Discover Germany | Culture | Barbara Geier Column
“Let’s just call it quits” TEXT & PHOTO: BARBARA GEIER
Warning before you read on: this one is going to be a bit of a rant. Not too long ago, I came across an article in a British national newspaper titled ‘30 reasons why the British secretly love Germany’. It was pegged on recent figures released by the German National Tourist Office that state that 5.9 million overnight stays were made by UK holidaymakers in 2018 – up five per cent on the previous year. The article also cited data by the Office for National Statistics suggesting that Germany is the Brits’ sixth-favourite holiday destination, ahead of Portugal, Greece and Turkey. So far, so good. Before continuing to read the list of 30 reasons, I took a bet with myself concerning certain things that would 100 per cent have made it on the list. And, surprise surprise, I won! First, and probably the one that most gets my goat, there was the point made about the admirable German body confidence as exemplified in FKK, the German ‘Freikörperkultur’ or Free Body Culture. No need to say more, right, you know all about it; good old Germans, simply loooove running around naked on the beach. Well, if there’s one thing I don’t want to read anymore in the context of ‘things that are typically German’, it’s this. The fact that there’s a historic movement that started in the late-19th century and led to FKK clubs and beaches being established, does NOT mean that Germans are nudists. I am German, I know many Germans and I have yet to meet even one who is into that. Please, accept that while this might be a specific German quirk that is alien to British minds, it also is very alien to many German minds who are really fed up with being confronted with this stereotype all the time. It has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with contemporary Germany and I’d venture to say that it is now (only) an old(er) generation who is really into FKK, younger ones would probably find it as odd as I always did. 114 | Issue 76 | July 2019
Next, the ‘Autobahn’ thing. At number 11, the feature suggested that ‘we’, the Brits, love Germany because ‘you can drive as fast as you want on the autobahn’. Sorry to disappoint you, but that is factually not correct. While, yes, there is no general speed limit stipulated by law on German motorways, about 30 per cent of German motorways have a speed limit (120 or 130 kilometres per hour) and if you add to that all the temporary speed limits because of building works or specific traffic conditions, it’s even more. Ask anyone – any German – regularly driving on the motorway and they will tell you that the moments when you can drive as fast as you want, are few and far between, also because motorways tend to get so busy that speed limits are basically enforced on you anyway, even if you’re on a stretch that doesn’t come with a speed limit. So, please, don’t paint a picture of a country where everyone can drive as fast as they want because that, again, has nothing to do with reality. By the way, introducing a statutory speed limit is an ongoing discussion in Germany and, based on a survey of public broadcaster ARD, 51 per cent of Germans are now, in fact, for a speed limit of 130 kilometres per hour. Moving on from motorways to railways, and this one always makes me smile: because it’s so ironic and, for me, a perfect example of something I like to bang on about: that everything in life is down to a question of perspective. Reason number 17 for secretly loving Germany was ’its railways work’. Again, show that to Germans and they’ll have a right old laugh. If there’s one thing that the German Twittersphere can get really angry and annoyed about it’s the ‘Bahn’. Lateness, trains cancelled, tickets getting more expensive, air-con not working in summer, Wi-Fi not working, overcrowding, the seat reservation system not working, etc etc etc. The thing is, if you’re a British traveller or travel writer, as the one quoted in the article, you have a
unique, one-off perspective that very likely will leave you with the impression that German railways are top. However, for the average German either commuting every day or regularly travelling by rail for business, it’s a different story, and even though I think that Germans are currently way too harsh in their criticism of their railway system, the British stereotype (ALWAYS on time!) is also not quite true. Now, do you want me to continue with the Oktoberfest, beer, sausages, Christmas markets and all the other stereotypes listed in the article? Thought not. Let’s leave it at that. And to end on a hopeful note: at least a third of the 30 reasons in the article were pleasant surprises and non-cliché items, beyond beer, bread and fairy-tale castles. Plus, rest assured, the Germans are the same, and just as good at clinging on to beloved stereotypes about the UK as vice versa. It’s human, isn’t it? Let’s just call it quits. Barbara Geier is a London-based freelance writer, translator and communications consultant. She is also the face behind www.germanyiswunderbar.com, a German travel and tourism guide and blog that was set up together with UK travel writer Andrew Eames in 2010.