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Why the Germans confuse me – a follow up

I was rather pleased when my previous posting generated a large number of excellent comments – that’s not always the case. However, I was less pleased when many of them suggested (shock-horror!) that I might be wrong.

Many complained about my views on modern German music. Let me explain where I am coming from. As far as I am concerned rock (and I use the term in the widest possible sense) started in 1962, peaked in 1967/8 and had fizzled out by 1987. Very little of it was German.

A good example of this is provided by a programme called “Pop goes the Sixties” which occasionally gets repeated on the British channel Yesterday. Recorded at the very end of the 1960s, it is a joint Anglo-German production even down to the presenters. While featuring plenty of British artists such as The Who, The Kinks and Sandie Shaw, it manages time for but one, single, solitary German (Horst Jankowski, in case you should be wondering).

And after 1969? All I can think of are: Frank Farian, Giorgio Moroder and Kraftwerk. Sure, there may have been others (Tangerine Dream and the Krautrock scene got a mention) but they weren’t massively successful. I am not even sure they were particularly influential but I am happy to be corrected.

That’s up to 1987, where my knowledge fizzles out. And that seems to be about where the German rock that people were talking about starts.

Which makes sense. In his comment, Brian Micklethwait suggested that there are two types of knowledge: implicit knowledge, favoured by the British, and explicit knowledge, favoured by the Germans. A few years ago, at a railway conference in Cologne, I encountered a rather good example of this. German Railways had decided to spruce up their stations. So, what was the first thing they did? Spend a year working out what a station was. Of course, they did. What else would you do?

So, it comes as no surprise that the Germans were no good at pop music in the 1960s – no one had written the manual.

Talking about something other than music. I was kind of pleased when one commenter suggested that German car makers weren’t nearly as cutting edge as I’d thought. This all fits into the idea of Germans thinking first, writing second and acting third.

Unfortunately, that leaves the mystery of how they invented the car (and, one might add, the A4 rocket and Me262) in the first place. Perhaps it required a lot of the explicit knowledge that science supplies.

17 comments to Why the Germans confuse me – a follow up

  • Sceptical Antagonist

    CAN were a 60s/70s German rock band. Awesome.

    …and EXPERIMENTAL no less!

  • Dale Amon

    I know a little bit about the German team and met several of them. These are some of the most incredibly creative and mind blowing thinkers (and doers) I have ever met. The wild concepts (and the math to back them up) just poured out of them.

    Now it is true that they were all very meticulous in their rocket work. However this is true of every (still) living rocket scientist I know… ie for the dense, non-meticulous ones get themselves and others killed.

    The best analysis of German culture I have read was one that stated they have a very tribal culture; people must ‘belong’. The following of rules and respect for leaders is perhaps stronger than in other places but not a given… I’ve met some pretty iconoclastic Germans.

    Like anywhere, attempts to put a box on large numbers can at best describe a tendency, but your individuals may vary.

  • Alisa

    I’ve met some pretty iconoclastic Germans.

    But did you meet them in Germany?:-)

  • “This all fits into the idea of Germans thinking first, writing second and acting third. Unfortunately, that leaves the mystery of how they invented the car (and, one might add, the A4 rocket and Me262) in the first place”.

    Being a German myself, I would beg to differ: Most Germans may try to think first, and they might jot-down the result of their thinking (or at least what they think is the result), however, they would never follow their own writing and rather act in a completely different way, all because most Germans are ruled by emotion rather than ratio. Hence, what is at the end of whatever is a function of what feelings got aroused.

    Who the heck invented all that stuff? Man, this is ages ago, when Germany was different, not the socialist country you see today but a country in which individuals could make inventions and reap the benefits of it. Today, you make inventions and government transfers the benefit. Thats why Germans migrate.

  • RRS

    P C, Quo Vadis?

    Are you simply trying to elicit commentaries on the ephemeral transitions the sound effects that come to comprise “modern” (as compared to what) music?

    No. It appears you find that topic may be exemplary of differences in reactions to the both perceptions and responses of human needs and desires.

    Consider the origins of what is called “modern” music, its development and uses to express what, or to evoke what. Consider how “it” came to be assimilated (or not) amongst differing peoples (for those expressions and evocations) – and continues a rather rapid morphology.

    Perhaps assimilation is what you are driving at (it was difficult to guess from the first “confusion’). Over the past 300 years, we have the record or reaction rather than assimilation of “imported” influences (the French Enlightenment, e.g.); at the same time we have a later record of other “cultures” being assimilated into the German Experience (U S Education, e.g.; the “Classical” period in music, etc.).

    There is more that can be said. But most has been answered by scholarship.

    Disclosure: My antecedents are Swiss and Norwegian (there was one Wurtemberger mtDNA contribution three generations back), so this is not some “defense.” Besides, there is a personal reaction from intimate involvement in the unpleasantness from 1943-45.

  • Mike Giles

    Weren’t rockets and jet engines invented by others, and the Germans simply produced practical working versions?

