By Manuel Baer, translated by Saveen Uthappa-Eck
Those of you who don’t avoid the business section in the newspaper like the plague will have read time and again of Germany’s place as a leading export nation. Nowhere in the world is the trade surplus as large as in the land of poets and thinkers. But there are several other German “exports” outside the realm of goods and services that enjoy great popularity on foreign shores.
No one need think twice about what Germany’s most successful export might be. It’s what the Germans love best – cars! Emission scandals aside, the German automotive industry generated an all-time record turnover of almost 426 billion euros in 2017. Domestic sales accounted for just one-third of the total, with the rest destined for other markets. Exports of machines and chemical products take second and third place but don’t enjoy the same fascination as cars for the average joe.
The world of music, on the other hand, is far more exciting. Even though German artists rarely gain international fame, bands like The Scorpions, Rammstein and Scooter have managed to stake their claim on the world stage. Scooter, for example, have been in the music business for a quarter of a century. Not only have 23 of their songs featured in the German Top Ten single charts, the band also seems to have a growing fan base in the UK. Their music “export” achievements hardly compare with the car industry, but they did manage to knock Madonna off the top of the British album charts in 2008, when the band sold 300,000 copies of their 13th longplayer titled Jumping all over the world.
They achieved this feat despite their frequently ridiculed songs that sport titles like Hyper Hyper, Maria (I Like it Loud), and most notably, How much is the fish? The latter title was even mocked by U.S. television comedian Jimmy Fallon in the “Do not play” segment of his late-night talk show. Scooter’s frontman H.P. Baxxter responded to Fallon’s seemingly rhetorical taunt on how much the fish might have costed with a video message: “It costed 3.80 (presumably D-Mark as the song was released in 1998) and has been living at an animal shelter in the countryside for a while now because the aquarium in the studio has since become too loud for the fish.”
Previously en vogue, now up to date
Lots has happened on the language front too. Over centuries, countless French words and phrases have made their way into the German language: bonbon, illustrierte and delikatesse are some of the words that spring to mind.
It was only during the Second World War that English took over as a primary influence on the German language. It explains why English words are often used even though appropriate German words already exist for the likes of briefing, business lunch and commitment: their German equivalents – Einweisung, Geschäftsessen and Zusagen – could have been just as effective. Given that this list of anglicized words is practically endless, the German Language Association (VDS) came out with a series of suitable German alternatives to counter this onslaught.
But the German language has not just bowed down to external influences in its usage, it has also made inroads into other languages in return.
This foray across borders explains why people in France now crack a witz (joke) or raise a toast with schnapps. It’s also entirely possible that one of the people you’re chatting to is a bloedmaan (fool) because they don’t share the same weltanschauung or worldview as the others – although the likelihood of this happening might be directly proportional to the amount of liquor consumed.
France is however attempting to curb the excessive influence of foreign languages in their radio programming. In 1994, it became mandatory for stations at home there to broadcast at least 40 percent of their music in the French language. In the meantime, this ratio can either drop to 35 percent or go up to 60 percent, depending on the overall program content.
In the U.S., it comes as no surprise that beer gardens are very well known – not just for the golden barley juice they serve, but also because of their gemütlichkeit. Most Americans, however, are unaware that the word stein (stone), which they use as a synonym for a one-liter beer mug, is not a word Germans typically associate with their beer. After all, Germans have been celebrating the Octoberfest for over 120 years by drinking their ale exclusively out of glass mugs. The steinkrug, from which the Americans derived the word stein, is nowadays only ever found at the strong beer fest in Munich, at smaller folk festivals, and in local restaurants.
It’s not just the beer, but also German cuisine that’s taken the fancy of the people from the land of opportunity. How else would you explain popular American foods such as pretzel, bratwurst, frankfurter, emmentaler, hamburger or schnitzel? Moreover, American children have been spending their pre-school years at kindergarten since the mid-19th century. And exceptionally talented offspring even earn the moniker wunderkind. Schoolkids carry their snacks in rucksacks and perhaps even wrap up their day with a round of foosball, as table-soccer games are popularly known in the U.S…
Which borrowed words, puns or phrases have you come across so far? We look forward to your comments!