quirky, because to them, the determination to always root for the underdog maybe be the most important, non-debatable character traits of all. Once they have drawn the line, it is understood that the underdog is exempt from criticism or relativization, and a very convenient way to show others your political correctness.
Furthermore, German people take some pride in being a very committed people; and indeed, this character trait also applies to their stance on underdogs. Once they acknowledge someone or something to be the underdog, German people will stick to their view until the end of days, broad-mindedly ignoring any new facts to the contrary that might turn up. Even when it is apparent that the table has completely turned and their beloved underdog has long become the overdog, German people are usually too entangled in their dogma to notice it. This sometimes makes it hard for a newbie Auslander, applying common sense, to correctly determine who the underdog is.
In order to blend in with the Germans, and more importantly, to dodge embarrassing small talk moments, it is important to at the least know the three most beloved underdogs of German people: Cyclists, Palestinians, and the football club FC St. Pauli.
With cyclists being dealt with in another article and the Israel-Palestine conflict being a topic this blog wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole, let’s take a look at the football club FC St. Pauli.
FC St.Pauli is an out-and-out mediocre football club based in the cult red light district of Hamburg. The club’s main claim to fame is its pirate image. The reasoning runs like this: Hamburg is located 100 kilometers from the north sea, plus the club has a quirky logo featuring a white-on-black skull and bones. There you go — they’re just like pirates, yeah? What’s that? You aren’t quite convinced of their underdog status yet? What are you, a moron? Eh? EH? All right, let’s not get into a fight just yet and lay it out for you:
FC St.Pauli has a very large base of supporters all around the world, despite playing mostly in the 2nd or 3rd league. Elite German people are required to have a critical stance towards the commercialization of football. That’s why they can relate so well to FC St. Pauli. Like them, FC St. Pauli seems to be eternally broke and constantly has to come up with quirky ways to make money, ie playing ironic exhibition matches against allegedly evil football clubs like FC Bayern Munich. Moreover, elite German people love give off an air of non-commitment, because in terms of coolness, it gives them an edge over anyone who puts a real effort into becoming good at something. To them, FC St. Pauli’s dabbling around in the minor leagues is akin to a political statement to never become like one of those awfully zealous yuppie football clubs.
People who already are a fan of another club, or even don’t care much for football love every little aspect of FC St. Pauli. Ask them why, and they will give you a 20-minute lecture why FC St.Pauli is ze totaler Kult, and why you should totally buy one of those cool, ironic St.Pauli “Retter” T-shirts. Both home and away, there will always be plenty of supporters present to cheer their team on. Moreover, judging from the ubiquity of FC St. Pauli merchandise being worn in the elite parts of any German town, the club should do pretty well financially. How popular is FC St.Pauli? It is so popular that, during a match, even players from the opponent teams are suffering from a conflict of loyalties because they’re secretly rooting for FC St. Pauli.
Granted, to the untrained eye, FC St. Pauli may not look like an underdog at all. Nonetheless, when a much weaker and smaller team with less supporters plays St.Pauli, German people will still consider St.Pauli to be the underdog in this pairing. Why, you ask? Because, you know, isn’t St. Pauli just wonderfully edgy with its pirate flag, uberdiverse fan-base, and that small, kitschy Disneyland of counter-culture of an arena with its proximity to that infamous Reeperbahn red-light district, which by the way has some really edgy bars and clubs where everybody goes for beers after the match, and how it every year manages to rise up against those evil, capitalist football clubs with their suspicious ambitiousness? How can you not be rooting for the good guys?
Every time St.Pauli is defeated, which happens a lot, the fans will soon claim some kind of conspiracy or bribing at work, because the man is trying to hold St.Pauli down. That man can be anyone with a suit on, like Hamburg’s mayor, the Bundesliga president, or Rupert Murdoch. On the other hand, once St.Pauli wins, it is always an uberheroic victory against all odds, made possible by the uniquely strong union between the club and its fans. Basically, there’s more pathos at a FC St. Pauli match than at an American veteran’s Pearl Harbour memorial celebration. A situation in which the St.Pauli players aren’t the good guys just isn’t imaginable. If you typed “FC St.Pauli is not an underdog” into Microsoft Word, a red squiggly line would appear underneath.
Use your new knowledge wisely. If you are looking for a convenient way to score some sympathy points with your German acquaintances, just proclaim you are a fan of FC St.Pauli, and that you are determined to support it in its never ending, incredibly courageous struggle against capitalism, fascism, and becoming good at football.
In their ongoing quest to make themselves appear more cosmopolitan than their peers and pamper their fragile egos, elite German people have achieved good results by preposterously associating themselves with some kind of external entity, often a foreign country. Any German person who has stayed in another country for more than two weeks straight will readily be considered an expert by his peers, and, what may be even more remarkable, take up that job without significant self-doubt. Between Woodstock and the 1980s, the United States had been the favorite ego proxy for elite German people. However, by the time the 1980s came to a close, the association with American pop culture was taken over by boring and mainstream people like MBAs, lawyers, and bankers, and suddenly elite German people were forced to gather all the creativity they could muster and look for another, more obscure country to have a contrived relation to and again be able to feel superior to those irritating “Normalos”. Elite German people were never able to forgive the professional German people this expulsion from paradise and therefore still have hard feelings towards them.
Except for India’s 15 minutes of fame due to Bollywood movies, the number one country had been Japan - a dependable source of obscure and edgy culture for white people all over the world to misconceive, steal, and exaggerate, and German people were no exception. The unique selling point of Japan had always been its obscurity. Unlike the over-explored USA, elite German people could rest assured that Japan provided them with a multitude of quirky and edgy cultural tidbits to safely impress their peers with. Questioning or challenging the German person’s half-baked expertise wasn’t an easy task as Japan always had been sufficiently arduous and expensive to travel to. More importantly, the self-proclaimed Japan pundit was kept safe by the social conventions of the German elite: Publicly doubting iffy trivia such as “Dude, no Japanese person actually eats the ginger served with sushi — that’s so not authentic, you know” would paint the naysayer as being “simply jealous” and complicated.
If you are now thinking, “Great, so I’ll be able to impress my German acquaintances by telling them about all those totally C-R-A-Z-Y and unbelievable things that happened during my stay as an English teacher in Tokyo,” the following will surely disappoint you:
You’re way too late, dude. Elite German people have once again been forced to deny any interest in Japan, the former paradise of obscurity. With the internet becoming increasingly ubiquitous thanks to new technology like the iPhone, any member of the plebs can now easily fact-check the expert German person’s every statement in an instant. Because nearly 100% of elite German peoples perceptions of Japan are of course irreversibly distorted by their western upbringing, keeping up an interpretative authority would require a true interest in the culture reaching beyond food, quirky encounters, and artsy underground movies. As elite German people must always exude an aura of non-commitment, they usually shy away of anything that requires an actual effort or might be seen as non-ironic geekery.
The demise of Japan as the number one source of superiority-by-obscurity is actually applauded by the most advanced Germans. Many aspects of Japanese culture were never really compatible with these peoples’ worldview — heck, it even ridiculed some of the most highly regarded concepts of elite German people:
Giving a frig what Greenpeace thinks about whaling and justifying it by such lame concepts as cultural differences. That’s right — in some cases, Germans will make an exception from their usually ubertolerant approach of cultural differences. Quickly embracing and adapting new technologies instead of aiming for an ironically retro lifestyle with 70s TV-Sets made of leather and Leica cameras that weigh in at 6kg. Putting up vending machines with used schoolgirl’s knickers for dirty old men to buy. Ok, those probably never existed, but don’t bore your German acquaintances with such a pesky obsession with details. Being, at best, indifferent to the social security of 30- and 40-somethings who freelance in design, and glorifying uncool and probably reactionary ideals such as hard work and making lots of money in the corporate world instead. Reckless and abundant wrapping of items in plastic and putting these in another plastic bag, only to put them, you guessed it, in another plastic bag. All that evil plastic! The thought alone will make elite German people shiver with disgust Sweeping ignorance of Takeshi Miike, who is the most important Japanese movie director ever, at least according to elite German people. Having no qualms with downright evil concepts such as capitalism, conservatism, or shark-fin soup. It is easy to see why the elite German peoples’ relationship to Japan has always been a troubled one. Luck has it German people just recently discovered a new, emerging player in the global marketplace to pretentiously associate themselves with: China.
The transition to China as the new superpower of obscure subculture to pamper the western ego with is a really exciting time for elite German people. Most importantly, China can still be considered a communist country. Since the assimilation of east Germany and the sellout of Cuba, elite German people have never given up hope for communism to return and provide them with more products that have an amateurish yet irresistible planned-economy charm, and therefore are a powerful symbol against capitalism and can charmingly stress one’s personal individuality.
