Despite what some people in and outside Germany still claim and believe, they were not
a brainchild of Adolf Hitler
. As a matter of fact, the democratic government of the Weimar Republic
had planned several of them (the first one between Cologne and Bonn was finished in 1932). However, after The Great Depression
, they were practically broke, so Hitler could claim they were his idea when he had them built (as preparation for World War II
, of course, where they proved to be worse than useless for the Third Reich).
Nowadays nobody sane in Germany wants to start a war in Europe, but people still like their Autobahn very much. There's still for a (small) part no speed limit on them, which was unique in the world for quite some time. People who wanted to change this (like the Green Party
) faced too much resistance and gave up on the issue. "Freie Fahrt für freie Bürger!" (Free driving for free citizens!) is a slogan used by car lobbyists and enthusiasts alike (though might attract giggles from juvenile English listeners). The car lobby in Germany is roughly comparable in power to the American pro-gun lobby.
There are strict speed limits on the more dangerous parts, and a list of other rules are in place to allow as smooth travel as possible. One of these is that every vehicle has to be able to drive at least 70 km/h (43 mph). Another is that it is illegal to run out of fuel, or insult other driversnote
. Travel is done in the right lane with one only being permitted to use the left lane for passing. No
passing in the right lane is permitted. During The '70s
, many new Autobahnen were built - during this decade, the network almost doubled its length. In 2010, Germany had about 13,000 kilometers of Autobahn, one of the densest networks in the world, and the third longest, after the United States and China.
Der deutsche Michel
The US have Uncle Sam, France has Marianne, Germany has (aside from the female Germania) Michel
: A guy who's for some reason always wearing a night cap. The origin is not completely clear; some people claim it had to do with the archangel Michael (patron saint of Germany), but that's not proven. So or so: As the cap hints at, this Michel guy is generally seen as pretty relaxed, laid-back, a Big Eater
and drinker, and especially, someone who likes to sleepnote
, as we say. And admittedly, very far from German stereotypes
(except maybe Oktoberfest
) like the ruthlessly efficient Prussia
, let alone Those Wacky Nazisnote
. Sometimes still used in caricatures, as stand-in for the German people, if nowhere else.
Foreigners used to put all kinds of stuff into their beer, a practice that Germans seem to find simply disgusting. The Reinheitsgebot
('purity law') was an old Bavarian law stating that beer has to be made of clear water, barley (malted or otherwise), and hops. Otherwise, it could not be sold as beer in Bavaria. The law first appeared in medieval times, as many brewers were prone to putting narcotic, hallucinogenic, or downright poisonous stuff into their brew—stuff like belladonna, poppy seeds, wormwood, and nutmeg. Modern Germany adopted a variant form of this law, which required that the barley be malted and also allowed a few other ingredients (such as explicitly permitting yeast,note
and cane sugar to be added to the mix), and also allowing foreign beer to be sold in the country. Oddly enough, Greece
(not traditionally a beer-drinking country) has the same law: the first king of modern Greece was Otto (how's that
for a Greek name?), a member of the Bavarian Wittelsbach dynasty. In other countries, adherence to the Reinheitsgebot
by a brewer is often viewed as a point of pride, indicating a dedication to quality; the American Samuel Adams beers at one point ran an ad to this effect, and the Tsingtao Brewery in China historically adhered to it, as well.note
Our first national hero: Arminius
Arminius, son of Segimer, was a Germanic man from the tribe of the Cherusci. At the time he lived (around the beginning of our chronology), most of today's Germany (everything west of the Elbe river, to be precise) was part of The Roman Empire
. Originally, he served as a ductor popularium
, a leader of Germanic auxiliaries, in the Roman army
. During this time, he acquired useful military skills, learned Latin, became a Roman citizen and even member of the knight class. For unknown reasons though, one day he had enough of civilization
, it seems. Around A.D. 8, Arminius had become one of the tribal leaders. At the same time, a Publius Quinctilius Varus was the Roman legate in the area where the Cherusci lived. If Arminius feared for his power, or whatever his reason was, he didn't show it, but instead kept the contact with Varus - hence knowing exactly what Varus was up to, while the Roman didn't suspect a thing. By A.D. 9, a Germanic uprising happened, and Varus took the legions XVII, XVIII and XIX to quell it. He got some warnings (by Arminius' father-in-law Segestes!), but decided not to care about them.
At the area of Teutoburg forest (it still isn't completely clear where that was)
, the three legions were defeated and utterly annihilated
by the Germanics led by Arminius. Varus took his own life after losing the battle.
Emperor Augustus would shout his famous "Vare, Vare, redde legiones!" (Varus, Varus, give me back my legions) when the message came to Rome. The German uprising spread, and the Romans had to give up the whole area between Rhine and Elbe.
