Testing German Stereotypes

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The concept of stereotypes is often thought of as bad. “Don’t stereotype people/things/places” we are told. There is a point to that, to make sure we understand the reality in its glorious depth without relying solely on these abstract preformed ideas. However, as Laurence writes in his submission to the Life in Germany series, stereotypes can often give you a basis to work with. Travel is disorienting enough and having at least a basis to start is helpful. It can be fun as well, to test the stereotypes and see if they are true.

Laurence is a wandering photographer currently based in France. I have been following his blog for a while and am really enjoying his photography. I was happy to hear he had lived the village life in Germany for a while and agreed to write about it for the series. Enjoy!

There is something deeply reassuring about cultural stereotypes, horrific though the thought may be. They serve to ground you, to help you remember where you are, and to anchor you when all around you is different and foreign.

What, after all, could be more reassuring than a passing French person wielding a baguette when you are trying to find your way to the train station and can’t remember your gauche from your droite? Or an Ozzie lovingly caressing a surfboard and gazing out at the surf as you peer nervously into an ocean filled with creatures waiting to kill you?

I argue therefore that stereotypes can be reassuring to the traveller – adding a sense of perceived normality to a world which, at times, becomes very different from what we expected and often far out of our comfort zone.

Germany was no different, for the few months that I was lucky enough to spend living there, in a small village mid-way between Bonn and Cologne.

Some context for you. I speak very little German. I have tried (ok, I haven’t really), but any language which can categorise objects by one of three separate sexes is one that I am going to treat with serious suspicion. Where I was living wasn’t exactly a tourist hot spot, and English wasn’t bandied about freely. It wasn’t hard, if one was of such an ilk, for a sense of isolation and cultural separation to creep in.

Luckily I’m generally not of such an ilk, regarding these obstacles as challenges to overcome rather than weights to drag me down. But I did find that having something to identify with was handy. So whilst not every German was exactly a massive fan of David Hasslehoff, as us Brits may think, that was always a great way to start a conversation.

Without further ado, here is my list of preconceived stereotypes of Germany, and some thoughts as to how these were met or exploded during my time there!

Stereotype 1 – Germans love beer

When Germans travel, it is likely that they will be asked about Oktoberfest, a huge festival held every year in Munich dedicated to the art of beer. I wasn’t living anywhere near Munich, but I can confirm that this made no difference – Germans really are passionate about their beer, which is both plentiful and incredibly cheap. They even mix it with other beverages, like coke, presumably in the theory that beer makes everything taste better.

What I hadn’t realised was that this beer obsession is a tribal thing. Every area in Germany has its own beer, and you better stick to it. Never admit to liking a beer from another region to a local. The local beer is always the best. If you’re near Cologne like I was, then you need to be drinking Kölsch. Otherwise be prepared to defend your beer choice with your life.

Stereotype status – confirmed, happily!

Stereotype 2 – Germans are obsessed with bread

Anywhere I’ve been on my world travels, there was a universal theme regarding the Germans I met. The bread, they would wistfully explain, was not as good here as it was in Germany. German bread being something to fill you up, and keep you going. Rather like dwarf bread in many respects.

When I lived in Germany, it all became clear. German bread *is* better than other bread. It’s flavourful, it comes in countless varieties, and you can eat it on its own as a whole meal. Alternatively, you can hit people over the head with it and cause actual damage. But really, the best way to eat it is accompanied with some sausage. Which nicely leads me on to stereotype three, wrapping this one up.

Stereotype status – confirmed!

Stereotype 3 – It’s all about the wurst

If it’s not beer or bread, then it must be sausage. I’m not sure why so many of my stereotypes were food based, but there we go. It’s not the wurst thing that could happen. Ahem.

Before I went to Germany I was certainly under the impression that sausage was a staple part of the German diet, and I was not disappointed. What I wasn’t aware of however was the magical product known as a Currywurst, which is a heavenly version of a hotdog, only instead of such obvious toppings as onions and mustard, this bad boy comes smothered in a hot curry flavoured sauce.

It is genuinely tasty, particularly after some beers (any bar worth it’s salt will have a currywurst vendor either on site on within staggering distance), and a wonderful twist on the otherwise humble sausage.