“Wait a minute,” you might say, “German people hate China for its politics toward Tibet”. Well, not necessarily. Elite German people love to take sides in foreign country’s political issues. Talking about these at parties, rallying against them on a sunny Saturday afternoon, and then soon forgetting about the whole mess is an important aspect of the political life of every elite German person. Hence a completely faultless political track record would actually be detrimental to China’s rise to the top. There would be no reason to be offended. German people hate it when they have no reason to be offended.
But the most attractive feat of China is its censorship of the internet. Elite German people can rest assured that their bold exaggerations about their experiences in China cannot easily be falsified by, well, basically anyone who knows how to use Google.
It is highly recommended for you, dear Auslander, to not waste any more time and make good use of the mystery still surrounding China. It is a surefire way to impress German people. Now is the time to lay some foundation to your claim to expertise on all things Chinese. If you are one of those poor losers who work in a proper company or don’t have the funds to spend three weeks in Shanghai, here are some talking points to add to your daily routine. Just ask your German acquaintances to join you for dinner at that interesting new Chinese restaurant you recently discovered, and try a few of the following proclamations while keeping a stern and straight face:
“This Sichuan restaurant is okay, I guess, but back in China, we were real fiends of the Cantonese cuisine. I guess you guys will get it here in a few years time.”
“The lack of a proper Yumcha place in Kreuzberg is a real shame. Oops, I guess around you guys I should use the more layman term ‘Dim-Sum’…isn’t that what you still call it over here?”
“Back in Shanghai, I was invited to DJ some electronic music at this totally intense night-club full of Russian oil barons and their model girlfriends. A strange scene, yeah, but also a total surreal experience. You should have been there.”
“I brought back a huge stack of DVDs of never-heard-of-movies by these really obscure but genius Chinese directors. One part of me wants to tell you about them, but then I kinda also want to protect these great, authentic people from the Western eye and ultimately become spoiled by Hollywood…let me ponder this thought a little longer, just ask me again later and I might let you in on the secret.”
Don’t worry about sounding like a pretentious idiot. Your German acquaintances will be so embarrassed by their lack of experience they will be thankful for any bit of information they can get from you which they will then use to impress their even less cosmopolitan peers with as soon as you are not around.
A word of warning: You might have noticed that the attention of elite German person works like that of multinational corporations. Once they have seen enough of a certain country’s underground movies, they start to get bored by the whole culture and will soon abandon that country. Anything that would require a bigger effort than watching some DVDs and now and then visiting an ethnic restaurant isn’t necessary and deemed non-spontaneous.
Don’t ever speak out this inconvenient truth, as it would make you look nerdy in a non-ironic way, and you would lose all the respect gained through your cursory expertise on a foreign country’s subcultural banalities.
Depending on your level of command of the German language, you might have been left more or less puzzled by a recurring ritual of elite German people — the allusive weekend chitchat. This ritual can usually be observed from Monday to Wednesday, or every day of the week if you are located in Berlin. It involves a group of two or three German people who happen to have spent the bygone weekend together, and another group of people (usually just you), who for some reason didn’t attend the party, club, or concert they went to. From Monday to Wednesday, your German acquaintances will actively seek out an opportunity to get you in a setting which is 1) so boring they can casually start a conversation and 2) where you are forced to listen because there is nothing else to do. A good example for such a setting would be a train ride, lunch, or waiting in line at the Genius Bar.
The ritual always starts the same way: Out of the blue, one of your German acquaintances will cleverly construct a segue from some trivial observation, like:
German person: “Oh, I see you are taking medicine, did you catch a cold?” You: “Yeah, I guess, but nothing too strong though, it’s just Aspirine.” German person: “Ha! I bet it’s not as STRONG as Jürgen’s WEEKEND medicine…right, Jürgen? He he he…”
Then, the German person will give that Jürgen a slight, tongue-in-cheek bump with his elbow, accompanied by a husky cackle and followed by an exchange of smug, knowing glances between your German acquaintances. Feeling intrigued yet? Good, because that is the whole point of this ritual. It doesn’t stop there, though. The German person acting as the emcee will now pose a few vaguely phrased questions to keep the chitchat going as long as possible:
German person: “By the way, Ralf, did you get THAT SMS yet, you know, from your new BEST FRIEND? He he he…” Ralf: “No, not yet, maybe THAT FRIEND got cold feet?” German person: “He he, maybe, so should I call THAT OTHER person we were talking about THE OTHER DAY to see if she can help with THAT THING?” Ralf: “No, thanks, I guess I got too damn drunk on our new favorite cocktail with you-know-who…let us just leave IT at THAT, if you know what I mean? He he he…” German person: “I don’t think DRUNK is the right word for it, but whatever you say. He he he…” Jürgen: “Speaking of drunk, did I tell you about this crazy THING that happened to me on the way to the after party at that SECRET LOCATION?” Emcee: “You mean THAT AFTER PARTY? Because somewhere in between I lost count of how many AFTER PARTIES we went to, especially after we met X at Y and did Z…”
This is the point where, at the very latest, you are expected to be so completely intrigued and impressed by your German acquaintances’ increasingly obscure allusions, that you can’t take anymore and finally burst into their chitchat, anxiously yelling out “Okay already, stop fooling around and just tell me about last weekend!”
Halt, Auslander! Think again. You will have to understand first that this conversation apparently does not serve to actually exchange information about past activities — after all, your German acquaintances have spent the previous weekend together. No, the scene unfolding before your eyes is nothing short of a highly advanced form of conversational combat with the objective to assess whether there is a person in the room who may have had an even wilder weekend. By teasing that person with an endless stream of juicy innuendo, German people try to force their prey to make that crucial error and ask a question about their weekend. Once they get you to admit any amount of interest in their wild weekend story, they have sufficient indication to estimate your weekend must have been less wild than theirs, and you are therefore the less interesting, more mainstream person.
What’s the big deal, you ask? Among other criteria, elite German people like to measure another person’s level of interestingness by the quantity and quality of their wild weekend experiences, and will quickly feel uncomfortable if there is an individual around whose previous weekend’s wildness factor remains undetermined. Through the copious use of allusions, they can keep the potential adversary guessing and give their own weekend a mystical, larger-than-life pretense. German people love these win-win situations.
How can you free yourself from this pinch? The best advice is to not respond to the teasing allusions at all, but keep a poker face until your German acquaintances lose interest and their conversation fizzles out. If you are able to keep it up long enough, one of your German acquaintances will finally turn to you and indignantly ask “So, what did you do on the weekend?” This means you have successfully broken their will to come up with more allusions and now have the upper hand. Play it carefully. From here on, the recommended way to answer depends on location. If you aren’t based in Berlin, an easy victory can be scored by just casually dropping the Berlin nuke:
“Oh me? I went to Berlin for the weekend…”
This will render any further explanations unnecessary, as it is understood among elite German people that a weekend in Berlin is a) impossible to trump in terms of wildness and decadence and b) asking about details would make them appear like backwater doucherockets.
If you happen to live in Berlin, things are not so straight-forward. As it is unlikely you will be able to exceed a Berlin person’s machiavellian determination to spend a wild and edgy weekend, the only way out is to say a white lie and tell a story how you went home to see your family in a spurt of spontaneous homesickness.
As basically all elite Berlin people come from rural areas in south-western Germany, and often foster huge self-doubts about leaving their families back in the outskirts of Stuttgart, this is the only way to earn some empathy from your German acquaintances and keep intact your reputation as an edgy Auslander who may be beneficial to hang around with.
“You are what you read,” a well known aphorism goes. Fair enough to suppose that by knowing what newspapers a person is reading, valuable insight into their mindset can be gained. Wouldn’t it be great to converse with your German acquaintances about current affairs and truly know what makes them tick? Just imagine, next time you join your German friends for another eight hour brunch session at a nearby organic cafe, you could finally talk about stuff they actually care about, instead of offending everybody with your boring, mainstream topics such as politics, economics, or fine arts. In order to get your news fix like a German person would, a few easy steps are necessary. Start off by deleting all your bookmarks to international news websites. That’s right: No more BBC, no more New York Times, and of course no more CNN for you. Those will not be of much help anyway as German people take some pride in being gratuitously conspicuous about anything coming from mainstream news organizations.
