The Real Parallelgesellschaft
A good ten years ago, a discussion about what German Kultur is flamed up once again (not that German culture, like masculinity, is in a perpetual crisis since at least the end of the Thirty Years War in 1648). The question was, and is: what to do with all these immigrants and their varied cultural backgrounds? How can we fit them into German society, into die Gesellschaft—how can we make them deutsch? Feed them any variety of pork and Sauerkraut? Or at least make them learn German so they can express themselves to bureaucrats in the Amt and policemen who seem to put every dark-skinned person under Generalverdacht (“Ihre Papiere, bitte”)? And what is German Kultur anyway? I do not know if they have found the answer yet (maybe ask Johann Wolfgang von Hitler or Adolf Goethe?), but talk was of a German Leitkultur, or main/guiding/leading (Führer, anyone?) culture and a parallel society, a Parallelgesellschaft especially of Muslim immigrants who only stick to own kind and customs instead of, like a waschechter, dyed-in-the-wool Deutscher, going to the Biergarten, drinking a beer or three too much, just to then sich daneben zu benehmen, swearing at German politics and one’s neighbor, before groping the Dirndl-clad waitresses and relieving himself at someone’s house.
Perhaps this genuine German also attempted to sing along mehr schlecht als recht to some modern-day Schlager or Volksmusik songs. While we are at the question “what is German?” we could also ask: what is Volksmusik? An answer could be: one reason why all the world thinks that the whole of Germany is Bavaria. Another answer is: definitely not traditional German music. Rather, Volksmusik and the accompanying Heimatfilme originated in the 1950s to perpetrate a picture of the heile Welt, a world where the Nazis, the war, and any German guilt are far away and where everyone knows their place: Vati goes to work and makes the money while Mutti cleans, cooks, and rears the children. And once a week, you are allowed to go crazy, put on your Trachten uniform (blue-white or red-white checkered shirt, Loden jacket, and Lederhosen for men, Dirndl for women) and watch some other guys in Tracht from South Tyrolia or Austria sing about the Alps and eternal love while many other people wearing Trachten will clap to the beat in monotonous unity, German-style. A modern-day Sportpalast event.
Here, we encounter a number of problems. The Tracht that is worn is not “German”—it is a modern-day interpretation of Bavarian traditional clothing (and even this originated as a Bavarian interpretation in the late 1800s). Although it is gerade this wide-spread adoption and interpretation that might make it somehow “German.” To qualify this statement somewhat, there are of course local Trachten from other German regions that are at times also represented (not least because of Heimat– and Trachtenvereine clubs), but if you take a walk over the Munich Oktoberfest or the Cannstadter Wasen in Stuttgart, a certain uniformization of Volksfest visitors who actually wear Tracht (i.e. Lederhosen and Dirndl) can be observed that has seen a resurgence in recent years. Not only the players of Bayern Munich—the New York Yankees of German soccer—(have to) wear Lederhosen; A, B, C, and D league movie, music, and TV stars and starlets put on designer Dirndls to show off, although what is inside is often as fake as “live” music on Volksmusik TV shows (I sometimes get the feeling that it must have been these TV shows that invented lip-synching. I wonder if the audience knows that they are “deceived”?).
Looking, or listening, more closely, most Volksmusik artists and themes are from Alpine Bavaria, Austria, South Tyrolia, and also Switzerland. On the one hand, this excludes other regions from a, in many instances, diversified Germany; on the other hand, this is a problematic interpretation of “German” or “Germany,” one more akin to großdeutsche dreams of old that have not led to a positive outcome for “Germans” or other peoples. This is not to say that all artists are “fake”—a good number of them do actually play traditional instruments (albeit maybe not on TV), songs, or modern-day interpretations, but this is not “German.” And if one wants to really listen to and experience music that represents the age-old German paradigm of regionalism, one has to put away the remote control, get off the couch, and needs to einkehren, to go to a Hütte oneself.
But do not think what is meant by this is Après-Ski in an Alpine skiing resort. The Schlager songs with their four-to-the-floor dance music-like rhythms (and lyrics that everyone whose command of English is subpar is able to chant along in German, even after two or three beeers too much) that are played there bear no resemblance to authentic regional music—or to what Schlager once was, for that matter: actual all-German music. The heyday of Schlager was possibly the rise of talkies in the 1930s and 1940s, with some Nachwehen into the 1950s and 1960s before foreign, and especially English-speaking music, rose to the top of the (pop) charts and in the popularity of German music taste. And if you look at the current music billboard listings, you can actually see that there are (at least) two—one for Popmusik (including German pop songs), and one for Volksmusik / Schlager.
While modern-day pseudo-eugenics advocates—and searchers for the Holy Grail of keeping Germany German—like Thilo Sarrazintry to find differences between “real” Germans and immigrants, I have the feeling that the actual Parallelgesellschaft is already there—and it is very much “German.” Or to paraphrase a parody of Florian Silbereisen, host of, among others, the Musikantenstadl (or Mutantenstadl, as I like to call it) by TV show Switch Reloaded, all the Inder and Neger have to stay out when Germans enjoy their Volksmusik …