“The German Way” seems a bit foolishly concise, an over-simplification in 130 pages. To cover ‘culture’ in one chapter is ambitious to say the least. But it seemed like a nice overview of Germany to use as a launching board. I looked over it with two of the Germans at the university and they both saw it as quizzical but not entirely inaccurate. It’s always odd to see someone try to define you culture.
There’s a section on dining I found interesting. It focuses on the stereotypes of cuisine Americans and Germans have of eachother. American food is usually characterized as burgers and coke. And one of my friend always jokes about that because she always wants to eat hamburger at my place. Of course American cuisine, especially the food in NYC, is really just world cuisine. Americans tend to think Germans eat sausages and drink lots of beer. And yes the wurst spots stand in for the 99cent pizza, and yes the beer is really good, but most Germans I’ve met tend to eat decidedly non-German food. It might have to do with our generation as well, people in their early 20’s tend to have a more varied palette in everything, not just food in my experience. The custom of strangers sitting at the same table in restaurants is very alien though for an American.
There’s a few points which made me question the relevancy of the book, so I looked in the publishing section – it came out in 1997, a decade and a half ago. Berlin has been changing rapidly, ask any German and they’ll tell you 3 years ago it was vastly different, so to take this book without a grain of salt wold be fruitless. When it says that Germans do not smile like Americans, that you must introduce yourself by your last name, or that “tschüss is slang that is ‘gaining in popularity,’ the book now refers to the older generation of Germans. In my experience our generation is very international and the customs have similarly adapted and relaxed.
The fashion and design section covers the Bauhaus school, a part of German history that had already entered my studies and has been a recurring them of my art classes in Berlin. Similarly the section on German Film strictly overlaps with my Post-War German Film class. As I’ve seen over the duration of the course as we get into the ’90’s American cinema’s influence becomes more and more apparent.
The book mentions the holiday of November Karneval, which just passed, which explains the bizarrely dressed Germans on my street the other day. Of course perhaps the most important holiday in Berlin is the anniversary of unification when East Germans were first allowed to cross into West Berlin. This was the 25th anniversary just last week and along where the wall used to stand was a long line of lamp posts with lit round balloon lights atop them. I live two blocks into the former West, so I passed it every day. I climbed up to a hill that overlooks the city with some German friends on the night of the anniversary to watch them let the balloons rise up into the sky.