You might be tempted to just go ahead and buy the most popular newspaper in Germany, namely Bild. Weak thinking, Auslander. Elite German people have a very delicate and complicated relationship with Bild and the rainbow press as a whole. Contrary to, well, any given country, where one day people understood that the best way to handle the (non-)problem of tabloids and the filthy hacks who make them is simply being ignorant and shrug them off as just another plague of modern life, German people so far can’t seem to take their minds off the evils of tabloid journalism for more than 2 minutes. This quirk can be used to your advantage: Even after 40+ years of persistent pointing out the apparent flaws and evils of Bild and its clones by generation after generation of elite German people, you can still safely take this easy shortcut to instantly become recognized as a non-mainstream intellectual who is thinking outside the box by simply listing some of the evils of tabloid journalism.
Erm, you say, what were those again? Here are some hints: Blatant lying, being excessively conservative, controlling the public opinion, and unashamed use of ugly typefaces. This last point is really gaining momentum as all German people are now dabbling around with illegal copies of Photoshop and therefore are experts all matters design.
Don’t worry that you might be called out for restating the obvious. Granted, tabloids are crap and whenever one is published, somewhere in the world a puppy cries. Furthermore, the people who write for them surely must have thrown all ideals of journalism overboard and would happily sell their own children for a good story. Feeling sleepy yet? Better brace yourself, because criticizing tabloids and perpetrating conspiracy theories concerning the rainbow press just doesn’t seem to ever get old for elite German people. Quite the contrary: Frequent public repetition of the evils of tabloid journalism and Bild in particular will reinforce their image of you as being an edgy intellectual who’s not afraid to stand up to the man.
A word of warning: Sometimes you will discover an abandoned copy of Bild or a similar tabloid on a German train, bus, or at a non-organic cafe, and might be tempted to pick it up to find out why exactly elite German people make such a big deal of it. Resist that urge by all means. Being caught reading Bild or worse, citing from it in public means irreversible instant social death in Germany. No prisoners will be taken. If you still can’t see the friendship-busting potential a tabloid newspaper possesses, it might be helpful to think of a copy of Bild as a carrier of the Ebola virus. Handle accordingly.
No reason to despair, though. Luck has it that there exists one major source in Germany which all elite German people can agree on and is totally different from a tabloid: Enter Spiegel Online.
“Online what,” you ask? In good German tradition, the explanation isn’t very straightforward. Let’s try anyway. Essentially, it is the internet spawn of the uberuberimportant weekly news magazine Der Spiegel, which in turn could be described as the German version of Newsweek. With its perfect blend of breaking news, numerous pictorials of questionable relevance, and inane-yet-wordy ramblings about all things adolescent, Spiegel Online has connected to the elite German mind to a degree that wasn’t deemed possible before. Accordingly, the service has won many German awards for excellence in online news. That really sealed the deal for German people, who will happily take any award at face value, because it spares them the considerable effort of making up their own mind.
It is important to differentiate between Spiegel Online (the website) and Der Spiegel (the magazine). Whenever the latter is mentioned, German people will launch into a lengthy rant about how, back in the old days, it used to be a haven for investigative journalism, but now is more irritating than Rupert Murdoch in a jockstrap because it was taken over by radical neoliberals to perpetrate their pro-capitalist, pro-American agenda.
Inexplicably, this critical stance doesn’t keep German people from visiting Spiegel Online religiously, often several times per hour. Sometimes they will send an email to all their friends or, less frequent, work colleagues containing just a link to some new interesting bit they found there. Receipt of such an email means it is crunch time for you: Immediately follow that link and read the story a couple of times to memorize as much as you can. You will need this knowledge later, as elite German people love to assess strangers for their political correctness and ability to adapt to their world-view by engaging them in what may sound like naive small talk about current affairs, but really is a make-or-break situation similar to a job interview at a Sierra Leone diamond mine: Get a tiny detail wrong once, and stay locked out forever, maybe losing a few limbs in the process. To further stiffen the competition, German people love to surprise you by posing the following question without any prior warning:
“Have you read Spiegel Online yet?”
This can only mean some crucial news item has recently been posted to Spiegel Online, and you, in the now following spontaneous trivia quiz, are expected to be able to figure out what exactly is being referred to. As an inexperienced newcomer to Germany you will probably pick the very first thing from the top of the Spiegel Online page, like “New worries about Taliban resurgence in northern Pakistan” or “Unexpectedly steep increase in industry orders for the second fiscal quarter.” BEEP. Wrong answer.
Elite German people, even younger ones, are too widely traveled to ever be bothered much by such mundane things as global politics, international terrorism, or the macroeconomic cycle. In order to blend in with your German acquaintances, you must transcend these worldly levels and understand the true issues affecting elite German people today.
Fortunately, Spiegel Online’s very start page is loaded with hints. The trick is to scroll down just a little bit from that boring “Kim Jong-Un launches nuclear warhead” story to the section below, the truly interesting stuff. These sections are given super-quirky names like “Uni-Spiegel”, “Ehrensenf”, or “Mein erstes Mal”. The beauty of Spiegel Online lies in the fact that stories like “Julia from Berlin-Mitte is too broke to treat her friends at Berghain to more than two cocktails”or “Anna from Hamburg-Schanzenviertel finds out that working in the phone-sex business can wear a person down”, instead of being buried in the back pages out of sheer embarrassment, are given the place and space they deserve, right below of “moon-sized asteroid hits Earth tomorrow at 9am.” These are the kind of news that really put a dent into the elite German person’s universe and appearing constantly wowed by such adolescent fare will really tighten the bond between you and your German acquaintances.
In most cultures, having lunch or dinner together is a great opportunity to get to know new acquaintances, break the ice, and build a friendship. It has been established by the social sciences that mealtime is that essential time of the day where you can kick back from the stress at your workplace and finally receive some much-needed comfort in a non-competitive setting.
Back home, you might have achieved good results taking your guests to that great, little-known restaurant you discovered the other day. Applying this knowledge to German people would be one of the worst gaffes you could possibly make. For German people, eating at a proper, leave alone expensive restaurant, is tantamount to a pure waste of time, money, and opportunities to stay outside in the nude at 15 degrees Celsius. You should get accustomed to the fact that in Germany, the non-casual acquisition of food is a particularly delicate, if not controversial, topic.
German people draw a huge part of their self-esteem from doing everything as casually and spontaneously as possible, often to an extent where the casualness and spontaneity starts to bear all traits of a fully-fledged ritual. One of those crucial rituals a foreigner can use to gain respect from their German acquaintances is a barbecue party. As you might have noticed, German people are fully-fledged barbecue fiends who do not mind having a Barbecue party every day of the week from February to November. Chances are you will soon be invited to join your German acquaintances for a barbecue party on a hot summer day, or in any other weather condition actually.
“Easy enough,” you might be tempted to say, “barbecues are fun, what could possibly stand in the way of having a good time?” In a word - a lot. What foreigners in Germany often fail to compute is the highly evolved rule set attached to any social event. As a rule of thumb, the more often your German friends proclaim the spontaneous and casual character of a come-together, the more pitfalls are there to avoid.
Sure, you could just go ahead, be carefree, do what you please, hence be actually casual about the barbecue, but that sort of behavior will neither gain you any respect from your German acquaintances nor will it fortify their image of you being made from the same stuff as them.
So how do you barbecue the German way? First, make sure to choose the right location. Find the trashiest, most crowded public park in your city, and don’t be turned off by the thick cloud of smoke from the hundred other barbecue parties there. German people will see those as an affirmation for this location’s popularity among their peers. German people can really thrive when being close to a lot of other Germans doing the same thing. Watch the history channel if you need proof for this.
Next, it is time to think about your wardrobe for the big event. Remember, your choice of clothing must give you that causal and carefree air. An ironic T-Shirt, a trucker hat, and plimsolls are a safe look. Add some cheapo sunglasses and a Jack Wolfskin rucksack in an awful colorway, and you’re golden. A word about pants – if you wear shorts, make sure they are vintage military cargo shorts, as normal, dad-type plain shorts are a huge fashion faux-pas for elite-type Germans. Yep, its cargo pockets that make the crucial difference.
If you are a female, the same basic dress code applies to you, but make sure to dilute any signs of femininity. A down-to-earth-yet-quirky-tomboy look is preferable, so wear baggy men’s clothes and get some dirt on yourself on the way to the event, like you had to fix your bike chain on the way. Bonus points if you bring a soccer ball or a vintage 80’s boom box to play everybody’s latest DJ mix on. Don’t worry; every German person always carries their latest DJ mix on them in amultitude of media formats.
