Monday, 23 October 2017

Don't Mention the Weather

Have you ever commented about the weather in Germany? It's tricky that - and full of potential pitfalls.

Let me explain: Say, on an ordinary October day, you remark: "Bit blustery, isn't it" or, in German, as of course you'd be politely speaking the local language: "Ganz schön windig heute".

The automatic reply you'd get would be: "Ja was denkst du??! Es ist Herbst!!" (Well, what do you think?! It's autumn after all!") Thump.You fall flat on your face and wonder what you did to engender such a strong reaction to an ordinary remark.

Whereas in Britain, you'd be getting any response from polite, distracted affirmation "Isn't it just" to spinning the conversation on "It really is . I even had to take my washing in this morning" or any other way of making  something of the opening gambit. In contrast, the German response is automatically challenging, personal, and in attack-mode - querying your sanity that you're clearly not aware that it is indeed autumn, and what else would any sane person expect, so why on earth comment? Conversational effort rebuffed, speaker called sub-intelligent and openly put in their place. End of conversation. Best to say nothing in Germany. Which of course is the German way: If it's not "meaningful", it's best to say nothing,  they argue. What could posssibly be meaningful, say arriving at the work place on a Monday morning? Angela Merkel's immigration policy?

Consequently, silence is a major part of...German conversation (1). But back to our example, as there's more to it  than the sheer rudeness of speakers.There's also a complete intercultural breakdown: People in Germany aren't aware that seasons aren't so clear-cut everywhere as they are in continental Europe: Spring: Mild - Summer: Hot - Autumn:Windy - Winter: Cold. The "4 seasons in a day" concept for example, so prevalent in Britain and Ireland is totally unknown to them. Therefore, a rather bovine attitude towards the seasons is preordained. It is as it is. No need to comment. Es ist halt Herbst! Ja. isso.

(1) I shall be wrting about silence -"Schweigen" in a separate post. It is of immense importance when understanding German society, history, and even current political events.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Why Is It So Easy to Manipulate Germans?

Yesterday on Social Media (that's how a lot of stories start nowadays!) a German chap, early 60s, a historian with a PhD was telling me off for saying German media were propagating government viewpoints. Assuming I was British and therefore (!) wouldn't know much, he prodeeded to give me a lecture about freedom of the press in Germany. How German media was founded Precisely!! in order to counteract government propaganda because of all the wonderful lessons learned from National Socialism. And so on and so on.

Why is this important and what does it tell us about Germany today?

Because it shows that Germans - highly educated and informed as they are - understand nothing of how communication works.

Few Germans know what an advertising agency is and what it does. Ask them about PR-agencies or media agencies and you will draw a total blank.

How can anybody expect a nation which can tell you everythig about the Enlightenment and what great lessons of "Mitmenschlichkeit" to draw from it (all said with a Bridget Jones style earnest nodding of the head) but knows nothing about press conferences, "Kamingespräche" between PR-agencies and journalist, the workings of ad placement by media agencies and so on and so on be expected to take a stand against what's going on in their country? They are like naive children repeating what their mummy has told them. Fully expecting to be praised because they are so learned - gut aufgepasst!

Germans are singularily badly equipped to stand up to the manipulation - by the media, by the government - that's going on under their very eyes. #sad

Thursday, 16 March 2017

The Mysterious Mr.Knaus

I suppose the first thing I noticed about Gerald Knaus, author of the "Merkel-plan" to make Syrian refugees legal via an exchange system with Turkey, was the fact that he frequently mentioned being an Oxford graduate. Not the fact, mind, that he attended the august university - why shouldn't he - clever chap that he undoubtedly is? No, it was more that  he kept on saying he had studied "in Oxford". I have never come across anybody saying that before. You study "at Oxford", certainly not in Oxford.

Which led me to cast a closer look at Mr. Knaus's CV in general. (Liberally shared btw, all over the internet - Mr. Knaus likes to lay open every step of his most adventurous life, and clearly enjoys talking about himself.) But before we do that here, let me tell  you about a the only "personal" exchange I had (via twitter) with him.

