Rantings of a German

Doing What Germans Do Best

Hundeleben

Some might say this is a dog-eat-dog world. It definitely is sometimes (or, unfortunately, more often than not) in the Ellenbogengesellschaft of the Federal Republic of Germany where many people schauen nur nach deinem eigenen Arsch (only look after themselves, or literally, only care about their own … behind). It is easy, especially in these times of Verstädterung (urbanization), to become a victim of Vereinzelung–to not fit into a (new) environment, to lack personal relationships. The reasons are manifold. Some people have a tendency to be an Einzelgänger (lone wolf). At other times, it is personal Schicksale (fates) that force one into such a situation: becoming arbeitslos (unemployed), for example, has a certain stigma, makes people self-conscious, they lack money for activities which they had had before, which can lead to not participating in social contacts as much anymore, und so weiter (etc.). The death of a spouse, especially at an older age, is another situation. Add to this the decline of traditional social networks: being part of a local-bound Großfamilie (extended family) in a small village makes it easier to become aufgefangen–to have people who are there for you in times of need to pick you up and help you out–than living hundreds of kilometers away from your Kernfamilie (nucleus family) in a Mehrparteienhaus (multidwelling unit) where no one really knows anybody else who’s living there. Who, then, is often der beste Freund des Menschen (man’s best friend)?

Der Hund.

Ah, Germans and their dogs. Surely in the mind of many, the name “Blondi” pops up. No, not Debbie “Blondie” Harry, but Adolf H.’s favorite Deutscher Schäferhund (German Shepherd), perhaps the quintessential and stereotypical German dog breed, a breed so dangerous that it had to be renamed “Alsatian” in English-speaking countries during World War One (are you still eating liberty cabbage? Or liberty fries?). The Schäferhund conjures up images of almost rabid dogs patrolling barbed-wire fences, being held on a leash either by a Sergeant Schultz type or a fierce-looking SS guy. The Schäferhund, almost as evil as Pickelhauben (spiked helmets) and Stahlhelme (German-style steel helmets). To the Nazi-era Germans of yore (as well as many of their prede- and suc-cessors), the Schäferhund symbolized pure-bred Germanness, loyality, agility, intelligence, and that certain aggressiveness needed to … contain criminals? Guard homes/property/prisoners/borders (against communists/capitalists/Republikflüchtlinge (“desertes from the German Democractic Republic”)/refugees? In any case, from the Kaiser era to the Nazi era, from the days of the intra-German border to today’s G20 protests, Fußball games, and Polizeikontrollen (police stop-and-search), the Schäferhund has held a dear place in the hearts of Germans (or their Exekutivgewalt, the executive). Although most Schäferhunde today are not “German” but Belgian Shepherds (Malinois), but anyways …

The German Shepherd is also typical for the German fascination with perfection. It is a dog breed, a Hunderasse (there it is, the bad “R” word, but in this case it is still politically correct to use it–or is it?), and dog breeds need lots of thought, trial and error, vision, and so on and so forth to reach the ideal. Although this “ideal” often comes with certain Nebenwirkungen (side effects) or even abominations. The German Sherperd, for examle, is known for its tendency to develop hip dysplasia–I mean, what do you expect from a dog that is bred to look like there’s an invisible 100 kilogram weighing down on his hind legs? Even in Germany, not everything is perfect (as if it ever was anywhere).

Der Deutsche Schäferhund is not the only breed to carry deutsch in its name. There is also the Deutsche Dogge (Great Dane–another example for an English-world name change) or the Deutsch-Drahthaar (German Wirehaired Pointer: complicated name, beautiful breed [I am quite partial in this regard], but kind of unknown among many people–although it is one of the most common [hunting] dog breeds in the Land of Deutsh). What they all have in common, except for the Deutsch and their “German” origin, is that their breed descriptions could also be read as the advertisement for would-be-SS members: “He has an attentive and energetic look. His movements are forceful, loping, fluent, and harmonic.” (Translation of the description of the German Wirehaired Pointer).

While many Germans love their dog races, I mean breeds, and are willing to pay accordingly for a pup from a kennel (from “experts” for “experts”), many prospective Hundebesitzer (dog owners) opt for a Hund from the shelter. Although German animal shelters are full of dogs (and cats and bunnies and hamsters and so on), many get a Straßenhund (stray dog) from their Urlaubsreise (vacation), preferably Bundesland number 17, Mallorca (or Spain in general). Or they import stray dogs from Romania or the Balkans. It seems there’s a whole industry (if that’s the correct term–at least it’s a kind of Bewegung, a movement) devoted to saving dogs from the conditions in these countries. Sure, these conditions are horrible (and could be likened to how Germans dealt with Untermenschen some 70 years ago–but then, Adolf himself was also more a friend of dogs than of humans), but for some Germans their rescue missions seem to have taken on the form of a crusade. Which makes me wonder why they don’t kehren vor der eigenen Haustür (look after conditions right in front of them) …

And cleaning up after your doggie-dog is a must-must, at least officially as regulated by German political Gemeinden (municipalities). Hundekacke (dog poop) is more often than not the Zankapfel, the (wait for the pun) bone of contention between Hundehalter (dog owners) and Hundehasser (dog haters). I mean, no one wants to step into a warm pile of dog shit (at least I hope so). Unfortunately, in rather urban areas, it is kind of hard to find a “natural” place for canine nature’s relief, so the Hundekottüte (a “doggy bag” for doggy’s crap) is a helpful device, one that is often even provided via public dispensers. But in the same way that dogs leave their manifold marks, much to the chagrin of a good number of proud garden owners whose flowers and Jägerzäune (those criss-cross spiked wooden fences you often find in Germany) are rotting away because of our best friends’ aggressive urine, they also like to gib Laut (make noise)–read/hear: bark. Officially, dogs can bark for half an hour a day (am Stück–in one piece–or accumulated?) or so, but I have yet to see the bitch (Hündin) or Rüde (male dog) that looks at their watch and says, “okay, enough barking for day” (not even cats are that intelligent). This way or another, it is zuviel, just too much for the Hundehasser, and it seemingly “forces” them to turn to more dire means–as for example, putting glass shards or razorblades or even poison in sausages and leaving that “bait” in much-dog-frequented areas. At least post shared by some of my facebook friends tell me so (“Warning! Hundeköder (dog bait) found in this-and-that locale!”, followed by exasperated comments that in tone are similar if not equal to that of dog haters).