If you were chosen to provide the grill, the mandatory way to buy it is at a petrol station no earlier than one hour prior to the event. Even if you know the exact date since weeks, preparing for the barbecue party days in advance will raise serious doubt in your German acquaintances about your commitment to compulsory spontaneity and unflinching quirkiness, and in turn this will diminish your chances to get invited ever again.
The petrol station will also serve as your supermarket for any grill items you are planning to consume. What’s that? You already bought some premium steaks at that butcher around the way? OMG! With those steaks you will stick out like, well, a foreigner! Throw them in the trash immediately. In order to blend in with the German people, you need to have a bulletproof concept about which kind of grill item will best reflect your spirituality, character, creativity, and stance on the evils of mass consumption. If you are clueless, here is a quick overview of popular German grill items and their inherent symbolism:
Steaks: Steaks are usually not sold at Aldidl or a petrol station, and therefore will give away the fact that you made an effort to acquire your grill item. Plus, they are usually a bit on the expensive side, so your German acquaintances will wonder if you may be pro-capitalist. Avoid steaks altogether.
Tofu: Many German people eat vegetarian only. It is an easy and well-tested way to stay in the center of the conversation for a few minutes, and accordingly vegetarian German people are usually slightly more popular than their peers. Even if you’re a meathead, by grilling Tofu, you can display your sympathy for their vegetarian cause in a pretentious way, which is the only way they will respect and won’t be bothered by at all. If you are having trouble locating Tofu in a German supermarket, check for the meat section. Yes, you heard right. In Germany, Tofu doesn’t come in those boring and mainstream four by six inch blocks, but rather in form of popular German meat items such as sausages, cutlets, or burger patties. For German vegetarian people, this is a win-win situation: They can feel special for not eating meat products, while still enjoying the fun and quirky shapes these come in.
Vegetables: Until the day German people invent a way to grill white asparagus, you shouldn’t bother bringing vegetables of any sort to a barbecue. Your German acquaintances might see you as a try-hard from then on.
Sausages: Always a safe thing to put on a grill with Germans watching. As an average German can tell apart about 690 varieties of sausage by the age of eleven, it is important to understand what sausage represents you best. For instance, an Italian Salsiccia will make you look like a gourmet snob who’s too cool to shop at Aldidl and trying to hard to be different. Then again, a pack of cheap, factory-made sausages bought at the petrol station can make you appear totally carefree and easy-going - but be careful of crossing over into the murky wrong type of German terrain. The safest bet is to buy the most normal-looking Bratwurst you can find. Recently, elite German people discovered that the only way left to 1-up other German people in terms of quirkiness and edginess is to do a perfectly normal thing in the most pretentious and narcissistic manner possible and then pretend they just invented it.
Hence, buying a normal Bratwurst at a German petrol station has the power to persuade your German acquaintances that you are an Auslander who can tell their Wolfgang Tillmanns from their Jonathan Meese. Seeing you eat a plain Bratwurst will heighten their trust in you to serve nicely as their artistic friend from overseas.
Arriving at the location, you will instantly notice that most German males will have taken off their T-Shirts. As you probably already learned from German movies and television, German people love being in the nude, and any minute they are required by society to be dressed, to them feels like an unbearable intervention into their personal freedom by the man. This might be one reason for the slightly bad mood German people are usually in – because once they do go nude, their mood lightens in an exaggerated way.
You should seize this opportunity to study an elite German person’s body. Make a mental note of the ironic tattoos and their quirky locations in order to recreate them later on yourself. In order to get your body shape approved by your German acquaintances, and to not blow all your chances to ever experience a Teutonic romance, it is important to always keep it in a narrow corridor of careful carelessness, which means being neither muscular nor chubby.
Still baffled? As we learned earlier, German people seem to be perpetually stuck in the early 90s. Just like they still consider ironic tattoos and techno music to be the edgiest stuff in the universe, German people are still totally down for the Heroin Chic look from those old Calvin Klein ads. The good news is – you can save a lot of money that you would spend on boring and mainstream stuff like running shoes, gym fees, or food. The key to getting a body German people will consider hot is to have an unsophisticated palate and to use your bicycle a lot.
The money you saved on the gym and healthy food should be spent towards tattoos. Some ideas for tattoo motives are: A pencil on your index finger; an ironic anchor on your arm; or a cute, cartoonish elephant below your navel. If you aren’t up for that sort of tattoo, just get some tribal bands and tell your German acquaintances a made-up story of how you got those tribal band tattoos accidentally when you were totally drunk, out of money, and stuck in a Burmese harbor city with a bunch of “good skinheads” from Guadeloupe. You know, just some random edgy story to keep your German acquaintances interested in you.
If you are sure your body shape and decoration are sufficiently careless and ironic, you can safely take your T-Shirt off and open yourself a bottled Bionade using only a lighter (standard bottle openers are banned for outdoor use by German law – everyone must use a cheap, plastic lighter). During the heat up of the charcoal, you will notice that your German acquaintances will stand around the grill and toss certain items, like cigarette butts, into the fire. Do not question this ancient ritual. It will make you look complicated and snobbish.
As soon as everybody sits down to eat their personal grill item, the following conversation between two female German persons will take place: One female German person will have brought some kind of salad to the barbecue party, e.g., a pasta salad. Upon tasting this salad, another female German person will proclaim, “This is really delicious. You have to tell me the recipe!” whereto the pasta salad maker will respond “Uh, I got this recipe from my grandmother who lives in a very culinary skilled region in south-western Germany. This pasta salad has quite a tradition in our family. I’ll write it down and send it to you.” You will notice a few of your German acquaintances nodding in dreamy-eyed admiration.
A few minutes into the meal, suddenly all your German acquaintances will burst out in earth-shattering laughter. The reason is that one attendant of the barbecue party will have displayed some kind of slapstick-y behavior or blooper, like mistaking the Ketchup bottle with the Nutella one, dropping his Tofu cutlet into the grass, or being hit by a soccer ball while drinking from a bottle. If you are now thinking, “all that isn’t particularly funny and no reason to roll on the floor laughing,” you are underestimating the German peoples’ love for slapstick humor. Do not forget that you are now in a country where the highest grossing movies are a slapstick western and a gay Star Trek parody. Actually, slapstick humor is the only kind of humor that doesn’t offend German people, so in order to blend in with them, be prepared to synchronically burst into laughter at any given time over the feeblest of matters.
Important side note: Make sure to cancel all further appointments for the day. Although everybody will be done eating after about 45 minutes, German people will consider the party a flop unless everybody stays together to small talk for another six to seven hours, or up to 10 hours if staying outside. If the barbecue party starts at 5pm, it is not unlikely for a German person to ride home by four in the morning.
Not only German people love themselves a little self-exploration from time to time, so, on public demand, Ich werde ein Berliner put together its first online personality test. Are you ready to find out how well you blend in wiz ze Germans? Or, want to know why you have been getting the mailbox a lot recently when trying to reach your German acquaintances? You are about to find out all about it, and, as an added bonus, you will receive some HTML code to proudly post on your own blog, Facebook page, or “designer Flash portfolio,” and tell the world how “Berliner” you already are.
It’s that time of the year again - hard working people around the globe are going on break to enjoy a few weeks away from home, doing nothing but relaxing and enjoying themselves. After all, vacation time is the only time of the year where you can go wherever you like and do whatever you want, without worrying too much whether other people approve of it. Or so you thought. Living among German people, things are not so straightforward. When non-German people hear about your vacation plans, the resulting social transaction very often consists of a high-five, followed by something like “enjoy yourself, you lucky bastard,” said with a big smile and no further questioning. German people, on the other hand, do not see any benefit in such an easy-going approach to taking breaks. As with many other areas of life in Germany, making the right decisions about your vacation will either heighten or severely diminish your chances to earn respect from German people and keep up a friendship with them. When it comes to vacations, the sheer number of things that could possibly offend your German acquaintance is so great, getting this one right is even more important than your taste inmusic, housing, transportation, or knowledge of coffee specialities.
The first mistake you probably made is assuming that German people share the same reasoning for going on a vacation as we Auslanders do. You’ve been working your ass off for a year, so it is a no-brainer that you are going to a nice, sunny place somewhere southern, and take it easy for two weeks, right?
Wrong. The type of German people you aspire to blend in with despises the concept of taking a vacation for hedonistic reasons. In order to feel good about spending money on anything other than owning property or their career, there must be a serious cause attached to the expense, like experiencing authentic culture, studying, helping the poor, or self-discovery. Never openly show a carefree, happy-go-lucky attitude about traveling - it will earn you admonishing glances from your German acquaintances and at any further encounters, the conversation will be somewhat reserved and awkward.