  • Dr Gonz

    I had meant to comment on the first posting, but didn’t get round to it. I have lived in Germany for about 25 years over the last 35 years, so know the country and some of its people reasonably well. One obvious difference between German music and Anglo-sphere music is the language; German doesn’t travel well, very few non-Germans speak it, and (perhaps with the exception of Lieder) isn’t regarded as mainstream for that reason. To sell outside of Germany you had better put it into English – and because there are lots of Germans happy to buy the German stuff, there isn’t the commercial pressure to put the stuff straight into English, as there is in (say) Scandinavia. So “successful” doesn’t mean the same as “successful outside Germany”. Obviously many US and UK bands have much geographically wider success because lots of people outside the US and the UK speak (or understand) English. There isn’t much modern (i.e. the last 50 years) German music that I like – I find most music sung in German pretty horrible – but the market is skewed for the reasons I give above.

    There are lots of other reasons why Germany is different – the most obvious being the general level of education. Another thing the Germans more or less invested was so called “Standard Software” of which SAP is the biggest name. This was based on there being the “right” way of doing business, and SAP was supposed to embody that (none of that making it up as you go along stuff). I have always been amazed at the degree of agreement across German businesses about the language they use to describe for example the various level of contribution to fixed costs. In the UK you will find it is pretty much company specific (we include these costs, and exclude these costs etc); in Germany it’s all been defined, and that’s in part what you learn when studying business at a university.

  • M. Thompson

    What about English groups playing in Germany (like the Beatles) influencing Germans?

  • John W

    …the A4 rocket and Me262?

    Goddard was American and Whittle was British – and like the rest of the continent the Germans would still be catholic if not for catholicism’s enemy no. 1 – England.

  • PeterT

    Einsturzuende Neubauten

    If I can count the Swiss add the Young Gods.


  • Eddie Willers

    Xmal Deutschland
    Deutsch-Amerikanishe Freunsdchaft
    Die Toten Hosen

    Germany produced a lot of solid bands as part of the Neu-Deutche Welle in the early ’80s. Germany was seen as cool to the UK indie scene of the late ’80s – having a German girl singer (a la Andrea Heukamp of the The House of Love) was a definite plus.

  • MajikMonkee

    Julian Cope wrote a pretty impressive history of German Music from 68 to the early 80’s. PDFs are pretty easy to find if you know the places.

    I always stick music into two categories, technically progressive and traditional. When Tom Jones was making traditional music Steve Reich was making progressive music. Something that has never been done before, a new sound. Its not to say either is better.

    My point being until about 82 music was electric, after that it went electronic, hip hop, acid house, techno, drum and bass, grime dubstep etc. All that music owes a heavy debt to German music although the artists might not know it themselves. The last great electric wave of music punk, was also heavily influenced by German Rock. Also selling German Music (Faust etc) to the UK was how a certain Mr Branson become rich

    Definitely worth reading up on if you interested in musicology.

  • Surellin

    Well, Tangerine Dream did the soundtrack to Risky Business – a fair degree of exposure. Add The Scorpions, Doro Pesch, Nico (of Velvet Undergorund fame) and Nena (99 Luftballoons). And there are apparently a number of death metal bands, but that isn’t my cup of tea. Not a patch on Anglosphere music, but still quite respectable. Just off the top of my head.

  • John Barrett

    German music ?
    Xmal Deutschland
    Einsturtzende Neubauten
    The Scorpions
    Lou Bega
    Boney M

    Of course with such a large population, the Germans can afford to be parochial and only serve the German market, which is why they have this phenomenon of the “Schlager” as well as the “Volksmusik” stuff which involves lederhosen and sometimes Roger Whittaker. It is also the reason why I have to watch badly dubbed films on the telly all the time.

    The Germans themselves are quite an irrational folk (e.g. their reaction to nuclear power). They are good at planning things and executing them, but their Officials’ thinking is often completely counter-intuitive ( some laws and regulations are totally arse-about-face). Over the last 20-30 years they have fallen into the thrall of the business graduate, which is one reason why the banks are so dangerously exposed and why they have all but abandoned large-scale IT and communications production.

  • jsallison

    Oh. My. God. 3 tours in W Germany tramping along the Inner German Border (tramping is not a good thing for a tank herder, like I was, btw) retired for 16 years and I had successfully managed to bury the very concept of ‘German rock’. And you had to go and mention it. Earworm alert! Neun und Neunzig Luftballoon… So there! Feel my pain!


  • So, it comes as no surprise that the Germans were no good at pop music in the 1960s – no one had written the manual.

    It’s a good thing for Earth that the 1960s Doctor Who aliens didn’t invade Berlin instead of London. The Doctor had a hard enough time getting the British authorities’ cooperation; dealing with the German central-planning ethic would have been worse.

    (I’ve been watching the series from the very beginning – just getting into the early Pertwee serials. The Internet is a wonderful thing.)

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Patrick, if you think that rock peaked in 1967/68 will produce snorts of rage from fans of ACDC, Led Zepplin, Pink Floyd, Rush…….not to mention punk, the British stuff of the 80s, some of the better things in the 90s (Bare Naked Ladies, etc)

    Do you realise what a shit-storm you have provoked? (grin).