Britain, the German version ….

by Chris Bertram on September 2, 2006

I guess my Irish co-bloggers are rather used to foreigners thinking that they come from a gigantic theme park that bears no resemblance to their country as it actually is. For me it was rather more of a shock, when, for family reasons, I got dragged along to “British Day”: in Hamburg ( “photo gallery”: ). This was the UK (assisted by the Irish who seemed to count as honorary Brits for rugby and drinking purposes) as depicted in _Horse and Hound_ or _Country Life_ , re-enacted by enthusiastic Germans. There was polo, there was rugby, there were endless stalls selling Harris tweed and barbour jackets, there was a welly wanging contest, and a Highland games section where characters called Otto and Diemut (or something like that) tossed the caber whilst dressed in Royal Stewart tartan. English boarding schools — though not the really famous ones — were there too, touting for business among the Hamburg anglophiles: “send Hans to Hogwarts and make him into a real gentleman” was the message. Really quite bizarre. I’m afraid I missed the “last night of the Proms” part, where enthusiastic Hamburgers joined in the singing of “Land of Hope and Glory”, but I could hear it all in the distance. And the stall that came closest to the actual lives of most of us … Indian food, naturally.

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Tim Worstall
09.03.06 at 5:58 am



mykej 09.02.06 at 1:44 pm

A contest to put your wang in a well?

[Sorry, typo, should have been “welly wanging” – now fixed. CB]


Rob 09.02.06 at 1:47 pm

Did you have to explain not just any German can get to be King?


dearieme 09.02.06 at 3:27 pm

You gotta problem with immigrants, Bob?


paul 09.02.06 at 3:33 pm

Do they also still have the folks who re-enact the american Wild West as imagined by a guy who never crossed the atlantic? (I’d say there’s something peculiarly german about this kind of event, but there probably isn’t.)

I wonder if there are, conversely, conventions in England where young sabre-lovers get enticed to go to german finishing schools…


Jacob Christensen 09.02.06 at 4:24 pm

Somewhere I’ve come across the observation that “Hamburgers are Germans who believe themselves to be English”. Of cause belief and reality can be two very different things.

The author Paul is thinking of, is Karl May (the link is to the German Wikipedia).

Just to generalise a bit, I suspect that most of us have a hard time understanding the ways in which foreigners see our respective home countries.

I have visited Germany many times, but have never seen anybody wearing Lederhosen, not even in Munich. (Leather pants, yes, but not Lederhosen).

Equally, you will not find a place even remotely like Solvang in Denmark and Swedish real-life politicians are more like Joe Lieberman and George W. Bush than Olof Palme.


yabonn 09.02.06 at 4:55 pm

I have visited Germany many times, but have never seen anybody wearing Lederhosen

For that, you could try Austria.


franck 09.02.06 at 6:46 pm

For the mirror opposite of this, you should read “Portugese Irregular Verbs” by Alexander McCall Smith, where the German professor miraculously has all the prejudices of the Brits: the only Irish speaker left speaks only in vulgarities, trains in India fall off bridges and passengers get attacked by crocodiles, etc.


Tobias 09.02.06 at 6:53 pm

Jacob, go to Munich in two weeks and you’ll see them. Actually, Lederhosen (and Dirndls for the ladies) are quite fashionable during the “Wiesn” aka Oktoberfest. For quite a while it’s been a good way of discerning the the upper strata of Munichians? from the rest of the crowd, but these days, they are worn by many people, including some foreigners.

That said, I haven’t seen anyone wearing Lederhosen at an occasion that was not a celebration of regional Bavarian tradition – or, for that matter, the opening ceremony of the world cup ;).

Barbour, however, is a rather popular brand among business and law students. Although these days, it’s not nearly as fashionable as it was in the mid nineties ;)


bza 09.02.06 at 9:13 pm

I’ve seen Lederhosen being worn as daily gear by farmers not too far outside of Munich (in Prien and Bad Endorf). This was ten years ago, but they probably haven’t disappeared yet.


Matt McIrvin 09.02.06 at 10:44 pm

I saw a guy wearing Lederhosen in Munich. He was playing a tuba for the tourists at the Hofbrauhaus.