Roman historian Tacitus called Arminius "the liberator of Germania". And indeed, the Romans would never conquer Germania again, and some centuries after, the Germanics even went on to destroy the empire, founding their own states instead. Ironically, Arminius was almost completely forgotten at that time. Only in the 15th century, with the growing German nationalism, opposition to Roman Primacy and the Reformation he was rediscovered, and many texts written about "Hermann", who even got an honourable mention by Martin Luther (as he was called now, although Hermann wasn't his Germanic name, which is in fact unknown) and Thusnelda (his wife, who'd later inspire the term "Tussi", meaning roughly "broad" in German). Some people even speculated that Arminius was identical to the better-known Siegfried
Nation without identity?
Germany was held responsible for World War I
in the Treaty of Versailles, which fueled nationalist feelings, but after the Nazis
started and lost another World War, nationalism lost a lot of its appeal and became a touchy subject. Which of course did not happen overnight, as it would take years for the full extent of German war crimes, the Holocaust etc. to become public knowledge and for people to face up to what had happened. In West Germany you might say that even though people became more reticent about using national symbols in private, the negative side of nationalism was not completely dead as some prominent people who had fled from the Nazis or contributed to the victory over them, like Marlene Dietrich and Willy Brandt, were still attacked as "disloyal" or "traitors" from some quarters as late as the 1960s. Another part of the West German public took it to the other extreme and tried to create a "post-national" German and European identity. Which some people have seen as typically German: swinging from being among the leading nationalists in Europe to the leading internationalists. To what extent it worked is debatable (countries outside of Germany certainly were not eager to pick up such ideas). In any case, expect that Godwin's Law
may - no, will - be involved in discussions about German patriotism/nationalism, but also don't be surprised about other people bemoaning that in their view Germans are being insufficiently patriotic and suffering from a national inferiority complex.
Meanwhile in East Germany the government encouraged patriotism on its terms, and facilitated it by treating the Nazis as something alien to the Victorious German Working Class. This led to the odd situation that the uniforms of the East German armed forces resembled those of the Nazi Wehrmacht more than those of the West German ones. For a long time East Germany defined itself was the "better Germany" and still paid lip service to the stated goal of reunification. It was only some time after the building of the Wall that the government tried to foster a GDR identity completely separate from the rest of Germany, but as the events of 1989-1990 showed, that did not quite work. Since 1989 attitudes have relaxed somewhat. It helped that many people abroad actually turned out to be happy for the reunited Germans, and that the 2006 World Cup
in Germany showed that even German football fans could be happy for their team and proud of their nation while still be welcoming hosts for the international teams and their fans.
In a way, the problem with German national identity is not new. Indeed, due to changing borders and the overlap of the borders of the states that composed what was at any given time was seen as "Germany" (e. g. the Holy Roman Empire) you often have to define in the course of a discussion whom you exactly include or exclude when you say "German" or "Germany".note
This was also a sore point during the existence of the two Germanies before 1990: Some East Germans felt miffed when West Germans used deutsch
in the sense of "West German(y)" for excluding East Germany, others were angered whenever West Germans used those words to include it. Also, partly due to Germany having been disunited for so many centuries, regional identities tend to be very strong, for not a few Germans more important than the national one (just ask the Bavarians) and in some cases also more than the identification with the Land
in which they live. To further complicate matters, at least since the 18th century German intellectuals have been accustomed to define "German" by language and culture, and "German" as an adjective can confusingly mean both "of German nationality or ethnicity" and "in the German language". "German literature" thus still tends to be defined as "literature written in the German language" (i. e. including Austrian and German-speaking Swiss authors) more than "literature written by German nationals".
Das Wunder von Bern
The most favorite sports in Germany are: Football
, tennis (preferably with Boris Becker and Steffi Graf), car racing (preferably with Michael Schumacher) and boxing (preferably with Henry Maske, or the Klitchko brothers). This love goes back to (at least) the 1954 FIFA World Cup, first time when Germany won The World Cup
. Which, probably, no one expected, for good reasons: The German
football team had to play Hungary's Golden Team (which hadn't lost a game in 4 years!) in the group stage. But trainer Sepp Herberger decided to play Hungary with his reserves
, losing 8-3. However, this just meant that Germany had to play another game against Turkey (which they had defeated easily just before), but then got to the easier side in the knockout stage, defeating Yugoslavia and Austria (who had suffered from a hard game at 40°C against Switzerland) before the finals, a rematch with Hungary (who had to literally fight
Brazil and later confront reigning champions Uruguay). The match was played in heavy rain, which the Germans had christened "Fritz Walter-weather", as their team captain was known for playing his best football under those conditions. In addition, the Germans were equipped with footwear supplied by Adidas, which had produced a hitherto unheard of design of boot with exchangeable, screw-in studs that could be adapted to any weather. This enabled the German players to wear their regular boots despite the adverse weather.
