Archive for February of 2010

February 11, 2010
It's the Kitsch that Binds Us, and Sets Us Apart

So last night I was over at SureShot's, and somewhere in the middle of the conversation, I'm still not sure why, he started singing out "Manchmal möchte ich so gern mit Dir ...". In an almost solemn voice, suitable for a musical. "You know that, don't you?", he said, "that Roland Kaiser feeling?"

Um, I didn't know what the hell he was talking about.

"Komm", he said, exasperated at my Ami cluelessness, "you've lived here all this time."

The song was apparently a Schlager. Germans just love their Schlager (the word is presumably related to "hit"), popular music from German artists with German lyrics, with something of a 70's flair -- many of the popular numbers really are from that era, although they're still making them to this day. Kitsch is a German word, and Schlager form the Platonic ideal of Kitsch; an explosion, a fountainhead, a tsunami of schmaltziness. I'm certain that this is the music they play over the loudspeakers of Hell -- how could there be a worse psychological torture than having to listen to this stuff through all of eternity? And yet, I rarely see Germans getting more animated and loose than when the Schlager are playing. There are places around the Reeperbahn in Hamburg with jukeboxes fully loaded with the stuff, blasting out one after another all night long, while everyone in the place bursts out joyfully singing along, and I look around feeling bewildered and stupid. Every year, the weekend-long Schlagermove is one of the biggest parties in Hamburg (so much that they have three of them planned just for this year), complete with a parade of floats down the Reeperbahn, sort of a self-consciously lowbrow answer to the Love Parade. Everyone there is decked out in garish, hippy-ish outfits, the more outlandish, and the more outrageous the color contrasts, the better. I've had a great time when I've been there, but when everyone is singing along with the Schlager, I have to grin and move my lips as if I know what I'm doing.

I started typing at SureShot's laptop. "No, no," he said, knowing what I was up to, "no Roland Kaiser, not now, please ..." But he asked for it.

(It's about a guy imagining telling his neighbor that he has the hots for her, but he can't risk going through with it. "You'll lose your husband, and I'll lose my friend ...", cue the ominous minor chord.)

I've been in Germany for going on my 24th year now, and SureShot was amazed that I didn't know the first thing about Roland Kaiser, or most other Schlagersänger for that matter. To be sure, I'm now versed in German cultural references I never could have imagined 24 years ago, but you have to grow up with this stuff, or else it might as well be from Mars. "I grew up in America," I told him, "let me show you the kind of thing I know and you've never heard of," and started tapping at his laptop again.

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