Granted, he might have been a hallucination.


Jacob T. Levy 09.03.06 at 12:43 am

No one’s yet remarked upon the boomerang-throwing kangaroos with giant knives who go hopping down the streets of Syndey playing digeridoos, or the starving obese American cowboy mugger who owns a pickup truck full of guns.

This stuff is often due in part to native dealers in kitsch volkish appropriations of some genuine tradition, though non-Aboriginal Australians don’t so much have a volkish tradition of boomerang-throwing.


sam 09.03.06 at 1:54 am

I spent some time in the English and Welsh countryside recently and found that it was in fact as absurdly and imporbably picturesque as any German fantasy of it could be. My theory was that all the people actually lived in mcmansions and visited strip malls that were conveniently located just on the other side of whichever hill was closest. The whole sceneray, I thought, was a big set to draw in tourists. I joke, but we tend to forget just how strange our homes are when viewed out of context…


novakant 09.03.06 at 4:26 am

Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if Bavaria wasn’t pars pro totoed for Germany all the time.


Aidan Kehoe 09.03.06 at 5:22 am

Novakant, I can imagine it annoyed the Bavarians immensely back when Prussia was routinely pars-pro-totoed for Germany. I’m not sure there’s much of an alternative, today; Mecklenburg-Vorpommern? Too Ossi and too economically desolate. Baden-Würtemmberg? Not distinct enough. Berlin? Too edgy.


Ajax 09.03.06 at 8:59 am

Well, apart from times of war, recent English newspapers have been available for purchase in Hamburg for a couple of hundred years, and the city grew rich in the 19th century through its trading links to the English-speaking world. I doubt any other German city would be so enthusiastic about a British Day.


ingrid 09.03.06 at 9:01 am

Isn’t it the case that most Europeans have archaic views about what’s typical in other European countries? And that tourism plays a big role in this? Take the wooden shoes and the windmills that would characterise the Netherlands – yes, there are plenty of windmills, but almost all of them are protected historical monuments and play no role in the production of anything (except tourist services); and I have never seen anybody on wooden shoes here (admittedly, I don’t live in the countryside).
I think people just like to think about the differences between European countries in terms of differences that are easy to visualise, and less in terms of much less tangible characteristics. And we probably also like to overemphasize how distinct the European countries are – perhaps to help us construct our own national identity.


Belle Waring 09.03.06 at 9:03 am

I’m just glad people don’t have ridiculous misconceptions about america.


etat 09.03.06 at 9:39 am

and vice versa, natch!


tony 09.03.06 at 3:20 pm

But Ireland is a gigantic theme park that bears no resemblance to their country as it actually is!


Squander Two 09.03.06 at 5:55 pm

>> I have visited Germany many times, but have never seen anybody wearing Lederhosen

> For that, you could try Austria.

Or Bavaria. I have never visited my favourite bit of Germany — Lindau, Fischen, Oberamergau — without seeing men in lederhosen and women in those traditional dresses with frilled aprons. They often gather together in this garb and march into the forest, playing tubas and accordians. No, really.

Lots of the men have handlebar taches, too.

To be fair, other Germans think the Swabes are a bit weird. For some reason, the British stereotype of the nation is based entirely on this weird little enclave of people who do very strange things. It’s a bit like basing one’s image of the UK on Shetland.


triticale 09.03.06 at 8:15 pm

Somewhere I’ve come across the observation that “Hamburgers are Germans who believe themselves to be English”.

And Cheeseburgers are Germans who believe themselves to be French…


Jacob Christensen 09.04.06 at 3:35 pm

-> #22: As a matter of fact, McDonald’s in Denmark used the cyclist Bo Hamburger in an advertisement campaign during a Tour de France some years ago. That was before Mr. Hamburger was put in connection with – well, never mind. (And of cause McDonald’s doesn’t use any funny ingredients in its food. So, no further Hamburgers for the Danish McDonald’s.)

To round off the thread (?), a musical observation: If you ever visit Germany, try to catch a show with Volksmusik on one of the German channels.

That is scarier than any bagpipe-orchestra you can possibly imagine.

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