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.

Read more »

October 31, 2009
Speaking of German Culture

Offered without comment ...

October 30, 2009
Hiply Hectoring Hipster People

You've got to take a look at this, SureShot told me, it's just my thing. Ich werde ein Berliner, a blog by "Wash Echte", an English-speaking foreigner who lives in Germany and is chronicling his experiences in Berlin, as featured recently in the Tagesspiegel. One could certainly think I'd be interested, considering that I've now been in Hamburg for 23 years, over half my life, and I worked in Berlin for the past two and half years, living in an apartment in Berlin-Mitte until this past July.

What a disappointment, then, to go over there and find something so suffocatingly awful. It turns out, unfortunately, that our author Wash Echte is a pretentious, narcissistic poseur who has devoted an entire blog, since November of 2008, to sneer at "German people" as sneering, pretentious, narcissistic poseurs. The real target here is the urban hipster culture, certainly easy enough to pick on as excessively self-important and shallow, but Wash Echte refers to them indiscriminately as "German people" and badgers them with as much shallow, self-regarding hipness as he can muster. (The author's gender is not specified, as far as I can tell, so I'll just call him "him".) Such a thing might actually have some entertainment value -- Freudian projection as performance art, a maudlin display of someone shifting their own failings onto others, flamboyantly played out on the Internet so that all the world may marvel and gape. But for that, there'd have to be some sense of humor or irony, and there's nothing of the kind to be found here. It just drones, on and on and on.

Read more »

October 28, 2009

I am a little annoyed and amused at once by these kinds of American stereotypes about Germans. At best it's a bit dense, and the part at the end with the Nazis beating up a woman for no good reason is gratuitously nasty.

On the other hand, I have to admit that I once had a neighbor who really did Stackenblochen on his desk, arranging all of the objects on it so that their sides were parallel with the edges, and got annoyed if anything was off-kilter. That's just one example, but I can't deny that this kind of the thing is entirely not unheard of around here.

April 19, 2009
Compare & Contrast

The Heinrich-Hertz-Turm, popularly known as the Fernsehturm -- the TV/radio tower that dominates the sklyine in Hamburg:

Image from Wikipedia under GFDL: http://de.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Datei:Heinrich-Hertz-Turm.jpg

Apartment buildings on The Jetsons:

Jane, stop this crazy thing

August 22, 2005
Royale With Cheese

About a year from now, on August 1, 2006, I will have lived in Europe for exactly twenty years. And about a year and a half after that, on April 29, 2008, my time over here will have taken up the entire second half of my life. One more day, and I will have lived longer in Europe than I did in the US. I've been thinking that I ought to throw a big party on either or both of those occasions.

Read more »