But to come full circle (when you Gassi gehen, take the dog for a walk, you also have to return home at some point), dogs play a highly important role for the lonely. For some, it seems, a dog (or dogs) are an Ersatzkind, substituting for the child they never had. But this is an extreme. More often than not, a dog is a person’s companion, their best friend. A dog is loyal (which, as most of us humans can attest to, people are often not) and it is there for you, licking your face when you wake up in the morning, wagging its tail when you come home, appreciating Streicheln (being petted), and getting their Fresserli (dog food) and Leckerli (dog treats). A dog might not be as “clever” as a cat, but then cats only care for humans because they can’t open cat food cans themselves. And a dog an also be an icebreaker: those who own a dog know that meeting other dog owners on the way often turns into a nice little chat. And sometimes it is a nice little chat that is needed in a dog-eat-dog world.

 

 

 

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deutsche Eigenheiten

Being part of the “western” world–and having experienced heavy Amerikanisierung (Americanization) at least from the end of World War II–many things in Germany will be familiar to an American visitor. There are, though, some peculiarities, some Eigenheiten, especially cultural ones, that Amis (and other foreigners) might find funny at best, confusing at least, or obnoxious at worst. Let me share a few of them with you.

In Germany, it is customary to shake hands when you meet someone. Händeschütteln is common both with strangers and with friends. I remember my mom checking if I correctly shook hands before a Fremder (stranger) would come to our house. When I was a teenager, me and my friends had ludicrous ways of shaking hands–combinations of high-fives and interpretations of greetings we had gathered from rap videos. Today, that only happens when I meet someone from back in the days and we have had one too much. These days, I usually shake hands–a firm, correct handshake  (not that limp corpse-like one many people offer you–thanks Mama!). Maybe a slightly smacking one when I know somebody well, combined with some kind of (awkward) semi-hug or whatever you wanna call it. But if in doubt, just a handshake. Of course you do not meet EVERYONE with a handshake–for example most salespeople gehen leer aus (go away empty-handed–oh what an intended pun …). Unlike business partners or acquaintances (e.g. if you are introduced to someone at a party)–basically people you are somewhat closer with than your butcher. Also, you will most likely not shake hands with most of your co-workers as you see them, well, five days a week.

When I was in the States, Händeschütteln was not customary. Especially not when saying goodbye. I know that many Americans find the whole German Abschiedsszene very … funny, to say the least. (German) People line up to shake hands or embrace–it is simply a ceremony with awkward moments (have we said goodbye yet? Or saying goodbye again because you have gotten enthralled in another chat after the first Abschied). Of course you can also shrink aside, at least at a party with many peopl–a party that is not your OWN one, though!

I admit the shaking hands–or hello/goodbye ceremony–thing is quite ambiguous and can be confusing (who to shake hands with and with whom not). But it’s part of German Kultur.

Many idiosyncracies revolve around Geburtstag–birthday. Centuries of Christianity, enlightenment, attempts at substituting those ways of thinking with ideologies from the right and left, and capitalist-pluralist society have not succeeded in removing some sort of superstition among Germans. It is considered bad luck to wish somebody “Herzlichen Glückwunsch!” (Happy Birthday!) before their actual birthday. And es bringt Pech when you give them their Geburtstagsgeschenk (birthday present) before their birthday. So much for that. On a lighter note, Germans like to reinfeiern. That is, they like to start their birthday party the evening befor their actual birthday and continue to celebrate past midnight. At midnight (when a new day–the birthday–has begun, Germans will a) flock to the Geburstagskind (birthday boy/girl) to congratulate him/her and maybe give him/her Geburtstagsgeschenke (presents) b) sing a Geburtstagslied (birthday song–most likely “Happy Birthday” but instead of “dear” they will sing “lieber/liebe” and many will have issues pronouncing the “th,” although this is steadily improving)–or any combination of a) and b) plus birthday toasts of the alcoholic sort. Even when there is no party but more than one person in the room, a gute/r Deutsche/r will go up to the Geburtstagskind and congratulate him/her.

Now imagine my surprise when, once, I was in the States, it was midnight, and nobody congratulated the birthday child! An urge came up in me to approach the birthday child to offer my congratulations–with the words, “Sorry, I am German.” I just had to do it.

Fußballverrückt

What are (most) Germans interested in? Autos (cars)? That would be one answer. Wurst? Too many vegetarians these days. And too stereotypical. The Nazis? Many Deutsche want the past to be the past. Beer? Only nach Feierabend (after calling it a day). Nein. If you follow German media these days, it is Fußball–or what the British call “football” and Americans “soccer.” With Bayern München being Deutscher Meister (German champion), UEFA Champions League winner, and Pokalsieger (German cup winner) as well, German soccer ist in aller Munde (on everyone’s mind)–and not just nationally, with two German Fußballvereine (football clubs)–Bayern and Borussia Dortmund–in the 2013 Champions League final and the German Nationalmannschaft (national team) trying to win a Titel (cup), either the Euro Cup or the World Cup, for a couple of years now (I actually TV-witnessed the last of each–1996 and 1990, respectively). But why is Fußball one of der Deutschen liebsten Kinder (one of Germans’ favorites)?

In its early years, Fußball was called die englische Krankeit, the English sickness. Maybe this had to do with Imperial Germany trying to compete with the British when it came to building warships. Or maybe because, despite being alleged cousins, Germans have always looked at the British isles with some sort of contempt (a favorite cussword is Inselaffen–island monkeys–or tying any sort of hereditary sickness with the English, such as not having had some new DNA in their gene pool since 1066 and such). Despite all this, Fußball has become the most famous sport in Germany and the English national football team a Lieblingsgegner of the German Nationalelf. The English only beat (West) Germany once in a final–that was the 1966 world championship final with its infamous Wembley-Tor, which was NOT a goal. Afterwards, (West) Germany has usually kicked out the English, preferably via Elfmeterschießen (penalty shootout), at which the English suck, plain and simple. I remember the Halbfinale (semi-final) 1990, the semi-final 1996, the Achtelfinale (best of 16) 2010 … And I am looking forward to the English getting kicked out by the Germans in 2014.

