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5. Who are the Germans?

Let us start by debunking some myths about Germany:

1) "Germans are staunchly nationalistic"
False!False! In a study published in 1998, only 34 of Germans registered pride in their country's history, compared to 89 per cent of British citizens. As we have seen, although the 2006 World Cup was accompanied by a number of young people proudly waving the German flag, this occurred in a spirit of celebratory inclusiveness which was refreshing to observe. Even so, 22% of Germans stated in an opinion poll in 2006 that they should not display their national flag due to Germany's history. It should also not be forgotten that Germany comes second in the world in the amount of aid given to developing nations.

2) "Germans are still prone to rightwing nationalism"
False!False! Whilst the success of right-wing parties such as the Republikaner and the Deutsche Volksunion at national and local level in the 1990's caused great international outcry, neither party has ever made the 5 per cent threshold necessary to take up seats in the German Bundestag. According to a survey conducted by the periodical British Social Attitudes, two thirds of Germans welcome the influence of foreign immigrants on their culture.

3) "Germans are obsessed with work and efficiency"
False!False! The English work on average 200 minutes longer per week. But the Germans are far more productive in the fewer hours that they work, although a McKinsey 1998 report estimated that capital productivity in Britain was "substantially higher" than in Western Germany.

4) "Germans have no sense of humour"
False!False! German people merely have a different sense of humour to the British and humour does not tend to cross national boundaries well. In 2006, the British comedian Stewart Lee analysed the extent to which the inflexibility of German sentence structure and the precision of German compound nouns necessitated a different form of comedy from that with which the British are familiar. "But be assured," Lee concluded, "the German sense of humour not only exists, it actually flourishes, albeit in a form we are ill-equipped to recognise." German humour shares our love of dark satire, but it can be more physical/slapstick in nature - Mister Bean was a notable success on German television for example - and it lacks the traditions of both stand-up comedy and jokes about bodily functions that have proved central to the development of British humour. Even this is changing however, as a stand-up club scene is gradually developing in Germany. The German comedian Henning Wehn has achieved notable success in Britain, not least by subverting British stereotypes about the humourless Germans. The Germans themselves traditionally regard the Swiss as being the most humourless nation in the world.

The extent to which the British people actually believe these clichés is open to debate. The perceived machine-like efficiency of the Germans has in fact often been used as a selling-point forGerman products in the UK. The success of the catchphrase "Vorsprung durch Technik" that was used in the Audi advertisement campaigns was based on British admiration for the car manufacturer's reliability. Advertisements for the Rover Group implied that the highest compliment to its engineering was that Germans might consider driving their cars.

Modern German culture

The presence of high profile German figures in the British public domain has also made a major contribution to dismantling national stereotypes. The patient and self-ironic handling of the British media by the footballer Jürgen Klinsmann during his two spells with Tottenham Hotspur did much to make Britons question their ideas about German nationals. On his website, Fulham's German right-back Moritz Volz has also done a great deal to undermine British stereotypes about humourless Germans, not least by providing a mischevious English-German phrasebook and by self-ironically adopting David Hasselhoff as a musical icon. The British have been fascinated by other German sporting icons too - both Steffi Graf and Boris Becker have achieved a popularity which transcends the tennis court. The motor-racing driver Michael Schumacher is respected almost as much as his nation's cars.

Culturally, the serialisation on British television of such German films as Wolfgang Petersen's Das Boot and Edgar Reitz's Heimat have done much to make British people aware of the complexities of German society even in the darkest episodes of the country's history. Recent film successes such as Good Bye Lenin and Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others) have also sensitised British cinemagoers to life in the former German Democratic Republic. The success of German record labels such as Kompakt, BPitch Control, Morr Music and Monika have brought a wide range of dance, electronica and lo-fi artists such as Ellen Allien, Michael Mayer, The Notwist and Barbara Morgenstern to British critical awareness.

The inside of the new BundestagOf course the best way of discovering what the Germans are really like is to spend some time there. Seven thousand Britons live in Berlin alone, a city whose reconstruction is being shaped by British architects - Norman Foster designed the remodelled dome for the Reichstag building in Berlin (pictured left) while Nicholas Grimshaw designed the Ludwig-Erhard-Haus which has been nicknamed "The Armadillo" due to its steel-hooped structure. And Simon Rattle has been the chief conductor at the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra since September 2002.

In truth there are many more things which unite Britain and Germany than those which divide them - from Bach to beer, from Bayern München to Manchester United and such "homegrown" products as pizza and holidays in Mallorca!

 Web Links 
What's so funny about German? Stand-up comedian, Henning Wehn, takes a humorous look at the German language in ten short videos.
Lost in translation Comedian Stewart Lee examines the differences between English and German humour.
The Germanizer "Take the plunge - Germanize yourself!" Or in other words, take this test created by the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle and see how German you really are.
What do you know about Germany? Take this BBC Online test to see how much you really know about Germany!
Quizzes about Germany Test yourself on how much you know about modern Germany in a series of multiple-choice quizzes from The UK-German Connection.
German Film Quiz Test how much you know about German film in this quiz from The UK-German Connection.

Weiter!Part 6: Who speaks German?

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