Dances with Germans

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Illustration from Der Deutschetürentanz für Anfänger und Ausländer, Band 2 by Dr Wolfgang von Liri Ph.D., Germany, 1953

[2010]. The chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, has declared multiculturalism in the country a complete failure. This can only mean she desires a turn to mono-culturalism. This culture, as the CSU’s Herr Seehoffer has helpfully explained, is something called die Leitkultur.

Lovely word. I like the way it sounds. But I’m damned if I know what it means. At least not exactly. And my German friends are no help. They just roll their eyeballs when I ask them.

Beethoven and Haydn are part of the story I guess, and all those philosophers who gave the Oxford English Dictionary words like Übermensch, Zeitgeist and Doppelgänger. Yes, I’ve heard of them.

I’m pretty sure Goethe and Schiller are in there somewhere. I have long had plans to read Faust in German but, well, you know how it is with worthy intentions to read Great Literature in foreign languages.

Learn German. Yes, of course. Right and proper. You can have way more fun as a foreigner if you know what the locals are saying.

But what about beer? Luckily enough I’m a natural fit with the Bierkultur. I come after all from a hop-based culture. But there are teetotallers and health nuts and the religiously observant to consider. What do these people know of beer, let alone the cultural, no, spiritual significance that attaches to the interaction of hops, malt and pure water?

The difficulty is soon apparent. What must a foreigner understand to pass the Leitkulturprüfung? This is a land of norms and some lists would be appropriate.

And we must not forget der Deutschetürentanz. That’s another lovely word, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to learn this folk dance.

Most Germans have never heard the term Deutschetürentanz. Probably because I just made it up. It is a word that is needed to describe the curious pas de deux that Germans use when sharing a door. Since the moves of this dance are as complex as cricket, suffice it to say that you know you have successfully completed the ritual if both parties pass through the opening at precisely the same time. This is impractical, and surprising considering Germany’s reputation for efficiency. I know of no quicker way to confuse Germans than by holding open the door for them and simply waiting.

I am mystified. Perhaps Herr Seehoffer could explain this dance to a perplexed immigrant.