When the Nationalmannschaft plays, this is one of the few times, perhaps the only one, when a majority of Germans have a least common denominator (aside from those wannabe anti-fascists who generally side with the other team because they think being anti-German is so cool–and especially aside from those Germans who are anti-soccer, a “minority” that should not be overlooked). People don German Fußballtrikots (soccer jerseys), wave the schwarz-rot-gold national flag (or put a miniature one, or several, on their cars, just to loiter the Autobahn with miniature flags that have been ripped off by the Fahrtwind [apparent wind?]), paint their faces black-red-and-yellow, pilgern (go on a pilgrimage) to Public Viewing locations, and mitfiebern (are engrossed with) the Nationalmannschaft and its current match. This has been especially the case since 2006 when the Weltmeisterschaft (World Cup) was im eigenen Lande, in Germany itself. Some might even call it having been a collective hysteria; at least it was a collective experience (and the loss in the semi-final against Italy one of the saddest moments in my life). With sons of immigrants (Poles, Turkish, Afro-Deutsch) playing for Germany, football has also become a means of assimilating those with a Migrationshintergrund (well, Italian-Germans will still most likely root for Italy, while Turkish-Germans will root for Germany even when Germany has beat Turkey). On the one hand, it could be argued that this kind of openly displayed Patriotismus (patriotism) with jerseys, flags, and the whole collective experience are positive, as Germany, as you might have guessed, has somewhat of a problem with being patriotic (maybe shouting HITLER out loud in a room packed with Germans and the accompanying cringe humor will help you understand).

Especially foreigners think it is good that Germans show some love for their country, just as everybody else does (unlike what most Germans expect when they go abroad, especially Americans will not point out the Nazi past first things first when they talk to you, if they point to it at all). Although I root for the German soccer national team, and although I think that some well-measured patriotism is good, and although I like the ethnic setup of the Nationalmannschaft (because, to be honest, at least in this respect Fußball is much more progressiv than most parts of German society), I could not help feeling a chill run down my spine when thousands shouted “Deutschland” in the Berliner Olympiastadion (olympic stadium) in 2006. And that was not a positive chill. Why? 1936 Olympics in Berlin – Hitler – Nazis – ReichsparteitagSportpalastDeutschland shouts – nationalism – racism – genocide – total war. Maybe (wo)man needs the collective experience, but even if one is enthralled with a soccer game, if that person is history-conscious, s/he cannot help feeling somewhat … awkward.

Speaking of German history and what makes something really deutschFußball is. Stepping down from the national level, we are quickly at the regional to local level, as so often with Germany. While Americans play sports at school and root for school, college, and university teams, Germans like their local clubs, the Vereine. Schulsport, sports at school, is just a weak attempt, and a very bad one at that, at keeping pupils/students fit. While there are at times Schulteams, the majority of teams can be found in the Vereinsport, the sports clubs. A small town might only have one Verein while cities like Berlin boast a large number of them, from traditional (usually from the 1800s) to immigrant ones. These clubs are important for local identity, as you kids might play for that Verein and/or you have played/still play for it, you meet neighbors and old friends there, usw. usf. (etc.pp.). Sport, and especially Fußball, is also a way to fight out rivalries between neighboring towns or even within towns.

Fußball can be identitätsstiftend–soccer can actually create an identity. Ever heard of the Pfalz (Palatinate)? Maybe if you were a G.I. stationed in Ramsteim or Landstuhl. Or in Kaiserslautern. The 1. FC Kaiserlautern is one of those Traditionsvereine that give identity to a whole region, in this case the Pfalz. It helps that half of the 1954 world champion German soccer national team came from the 1. FCK, including Fritz Walter, one of the icons of German football (and the FCK was also the first and only team so far to . Perhaps the 1. FCK’s biggest arch rival (aside from Bayern München–but then, almost every German soccer club’s biggest enemy IS Bayern München) is SV Waldhof Mannheim–but, as both teams play in different leagues, a Lokalderby, a local game between these two teams who are about 50 kilometers apart is quiet unlikely at the moment. For a time, Mainz 05, a good 80 kilometers to the northeast of Kaiserlautern was a favorite enemy–the Rheinland-Pfalz Duell (Rhineland-Palatinate duel). And when the FCK plays against VfB Stuttgart or the Karlsruher SC from Baden-Württemberg, it’s a Südwestduell (southwestern German duel). It’s always nice to identify yourself via the other (whether they be Kurpfälzer, Rheinhessen, Badener, Schwaben, or Bayern), isn’t it … Especially when you are a loyal fan to your club, albeit–or especially because of– its ups and downs from one league to the next. Oh well, Germans like to leiden (suffer) and to klagen (moan) …

So if you are in Germany during the Fußballsaison (soccer season) from late August to mid-May (with a winter break from mid-December to mid-January), you might want to try and watch a live Fußballspiel (unless you are an anti-football person, of course). You’ll have the choice from 1. Bundesliga to second and third, Regionalliga, Verbandsliga, Jugendligen, etc. pp. … But please refrain from arguing that England or Argentina or whoever plays good football (German reasoning: it’s not the style that counts but the results!) as it might cost you dearly in Bier, and please don’t wear the wrong colors to the game–it could get you into trouble if you wear them in the wrong Block … “Hooligan” might be an English word, but some Germans have kultiviert it.

Fahrradfahrer

In contrast to the United States, riding a bike in Europe is not something that only hipsters with “fixies” or doped Tour de France participants do. Cycling is not just a sport; it is a (rather cheap and quick) means of transportation. On the old continent, the distances are often not that huge, the landscape at times pretty flat (sorry, Belgium and Holland, your location was just too convenient), and the cities not only sky scrapers and plenty-laned (despite Allied help in restructuring German cities), which lends itself to riding a bike. Pupils (this word is just much more poignant than the too-general and confusing “student”) use their bicycles to ride to school (there are often no buses–and especially no “short buses”) and then to visit their friends (unless they live in a really big city where parents think it is too gefährlich for them to ride through the Straßenverkehr–the dangerous traffic of Deutschland–and where there are buses, trams, and/or subways). Especially those who grew up in the Provinz, the rather rural areas of Germany, need bicycles to have some sort of Freiheit–the Bahn or Bus schedule eventually ends at some point, thereby limiting one’s freedom of movement. But then the Provinzler are also those who eagerly take their Führerschein (driver’s license) exams (both Theorie and Praxis, with both lots of theoretical and practical lessons, costing–a lot of money) when they turn 18 (or is it 17 already in some Bundesländer these days?) while their urbanite Kommilitonen at university often do not even have a driver’s license, geschweige denn (not to speak of a) a car. To quote a Gymnasium friend of mine who said back in the day, “I will burn my bike when I have my Führerschein.”