When speaking about your vacation, the following words should be avoided at all cost: Sun, beach, cheap flight, restaurant, hotel, Europe, vacation. Yes, vacation should not be used as German people like to use the more pretentious word travel for it, because it gives them the air of being a real adventurer tracing the footsteps of Marco Polo. To help you keep up with the impressive stories of your German acquaintances, let us analyze how elite German people travel. The most important aspect of your vacation is who you go with. Just going alone would be seen as dishonest conduct, because there is no way your German acquaintances could assess how important and special your vacation really was - after all, you could make up stories about it or exaggerate the facts, so the German people around you would feel high peer pressure as they are required to top your vacation and anyone else’s by measures of intensity, authenticity, and uniqueness. Therefore, German people usually go on vacation in groups of at least ten people. Usually, there is one leader who initiates the whole vacation planning. Often, this leader is the lucky offspring of a better-off family who owns some property in another country, where he is allowed to invite some of his friends. Going with a group solves two dilemmas: With everyone being under surveillance 24/7, German people can finally kick back and rest assured no one will enjoy themselves more than they do. Also, staying in a privately owned property is considered vastly superior to a hotel. Only the wrong type of German, or someone who doesn’t have a bunch of great friends, would stay in a hotel. Remember, anything that will lessen your stress is a no-no during vacation time.
The leader German person also bears responsibility to choose the right mix of people for the vacation, uh, sorry: Journey. For example, there has to be one person who can speak the destination country’s language. Bonus points if that person is also a good barbecue chef. Eating at a restaurant is an inexcusable mishap only the most stuck-up, unromantic, and non-creative person would dare to propose. After all, doing barbecue, even every single day, is one of the most revered activities for German people, as it evokes memories of past summer nights where everybody was sitting around a campfire, next to a body of water, talking about going on vacation together someday to do the exact same thing, only in another country.
Next, there has to be a number of people who are in a complicated relationship. These people are easy to find as most German people below 50 actively seek out to be in complicated relationships. They consider these superior to relaxed, harmonic relationships because they enable them to always remain at the center of the conversation of their peers and to spice up their otherwise mundane daily life. If the vacation leader knows his job well, he will choose two or three couples who either have split up recently but are still hanging out together, or where one has an affair with another person and everybody but the spouse is in on the secret. Bonus points if the love affair happens to be a person who also attends the vacation. Lots of juicy love drama and late-night screaming matches will be the welcomed result. If the leader is in a pinch and no person he knows is in a complicated relationship, his German friends will grasp the danger of the situation quickly and save everybody’s experience by splitting up one day before departure, having a spontaneous coming-out, or contracting a sexually transmitted disease while insisting on trying group sex.
The other uber-important aspect is of course the destination of your vacation. As stated before, any country inside the borders of the European Union will just not cut the mustard. Chances are some of your German acquaintances have visited the place together with their parents when they were children, and therefore are now both bored by the prospect of going there again and, most important, are expected by their peers to do everything differently from their parents, which by the way you are expected to anticipate in anything a younger German person (read: below 45) does. It is also considered very bad ecoquette to go somewhere by plane where you could possibly also go by train or in an ironic, beat-up Volkswagen Bully bus. The reasoning goes like this: German people, while always eager to save money for investing it into property later, in fact hate nowadays’ cheap airlines to their guts. An old German person on time claimed the increase of flight passengers due to cheap ticket prices to be responsible for most of the CO2 accumulation in the European atmosphere, and therefore German people will only accept another person going by plane if the destination is reasonably far away (bonus adventure points if the airline isn’t commonly used everyday, like Iran Air, Air Bagan, or Air Koryo).
In fact, going to a remote, far-away location that cannot be easily traveled to is the most desirable option for German people. When traveling, German people loathe little more than being identified as Germans. Of course, even for uncontacted people like the Yanomamö, spotting a German person is a piece of cake. This has always been a huge source of frustration for any German person, which might explain the slightly bad mood Germans usually are in when abroad. In their constant struggle to become more cosmopolitan, the German person will already have arranged for himself an array of activities that other German people will admire, or better yet, envy him for. The important point is that these activities must be special, edgy, quirky, and zany enough to both surpass those of the German person’s peers and simultaneously divert all inklings of selfish hedonism. To give you some ideas about good destinations and activities to talk about:
Next week I’ll travel to Azerbaijan because I was invited to be a roadie for the Hajibeyov Azerbaijan State Symphony Orchestra who I will accompany on their tour through the Pakistan / Afghanistan border region.
You know me and my friends we are going kayaking on the Utcubamba together with some local Peruvian poppy growers. Who knows - maybe we spontaneously make a quick detour to Colombia to crash with this drug lord we met on Facebook. He seems cool, though!
I’ll go to Australia with a few other girls where we’ll hitchhike around the country and try to get kidnapped on purpose by some sheep herders who we’ll live and work with together for some weeks! It’s totally spontaneous and some guy in Berghain told us it’s really safe!
I am sooo looking forward to my visit of a super-special Thai ‘Wat’ where I will attend an eight-week course on how to cook traditional authentic south-eastern Mongolian food with one hand tied on my back, doing a handstand on a Ukrainian monocycle, using only bird feathers and shoestrings as cooking utensils. That will be soo intense, dude!
If this all sounds too complicated, angst-ridden, or downright dangerous for you to take on, there is one way out of the situation. Just tell your German acquaintances that you decided to stay in Germany this year and do a bike tour through the Uckermarck. Your German acquaintances will be so flattered by your newly found interest in the German countryside and from then on see you as a highly individual, romantic, and artistic being, who will serve well to improve their importance among their ranks. Who knows - you might even earn an invitation to stay at some guys’ parents’ house in Spain, together with some really lovely couples.
Demographics Dōjō aims at introducing and giving a closer look at some specific groups of German people. Let’s start with a fun group: Upper-middle-class women. Historically, German upper-middle-class women, or UMCW as they are commonly called, always were a bit hard to understand, especially for German upper-middle-class men. These often are overheard complaining about a certain lack of accountability and unpredictability in the UMCW’s ways. Then again, in Germany, these character traits are desirable and let their bearer appear spontaneous and quirky, and accordingly German UMCW nowadays draw a huge part of their self-esteem from keeping an aura of quirky spontaneous mystery.
You see, younger German people (anyone under 43) always favor complicated relationships over easy-going ones because they serve nicely as a never-run-dry source of talking points and enable these German people to effortlessly stay in the center of their peer’s conversations. For Germans, little is more suspect than an eventless, happy relationship, while a guy who is stuck in a complicated relationship with a German UMCW automatically becomes a very interesting person, and can easily score with his spouse’s UMCW girlfriends, or at least get a lot of free advice and paid-for cafe trips. You might now be asking “so German UMCWs will forever stay a mystery whose ways no one will ever be able to figure out?”
Rejoice, Auslanders, rejoice. Due to a lucky fortuitousness, akin to finding the Rosetta Stone, a person has been found who can be considered the blueprint for all German UMCW today. The biography of this patient zero reads like a textbook for today’s German upper-middle-class women behavior: Enter Patty Hearst. For those unfamiliar with Patty’s story, let’s recapitulate and compare it to the typical biography of a German upper-middle-class woman:
Patty Hearst was born as a privileged child into a privileged family. Her grandfather, William Randolph Hearst, invented tabloid journalism and even inspired Orson Welles to write Citizen Kane. Patty grew up in a conservative, yet very well off household and became an apolitical, sheltered young woman who earned a ‘best student award’ at a posh high school.
All German UMCW are born into conservative, yet well-off families oflawyers, doctors and bankers. They live an uneventful life, are doing well in school, and are usually pretty dull, naive, and apolitical individuals. Until…
Patty’s life changed irrevocably when she was 19 years old. A group of armed men who called themselves the ‘Symbionese Liberation Army’, some self-proclaimed leftist revolutionists, broke into her apartment and kidnapped her, keeping her at a hideway in southern San Francisco. According to her autobiography, her kidnappers kept her in a dark closet for 57 days.
