|The Chermans love David Hasslehoff...and Alf. |
(Photo: Notes of Berlin)
|Classic passive-aggression: "You know, that I know, that you|
know, that I know, that you took the thing once again...
so cough it up!!" (Photo: Oonagh O'Hagan)
|The classic WG kitchen note with art|
accompaniment: "You swine! Clean up
your shit already!...(small print: "Thank you")
(Photo: Oonagh O'Hagen)
The WG note:
The Wohngemeinschaft, or WG (shared flat), is fertile ground for posted notes. Place a group of 5-10 students or young people in close quarters with a shared kitchen area and you're bound to have some good old fashioned aggression; but often, this aggression is not expressed in person, either because the aggressor cannot find the aggressee at that moment, the aggressor wishes to express his/her thoughts to the whole Gemeinschaft (community) and is unable to arrange an all-hands-on-deck WG meeting on short notice, or because the author opts in this case for the 'passive-aggressive' note. Our first example (see photo) comes from a wonderful book by Oonagh O'Hagan called "Ich brauch den Schinken. Wirklich! – Ein Bilderbuch aus dem ganz normalen WG-Wahnsinn" (I need that ham. Really! – A picture book from the totally normal world of shared-flat insanity), and is a great example of the avoidance of face-to-face confrontation. I couldn't be more for it in this case, though, because I think we can all agree that a simple "Hey, can you give me that thing back, thanks" would have been a lot more boring than this. I'm also quite curious as to what "that thing" was, and why they couldn't just name it in the note. One wonders...
Any current or former WG resident also certainly knows the kitchen note, and they're very rarely about something positive. I didn't live in a WG when I studied abroad, but I remember seeing the exceedingly complex charts of scheduled tasks and regular duties to be done in the flat, with each resident neatly penciled in for each area in successive weeks. I also remember that those charts were almost never obeyed, and that conflict and hijinks ensued. The composer of example 2 (photo) has obviously taken some time to include artwork along with his/her aggression. After just two examples, it's also already patently clear that nearly all Zettel contain at least a few exclamation points, often in a row (which, incidentally, are exceedingly rare in other written genres of German). Another favorite of mine from O'Hagan's book: "Warum ist mein Bett so feucht?"
|The passive-aggressive/formal hybrid note trying to catch the|
mystery pooper. (Photo: Notes of Berlin)
The Mehrfamilienhaus note:
|Another Zettel that shows some serious artistic dedication. Note again the use|
of multiple exclamation points: "To the doormat-thief: This doormat only
costs 2.99 at the hardware store. Buy one for yourself!!!"
(Photo: Notes of Berlin)
One last, and very concise, Mehrfamilienhaus favorite of mine that was posted next to a long, unsightly smear on the wall of the stairwell: "Bitte keine Nahrungsmittel gegen die Wand schmeißen" ("Please refrain from throwing food products against the wall").
|Love the detail in the right-hand panel.|
The "so-was-tut-man-nicht" note:
This particular Zettel species isn't defined by the place in which it's posted, but rather by its purpose. The "so-was-tut-man-nicht" note (or the "we-just-don't-do-that" note) makes a statement about appropriate behavior – and more importantly, it's about imploring others to follow suit. Being a culture where orderliness and stability is a highly valued thing, this is one of the most common types of Zettel in Germany, and of course in many cases these are properly manufactured signs, but they also exist in Zettel format. I think the first SWTMN note I encountered long ago during my first stay in Germany was the infamous "Bitte im Sitzen pinkeln" (Please potty while sitting) note, which in the ensuing years has become so popular that myriad commercially produced signs can now be purchased and posted (just google 'im sitzen pinkeln' and enjoy the ride). This behavioral nudge of course is necessitated by the ubiquitous German shelf toilet, which requires precision accuracy in the standing position to avoid unsightly spray on your clothes and all bathroom surfaces. This note is understandable enough I guess, though I personally don't feel the need to post a sign above our own trusty shelf toilet. I figure if my guests feel they've got sharpshooter aim, then have at it, and hopefully they'll be mortified enough to clean up their own mess in the event of a misfire (I'm beginning to reconsider my words even as I type, though, because precise aim and Party machen don't exactly go hand in hand). The Chermans don't risk this eventuality though.
In the restaurant sign on the right, the SWTMN takes aim at the widespread pet peeve of food photos in public. I love this one for a variety of reasons: first, 'instagrammen' as a verb. Verbing nouns is twice the fun in your second language as far as I'm concerned. Then of course there's the irony of the closing remark forbidding the instagramming of the sign itself. Admittedly, I don't know where the creator of this note came from, but if they are in fact German, this is about as good as German humor gets.
|"Please don't instagram the food...or this note."|
(Photo: Notes of Berlin)
My other favorite in this category is far too long to post a picture of on here, but it's a tome left near the mailboxes lamenting the fact that postal package traffic has increased exponentially of late because everyone shops on Amazon and the Net these days. A quick side note for context: if someone isn't around to receive their delivery, the package is usually delivered to a neighbor who's home. So clearly, this person works from home or doesn't work, and is constantly receiving and doling out packages to his/her neighbors. Though I sympathize to some extent with this person, I can't really imagine feeling the urge/need to post all of these thoughts in the hallway, much less wax philosophical about the evils of online shopping and my own personal hostility toward modernity.
So what's with all the notes?
To some extent, all cultures post hand-written announcements, notes, signs, etc., but in my experience, the German note is particularly prolific and a lot more interesting. More art, more creativity, and more exclamation points in more situations. When I sat down to think about it, it seemed to break one of my primary preconceptions of the Germans; namely, that they are quite direct and honest, often to a fault. In the case of the note, they seem to be eschewing face-to-face contact and directness in favor of the impersonal request or expression of disfavor. I think a German friend of mine put it best: "The Germans are direct, but they also tend to avoid face-to-face contact..." (think here about dead-silent U-Bahn cars and the utter lack of smiles or greetings among strangers on the street) "...so in this case, they avoid face-to-face contact to prevent conflict." In sum, they can fulfil their desire to express their innermost thoughts and preferences without all of the discomfort and possibility for intense argument and conflict that come with face-to-face interaction with strangers or semi-strangers. Maybe German directness applies primarily to friends and acquaintances? Lately though, I think they also just enjoy getting a little creative and funny, even when they're angry. At least I like to think so.