Enter university. Often, a huge percentage of students at an Universität will be from a 50 to 100 kilometer radius. The closer they grew up to their new university town, the more likely they are to continue to live bei den Eltern (with their parents) and to take their car to go to university (or, if they are more conveniently located, the öffentliche Verkehrsmittel, public transportation like the Bahn). If you come from farther away, you either have a car or you have none. Having a car does mean more freedom of options (I have always preferred doing a Großeinkauf then buying every day what I need). Those who do not have a car and possibly also not the gas or train ticket money to spend (or those who do not want to go home because of whichever reason) will very likely have a bike for their freedom of movement. While some university towns do have a great public transportation system (I have a bus station less than 5 minutes away from my apartment where a bus drives in the direction of the university every 10 minutes during the semester), the Fortbewegungsmittel of choice, the student’s means of transportation, is the bicycle. Invest in a bike instead of investing in a Semesterticket (student transit pass–which are still pretty cheap) and feel more liberated.

Sure, one is more flexible with a bike and can easily and rather quickly reach one’s destinations. But I can go everywhere in my university town on foot, zu Fuß, even where one cannot go with a bike. When I talk a walk, though, I have to take care that I am not run over by Fahrradfahrer. Even when they have their own bike lanes, Radfahrer more often than not choose to drive where they want, either the pedestrian sidewalk (Fußgängerweg) or the street. And guess who is most upset about pedestrians who are allegedly in their way? Correct, cyclists. And this species often does not give a hoot about any traffic rules. Red lights? Those are for Feiglinge (cowards). Driving the wrong way on a bike lane? They don’t care.

It gets worse in a town like Münster. One of the big university towns of Germany (around 25,000 students), it is also one of the most bike-populated ones–at least that is my feeling. In some German one-way streets, cyclists are allowed to drive the “wrong way” (there are signs that allow this–but even without signs, many riding a bike will go the wrong way in an Einbahnstraße). So imagine trying to parallel park in a narrow street that is choked full with parking cars and Radfahrer continuously coming from behind and the front while it is night and raining … Sounds like fun, right? Ein großer Spaß. (That’s sarcasm.)

But Fahrradfahrer cannot only be found in big cities. Aside from school children without lights on their bikes, there are also other varieties of cyclists. Just drive along a Bundes- or Landstraße in a rural area on a nice, warm, sunny weekend, preferably a narrow, winding road with lots of trees on the side. Those guys in neon-colored cycling tights (Radlerhosen) and jerseys on racing bikes are most likely not training for the Tour de Doping, I mean Frace, but possibly rather 40- or 50-year old men who work hard during the week and think they need to stay trim and fit. Fair enough. But please USE THE BIKE LANE. And especially DON’T RIDE NEXT TO EACH OTHER–this is 1) against the law 2) endangers you and other Verkehrsteilnehmer (traffic participants) because you slow down traffic, make it hard and even dangerous to overtake you, and is just a plain nuisance. But who cares? YOU obviously do NOT.

Think that it will be quieter to take a walk in the woods? Nicht so schnell, mein Freund–don’t be so quick to judge. Another Gedankenexperiment (though experiment): you hike up a narrow Waldweg, a trail in the woods that is like gefühlte (felt) 50 centimeters wide, with wet leaves, large tree root knots, and rocks. Then you hear that sound, that of mountain bikes tires going over the Waldboden. Of course the Mountainbiker will not have a Klingel (bike bell)–although, you might have guessed it, it is the law to have one on your bike–but will either expect you to step aside as if it was natural or shout at you to get out of the way. Alright, ok, not all of them are that bad; at least some of them will be nice and say “thank you.” The urbanite cyclist who crosses red lights and knocks you over on the pedestrian sidewalk won’t.

My vision is that of streets for all annoying Verkehrsteilnehmer–one road just for LKWs, Raser, and cyclists together. Man wird ja wohl noch träumen dürfen

Die deutsche Hausfrau

There were times when Feministin was a word to scare the patriarchs. There was a time when Alice Schwarzer was, in the eyes of “real” men der Buhmann–sorry, I mean of course die Buhfrau–who endangered (West) Germany and the foundations of its society with her feminist ideas. Today, to many, including a good number of modern-day feminists (of which there is not one single kind, I am sure), Frau Schwarzer is rather a Witzfigur, a joke, or at least a remnant of the past, just as super-masculine heros such as chain-smoking Altbundeskanzler Helmut Schmidt. But: her vision (Frau Schwarzer, please feel free to correct me if you read how I misinterpret you) has become true: women in Germany are now an important, if still often underpaid and undervalued, part of the workforce, from the Chefetage (where the bosses meet) to serving as soldiers in the Bundeswehr. Many a woman with Abitur or a university degree rather wants to Karriere machen–to push her career–and to postpone what was for centuries seen as the role of human females: child-bearing and rearing. Kinder kriegen und aufziehen.

 

Fair enough. Although I have an aversion against what some call Feminazism (or any extremes, for that matter–I mean YOU, diehard Roland Barthes/any music group/etc. pp. fanboys and fangirls), that is, solely reading the world through male dominance and female suppression (that is a part of the whole picture–but not the whole picture! The world is not as easy as boiling it down to a single theory–oh, well, it is: being born, procreate, die–it’s just that humans have too much time on their hands to think about stuff), I have no problem with intelligent women, having a female boss, or any kind of LGBT(please continue this acronym according to the latest state of discourse). What I do have a problem with is people trashing die deutsche Hausfrau, the German housewife.