When a German UMCW reaches age 19, society demands for her to become bored with her sheltered life. Unfortunately, the chance of being kidnapped in Germany is almost zero, so a German UMCW has to find her edgy, creative revolutionists all by herself. This is when German UMCW decide to apply for a university in a big German city. Usually, Berlin or even just Hamburg are the biggest cities they can imagine living in. There, for the first time in their lives, they will have to deal with the tragedy of residing in a very confined space (their ‘dark closet’ if you will), swapping the 4,000sqm park-like residence they grew up in for a meagre 120sqm trust-funded Altbau apartment in Berlin-Mitte or Hamburg-Karolinenviertel. And that’s when the magic metamorphosis happens:
According to her own recount of the events, Patty Hearst says she was given the option to be killed or join the ‘SLA’. She agreed to join and took up a new name: ‘Tania’. As Tania, she helped her new revolutionist friends to put out flyers with leftist proclamations and even took part in a bank robbery, where she was caught on surveillance camera, now sporting dark messy hair with bangs and thrift-store clothing. Now under intense pressure from the police, the group was forced to change their location very frequently and many of her co-revolutionists were shot by the police. Somehow, Patty always managed to stay safe until she was finally caught by the FBI. When asked her occupation during fingerprinting, her response was ‘Urban Guerilla’.
Just like Patty Hearst, German UMCW, upon their arrival in the big city of their choice, are also given two options: Either join the right people, or, in a symbolical, societal sense, die. Lacking any kind of self-esteem and being impressed by the big city, they choose to join the right people, dye their hair in a dark colour and take up a new, edgier name, going from Julia to Marusha, or from Maria to “Mrs Cupcakes”. Soon after joining the hip, tattooed leftists, who are often notoriously broke artists and freelancers, a German UMCW suddenly must develop an interest for zany, quirky stuff like flash mobs, guerrilla marketing or four-day-raves.
Once their square and boring parents find out about the new life of their daughter, they will usually cut down the funding of her apartment, forcing her to move house to another, cheaper place, preferably several times a year. Don’t be misled though - however wild and edgy that new lifestyle may appear, in reality all German UMCW are eagerly pushing to finish their law or medicine colleges and save up every cent they can spare to later invest into self-owned property or studying a little more abroad. Basically, like Patty, they are at anytime fully aware that the lifestyle of the ‘urban guerilla’ is nothing but a short episode to make themselves appear more interesting and edgy, while taking the freedom to make normal people’s lives harder for their own advancement until they finally grow bored and fall back on the assets of their families.
Patty spent nearly two years in prison until President Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence early. Out of prison, she soon married her bodyguard. She went on to live the life of a typical, spoiled, rich heiress and ‘society matron’, publishing an autobiography, writing some soon-forgotten crime novels, starring in some artsy movies, bragging about her family’s riches on the Travel Channel, and breeding Kennel dogs. When asked about the hypocrisy of taking part in a revolutionary cell and not much later living the exact lifestyle of the people she once agitated against, Patty Hearst likes to say she was ‘brainwashed’ into joining those people.
When German UMCW get commuted (read: exit university), they are also usually fed-up with the nasally-talking artist types they met in the big city, so they quickly get married to someone more manly, and enter completely carefree life in some self-owned property with wooden floors and a 50,000.00 EURkitchen. Sometimes, just like Patty Hearst, they get a little ‘creative tingle’ and go on to write books about how square and boring personal hygiene is, or take a shot at acting or hosting an artsy TV show for a little while until they grow bored with everything and finally move to Majorca or the Hamptons.
German people are world-reknowned for their love of the automobile. Heck, didn’t they even invent it? German-brand cars are exported into the whole world and the automobile industry is one of the key industries of Germany. That’s why, upon coming to Germany, you expect the locals to all rock their fancy Beemers, Benzes, and Porsches. You probably even wonder if it would be of merit to also get a nice car in order to blend in with the locals. Hold your horses right, there, Auslander! Your perception of the German love for cars is pathetically outdated. Outdated and uberuncool. Actually, the only people in Germany who are still openly into nice cars are either the wrong kind of German or people with Turkish roots. Sadly, both demographics will not be of much help getting accepted by the creme de la creme of German people.
When talking to an elite German person, the only acceptable way to mention cars is a negative one. An open aversion to everything automobile will tighten the bond between you and your German acquaintances.
That’s especially true when trying to find a date. Picking up your future girlfriend / boyfriend with a car will make you look like the most boring, square person on earth and conjure up images of their overzealous fathers, who spent more time and thought on his car than on their Rudolf-Steiner education. So, instead of being a sex catalyst, like, about anywhere else, in Germany owning a car will ruin your sex life for good.
There’s one exception from that rule though. If you must own a car, choose a really lame, beat-up, old car, and put some ironic stickers on it reading Indy 500, 1972, or “In my prior life, I was a Porsche”. The point is to make your ownership of the automobile appear as ironic as possible, and also don’t give them any clues about your salary. Remember, any highly paid job looks very suspicious to Germans, especially now during the financial and banking crisis. Much as withAltbau apartments, the more beat-up and fault-prone your car is, the better. It will give you plenty of talking points and German people will see you as a quirky, zany individual who is too clever to be materialistic.
With an ironic, old, shabby car ranking about 3rd or 4th on the personal transportation acceptance chart, you are probably asking yourself what the elite German person’s choice of transportation is. The answer is easy and surprising at the same time:
Alright alright, there are plenty of sound reasons for not riding a bike. Being an adult for example. Or the fact that in Germany, it’s raining almost every day. Fear not. German people don’t have such an antiquated, boring ugly people’s concept such as adulthood or adjusting one’s activities to the weather. In Germany, it is perfectly acceptable to ride bicycles, skateboards, or whatever children toy you prefer, way into your 40s or even 50s. In some areas, where the elite German people live, the bicycle even is the only accepted means of transportation.
You are probably thinking, “Well, I could go to the countryside more often, and, among other stuff, ride the bike for a bit”. That’s weak thinking. The point of riding a bicycle in Germany is to ride it everyday, right in the city, where the heavy traffic is. This is something German people have adopted from Amsterdam, a city every German person is expected to love and look up to. Don’t mention the fact Amsterdam has a far superior infrastructure and topography for bicycle riding, hence bikes don’t look so much out of place like they do in any German city. It would make your German acquaintance very sad and give him a fit of low self-esteem. History taught us the world is better off without German people with self-esteem issues. But I digress.
Another reason why German people on bikes revere seeing other German people on bikes so much is from all the positive imagery they connect with it. For example, any German male’s dream woman is a french girl with Amelie bangs, dressed in a mid-length skirt neon-colored American-Apparel tank top, and plimsolls, holding a fresh pain baguette under one arm and riding around Paris’ 19eme arrondissement on her old-fashioned madame bicycle to visit her artist friend’s modern art exhibitions.
On the other hand, the dream sex partner of any German woman is a scruffily good-looking 35 year old skater dude who isn’t displaying any boring features like ambition, style, or interest in soccer. German women will happily take two jobs to support that guys’ marihuana habit and give him more breaks to act out his skateboard and biking hobbies.
Of course, there is a blatant contradiction in the elite German people’s ways. They all fantasize about those mediocre, lower-mid-size cities one day becoming up-to par with metropolises like Los Angeles or Shanghai, but at the same time, they applaud any effort made to de-urbanize Berlin, Hamburg, Munich and Cologne to become more bicycle-friendly. Refrain from mentioning these contradictions to a German person. You will instantly be typecast as anything from a range of complicated and non-spontaneous foreigner up to strange capitalist pig, depending on the aggression level of that German bicyclist for that day, and to make up for it, you would probably have to help the German person move house a few times in a row. Remember, German people all have a huge vinyl collection, yet they love to move house a few times every year to make themselves more interesting to other German people.
Being a cyclist in Germany is a sweet deal as not only traffic laws are officially not applicable to you, but also because you get built-in moral high grounds as soon as you sit on a bike. German people love feeling superior to others and act aggressively at the same time, and nowadays the best way to divulge in both activities is riding a bike around a major German city. Mind you, German cities were not made for traveling through them on a bike, so it is mandatory to always pull an annoyed, reproachful face when on a bike. After all, you are a very zany, quirky, interesting, small-carbon-footprint individual busy saving the planet, while those proto-fascist car drivers and Fussgangers are only out there to block your way.
To ride your bike the German way, there are some rules to respect. Wherever there is a sidewalk, use it, but don’t lower your speed in order to make the walking people feel as uncomfortable as possible. You could even speed up a little as there is no danger of hitting a car on the sidewalk. If you hit a walking person, yell some abuse, and get the hell away. Remember, you are the elite and do not owe apologies to any member of the plebs.
Red lights, one-way streets, stop-signs and the like were placed in German cities after WWII by the zionist-american-wall-street-lobby conglomerate. By ignoring them, you are making a bold statement about yourself being a proud German person who will not suck up to americanized rules and regulations, just like those free-thinkers in Amsterdam. If another German person on a bike sees you pass a red light, he or she immediately will want to have children with you.
