A really big part of travelling is coming to terms with the fact that the Germans are just better than you in every single way. They are in every dark corner of this little planet, around every bend, in every hostel room in every country and, much like rats in Southampton, you’re never more than ten feet from one.
It’s got so out of hand that I now have to travel to Germany to see all my friends. In fact I’ll be there next week. So now I’m going to discuss some oddities I’ve discovered while hanging out with them from the perspective of a naive Kiwi Brit.
Let’s get one thing straight. I thoroughly believe that in every culture there are good people, there are bad people, there are people who would take a bullet for you and there are people who would be firing the gun. That said, there are of course general trends that a culture follows, so before anybody calls me a racist please be aware that I am generalising for the sake of an article. Also, I’m an ethnic minority, so according to the laws of “I’m not a racist because my best friend is a black lesbian with ginger hair” I have transcended this tomfoolery. Well how many South Pacific Poms have you met?
So I can speak a little German, but at best it’s a little and a grammatical minefield (Fuck you Dative case!). I can stumble through phrases such as “Ich komme aus Neuseeland” and “Wo ist ein gutes Cafe?” while they will stumble through English Phrases such as “My English linguistics are essentially still a developing process but I find my progress is deracinated during this existential predicament that I find myself in.” and still be just as modest about it. For some strange reason, they all believe that their English is awful despite putting the average English chav to absolute shame. I mean I get it; the benefits of the average German learning English are unfortunately a hundred times greater than the benefits of the average Brit learning German, and there is a whole plethora of popular media written in English that is globally known and accessible which completely dwarves the German counterparts, and, at least in the travelling community, the one language everybody at least tries to share is English, and with all of this considered it’s inevitable really. But it makes me feel stupid, uneducated, inadequate and culturally oblivious. Hence why Ich lerne Deutsch. Why should they have all the fun?
Furthermore, the German language is a beautiful thing. They have a really awesome habit of taking lots of little words and creating some unfathomably long words out of them For example “hundertdreiundzwanzig” is the word for the number 123, which in English would be written as “one hundred and twenty three”. This compound structure is frequently used in the language to make some ridiculous words. When my phone asked me to translate “sehenswüdigkeiten” I had a bit of a shock – it means “attractions” or “sights” and is sort of translated more literally as “things worthy of seeing”. Another good example is “Freundschaftsbezeigungen”, or “demonstrations of friendship”. I think they use this function to make words look big and scary and to dissuade people from learning their secret language (maybe they’re evil geniuses?). There’s a cracking video about Barbara’s rhubarb cake in a bar frequented by Bavarians with beards who drink beer which quite well illustrates the endless and potentially ridiculous possibilities of compound words in the German language (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gG62zay3kck#action=share) which made me spit out some wasser when I first saw it.
Also, here are some of my favourite ridiculous German idioms;
- spiel nicht die beleidigte Leberwurst – don’t play the offended liver sausage (don’t take it so seriously)
- wie geil ist das denn? – how horny is that then? (how awesome is that?)
- mit mir ist nicht gut Kirschen essen – with me is not good cherry eating (I am an insufferable person)
- er glaubt er bekommt ein Extrawurst – he thinks he gets an extra sausage (he thinks he’s so special)
- das ist mir wurst – that is sausage to me (I don’t give a shit about it)
- er hat einen dicken Kopf – he has a fat head (he is hungover)
Germans drink beer (amongst other liquids (don’t get me started on Spezi or Colabier)). Beer = life. Not only do they drink beer, but they drink proper Bier, at least in my opinion (I know my brother will disagree with me here as he expects his beer to be warm, flat, and served with pork scratchings and peanuts by a fat and pathetically bearded man who has wasted his whole life jaded in an English countryside town pulling ales and playing psychiatrist to a variety of equally jaded but worryingly positive (and somewhat creepy) British old men with marriage problems and limping dogs who have not seen the light of day for ten years which coincidentally is the anniversary of the day they first entered the pub). I’m talking about Hefe, Weißbier, Schwartzbier, Helles, Kölsch…. Spend some time kissing some German steins and you’ll maybe start to comprehend why they have become a nation known for it’s beer, and maybe find yourself unconscious in a Biergarten (my favourite compound word in the German language).
Germans seem to all be ashamed of their country, or at least embarrassed to admit that they are German and whenever you ask them why the answer is usually “because everybody comes from Germany”. I’ve been fortunate enough to spend some time in Deutschland and I immediately fell in love with the place. There are so many cute historic towns, so much scenery (albeit rather flat up North), some really fantastic food, some utterly unbelievably fantastic beer and some of the nicest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. I have absolutely no idea what they have to be ashamed or embarrassed of. Just because a lot of young people are doing a similar awesome thing you, why should that lessen your experience or make your thing seem less awesome? Does it not just mean that maybe awesomeness is more present in your culture when compared to other cultures? I don’t understand guys! Help me out here!
Germans have a reputation for being cold and emotionless which I completely disagree with, I mean sure, they might act a little confused when you first speak to them, but once you’re their friend you will be stuck with them for life. They will welcome you into their homes, show you their corner of Germany with enthusiasm, introduce you to all of their friends and relatives, feed you, get you drunk, and then sing Bon Jovi with you at unreasonable volumes and unreasonable hours just to piss off the landlord. They won’t be as expressive and exaggerative as your stereotypical Italian and are less likely to tell you (or force upon you) their feelings, but they are just as caring as the rest of us and shouldn’t be written off as the efficient punctual robots that run the powerhouse of Europe that they are often perceived to be.
There are thousands and thousands and thousands of German Backpackers from every single background you can imagine. I’m pretty sure the third national language in new Zealand is going to be Deutsch. They’re quite easily spotted from their Jack Wolfskin jackets, their Offsprey backpacks and their functioning and efficient outdoor clothing (“there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing”). If that’s not enough of a giveaway, they’ll definitely be complaining about the quality of the local bread and lamenting the lack of proper German Brot. A lot of them refuse to speak any German while travelling (even to other native German speakers) as they insist on improving their already perfect english. Most of them will be under twenty and on a gap year between college and university, as education is all free in Germany and they can actually afford a gap year, but they’ll usually tell you that they haven’t decided what they want to study and are trying to do some serious decision making while travelling. Quite often they get swallowed by the backpacking lifestyle and take a second year out because “while I’m here I might as well have a look at Australia as well”. While it initially seems like they all fit a stereotype, they don’t, and after thirty minutes and three bottles of Bavarian Hefe you will have gained enough of their trust to find out what makes them unique and different from one another.
I will always have a soft spot for Germany and it’s people. I’m super excited to be heading back on a quick run around West Germany next week to see some of my friends I’ve met on the road before I disappear into Latin America for a few months. I will be blogging as I travel around and keeping you updated with any other unusual behavioural aspects that I discover on the road and any hilarious shenanigans I partake in. I have some big plans that should hopefully keep you lot amused a little at the very least.
– Tom @ indieroad