Despite Germany now playing with the main team, Hungary got a 2-0 lead only eight minutes into the game. Still, the Germans fought back and leveled the score in the next 10 minutes. After this, the Hungarians attacked several times, but German keeper Toni Turek pulled off several fine saves. The decision came in the 84th minute: German striker Helmut Rahn, nicknamed "The Boss", reached the ball on a speculative German attack 20 yards in front of the Hungarian goal, deceived the Hungarian defender by shooting with his weaker left foot, and scored Germany's third goal. Germany was the new world champion, for the first but not for the last time.
Most of the TV recording is unfortunately Lost Forever
, including the whole soundtrack. Fortunately, the radio
comment by Herbert Zimmermann has survived (and always was better known anyway, since few Germans had TV then). His emotional reporting style
stands out even today ("Deutschland im Endspiel der Fußballweltmeisterschaft – das ist eine Riesen-Sensation – das ist ein echtes Fußball-Wunder" - "Germany in the football finals - that's a huge sensation - that's a real football miracle"; "Gott sei Dank! Es steht nur noch 2:1." - "Thank God
! It's only 2-1 now."; "Halten Sie mich für verrückt, halten Sie mich für übergeschnappt" - "Call me crazy, call me nuts"; ) and especially his comments when Germany scored the winning goal ("Aus dem Hintergrund müsste Rahn schießen, Rahn schießt - TOR, TOR, TOR!" - "Rahn has to shoot from the background, Rahn shoots - goal, goal, goal!"), when Turek saved one last time ("Turek, du bist ein Teufelskerl, Turek, du bist ein Fußballgott" - "Turek, you're a Magnificent Bastard
; Turek, you're a football god") and after the final whistle ("AUS! AUS! AUS! Das Spiel ist aus. Deutschland ist Weltmeister, schlägt Ungarn 3 zu 2!" - "Over! Over! Over! The game is over! Germany are World Champions, beat Hungary 3–2!") In 2003, a movie about the match was made in Germany, with the very same title: Das Wunder von Bern
Made in Germany
In 1887, the United Kingdom
passed the Merchandise Marks Act 1887
, which states that imported products must be labeled with their country of origin. The purpose was of course for British consumers to be able to distinguish British-made products from the "inferior" stuff produced on the continent, and buy accordingly patriotic, for the benefit of Britain's own economy, because originally, British factories did put out the best stuff and the German ones were pumping out cheap crap (they had a reputation rather like China today). This backfired
, though, as German products were getting steadily better, and by 1900, said consumers began to associate the label Made in Germany
quality. It helped too that "Made in Germany" had always been a selling point for a particular class of product—artificial dyes and pigments, which although a British invention (the first synthetic colour was mauveine, extracted from coal tar by William Henry Perkin in 1856) were perfected by the Germans.
Today, the worldwide export of its products is one of the most important pillars of the German economy. For some time, Germany exported more than even the US - not in percentages, in absolute numbers! The stigma turned cachet Made in Germany
can arguably seen as significant factor which contributed to this development.
Believe it or not, Germany has more than 300 different kinds of bread, which is the world record. Pretty much every little region has a local special bread which is produced nowhere else. And most of them are made of whole grain, which is supposed to be healthier than white bread - better for the teeth, the stomach, and whatnot. Germans are generally reluctant to eat refined flour. Some say that this health consciousness is the result of a large-scale marketing campaign initiated by you know whom
in order to advertise whole grain bread as a war preparation.
Combined with the fact that Germany also holds the world record for the most different kinds of sausages (see below), this means you could eat a different bread/sausage combination without repeating one, every day, for several decades. Nowadays brown bread can be sold officially as "Schwarzbrot" (black bread), but most people still use this term for bread made of whole grain.
Believe it or not, Germany has more than 1,500 different kinds of sausages, which is the world record.
(Some people called the Germans disparagingly "sausage-eaters" for this. The Germans still like their sausages.) For unknown reasons, the sausage is also part of many German proverbs and other sayings: "Es geht um die Wurst" (everything's at stake), "Das ist mir Wurst" (I don't care), "Extrawurst" (special treatment), "durchwursteln" (muddling through), "mit der Wurst nach der Speckseite werfen" (to throw a sprat to catch a mackerel). There's even one of Grimm's Fairy Tales
titled "The story of the bird, the mouse and the bratwurst". And the Hanswurst
, a once popular coarse-comic figure from German stage comedy, whose name also was used as an insult. (Later replaced by the internationally better known harlequin.)
Believe it or not, Germany has more than 16,000 Döner shops, which might be some kind of record.
Donner or shawarma or gyros in other countries was invented in its modern form (thinly sliced, spit-roasted meat and veggies with sauce and spices in one or the other kind of bread) in Berlin by Turkish immigrants, and quickly conquered the German fast food landscape. Today it keeps its dominating position, having a higher sales volume than all McDonald's
in Germany (which takes second place), and Döner shops even in many villages. Germans in other countries cite Döner as one of the things they miss the most note