Of course, going into one-way streets in the wrong direction and passing red lights all the time will lead to many near miss accidents. Those boring, conformist lemmings in their cars are all stupid, and might act surprised when you suddenly shoot into traffic from an unexpected angle. If that happens, make no mistake - it is always their fault. In Germany, you are then free to kick a dent into their door, scratch the hood, or, if you are an experienced cyclist in Germany, actually get off your bike and start a fistfight with the driver. Don’t worry about the consequences. Apart from some other car drivers, German people will usually applaud you for getting back at those evil drivers, and speak on your behalf should the police catch you. A word of warning, though: Never scratch the car of a German person with Turkish roots. They are the ones in black BMWs with body kits.
Remember - as a cyclist in Germany, you always have moral high grounds, so what really seals the deal for bike riders is that they are not required to show any accountability and stick to their own rules. This means any acquaintance of yours who has a car has to happily give you and your bike a free ride whenever you feel like it. Granted, there are many rainy days in Germany and you do not want to be late to that electronic music recording session with your friends.
Cologne is actually one of the oldest cities in Europe. It was started by the Roman empire as some kind of wartime tactical experiment on how to cram as many people into a single place and at the same time keeping up the appearance and feeling of a boring, little village, thus effectively cloaking the size of the city from the Teutonic eye. In spite of the Roman empire long gone, the experiment seems to be continued until our times. Hence, Cologne’s key landmarks to catch the traveller’s eye are:
A huge, old-ass church
Deep orange tans
Spiked, geled-out haircuts with blonde streaks
Clothing with tacky prints, i.e. Ed Hardy
Apart from that huge catholic death star, Cologne could be described as a typical German town. Looking for a shopping area that, in good German fashion, consists exclusively of mobile phone stores, run-of-the-mill clothing chains, and interchangeable concept bistros and cafes with awful food and beverages? Check. An area close to the city center, where some Altbau houses have survived WWII and are now being rented out at ridiculous prices to the masses of super-individual, non-conformist German 20- and 30-somethings who are still considering themselves alternative while ruling German culture since decades? Check. A place for the wrong type of Germans, who don’t work in media and think Jack Wolfskin is the hottest clothing brand to wear? Check. So, you might wonder, does Cologne have any unique feature that makes it worth writing a City-Special for?
Ladies and Gentleman, let me introduce you to the undisputed capital and breeding ground of German Guido culture. Taking a short stroll through Cologne, you will encounter more Guidos and Guidettes than in any other German city. A quick count on a normal day resulted in a Guido to non-Guido ratio of 4:1, which has the funny side effect that in Cologne, you will be considered lame when you do not sport spiky geled hair, do not pop your collar, do not have a year-round deep, orange tan, or do not reek of cheap, wait for it, cologne - instead of the other way around.
Cologne people are always striving to take the Guido-ism to new frontiers: When in the beginning it was considered sufficient to have a tattoo on your skin, Cologne people took tattooing to clothing long before Ed Hardy was even heard of. Never running out of creative ideas, advanced Cologne people have started to take the tribal tattoo love to their cars.
The Guido lifestyle pervades all of Cologne’s social classes. Some Cologne people even turned what would be considered a detriment to one’s career in any other place into fully-fledged celebrity stardom. They succeeded by exporting the German Guido look into the whole world. Some famous exponents are football players Lukas Podolski and Tim Wiese, and last but not least the world’s most freshwater supermodel ever, Heidi Klum, who were all born and raised in or around Cologne. No piece about Cologne would be complete without a mention of the somewhat famous Cologne carnival. When you are in the pitiable situation to ask a Cologne person about the carnival, you will hear the following sentence “you will either love it or hate it, but you should have tried it once”. After which they will teach you about how great and important it is for “everybody to come together to party for carnival”.
What they don’t tell you is that during the carnival days, which take place in early February to make sure it’s really cold outside and raining, your main concern will be to dodge all those fat 50-something unemployed drunk hags out on the Cologne streets, who are out hunting victims to make a bützen-move on. Which means slobbering beer and vomit over someone’s face while expecting that person to love it and return the favor.
German people aren’t very good at being indifferent towards any given thing. One particular topic they just can’t seem to keep their minds off is America. Actually, the last recorded incident of a German person asking the question: Hey, what’s up with the USA? and another German person answering this with:
Eh? Dunno, why are you asking? is dating back over 230 years ago. Since that point in time, German people are required to have a strong opinion about the US of A, and that opinion must be negative. Granted, you probably already knew that the majority of German people are idiosyncratic regarding all things American, especially the US foreign policy since June 6th 1944, so in order to not stick out too much and earn invitations to dinner parties where the host only cooks stuff from the latest Tim Mälzer cookbook, you might think it is a good idea to join in the chant and pretend to be full-on anti-American when it is mingle time with the Germans.
Not so fast, Auslander. While that approach will work fine with 90% of German people, you might get into a situation where you need help from a professional, like a doctor, lawyer, banker, business consultant, or basically any profession Tom Cruise had in one of his 80s Hollywood blockbuster movies. Dealing with this kind of German will require a completely different strategy. First, you have to wrap your head around the fact that these German people love the USA and act like US citizens to a degree that often even surpasses Americans themselves. It’s a bit as if they try to compensate for the other 90%
These German people all have something in common - they were teenagers in West Germany during the 1980s, a time and place when it was okay, or better, cool, to like the USA. Hence, many of them went to the US for a 1-year student exchange, where they had to live with painstakingly normal families in Newark or Arkansas, playing a little baseball and learning to speak (American) English like a native speaker. The most rewarding aspect for them though was their return to Germany. Once they got back, they suddenly weren’t regarded as that boring, stuck-up lawyer kid anymore, but became popular and interesting to other German teenagers. They were able to live on telling the same stories from America for years to come, and the wide-eyed enthusiasm received whenever they spoke that twangy exchange-student English with the needless over-pronounciation burned itself so deep into their Nucleus accumbens, that they were hooked on acting American for the rest of their lives.
From that point on, they were mainly driven by the challenge to be a more realistic American than their peers. So, they started to style their lives to match the current top-ranking mainstream US-Sitcom, like Friends in the 90s, or Sex and the City in the 00s. They dabbled at founding a local softball team that broke up after a month because those stupid Germans taking part didn’t get the rules, and ate at McDonald’s whenever they could, pointing out how much more diversified the menu at McDonald’s in the US was compared to the watered-down German version: “They don’t even have home fries over here!”
Later on, they pulled all the strings to be able to study abroad for a few years, not thinking twice about the destination of their dreams: New York City. Going to law school or working for Deutsche Bank there, to them was akin to winning the career lottery, a move that made them go straight to No. 1 on the interesting people chart kept among their circle of friends. While in the beginning, German professional people might have dreamt about staying in the US and becoming fully-fledged American citizens, they usually quickly realized that this would be drastically less rewarding than returning to Germany and show their freshwater fellow Germans how to live the American way. Surprisingly, this Teutonic-American lifestyle consists of relatively few key recurring elements:
Drive an American brand SUV
Put up an American flag on your front porch / balcony
Point out that there is no truly conservative political party in Germany
Wear chino pants with pleats, salmon polo shirts, baseball caps, penny loafers, and your school’s vintage varsity sweatshirt whenever off duty
Take your family on a pre-Christmas shopping trip to New York City to stock up on the above mentioned clothing items, iPhones, iPads, and all that other luxury stuff your wife spotted on one of the Sex and the City actresses
Spend the rest of year telling the Germans back home how great New York looks at Christmas time, and how you struck a really good deal on a Brooks Brothers hoodie at Saks 5th Avenue, but upon your return to over-regulated Germany had to pay a small fortune at the customs office because the customs officer was a jealous jackass
You are probably wondering what the take-away is for someone trying to get good service from a German professional person? The good news is, you will have to work less hard than a normal German person. German professionals like to see themselves as super-tolerant towards other cultures than their own, “like I learned to be during my time in the Apple”, so they will go out of the way to show off that tolerance by constantly patronizing you and telling stories of having a lot of close friends from your country when they did an internship at Goldman Sachs.
Now, if you are American yourself, you just drew a wildcard. While German professionals usually treat their fellow Germans like shit, they will instantly suck up to you and ask you lots of personal questions, interrupting you constantly to show off their insider knowledge about the US. You will then be treated to a little tour to their office wall photo gallery where they keep several photos from their time in America. On these photos, the German person wears a NY Yankees baseball cap, a yellow Polo Ralph Lauren sweater, faded jeans with pleats, and loafers. Moreover, the German person will be depicted at one of the following activities: Eating at a US-fast food chain not available in Germany, i.e. Arby’s, holding a football, or posing on deck of a small Yacht as the middle man of a three-person group photo with two of his American acquaintances, arms on shoulders.