Curious as to his time "in Oxford" (and because we might have overlapped there) I asked him which college he had attended. His reply, and I quote verbatim : "The nicest, the one with the Olympic rower". Which of course left me as baffled, as when after this very amicable exchange, I was subsequently blocked by Mr. K. [1]

But let's look at what Mr Knaus is telling more illustrious people than me about his education. An interview he gave the Austrian station ORF provides us with interesting insights. Mr. Knaus tells the audience, he went up to Oxford in 1988 - bafflingly without having done his A-levels. He left school, he said, at age 17 and spent a year in Paris. Having been admitted to Oxford, he sits his A-levels independently, cramming "in cafés". And hey presto, an Oxford undergraduate is born. [2]

We have to pause here and ask how this is even financially possible. Mr. Knaus comes from an extremely modest background. His father was a railway employee.[3]  A scholarship is wellnigh imposssible - as an independent extern sitting A-levels out of context, he would probably not be on anybody's radar. OU offers scholarships, but as far as I know only British nationals are elegible. And here we have to mention a very embarrassing fact which would in any case weigh heavily against Mr. Knaus being offered an open scholarship form Oxford or any other British institution:

Even now, after years of training and speaking, his English is very very poor indeed. His pronunciation is abysmal - he still says "wiff" for example for "with". His vocabulary is restricted. And - most importantly - he cannot express himself well in written English. You can easily check this by looking at his published tweets - his twitter handle is @rumeliobserver. You'll see that some of his English tweets are difficult to make sense of. [4]

So when our man persuaded those Oxford dons to accept him as a fresh-faced 18-year old, his English cannot have been the main reason. Equally baffling as to how it was possible to write twice-weekly essays about a complicated topic. Knaus mentions he was part of the OU debating society, again - I would have loved to hear his contributions as it is hard to imagine that with his halting, faulty, and weirdly pronounced English, he will have made much of an impression.[5]

But hey ho, he managed it all, and by his own testimony - he even got a First!
After that impressive result, our hero dashed off to the Ukraine where he "taught macroeconomics and political economy at the State University of Chernivtsi" according to his own website.

Bafflingly, between the Vienna café cramming, the whirlwind Oxford tour and the Ukrainian lectureship, he also managed to fit in studies at Brussels University (Institut d'Etudes Européennes) and Bologna (John Hopkins University, Bologna Centre).[7]

Such a shame, that given the meticulousness with which he talks about his metereoric academic career, Mr. Knaus has never let anybody into the secret as to which Oxford College it was that he attended.

[1] All of the rowing colleges, Christ Church, Oriel, St. Edmund Hall, Ballio, Magdalen would have a matriculated Olympic rower, especially bearing in mid there are also female rowers.
[2] ORF : "Der Mann hinter dem Merkel-Plan". ORF Sendungsreihe "Doppelzimmer", Ausstrahlung v. 25.5.2016.
[3] Metapedia, Eintrag: Knaus, Gerald
[4] Twitter/@rumeliobserver
[5] ORF interview, see above.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

People's Opinions: Leave Germany or Not

Personally, I've become convinced that Germany isn't a safe country anymore. The constant danger of falling victim to a crime increases by the day, and living in a huge town as I do, doesn't help. More recently, however, a second danger has been manifesting itself:

Totalitarian methods of curbing free speech. Censorship, informing, reporting, denunciations, wrecking people's livelihood with the help of some misconstrued BDS- activity - all those things are alive and kicking. (Especially the latter).

And so I've been canvassing opinions of late. Asking anybody and everybody - friends,family, but also people I hardly know, people on social media what their thinking is: Do they think it's still safe to stay in Germany if you want to speak your mind.

As it is, it seems almost everybody has a "secret plan". Everybody I spoke (or had written communication with) replied that they thought things were still "dormant" at the moment. They were critically observing the deteriorating scenery - newspapers publishing only obvious government-approved content, people becoming aggressively active when confronted with dissent to the current government. (When did it actually start that ordinary people make it their business to defend a hare-brained politician, i,e. Merkel just because they feel that they share a socialist agenda with her and you ought to be punished if you don't?)

Back to people's secret plan. Most people (with the usual provisos of family and property which make leaving the country difficult, or in some cases impossible) had given it a lot of thought and had already pinpointed a preferred destination they'd be heading for if things were to get worse in Germany. There was also a (mostly non-bourgeois) minority of people who said they would definitely not leave and were prepared to join some form of struggle or confrontation if necessary.

I mustn't forget to mention that nobody was actually considering moving before the autumn election results were known. Many of course hoping for a defeat or in any case weakening of the current administration.

Here are the destinations most frequently mentioned:
  • USA
  • Australia/New Zealand (something comforting to being on the other side of the world)
  • Switzerland
  • Hungary (one of my own favourites)
  • some fair weather destinations like Tenerife or Madeira
Whether or not people will actually pack their bags and leave is of course their decision. I for one have made up my mind.

Thanks to all who were kind enough to share their views with me.