 

Oh no! Is he going to support an Auslaufmodell, a phased-out model that stands for the oppression of women, of limiting them to KKK (no, not the Klan–Kinder, Küche, Kirche, children, church, kitchen), that made them feel inferior to men, this power instrument of a patriarchal, macho society, with the Geschmäckle, the bitter aftertaste of the Tausendjähriges Reich, of Mutterkreuz and bearing children as future soldiers for the Führer?

 

No.

 

I am writing in favor of those women who dedicate(d) their lives to their families, whether they had to because so war das damals, because that was the way things usually worked back then, or because they cho(o)se to do so (these days); I want to thank them for being there for their children when the latter needed someone–some nice words, some caresses, or just plain food-in-my-mouth-NOW; I am for seeing cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing, changing diapers (of children and elderly parents) not as some work that can be done mit links, with ease, as some actual machos claim–Hausarbeit, housework that many a modern-day emanzipierte Frau, emancipated woman, has no idea of how to do. I am ranting in favor of, and admiring, those women who struggle to unter einen Hut bringen, to satisfy both the demands of the traditonal male-dominated world (be a good housewife) and the modern-day world (make a career and especially ends meet–AND be a housewife who has children)–thereby ein Ziel darstellen, offering to be a target of being a Rabenmutter, a bad mom, or looking backwards, never making it right for anyone–es niemals allen Recht machen.

 

Sure, we could endlessly debate about what perfect childrearing should look like (although I am possibly not qualified to talk about that, as I have no children of my own–but then, I do not need to try heroin to know that that might not be a good idea [shooting heroin, that is]). Being a Schlüsselkind, a latchkey kid, might make you more independent, but maybe also a bit lonelier–or used to loneliness. Maybe you get lonelier more easily as an adult when you are used to having had someone around all the time when you grew up.

 

All I am saying is: there are some things about the German Hausfrau that are nachstrebenswert, worthy of striving after. Their cooking skills beat your fastfood and Ramen skills on the difficulty and the tastiness levels (ever had a homemade German Kartoffelsalat, potato salad, prepared by a caring Mutti?). Their knowledge of how to remove all kinds of stains (or how the washing machine works) is worth more in real life than your videogame highscores. Nicht verzagen, Mutti fragen (mom knows best). And I want to see the Vater who works all day and is actually willing to do all the cooking and cleaning for a household of four or more persons when he comes home in the evening … So, don’t belittle housewives.

 

Rather, shouldn’t young women and men try to take the best of both (phased-out model) worlds–be able to know how to seinen Mann/deine Frau stehen (to wo/man up) in the workplace where you have to den Ellenbogen ausfahren and at the same time know how to easily and properly keep their apartment clean and be able to prepare at least some nice dishes that do not include heating the microwave? Entdecke den Mann/die Frau in dir–explore (and appreciate) the male/feminine side in you. In the meantime, I’ll try myself at matching Mama‘s Kartoffelsalat

Fleisch

If you have ever walked through a German town, especially in the Provinz, you might have encountered signs with gaily smiling pigs that either wear a chef’s hat or ein Lätzchen (a bib). No, these signboards do not signify that your little pet pig is welcome to shop here for doggie, I mean piggie treats–quite the contrary: they are advertisements for Metzgereien, butcher’s shops, and occassionally restaurants. Which is quite funny–imagining that a pig is happy to tell you “Yeah, just come on in and buy parts of me in the form of pork! That makes me so happy! Especially the fact that most of my Artgenossen (conspecifics) were born, grew up, fattened, and then slaughtered in a mass-industrialized system! Yay! You want some Schnitzel?” Sarcasm aside, most Germans love Fleisch. Of course vegeterians and vegans do exist, but they are somehow Randgruppen, minority groups. In a restaurant, a vegetarian usually would have the choice of a) salad or b) some side dish like noodles or Bratkartoffeln (home fries)–which most likely still might have some crumbled Speck (bacon) on them, even if it is not advertized as such on the menu. And vegans? What do I know about living without any animal produce! As much as about gluten-free living, lactose intolerance, or being allergic to peanuts (mein Beileid–I pity you and your food allergies [Lebensmittelallergien]. My allergies stem from other Zivilisationskrankheiten [lifestyle diseases] … )

So which kind of meaty food comes first into your mind when you think about Germany? Most likely Wurst. Indeed, Germans are crazy about sausages–all kinds of them. Cooked, roasted, smoked, dried, sliced, just the Brät (sausage meat), … My favorite is possibly the Bratwurst. But beware–Germans like to classify things, and a Bratwurst is not simply any Bratwurst. The most well-known kinds are the Nürnberger and the Thüringer. Bratwürste are roasted (gebraten, get it?), most preferably over hot charcoal, and they can be somewhat spicy–some more, some less (there are for example also Chilibratwürste). Where I grew up, the Pfälzer Bratwurst reigns supreme–it is thicker than the Nürnberger and Thüringer as well as grob (the meat’s texture is chunkier). In Swabia, people are crazy about the Rote–a sausage that is usually supposed to be cooked (a Brühwurst like a Wiener Würstchen) but they grill it in Schwaben. In Frankfurt, though, a Rote is made from beef and not pork (most Bratwürste are made of pork).

Which brings me to something sehr deutsch: regionalism and localism. Many Germans would say that they are Bavarians or Hessians first and only then Germans. They are proud of where they come from–that’s their Heimat, and food is a big part of its identity. Which can be pretty confusing at times, especially in terms of–terms. When you are raised by Hochdeutsch (Standard German)-speaking parents with a slight Westfalian tinge, a Frikadelle (German variety of hamburger–made from Hackfleisch halb und halb or gemischt [ground pork and beef meat] with actual spices [sorry my American friends, just a Hauch, a whiff of salt and pepper does not cut the cheese–you need to work on your seasoning skills], egg,  and bread crumbs) might also be known to as a Gehacktesbällchen (ground meat ball), but to all your friends you grew up with, they are simply Frikadellen. Schon recht, fair enough. Only 70 kilometers to the east, though, people in Swabia call them Fleischküchle (meat cakes in the diminutive). And a further 70 kilometers east, Bavarians name ’em Fleischpflanzerl (meat plants? Come on!). And in Berlin? Bulette. (Also, don’t order a Berliner, a jelly donut with powdered sugar on it, in Berlin–they call those Pfannkuchen. A pancake, though, denotes something completely different to me, which Berliners and eastern Germans call an Eierkuchen … ) Blame it on German history. Localism, regionalism, federalism, …

As an Ausländer, especially from the States, caveat emptor when ordering a steak. Because a steak in Germany musn’t be a beef one–it can very well be a pork one, especially when you get a Steakbrötchen at some kind of Volksfest.