You should use this newly discovered power wisely, though. You might be able to get a rebate on law counseling or some free dental treatment, but if you become too friendly with the German professional person, he will try to use the situation to his advantage, and brag to his peers about his new friend from the US. Quickly, you might find yourself in a situation where you have to make up reasons to turn down invitations to some really boring events, such as going on a fishing trip with some of his lawyer buddies, attending his wife’s Sex and the City-themed birthday party, or being asked to join an bi-weekly English debate club at the local Starbucks where a group of German professional people are meeting to freshen up their English grammar while speaking in a very braggadocio, needlessly over-pronounced way.
In the past 20 years, no other musical genre has mesmerized German people more than Techno music. It is obvious that no other music is able to connect with the German soul in a symbiotic fashion like Techno music can, and accordingly Germany is the only country left on this planet where Techno music is still thriving today. While young, easily impressed people in basically all other countries have long moved on to other genres of music, German people still consider Techno music as the most state-of-the-art extravagant musical art form that exists today. Being painfully aware of the danger of getting labeled once again as following yesterdays trends, German people became very creative in giving Techno music different names on a regular basis. For example, some of the more recent names they used were Minimal, Elektro, or Nu Rave. That way, they created the illusion of being into a hot, edgy new music trend, while in reality they were always listening to the same kind of nosebleed, 4/4 beat, marching Techno music.
German people use music as an extension of their ego, hence it is crucial to understand why they can’t let go of a tired 90s dance music fad that never was really interesting to begin with. In the beginning of Techno music and its rave party culture around the year 1990, German people were mere consumers of Techno music, a new trend they picked up, you guessed right, relatively late. But boy, did they get into it. Being efficient party planners, Germans created the world’s biggest outdoor party, the Love Parade, and soon many German people were into Techno music so much they felt the need to be exposed to it 24/7, so they quit their boring and uncool jobs to start a career in Techno music - becoming DJs, record store owners, graphics designers, or drug dealers. Their self-proclaimed mission was to start a new, better society, based on love and respect for each other, getting rid of the pushy, competitive nature of the business world, and living in a ever-relaxed utopia filled with peace and harmony.
Nowadays, Germany might be the only country where this parallel society of cool, edgy, and super-relaxed people is still going strong. The center of the Techno music world now being Berlin, basically every foreign DJ or Techno music producer who was fed up being ridiculed for his taste in music is now residing there. Hence, unless you are already in Berlin, and need a cheap and easy way to make yourself more interesting, just say “I will move to Berlin soon”. The German person will get dreamy-eyed and congratulate you on that decision, often saying “Ahh, that’s the most exciting place to be in right now, and you can live there with little money”. Then the German person will launch into a 20 minute speech about who of his or her friends have already moved to Berlin, love it there, and give you insider information on cool new bars and art galleries. A word of warning: Don’t mention Berlin to people from Hamburg. They are known to hedge a big inferiority complex towards Berlin and the news of another person choosing Berlin over Hamburg might just be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
When you meet a German person who’s into Techno music (basically everybody under 70), you will quickly notice that the conversation seems to follow a certain pattern. This pattern is called the 1-up-you pattern. It is commendable to learn and be ready to use this soon. Here’s a typical conversation between two German techno lovers:
"I like this new style of Techno the DJ is playing tonight." "Oh, really? It started to bore me long ago so I only listen to lately" "Good for you. I heard Ricardo and Richie don’t approve of that style." "You have no clue, I know Ricardo and Richie personally and I doubt they said that." "You know them? Big deal. I met them at record store and personally gave them recommendations what new records to listen to" "Dude, I own that record store." "So what, I own the music distribution you buy from, now what?" "I have a record label that provides your distribution with the records they sell." "Ohh, impressive. I produce my own Techno music records that your label was too lame to pick up and now I am making 80000 Euros that I will spend towards an Altbau apartment and cocaine." "Ha, I also produce records since 20 years and I get to play gigs all over Germany" "That’s cute. I get invited to play all over Europe, even London! Europe is okay I guess, but I also played in the US a few times." "Oh, okay…that place…I for one played in Tokyo once.” "Tokyo is so last decade. My numerous friends there are telling me it has become totally boring. I did a gig in Fukuoka the other day which only is universally accepted as the new trend capital of Japan.” "Good for you. I stopped playing gigs in capitalist countries and have been invited to play a Techno music gig in a Taliban village in Afghanistan, all expenses paid by the Goethe Institute." "Uh, are you trying to impress me?"
Apparently, the number one reason why German people and Techno music are a match made in heaven is that it enables them to build the biggest hierarchical system of who’s cool and who’s not ever, much like yuppies would do, just without putting some real effort into it.
Another reason why German people love Techno music is because they regard it as an alternative and underground culture. That doesn’t keep them from constantly seeking opportunities to give Techno music a broader exposure by marrying it to other, unanticipated genres, like classical music, in a edgy and quirky way.
German people like to constantly benchmark other German people’s Techno music for it’s underground credibility. Therefore, they came up with a bunch of magazines that interview Techno music DJs and producers, review new records, and basically evaluate the whole world for it’s underground credibility from the Techno music point of view. So, to gain respect from a German person, you should get some of those magazines, like De:bug, Groove, or Raveline and read up on who is currently making more money DJing, producing records, or booking parties than your German acquaintance. Then you should say “Oh, that guy? He totally sold out! I heard he is now even working for the Bild-Zeitung.” Your German friend will then see you as one of the good guys. Don’t be caught off guard though - if suddenly your German acquaintance lands a hit Techno music record, or is nominated for a German Grammy, you must be able to quickly do a 180 and change your official viewpoint to something like “well, I guess overground is the new underground, and it was about time Techno music receives the place it deserves.”
As we learned earlier, in Germany the probability of being called a hypocrite is zero. By passing on pointing out some obvious contradictions in your German acquaintances’ ways, you are going to be invited to a lot of private after-hour parties and have plenty of opportunity to really get to know the best German people there.
When in Germany, you will witness many situations where German people are inconsistent with what they said earlier. While they keep preaching on and on about using bikes rather than automobiles (unless it rains), protesting against any war that wasn’t started by their own government, or the necessity of eating healthy food while sourcing their veggies from Aldidl or stuffing Döner into their faces while watching the latest, illegally downloaded Coen Brothers movie, they are, at any time, fully aware that they might come across as being stuck-up, uncool, and bullying too much. To work against this image, German people use a tactical approach that, like Irony, also bears the sign of geniality as it allows them to do anything they dream up without the danger of appearing two-faced as they probably preached the exact opposite, like, the day before: Callous self-contradiction.
The important aspect of a German person’s self-contradiction is the non-accountability of it. For anyone, but especially for foreigners to call out, or even mention, an obvious contradiction in a German person’s behavior is considered very bad etiquette, on par with being employed by a multinational corporation or touching another person’s car. If you, even jokingly, call out a German person for his or her inconsistent behavior, you will notice their facial expression becoming more stern and passive-aggressive, and he or she will say “gee, take it easy, okay?” At this point, it’s recommended to quickly change the topic to something that will cheer the German person up, like jokes from yesterday’s TV Total show, or fresh gossip about some famous actor or Techno DJ moving to Germany.
What’s that? You also want to enjoy the uber-coolness of non-accountable self-contradiction? Sadly, for German people, this character trait is only acceptable an encouraged in German natives. So, if you are caught on a contradiction, it will be useful to come equipped with an arsenal of witty responses that will make up for your inconsistent behavior. To be able to do that, you will have to apply what you learned about German people so far. If you’re out of ideas, here are some examples:
German person: Uh? Why are you eating Döner? Didn’t you say you were only eating organic food? You: I am, but to show the Turkish community I am down with them, I sometimes have a Döner in spite I went vegan 3 weeks ago.
German person: What? You came by airplane? Didn’t you also agree to go by train to save on your CO2 footprint? You: Sorry, but going by plane was the only way to be in time for opening party of that new Minimal-Techno club.
German person: You bought a car? Why aren’t you driving a bicycle like everybody agreed you should? You: (Looking to the sky) It looks like it’s going to rain hard soon. Let me give you a ride! We can put your bike in the trunk and stop by the health food store on the way home to stock up on organic produce and Bionade.
A few obvious contradictions that the German person can easily spot and you are able to refute in a positive way will tighten the bond between you and your German acquaintance. This also works if you are in a relationship with a German person. German people fear nothing more than monotony and lack of spontaneousness when in love with another person, and contradicting yourself now and then will serve nicely to keep the fire burning.