Stereotype status – confirmed, with curry sauce on!

Stereotype 4 – Germans don’t have a sense of humour

Now we can move on from the food based culturalising and onto the personality stuff. There is this theory among the Brits that Germany is not a land filled with humour. I’m not sure why this is. Certainly the sense of humour is different, involving less contrived wordplay, but I discovered quickly that Germany is hardly a nation of dour faced individuals munching soberly on sausage.

In fact, everywhere I’ve been in the world, humour has been a driving and uniting force of life. What is the point if you can’t have a laugh about it? And Germany was no exception to this rule!

Stereotype status – debunked! Where did you think the term schadenfreude came from anyway?

Stereotype 5 – David Hasselhoff is nationally revered as a cultural icon

On to the heavy hitting stuff now. As in, my German girlfriend is going to be hitting me heavily by the time she gets to this point. Yes, David Hasselhoff had a hit or two back in the nineties in Germany. No, as she labours to point out, Germany as a country is not obsessed with him.

In fact, this is more of a British stereotype than anything else – Brits are obsessed with the idea that all Germans love David Hasselhoff. I mean, he was in Baywatch and all. But he’s not going to be running for chancellor any time soon.

Stereotype status – debunked! Although he does pop up on the radio in Germany every now and again.

Ok! Five will do. I must end the post there, as there’s a Mr. Bean marathon about to hit, followed by a re-run of the England v Germany 1966 football match. Later, I’ll be munching down some fish and chips with a lovely warm beer. Being British, what else is there to do? Cheers!

Laurence is a world traveller who is taking his time to slowly explore the world. He’s currently based out of France, struggling with his sexuality, and learning all about French cultural traditions. He can normally be found behind the lens of his camera, photography being one of his main passions in life. You can find out more about him and his adventures over on his Travel and Photography blog, Finding the Universe. He’s also on both facebook and twitter!

28 thoughts on “Testing German Stereotypes

    • Given a certain point of view, they are rude. But that is a cultural norm somehow. I get annoyed not in the bruskness of the talk, but that people push in front of me at the tram and walk in front of me and stop to look at store windows. So more the physical lack of awareness. But then again as an American, I require a fair bubble around me to feel ok.

  1. What about ‘efficiency’. The Germans have a great reputation for being so efficient and it seemed to be true from my experience there. Everything happened punctually, people never wasted time, and you hardly ever had to queue for anything.
    (These are all things a lot of other countries in Europe should learn!)

    • I guess I will have to write about German “efficiency” at some point soon. It is a bit of a myth. Things run on time and such, but mainly due force of habit. Things are very well planned here, but not necessarily efficient. But if the plan goes awry, Chaos!

  2. Aside from Belgium, I think I spent the most time in Germany during my Euro trip early this year, and all I can say is that I loved it! Loved drinking beer and eating bratwurst with it 😀 I can;t say I’ve heard of the Hasselhoff stereotype though. Which is not a bad thing, right? 😉

    • Glad you spent so much time in Germany (and enjoyed it). Nope, not at all bad about not hearing the stereotype. But it is worth doing a YouTube search for him singing in German, actually quite funny.

    • I’ve noticed this phenomenon on the road as well. You ask Germans about David Hasslehoff and Oktoberfest, and they get terribly sad about how the world sees them 😉 This is then usually followed by a lecture on bread…

      • Ha. I like the idea of Germans lecturing on bread. The David Hasselhoff thing is weird. Though the Americans gave him a full TV series, so we aren’t so much better.

    • Oktoberfest, if you are not from Munich, is something like being in New York City for New Years. It sounds cool, but really it is more of a hassle than it is worth. Germany is pretty region specific and most of them have beer or winefests locally anyway. Why go to a big tourist thing that is so expensive if you have to travel? For those living in Munich, it is a different thing though.

    • Yes that is bad, although not as bad as only knowing Salzburg from the Sound of Music. 😉 Although the accents CAN be similar sometimes. Germany is also not in black and white.

