Mannerisms and Cultural Traits
of Germans in General
If you have ever been around Europeans for any length of time, then you will know that there are other differences aside from the obvious ones such as in language. What follows are some guidelines for acting less like a "American" of the 1990's and more like a German of the late "Edwardian-era." The more we can "stay in character," the more convincing our impression will be. Doing this will not be easy because in some cases the correct "German" mannerism will seem awkward to us.
XXWe realize that the following traits are stereotypes, and possess all of the dangers inherent in such generalizations, however, we have done this to help the reenactor.
A writer named Willi Hellpach compiled what he termed the "sipositive characteristics of the Germans." What he may not have realized was that the same si"positive" characteristics were probably also the source of many of the negative stereotypes about Germans. The following traits are more or less valid for all Germans.
On a large scale, the Germans have always been great builders and inventors. On a smaller scale, individual Germans are some of the hardest-working people on the planet. In fact, the negative corollary of this trait was expressed by another writer named Hermann Eich: "The Germans have a mania for work. They have no idea how to enjoy life." Allies who occupied captured German positions were amazed to find bunkers with carpets, paneling--even electricity and false windows--sometimes with flowers on the table. In other German camps, the Landser raised gardens and had small rabbit farms. German prisoners even made working model trains using nothing but wood. Germans have a reputation of being diligent and creative workers.
|þ Germans were seldom idle, so we should try and stay busy: improving a camp site or positions, repairing uniforms and equipment, conducting document checks, writing letters, etc.
The Germans have a much-used saying: "Wenn schon, denn schon." In English, this means that if something is worth doing at all, it is worth doing right. It seems that the Germans never do something half-way. They are masters of organization and give great attention to detail. The negative implication here, of course, is that they are perfectionists and fussy. The perfect trait for the ideal bureaucrat, who appears again and again in German literature.
|þ „Wenn schon, denn schon." It would be tough to improve on this. We should also go to great pains to develop the smaller details, like emulating the traits found here: developing a persona, issuing paperwork, procurement of personal effects, etc. We should also strive to perfect an organization that works for the benefit of not only our members but also the hobby in general.
Here's another famous German saying: "Ordnung muß sein!" (There must be order!) They are neat and everything must go by the rules. Punctuality is another by-product: the trains are always on time and woe to the person who is late for a meeting with a German! Of course, this mania for order also has some bad side-effects. German soccer teams are often driven to frustrated distraction by Latin teams who do some "artful" fouling or subtle cheating. History shows that German soldiers during both World Wars reacted with unreasonable ferocity when occupied peoples did not "play by the rules."
|þ We should stick to our rules. Our camps, billets, and persons will be neat and clean. Sloppy or ill-maintained uniforms and equipment will not be tolerated, nor will disruptive behavior. We will also be punctual.
Germans pride themselves in their honor; they generally do what they say they will. On the other hand, there is another famous quote: "A German never tells a lie unless he believes it." It appears that sincerity can also be interpreted as "blue-eyed self-righteousness."
|þ When we tell someone we will do something, either as individuals or as a unit, we will be true to our word. If we incur debts with other reenactors or our vendors, we will pay them. We will be honest with one another!
More tangible terms might be "persistence," or "single minded-ness." More accurate might be the terms "bull-headed" or "stubborn"--take your pick. Willi Helpach was German, so he chose the more attractive term--what can you expect, he was probably "loyal," (see below).
|þ When we set a goal for ourselves, we should be single-minded in its attainment. Most importantly, we will stick to our policies and regulations as much as possible without being unreasonably stubborn.
Here is a trait which the Germans have developed almost to the point of self-destruction. Loyalty to his unit, family, country, and comrades is one of the things that makes the German a natural soldier. However, at various times throughout history, the Germans have developed loyalty to its negative extreme: fanatical nationalism. Combine this with "firmness," and you got the stereotypical German would tell you that Germany and the Germans were superior, no matter what you said.
|þ We will practice Kameradschaft (Comradeship). We will support our fellow members, our organization, and the hobby. The organization will be structured to support the member.