More Traits

Does all this sound a little intense? Good, it should—this ain't the Boy Scouts, its supposed to be the Kaiser's Army in 1917! Does it feel foreign? It should, and that is exactly the quality we are looking for. Here are some other traits of the 1914-18 vintage German which are useful to know about:

Song—Germans like group singing. To Americans, singing often seems overly sentimental or corny; singing of patriotic tunes is considered especially trite. To German officers, a lack of singing was an indication of bad morale. It is surprising just how much this aspect of German military life is neglected by reenactors, despite its authenticity and relative cost—nothing! Learn some of the marching songs and sing them! It may feel awkward at first, but it is important and... the more members who sing, the better we sound.

Love of nature—We read again and again about how theGermans are great fans of nature and animals. The examples are legion; Albert Krupp, the great industrialist, used to have a hose leading from his lofty office above his bustling factory down to a pile of manure. To relaand give himself pleasant thoughts, he would take a big whiff through the hose. Another example of this is after WWII, when Germans who could barely get enough for themselves to eat, were seen feeding portions of their rationed bread to the geese on the lakes near Berlin. Even today, dogs are allowed in hotels and restaurants. There are many stories of Germans who carried a loyalty to their sick pets to almost ridiculous (by American standards, anyway) extremes. One summer, a friend of ours played host to four young German men, one of whom was a member of the Border Guard. He had great expectations of conversations about history and military topics, but to his disappointment, the Border Guard turned out to be most interested in rocks and soccer. Two of the others were tree buffs and the fourth only wanted to take pictures of deer and woodchucks.

Class Consciousness—This is not such an admirable custom, but one which was very much in existence in Germany, both before, during and after WWI. The Germans call this Stände, and it is almost as ingrained in German culture as it is in the British. The prosperous female who rated to be addressed "Dame" (Lady) or "Gnadige Frau" (gracious lady), would boil over at the ill-mannered brute who had the audacity to call her merely "Frau" (Ma'am).

Politeness—Germans seem to have this in common with most other Europeans, at least when compared with Americans. German society was (and is) very formal compared to that in America. The German language has many polite mechanisms built into it, for example the use of the he informal "you" ("Du") versus the formal "you" ("Sie"). The first is used only with very close friends (usually only one or two people qualified as "close"), children, family, and when speaking to animals. Soldiers, students and young people address each other as "Du." Officers on the other hand, are always addressed with the "Sie," while they addressed soldiers with the informal "Du." Last names were almost exclusively used among soldiers; the first name was used only in addressing one's closest Kamerad. Germans also placed great importance on introductions and greetings; American observers have commented on what they consider the tiring custom of shaking everyone's hand both on entering and leaving a room.

Tobacco and Lighters—Cigars and cigarettes were general issue in the Imperial German Army. Many German soldiers smoked—and prized—tobacco in various forms. Smoking is permitted, but the items smoked and the implements to smoke with must be something accurate to the period and appropriate for a frontline soldier. Cigars and pipes were common. Hand rolled cigarettes and short filter-less cigarettes were also becoming popular at this time, and therefore permitted.

Original military-style trench lighters can be used. Non-period lighters look horrible—if you need to "make fire" but don't have an authentic lighter, take some wooden matches with you.

We have been told that another dead giveaway for a German was the way in which he held his cigarettes. Rather than hold them between his indeand middle finger, the way an American does, the German was supposed to have held them between his thumb and index finger.

Eating—Europeans often held their forks upside down in their left hand. A knife, or spoon is held in the right hand. A piece of bread is held with the left hand, you break it with the right and feed it into your mouth with the right hand.

Both hands should be on the table at all times. Germans do not allow an unused hand to dangle limply at their sides.


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This page last updated: Freitag, 12. Februar 2016/10:19:56
©1997-2016, M. Wise--Please just ASK before using anything on this site.
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