  3. Ooooh, German stereotypes – I love these! :0 Mostly because A. so many are true and B. Dani is German and it’s fun to have a laugh about these things sometimes. The one that stands out the most for me is German bread because we have been traveling for 800 days and the only time Dani has ever been truuuuly satisfied with her bread has been the month or so of combined days we have spent in Germany 🙂 I get it though – it is the absolute best in the world. By the way, I actually think Germans can be hilarious and found humor in the UK much harder to understand!

    • Humor is one of those things that is very individual. Both the person being funny and others trying to get it.

      I get the bread thing too, but sometimes it feels overwhelming. I guess it is akin to people going to the US and see an entire aisle of salad dressing. Here each bakery is going to have dozens of types of bread and bakeries are all different. Even similar names could taste different.

  4. I thought it was the Brits that didn’t have a sense of humor? 🙂 Germans are great. I have to admit I love stereotypes. They are fun. However, none of fit the mold – I know I don’t. So having a basis of understanding is good as long as we don’t use it to form concrete opinions about people we really don’t know.

    Stereotypes are like guidebooks. They give you a good introduction and some basic navigation. However, nothing beats getting off the beaten path to explore. If we take this same approach with the people we meet, stereotypes can be good guides that can help us build deeper relationships.

    • The thing about stereotypes is that they are abstractions and generalizations, but very often come from exaggerations of reality. No one person fits the mold completely, but a society taken in general often shows trends that do match the stereotype in some way.

  5. Good stereotypes -although I find that David-Hasselhoff-thing truly haunts me everywhere (talking about schadenfreude!). I guess I should be glad, because being questioned about the Germans and their liking of David Hasselhoff is a slightly lighter topic than say, Hitler and the war, but it seriously annoys me, maybe because I feel deep within that it is not a once-in-a-lifetime-slip-up but a festering proof of a general bad taste. It is SO embarassing. At least I’m not alone with this -even the Spiegel (a big German magasine) thought it was important enough to write an article about the Hasselhoff-phenomenon. It’s called “The collective guilt abbout bad taste” (be aware, it’s actually in German: ). …Can we talk about something else now!?! 😉

  6. Very true and funny! 🙂 The first three items are so good! It’s enough to try them once to become German in this regard. At least I find myself quite often explaining others why German beer, bread and wurst are the best in the world 🙂

  7. As a half German I can confirm pretty much all of this. And I can also proudly state that not one of my friends considers David Hasslehoff a singer, but sadly there are still many in Germany who do. Mostly it’s the older generation, but I have to admit that my very own sister was the shameful owner of a Hasslehoff cassette tape when we were growing up. Luckily she got older and wiser, her tastes improved and we once again allow her to attend family gatherings.

    • I was always told that it was a myth by everyone I met in Germany, as part of the great David Hasslehoff conspiracy coverup. Then we ended up at a house party, and the song came on.. and mysteriously everyone knew the words! I’m not sure its a source of great national pride though.. unlike Scooter. Now there’s a German band to be proud of!

      • Don’t forget the greatest German band of all time – the Scorpions! 🙂

        We gave Germany David Hasselhoff. They gave us Scorpions. We got a much better deal!

      • You’re right, as much as we try to deny Hasslemania, it will never go away. I mean, he sang on the wall in Berlin when it came down. They could have gotten any singer on Earth and they chose The Hoff. That moment is now etched in history and if it weren’t for the Nazis, would be our greatest national shame.

        I was going to mention the Scorpions, but I was too slow. Also: Rammstein and KMFDM.

        And of course Heino, if he’s still alive…..

        • True, you find some good German music as well, but I don’t think KMFDM ever had a number 1 in Germany… Ooooh, but both Guildo Horn and Helge Schneider did -so at least we sometimes manage to serve bad taste with a dash of irony. As for Heino: he is very much still alive, but Heino is just far out to be a threat to my bad taste alarm -and hardly anybody knows him out of Germany. He’s a tame, toothless cat.

          • Heino’s horrible. I think. I haven’t heard any of his music in over 20 years, but growing up he was, to me, the quintessential example of why Germany turned to David Hasslehoff for musical entertainment.

      • Have you looked up Gunter? The videos are hilarious. It is funny to try to decide if he is trying to be strange or trying to be serious and ending up strange.

    • Thanks for the confirmation. I have heard him on the radio once or twice. Meh, we all had embarrassing music tastes as kids.

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