Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Seriously German

German Chancellor Angela Merkel being serious.
Germany is a pretty serious place. One needn't look far for examples.
 
The Germans are serious about debt reduction: Angela Merkel and her colleagues still stand firm by their policies of austerity in the face of crumbling EU economies. They are serious about saving the environment: decades of protests and campaigns by so-called Wutbürger ("angry citizens") have culminated in an unprecedented pledge to close all nuclear plants in Germany by 2022. On an individual scale, the average German puts Americans, Britons, and other Europeans to shame by being almost painfully frugal with energy and water use. My former landlord made it a specific point to instruct me that I should wash my hands and face with ice cold water and to only turn the water on in the shower for the purposes of getting myself wet and rinsing myself off – both of these seem pretty absurd to the average American. I also initially thought he was out of his mind, but by the end of my year living in Berlin, I found myself doing both religiously (it certainly helped that energy costs were at least double those in the U.S.)

Germans are even serious about vacation, free time and fitness. According to the Independent, they spent more than any other country on travel in 2010 ($91 billion). The U.S., U.K., China, and France round out the top five. Most Germans also rigidly maintain exercise regimes. Obese people in German are a veritable curiosity (chances are, if you spot one it's actually a tourist or an expat), and this fact is all the more surprising when one considers the panoply of carbohydrate and fat-rich German specialities including but not limited to Würste, Schnitzel, Brot, Kartoffeln, Schweinsbraten, and of course ample servings of beer.

All of this aside, there are myriad funny things – peculiarly German curiosities – that all of us expats, visitors, students, and residents notice on a daily basis. These things often amuse us and sometimes delight us, but there are also plenty of things that drive us to drink, leaving us with an intense longing for the homeland, wherever that may be. There are other things – like the fantastically practical and efficient Rolladen or the Döner – that I and my friends have repeatedly talked about making a fortune on by importing them to North America. The purpose of the following posts will be to document these funny things about Germany, and to examine the backgrounds, stories, possible motivations, and histories behind them. But mostly I just want to document in one place all of the things I and my friends have laughed, joked, complained, and pondered the meaning of over the years. Enjoy.

(Obesity image from Economist.com)