Young, German & In Love with W.

Die Zeit interviews 4 of the approximately 19 Germans who like George W.

Many of you have probably heard the numbers: 87 percent of Germans reject the foreign policy of the U.S., 53% think the U.S. poses the most pressing danger to world peace of all countries on the globe.  Almost 1/3 of Germans under 30 think the neoconservatives staged the September 11 attacks to give themselves a handy excuse to topple unfriendly regimes and take all the oil.  In the words of the author of Die Zeit – Politik : I love George W., (German) "Anti-Bushism has long since become a substitute religion."

But not every German has such a poor opinion of the Swaggering One.  The Zeit article profiles a gaggle of young Germans who rather like him…

For instance, one Stefan Herre, a sport teacher and "media analyst" from Cologne: "Bush is attacking the evil of Islamist terrorism at its roots."  He’s even humping it to Mainz to attend a pro-Bush rally there today.  David Harnasch also belongs proudly to the pro-Bush crowd.  He works as an independent journalist in Freiburg, but, as the Zeit reporter notes, "it appears his real job is his hobby, politics."

The Zeit characterizes the pro-Bush crowd: "You can’t call them uneducated. . . . They’re young, academically trained, mostly online, and armed to the teeth with arguments."  But they suffer for their art.  Stephanie Sellier, a journalist from Cologne (you may be getting the impression that every other educated German is a journalist, and you wouldn’t be far off) admits that she’s lost half of her friends, who find her "extreme and devious."  But who cares?  They’re "narrow-minded, islamist-friendly, stupid do-gooders."  Owa!

Herre, who has hung an American flag at his apartment window, yearns for a green card and compares his situation to living in the Eastern Bloc in the 1980s.  Germans are great at discussion, he snorts, "but sometimes you’ve got to take action, even if soldiers die!"  In response to the reporter’s question whether he’d go to war himself, he responds "yes" without delay.  The other interviewees aren’t quite as enthusiastic, although they’re ready to contemplate such a move "with appropriate training"…

Soda Beckstein? Nein, Danke.

Can you name your child “Moon Unit” in Germany?

The most popular male baby name in Germany is, for the second year in a row, Maximilian. Sounds vaguely ancient and dignified, plus it has a cuddly abbreviation.  But, to insert a gratuitous Seinfeld reference, what if you want to name your kid Seven or Soda?  Not so fast.

You’ve got to get past the local bureaucrat at the Standesamt (registry office).  Using the welfare of the child as her unwavering guide, she will probably send you packing.  Every district has its own regulations for baby names, and almost all of them prevent parents naming their children something which is not sufficiently "gender-specific" or which, like "Osama" or "Asshole," could expose the child to taunting. 

The town of Jork, Germany (who exactly picked that name?) helpfully advises you to "seriously consider" what you’re going to name your child and warns you:

The registry official can deny your request for a name if, in her opinion, when the name is not gender specific or when the official is convinced it is not a "name" at all. The official does not reach this decision based on "gut feeling" but rather in consultation of an official Name Lexicon.  If a "serious case" arises and the the official does not allow your name, you may contact the Society for the German Language.

Yes, it’s the nationwide Supreme Court of strange baby names.  They publish their decisions; too, right here (German).  Names from movies are, of course, always near the top: Nemo and Legolas get the nod, the first because it was actually always a name, the second because history knows many examples of names based on popular literary works coming into common use (the good people of the Institute cite Vanessa by Jonathan Swift).  "Destiny" squeaks by a reluctant panel, but only if a clearly female second name is attached.

For an interesting thought experiment, imagine how a well-armed Texan might respond to a bureacrat telling him he can’t name his kid "Chad"

More movies with talking bears, please

Terry Gilliam on Crack brings a fairy tale to the screen, with plenty of bodily fluids.

Some benighted few think of the German soul as suited only to the efficient production of exquisite consumer products. What rot!  Case in point: Die Reise ins Glück (The Journey to Happiness), a cavalcade of nonsense I recently saw in my local art-house.

The plot of this self-styled fairy tale is, if you exclude "the grim oracle of the snowman," not terribly complicated.

Captain Gustav (Jürgen Höhne) has been sailing his whimsical Schneckenschiff ("snail-ship") around the earth a good long time, accompanied by his wife and five children, his Ship’s Band, composed primarily of overweight, partially-clad blackface minstrels, and plenty of talking animals, including a dyspeptic bear who serves as First Mate. Their mission is never made particularly clear, but it appears to involve occasional landings in global hot zones, whereupon the minstrels (members of an "aboriginal race long thought extinct by science," according to the film’s promotional materials), disembark and fight for freedom with homemade weapons. Now, though, it’s time for them to retire, and they stumble upon an idyllic island which looks to be just the thing. Little do they know, however, that the island is ruled by the evil King Knuffi. The ghastliest of his many ghastly henchmen are two shirtless, loutish Propaganda Ministers, who suffer from a disease that causes them to constantly urinate.

Die Reise ins Glück was ten years in the making, but you’d hardly guess it. The movie’s director, Wenzel Storch, conscientiously rejects professionalism and everything it stands for. Captain Gustav is played by Jürgen Höhne, a truck driver. The entire film has been amateurishly sync’ed in post-production. The sets, which include the Schneckenschiff (complete with on-board cinema), King Knuffi’s castle, and plenty of royal appurtenances, appear to be made primarily of Sperrmüll, the bulky trash Germans leave on their sidewalks for the city to collect. Most of the (real) talking animals, which include a rabbit, a guinea pig, and 5 wildly-colored tree frogs with a taste for culture, are spoken by notables of the German satire scene. The contrast between the monstrous absurdity onscreen and the sober, "fairly-tale" voiceover had the audiences in stitches. Die Reise is a wildly imaginative little masterpiece. I’ve never seen a German audience applaud a movie before, but this one did, and I am not ashamed to say I joined in.

The movie was shown during the Montreal Fantasy Film Festival, where it described as like "Terry Gilliam on crack," so there appears to be an English version floating around. May it come to a cinema in your neighborhood soon.

The Decline of Germany Part I: The Kids Aren’t Alright

Here’s a heartwarming piece from Der Spiegel’s 2004 year-end Rückblick (look back):

They’re drunk for the first time at age 14, and are passionate smokers by 15. 18 percent smoke marijuana regularly. In school they avoid sport and exercise, and almost one in two complain about harassment and beatings, and every year the teens are getting fatter – German youth is in a truly desolate condition. Such were the results of a large study by the World Health Organization in which 160,000 youths in Europe, Canada and the USA, among them 5600 Germans, were surveyed. German youths are, for example, at the top in terms of alcohol and cigarette use.

The original German word I’ve translated as harassment, by the way, is mobben (verb form; the noun is das Mobbing) This is another example of Germans taking an English word and applying it, oddly out of context, to something German. The most famous example is "Handy," which is the German word for mobile telephone. Germans are often surprised to find out that English-speakers don’t call these helpful little things "Handies" too. Mobbing happens when a group of co-workers get together, decided they don’t like one of their lot, and proceed to mercilessly harass them. What distinguishes it slightly from what we would call "harassment" is that it’s a coordinated social effort directed at once person. Apparently this sort of thing goes on so often Germany that it’s earned its own appellation. Why don’t we have a word for this in English, I wonder?