If you sleep over at a German friend’s house, you will most likely be invited to join the Frühstück the day after. Unless you stay with me, which means that you will only get a rather Spartan breakfast of … some kind of cereal, you will see that the stereotypical German breakfast can be very hearty as well. Sure, there’s Marmelade and Nutella–but there’ll also be different types of sliced cheese and (processed) meat, from Bierwurst to Salami to Schwarzwälder Schinken. Or even some Leberwurst (liver sausage) to spread on your Brot. I am not a big fan of all of this–you have to be into cold meat to like it. Aside from the fact that most of these pre-sliced meat products bought at a Supermarkt are full of sugar, preservatives, and verpackt unter Schutzatmosphäre (packaging gas) … I’ll take another Brötchen (bun) with Nutella, thanks. Or an English breakfast with sausages and bacon–or a Southern breakfast with bacon–anything with bacon, actually. Guten Appetit!

Supermarkt

One of the first things Ausländer from abroad learn about German Supermärkte (grocery stores) is that they are not open on Sundays, a relic from times when Germans were (allegedly) more pious and kept Sonntag work-free (though this does not answer my eternal why the Christian Sabbath is not on Saturdays—but then I am just too faul, lazy, to google). Which is, zugegebenermaßen (admittedly), pretty überholt, very old-fashioned, not up to the times, and most of all paradox, as many people do (and did) work on Sundays, aber naja (alas). At least some Supermärkte are now open until 10 or even 12 at night. Still, it is worthwhile to consider going grocery shopping as quite a typical German experience–one type of Einkaufserlebnis.

There are grocery stores (Lebensmittelmärkte?) for jeden Geldbeutel, that is, you can choose from cheap Discounters to more expensive supermarkets, from Aldi and Lidl to Edeka and ReWe, with Penny, Plus, Kaufland, Globus, et al. in between. I’ll leave the nitpicky and detailed, and therefore very deutsch, differentiation between Discounter, Vollsortimenter, SB-Warenhaus, and the like to Korinthenkacker in the know (please don’t hit me, sis). Then there’s the question where you can find a supermarket in Germany. There are the tiny and narrow ones in inner city districts which are frequented by Laufkundschaft, passersby customers who do not use a car but travel about on foot and/or with öffentliche Verkehrsmittel (public transportation)—students, Rentner (retirees), and Anwohner (people from the neighborhood). Many supermarkets though can be found on the grüne Wiese, which means that they are often located in Industriegebiete outside of residential areas on the fringes of towns, especially the big ones like Globus or Real, but also Aldi and Lidl. This is where people do their Großeinkauf, their weekly grocery shopping, which necessitates having a car to pack all your Einkäufe into. This crowd usually consists of Mütter (mothers) and those Werktätige (people with regular day jobs) who do not have the time to go to a supermarket everyday just to buy the bare necessities that are needed—and that fit into a backpack or single Einkaufstüte (shopping bag).

So, when you have parked your car (yes, I know—German Parkplätze are not as generously spaced as American ones, but then most Germans do not drive pick-up trucks that consume half the daily oil output of Kuwait in one drive) and stepped out of it, you will see another Parkplatz—that of shopping carts, or Einkaufswagen. Beware: there’s Pfand on them, a 1 Euro deposit, so you should have a 1 Euro coin ready. Or you are really deutsch and have a little token the size of such a coin ready in your wallet or car. So why the Pfand? Some people not perusing car like to take their grocery shopping home with them in a shopping cart and not return it to its proper place … If you are slightly anal, you will take your shopping cart from the longest row of carts—and return it to the shortest one. This makes it easier for the Supermarkterangestellte (grocery store employees) to stack them.

Enter the Supermarkt (minus the elderly greeter found in U.S. Walmarts). If it is one of the more pricier ones, or one with a bigger selection at least, you will step right into the Gemüse- und Obstabteilung, the vegetable and fruit section. Clever sales analysts and psychologists have found out that this makes people want to buy etwas gesundes, something healthy, which makes them feel good—as well as wanting to buy more and rather unhealthy stuff later. Some Supermärkte require you to weigh certain foodstuffs in this section, ranging from bananas and apples to loose potatoes and onions, while others do this for you at the checkout. Speaking of loose veggies and fruit: some Germans are very discerning customers and will check their Äpfel for dents or the slightest discolorations, taking them up, turning them around, touching and feeling them, and selecting the ones they like best. When I was in Italy, I saw that people there do the same thing—but Italian supermarkets provide single-use plastic gloves for their customers before they start touching everything with their potentially unclean hands. Way to feel like an Ausländer yourself for once …

Some people say German supermarkets are like labyrinths where you can get lost and never find what you are looking for; others say that supermarkets are laid out in a way that you have to pass each section anyway, like at Ikea, therefore creating more opportunities to buy something because people spend time in every Abteilung. (I do not like Ikea. I do not know you, Mr. or Mrs. Salesperson, and I do not want to be addressed with “du” instead of “Sie,” at least not in the way Ikea people do. Ostdeutsche can do that—when Germans from eastern Germany address you with “du,” it is charmant, charming, and most of all comes natürlich, naturally. Ikea is neither charming nor natural.) Welcome to the soziale Marktwirtschaft, social market economy a.k.a. German capitalism. A similar sales trick is to put the Markenprodukte, more expensive brand name products, in your natural line of sight (I wonder if there’s a median for that—people at 1 meter 90 look at the world differently than 1 meter 60 ones …) while the cheaper Noname-Produkte or Hausmarken (products from the supermaket’s own brand[s], often made by brand companies), are found in the lower tiers of the Regale. This is not the case, for example, at Aldi. There you’ll find mostly “no name” brands—and less variety than for example at Kaufland. Short aside: there’s Aldi Süd and Aldi Nord. Depending on where you grew up and where you are now living in Germany, you either like one or the other—people used to Aldi Süd cannot find certain products at Aldi Nord and vice versa, making them not only nostalgic but pretty pissed off. By the way, Aldi in the States is Aldi Süd—and Trader Joe’s belongs to Aldi Nord. (The Aldi brothers sliced up the world equally in order not to sich in die Quere kommen—to not have to compete with each other.) I have only seen few products in American Aldis that I knew from the fatherland. And over here, you do not have to go to a “organic” or Bio place like Trader Joe’s to find Haribo gummy sweets and Ritter Sport chocolate—and they are less than a Euro for a bar and not like 2 or 3 Dollars … So head to a German supermarket to provide your siblings and family with cheaply-bought German (or Swiss, like Lindt) name brand sweets before you return stateside after your semester or stay abroad!

