A Garden of Cultural Knowledge: The German Way

In The Art of Travel, 11. Second book, Berlin by Havana LiuLeave a Comment

The text, The German Way: Aspects of Behavior, Attitudes, and Customs in the German-speaking World by Hyde Flippo runs through a multitude of categories that delineate the goings on of a German lifestyle. From broader topics like religion, dining and public transportation to more pointed topics like women in society and angst, the book is thorough to say the least. Some topics even revolve around much more niche categories like a whole chapter on Acronyms. The short essays are sweet and savvy and at times slightly outdated, but nonetheless the narrative you receive provides color to the image of German culture.

In reading, The German Way: Aspects of Behavior, Attitudes, and Customs in the German-speaking World, I thought I might be struck by a specific passage that transformed the way I view a piece of German culture. Perhaps this piqued interest would revolve around the American Influence on Germany or different cultural greetings that I hadn’t yet picked up on. However, surprisingly enough it was not a passage about Germany or an intriguing cultural fact that changed my perspective of Berlin, despite how informative or nuanced some of these facts were. Instead it is the format of the book itself—the structure delineated by the table of contents—that has shifted the lens with which I experience my time in Germany.

The text is formatted in alphabetical order. This editing/publishing decision has stayed at the front of my mind. This means that when you look for dining information or restaurant culture in the table of contents, it is easy to be directed to small essays that can guide your education on the “German way” however if you are reading through the text start to finish, the text jumps back and forth between topics and subjects. For example one section of the text reads in the order “Flowers and gardens 54, Foreigners and Ausländerhaß 55, Friends and Acquaintances Sie and du 57, The German Past 58, Gestures 61, Government and Politics 62, The Greens (die Grünen) 65”. This bumpy road through German cultural terrain initially struck me as jarring. Why would it make sense to learn about Driving, but then Ecology and the Environment, and then Education? There seems to be no thematic shift through the three. However, upon further evaluation and upon completing the text, it began to make sense.

How do we think in our average day? When we walk down a single city block do we think in a smooth transitional sense, or do we jump from idea to idea, constantly shifting our focus based on stimulus? This second formula of thought process seems to mirror my reality in Berlin: a flower stand, a biker swooping by, a outdoor seating area, people greeting each other on a corner. These experiences can slip by and influence thought in a number of minutes. In fact I have come to believe that the choppy format of this text in some ways perfectly reflects Berlin city life. Thus, mimetic understandings of urban experiences dominate and tie this text together through structure.

This structural reading of the text in many ways has forced me to view my own German experiential education in a new light. Do travelers connect the dots, or create cultural patterns of understanding in my mind? How have I  internalized and learned from my experiences? I believe it happens in a similar way to the structure of this text, The German Way: Aspects of Behavior, Attitudes, and Customs in the German-speaking World. I believe that we, as travelers, pick up the random and varied seeds of culture that have been dropped by locals, and plant a garden of knowledge that we nurture over time. This garden does not comprise of just one species of vegetable or even one genre of plant. Instead, as travelers, I believe our gardens holds a plethora of fractioned understandings, observations, and borrowed points of view.

(Image: Dropped Seeds of Culture; Source: Havana Rose Liu)

Leave a Comment