Tuesday, 22 July 2014


I heard it said that, in Germany, comedy was no laughing matter. Whoever said that hadn’t met Juergen Voss who’s German and CFO at the Tetra Pak European and EMEA division. He’s German and he’s a finance guy and he’s very, very funny, one of the best stand-up presenters. He can make a spreadsheet seem incredibly humorous (which is, in itself, a great art.) Following the triumph of the German football team in Rio I asked him what the mood in Germany was like.

 “Leaving the obvious celebrations aside (like the return to Berlin today) the overall atmosphere here is actually very pleasant. People are walking around with a satisfactory smile rather than pounding their chests. More at peace with themselves instead ‘we showed them’. Interesting in a people that struggles in displaying some national pride. I guess humbleness is a good to describe it without reading too much into it, but I guess the atmosphere here is very much in line with how the team acted in Brazil.

I was in Germany just after the Falklands War had started, in Nuremberg at the Deutscher Hof Hotel (said to be Hitler’s favourite).  As I went up in the lift the grim-faced porter turned, smiled at me and said with considerable satisfaction “Warmonger.” Follow that. Well I guess the Germans did in finding the “Don’t Mention the War” episode of Fawlty Towers very funny.

I sense we underestimate the Germans as human beings and are stuck with our stereotype of them. Recently on the London Underground a kid offered me her seat (do I look that old?) She was with a group of friends and they told me this was their first time in London and they were having a ball. They were full of fun, intelligence and laughter. Where are you from I asked as their fluent English was pretty well devoid of a giveaway accent. “Germany” they said.

I’ve decided I like the Germans a lot. They do great graffiti. They can manage an economy. They can do the most difficult thing brilliantly which is merging two cultures in East and West Germany. They have the liveliest creative culture ion the world in Berlin. They put a smart woman in charge. They make great cars, great beer and run the best SME sector imaginable.

Their Mittelstand (mid-sized) companies are highly focused with a ruthless focus doing one or two things really well. They believe in a great coaching/apprentice system and create through it a highly-skilled workforce. And they don’t waste their time buying and selling their companies - they stick with them keeping them in the family through generations.

Years ago I ran an advertising agency that had Storck as a client (they’re the Werther’s Original producers). At a board meeting the CEO one Otto Pancke decided there was insufficient energy or creativity so he roared:

Everyone take all your clothes off now. Let’s see if nakedness makes a difference.

Don’t tell me the Germans don’t have a sense of humour.

1 comment:

James Arnold-Baker said...

Yes, as a quarter German - my father was born in 1914 (bad timing) to a German father and an English mother, I have schizophrenic attitudes to my German family - and by extension to the whole race.
Some of the family perished due to their involvement in the Stauffenberg plot (good Germans?) Another probably got academic preferment through his membership of the Nazi party (bad German?) Yet another was a tank commander on the Russian front, had a steel plate in his skull, and went on to become a colonel in the postwar Nato army (puzzling German?)
Then one travels through the former DDR, and sees a land ruled in turn by Hitler, then Stalin - thinking that nobody deserves such a ghastly history. But there again, in the Museum of the DDR in Leipzig, there are biogs of local politicians, who started as senior Nazis, then became DDR Politburo members, then died in their beds in West Germany as Socialists....
But given all this confusing and frankly toxic past, the EC is an essential creation, to make sure it never happens again. Nigel Farage and the poisonous xenophobia that he has fostered makes me so angry - we need to build on an understanding of our terrible European past - not return to the sentiments that helped provoke it