Thursday, January 18, 2007

Super Father

A reader, a student named Martin in Rostock, sent me a long e-mail after reading "Planet Germany," in which he tried his own hand at analyzing the Germans and did a damn good job.

I liked the way he included the B-movie actors Terrence Hill and Bud Spencer (two Italians whose comical action movies were extremely popular here in the 70s but practically nowhere else) in his list of German heroes (it's true, Germans really do grow up with those two, alongside German-made Westerns and German-made Edgar Wallace movies… and if you don’t know who Edgar Wallace is, you're just not German. In his list of German heroes he also included Peter Lustig, the host of a TV-show for kids named Löwenzahn that explains how things work ("we all wanted to know what he knew and be able to do what he did, and walk through the world asking the questions he asked without being considered dumb – he you can’t imagine how many scientists today were inspired by him.")

But I really liked Martin's description of Goethe, Germany's culture God, whom I treat a bit disrespectfully in the book. Here's Martin's take on Goethe, the "German Uebervater"… if you ever wondered why German writers all want to be politicians, artists and philosophers – hell, why everyone in Germany wants to be politicians, artists and philosophers, this is why:
"Why do we have this Goethe-Culture? Because he's the most impressive genius Germany ever had. He was man of letters, painter, philosopher, politician, artist, mathematician and much more. And he was good at it all! That's the standard the German strives for… for talents he can never have, for here in Germany, as in the rest of the world, you have to be specialized. Everyone knows it, but only he who is eternally striving has a fulfilled life. And by the way: Most people think he's boring or don’t understand him. That's just show. I personally, like a lot of people, enjoy only "Faust Part One: and the poem "Prometheus" and I hate "The Sorrow of Young Werther" because the writing is so difficult. And his pal Schiller (Germany's second-greatest writer) is largely ignored, usually he kind of disappears in Goethe's shadow. And if you read Faust exactly, you'll notice that Goethe describes the German people in his work and comes to similar conclusions to yours. Faust and (the devil who buys his soul) Mephisto are two sides of the German character: Faust is bitter, old, stiff, cerebral, hungry for knowledge and never satisfied. In Mephisto on the other hand you have everything from devil to fraud. This is the German idealistic dualism, Goethe saw that even back then. Probably he was even parodying himself. That makes him just as German as his characters, for he is at once Faust (scholar, genius) and Mephisto (scoundrel, fraud). There you have your German ideal. No one – or course – will tell you that that's what we’re about, but believe me, there's a lot to it."

So now I guess I have to go out and read Faust again. Just when I thought I had it all behind me.

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