When you have finally made your way past all the different sections—from vegetables to pasta to frozen food to coffee to personal hygiene products—you’ll find yourself in front of the Kassen. Depending on how many of them are manned, you have the Qual der Wahl—which queue in front of a which cash register seems to be the quickest one? Possibly not the one with the two Hausfrauen in line who have two weeks of grocery in their shopping carts. Perhaps you’ll be cursing your Supermarkt of choice for not opening enough Kassen. Or it’s Saturday or the day before a Feiertag—expect gazillions of human beings doing last-minute buys. Well, there you go—it’s finally time to put everything on the Einkaufsband. If you have children, expect them to grab some sweets that are usually found at cash registers. Quengelnde Kinder, whiny kids that stomp their feet on the ground shouting “Aber ich will das haben!” (I want that!), are not uncommon. Or maybe you try to stop smoking—good luck with that, as there are conveniently placed cigarette pack disposal machines at the cash register that will throw eine Packung Marlboro or Lucky Strike right on the Einkaufsband. Hopefully you have also weighed your loose lemons … And don’t expect anyone to fill shopping bags for you. It’s best to bring your own bag (preferably a Baumwolltasche of cotton—Germans carried tote bags before Hipsters thought that was cool). If not, prepare to pay 15 cents or so for a plastic bag, du nicht vorausschauender Umweltsünder (you foresight-lacking, environment-polluting person, you)!

Of course there are also other grocery shopping experiences, or venues. You might come across a Tante Emma-Laden in some small village, often a bakery that also sells some canned goods and pasta plus the ubiquitous Bild “newspaper.” Many a Gutmensch lament the downfall of these small shops due to böse (evil) big corporations. There are also small grocery markets run by immigrants, such as Türken or Chinesen. The former is for if you crave some lamb and beef minced meat to make Köfte, the latter is your supply for Siuracha hot sauce. For others, it is their gateway to get a little taste of home in the new Heimat. The eco-conscious Deutsche with money in their wallets are patrons of the Wochenmärkte, farmers’ markets, found on—the Markplatz (gee, now we have that etymological question solved too!). The vegetables and fruit are pricier there, but you’ll buy local (at least stuff that’s home in Germany, from sausages to honey) and more or less organic (the coveted Bio).

In any case, the grocery shopping scene is varied and you’ll surely find your favorite(s). Well, some people only go to a certain Supermarkt because it is just plain and simple conveniently located. More discriminating others will find something here and something else there, driving from a cheap to a more expensive grocery store until they have finally found every item. It’s all about (not) being wählerisch, selective. Oh, wait—that might be problematic when you’re German, if you know what I mean …

Ellbogengesellschaft

Germans are polite, obliging, helpful. Nett, zuvorkommend, hilfsbereit. That is what you might think. And this might be based on your personal experience, as Germans will be like that when you meet them for the first time. It’s their gute Kinderstube, their refined upbringing. Immer schön Danke sagen, always say “thank you,” that is what German parents eintrichtern (hammer home to) their children. Or so the Leitkultur with its Primärtugenden (primary virtues such as Pünktlickeit—punctuality—and Verlässlichkeit—reliability) would like it to be. As soon, though, as you delve deeper into deutsche Kultur—or if you have grown up and become a part of it—you’ll find out that this is not always the case. Leider (unfortunately).

Yes, Germans can be very polite. Until a situation comes up where konstruktive Kritik (constructive criticism) is an der Tagesordnung (the order of the day). Well, at times it might indeed be constructive, but more often than not, it will be destructive. Please refer to my post on pointing fingers. Especially, but not only, in the workplace, German suchen den eigenen Vorteil—they will be looking for a way to enhance their own advantage. And if this means to be a Kameradenschwein and anschwärzen a colleague—of course it was not ME who messed up this or that task but Herr Sowieso‘s little mistake in the planning phase. And even though it was me—as long as I articulate myself much more convincingly than Herr Sowieso, everybody will believe me, no? That is the Ellbogengesellschaft, or dog-eat-dog world. One could either argue from a social Darwinist point of view that it is only natural for humans to act like this, to look for one’s own advantage to survive. Or one could look back into history and find this already in the olden days of masters, vassals, and serfs where the world, and especially Germany (or German speaking states) were streng hierarchisch gegliedert, a very hierarchical society. Nach oben buckeln und nach unten treten, bootlicking your superiors and kicking all those below you—or if the need arises, give those on the same level with you a nice push with your elbow so you can advance to the next level (andere ausstechen). Some also call this über Leichen gehen—metaphorically to step over dead bodies to reach your goals.

This is being egoistisch, selfish. I have shown earlier how Germans like to make up rules of their own liking. Because, you know, jeder ist sich selbst am nächsten—oneself, not one’s fellows, are nearest to one. Not very New Testament-like despite Germany’s Christian heritage (which, by the way, only led to Glaubenskriege, wars between Catholic and Protestant denominations in the wake of Luther’s reformation, or priests preaching to die gloriously for the Vaterland … ). Or to stay with Biblical motifs: nach mir die Sintflut—after me, the great flood. Eingebaute Vorfahrt, anyone?

