Blaubeuren

The Fall of 1981. My first time in Germany. Blaubeuren, a small town in Swabia. South of Stuttgart. I had signed up for a ten-week intensive course in German at the Goethe Institute. Grundstufe III (Base Level 3). My German back then weak, my memories of Blaubeuren today strong. I will never forget the very first impressions of Germany. The coolness and almost sweetness of the early morning air. The damp lawns and fields. The intense autumn colors of the foliage in a town nestled in the Swabian Alb. The schoolchildren hustling off to school.

The fascinating, yet mysterious, Benedictine Monastery from the 11th Century. The Blautopf (literally blue pot or kettle), a large natural pool of deeply dark water giving access to a complex network of waterways under the hills surrounding Blaubeuren, with its age-old legends of mystery. The Swabian dialect of the region, a version of German I could only rarely understand. The wonderful baked goods I enjoyed each and every day after lunch.

Important in Germany is not to stick out too much. Is it because they don’t want to make others envious? Or because one should demonstrate how to maintain balance, not get a “big head?” Or demonstrate a proper balance between individualism and belonging to a group, whose help one may need at any time?

Keep the subjective and personal to a minimum

Whether giving presentations in grammar school, in high school or at the university level Germans train, practice and stress objectivity: stick to the facts, no emotions, avoid gaps in your argumentation, be so comprehensive that hardly any questions are necessary in the question and answer part after your presentation.

You see it in German resum├ęs (curriculum vitae). Factual. Unemotional. Objective. No holes in the educational and professional background. Anticipate all the questions a potential employer might ask. Subjective and personal information is kept to a bare minimum. Adding things such as interests or hobbies is a new trend, imported from the U.S. and not a part of the German logic.

You can see this logic at work every evening on television at 8 p.m. The Tagesschau (Tag, day. Schau from the verb schauen, to see, to look.) is the most widely-watched news program. The moderator sits rather formally and stiffly behind their desk, always properly dressed, their facial expressions under discreet control, indicating little to no emotion.

At the end of the news program, perhaps but only slightly, the moderator might raise an eyebrow or indicate what could be the beginning of a smile, but always understated, barely a personal connection to their audience. The goal is to be neutral, discreet. Conduit, not communicator.

Certainly not at the center of attention. And even though German moderators read from teleprompters, many still glance time and again at news printouts in their hand, as if they were reading the news, in order to indicate that the news is official and not made up by the news organization. An announcement is being made. Official.

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