Stereotypes are good. They give you a starting point which can then be adjusted as more facts become available.
Most national stereotypes are easy enough. Americans? Enthusiastic Brits. Irish? Drunken Brits. French? Charming, friendly, cultured, unless, that is, you’re dealing with some arm of the government. Italians? Emotional incontinents, no sense of civic responsibility. But the Germans? Well, we all know what we’re thinking. And we all know it’s not true. Don’t we?
But what do we replace it with? Well, they’re officious. Are they perhaps then officious Brits? Not really. While there are superficial similarities in terms of language and religion pretty soon it all starts to break down. In many respects Britain and Germany are exact opposites of one another.
Take cars. The Germans can churn out reliable, cutting-edge cars like no one else. The British can’t. In fact the British are so bad at it they need the Germans to churn out their Rolls-Royces, Aston Martins and Minis. But while the British dominate motor sport the Germans can’t make a Formula 1 car to save their lives. Or, at least, haven’t been able to since, ahem, the 1930s. Nowadays, they need us to do it for them.
Take music. While the Germans were pioneers of classical music they are hopeless at rock.
Take association football. British clubs are streets ahead of German clubs but on the national level Germany has outperformed England in every World Cup since 1966 (and most of the ones before, incidentally).
Take libertarianism. Has Britain produced anyone like a Mises or a Hayek? [Yes, I know they’re Austrians but for the sake of simplicity I’m lumping them in with the Germans.]
From time to time I ask friends and acquaintances about this. One suggested that the Germans were great at taking first principles to their logical conclusions and bad at asking whether the first principles were correct or not. Another said something similar in that the Germans “take everything to extremes.”
This certainly helps to explain some of Germany’s oddities like unrestricted sections of the autobahn and that case of mutually-agreed cannibalism a few years ago. Whether they explain some of the other oddities, I am not quite sure. Is there a logic to classical music?