So much about being nett und zuvorkommend. Actually, this has become so rare that you can astound people with politeness. I was brought up to say Bitte und Danke, to be humble, to be zuvorkommend (which is not to say that I am not egoistisch myself at times, but being selbstkritisch—self-critical—is not the point of this blog. It is to mit dem Finger zeigen.). Now, imagine you are at the checkout line of a Supermarkt. After having finally found a Kasse where the Schlange of people waiting in line for the cashier is not as long as that at the others, you prepare yourself to wield your Bierkästen and other German delicatessen on the Einkaufsband. As you look back, you see a) a Herr with only two Artikel he wants to buy, or b) a Dame who is struggling with a carton she has filled up a bit too much. What do you do? Put your stuff on the Band because you think you have waited long enough yourself and you hast doch keine Zeit anyway? If yes: congratulations, you have become part of the Ellbogengesellschaft. Or would you say: “Möchten Sie vor? Sie haben ja nicht soviel.” (“Would you like to go first? You don’t have that much anyway.”) Prepare to see a verwundertes Gesicht, a face stricken with surprise over meeting a kind person for once (the same will happen if you yield to a car when you don’t have too—a wave will be the “thank you” then). Be also prepared to be thanked again and again, even after the person has checked out. S/he will also wish you a nice day. And honestly, doesn’t this make one’s day? After all, man bricht sich keinen Zacken aus der Krone—it doesn’t hurt to let somebody go first in such a situation, does it? Making other people happy can make you yourself happy too. I call it egoistischer Utilitarismus—selfish utilitarianism. But beware of feeling too smug and looking down on all those people ohne gute ErziehungHochmut kommt vor dem Fall (pride cometh before a fall).

Sternhagelvoll

If you are living in a German city … No, let me begin anew. If you are living in a German university town—no. If you are living in a German town with a Volksfest—nah. O.K., last try: If you are living in ANY place populated by humans in Deutschland, you have most likely, no, surely encountered BetrunkeneBesoffene—drunks. Not just in bars, but also in train stations, on trains, in Wohngebieten (residential districts) … Alkohol ist die Volksdroge Nummer 1—the drug of choice for the average German. After all, this is the country of Bier. Sure, Czechs, Belgians, and others—even some Americans—make good beer as well, but it is German beer that has einen Ruf wie Donnerhall, that is most renowned all over the world—and next to cars and Brot (bread) the item that Germans sich etwas darauf einbilden, something they think they are the best at and get pretty stuck up about it. And more often than not, der Deutsche likes to down his Pils or Weizen or Export with a shot of Schnaps. Moreover, there also a couple of wine-growing regions like the Pfalz and Württemberg, thereby enlarging the menu of available Alkoholika that can be consumed.

But as with any drug, there are problems. While some jestfully claim that alcohol is not the problem but the solution (please refer further to any type of stupid alcohol-related motto on T-shirts), others, like the Drogenbeauftragte der Bundesregierung, publish reports about Sucht und Abhängigkeit (addiction). I do not want to bore you with numbers (and I do not want to look them up eithe but rather try to remember), but the data they give about regular alcohol abusers seems ridiculously low, something like 2 million Alkoholiker (alcoholics)—I’d say fivefold that number and you are closer to reality. Just go to any Kneipe on any given day to see people who drink their Feierabendbier—or a couple of them—to celebrate the end of the workday. And what about those drinking their Feierabendbier at home? Or their bottle of Rotwein per evening (possibly a really dry red wine, because that is all most Germans know in terms of wine—just to inform you, there are many other types, and many good ones are actually from Germany itself … ).

As I ranted in a very early post on this blog, it has been the Komasaufen of the German youth that has attracted a lot of media attention in recent years (if there is no Lebensmittelskandal or politician who has flunked on his dissertation, that is). Binge drinking, though, does not stop when Germans are 18 and can finally and legally buy liquor (Wein und Bier already ab 16). Take a walk through a university town on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday night. If students are not Vorglühen at home (drinking alcohol they bought in supermarkets for less than they would pay in a bar or club in order to get fucked up for the night), they do it on their way to event venues and bars where they continue to drink. Walk those same streets the next day and you will find yourself on an obstacle course consisting of Scherben of broken bottles and Erbrochenem (vomit) … If you are an Anrainer (you live in the neighborhood) and it is the night before, you might get pissed (no pun intended) off (see?) by chatting, laughing, and singing students. Which brings me to the latest fad of politicians: Alkoholverbot—trying to bring Ruhe und Ordnung (calmness and order) to Innenstädte (inner city areas) by proposing to forbid the Konsum (consumption) of alcohol in certain places (do I have to bring a brown paper bag from my next holiday in the States then?).

These very same politicans will, during the Volksfest (festival) season from May to September, be the first ones to publicly open a beer barrel (the Anstich) and have the first glass themselves, surrounded and watched by Volksmusik automatons. And after a couple of liters of Bier, the Volksfestbesucher (festival visitors) will be on their way home, which, surprisingly to them, is very shaky, as their movements in Schlangenlinien, either on foot or in cars, are witness to. And while they are at it and had oh so much to drink (and no nearby WC—geez, they would have had to wait in line for taking a piss!), they will just sich entledigen about anywhere and piss on your steps. Or do other things in your Vorgarten. You pervy minds will surely be able to imagine what I mean. But: this is all Tradition and Normalzustand (the normal way of things) … And therefore socially acceptable.

Maybe you will find yourself in Baden-Württemberg in southern Germany. If yes, and if you are looking to get some alcoholic beverages, you should keep in mind that Supermärkte (needs no translation, does it?) and gas stations (why do they sell alcohol at Tankstellen anyway? Don’t drink and drive, and when you can’t buy Alkohol at night, then it makes no sense, anyway, because wasn’t that the whole idea—to sell alcohol at gas stations—so that you could get beer et al. there when everything else is closed?) which have, by law, to stop selling beer, wine, liquor, and the like at 10 in the evening (yes, Germany does have supermarkets that are open later than 8pm. Even until midnight.). Die Begründung (the reasoning): to prevent (youth) binge drinking. Well, just go to the bar next door and get a bottle of beer “to go” … Or move to a big city in a different Bundesland where cornerstores selling any beverages that will get you wasted are open all night long.

So much for Ungereimtheiten (things that do no make sense) in the Vaterland for today. Prost! (And don’t you even dare to ever forget to look a German in the eye when you zuprosten!)