Saturday, October 29, 2005
All of a sudden, the neighborhood's been blitzed with a new advertising campaign. The billboards I saw first were all the same: a picture of a familiar aged man, and the words "Du bist Albert Einstein. Du bist Deutschland."
Well, a whole lot of the Germans I run into every day sure aren't Albert Einstein, or even anything close, but then, who is? And, more to the point, what was going on here? I've mentioned before that pride is a sticky issue here, that the word pride, Stolz, is never, ever heard under any circumstance. But clearly this was some sort of pride campaign, which meant it was risky for whoever was doing it. And, given that the German colors were present as a sort of logo/squiggle, I figured it was the federal government.
Turns out I was right -- and that I'd already written about this campaign for that self-same government, albeit a different wing of it. This is all part of Partner für Innovation, which I'll get to in a moment. Du Bist Deutschland, however, is the public face, and from the website, it appears that it's got a whole lot of television commercials attached to it, as well as a bundle of billboards.
Strangely, the second one I saw, of the many they're going to put up, was the one that's bound to be the most controversial:
For those of you who don't live here, the name Beate Uhse will draw a blank, but she was, in the waning days of the war, a Luftwaffe pilot. After the war, unemployed, widowed, with kids to support, and looking around at the devastation of Germany, she took what little funds she had and printed up a booklet giving women straightforward information about birth control, a very controversial subject in those days, which she sold for a nominal fee via mail-order. Busted for obscenity, she stood trial and defended herself with common sense. She won, and began selling birth-control devices -- condoms and diaphragms -- through the mail. From there, she moved into other sex-related areas, and finally added bricks-and-mortar shops to her empire, selling sex toys, erotic clothing, and lots and lots of pornography. Today, it's a very small town indeed which doesn't have a Beate Uhse shop in it, and she'll probably best be remembered by East Germans as the name on the first piece of mail they got after their government fell: the Beate Uhse catalogue. Some of the very first capitalistic businesses in the East, too, were her shops, setting up in quonset huts and containers until she could get a more stable piece of real-estate. When she died a few years back, she must've been a billionaire: among her holdings is a virtual supermarket over by Zoo Station here in Berlin which also contains her Erotic Museum, which was once the collection of an erotica specialist in Munich. He offered to donate the whole collection to the city of Munich, and when they sniffed at him, Beate Uhse stepped right in and bingo! Instant museum. The real estate it's on isn't cheap, either: it's as centrally located as you get in West Berlin.
Which is to say that, next to some of the other choices -- Michael Schumacher, Otto Lilienthal, Albert Schweitzer, and our pal Herr Einstein -- she sort of sticks out.
But what's most intriguing here isn't using Beate Uhse as an exemplar of German initiative -- she's actually a very good one, as the copy on the sign makes clear -- but that this campaign is seeking to sell Germans the idea that they're actually worth something. This is something that's bothered me since I've lived here: the fear that, by being proud of your country and its culture, you run the risk of slipping down the greasy slope into full-blown fascism again. The idea that national pride equals nationalism seems pretty much universal here, although I would think that, having been there before, they'd be in an excellent position to stop the train well before it pulled into that station.
If you think I'm kidding about what's going on here, and if you read German, go check out the campaign's manifesto. It's all "Come on, big feller! You're okay! Things look bad, but you're really stronger than you think!" It skates around a lot of dicey issues -- dicey to Germans, anyway. You can't invoke the past, because, uh, well, it was dicey, some of it. You can invoke the "Denker und Dichter" (thinkers and poets) image, although you have to use people like Lilienthal and Frau Uhse because there's been a certain lack of universally-loved authors since the war, nobody reads poetry, and nobody pays any attention to philosophers -- particularly post-war German ones. So instead of talking about national pride, it invokes rooting for your football team (not nearly as loaded with fascist baggage as it is in, say, England or Italy, although a meeting of rivals here can still scare the crap out of visiting Americans due to the massed singing and chanting -- and the rioting which sometime erupts when a left-wing team like St. Pauli meets a right-wing one) and waving flags for Formula 1 driver Michael Schumacher.
The other half of this campaign, which is the one I wrote about and which is where the money comes in, is the one which is trying to hook researchers up with industry, thereby beefing up Germany's wobbling industrial and technological infrastructure. This Partner für Innovation campaign publishes a little booklet Deutsche Stars (which you can download as a big old PDF file on the home page), which consists of descriptions of "fifty innovations which everyone ought to know about" which were made by Germans. Some of it reaches kind of far: I'm not at all willing to concede television, automobiles, beer (Saddam Hussein, call your lawyer! Babylon's being besmirched again!), or the computer to the Germans, but I was convinced that toothpaste and coffee-filters, to name just two things I use daily, were German, as, of course, was the Currywurst, an invention few outside the country know aoout, and one of the few culinary delights here I think might have a wider audience. (Curiously, the book does not mention the Döner Kebap, a fake-Turkish fast-food invented here in Berlin by a Turkish restaurateur and now a stock European fast food).
I'm still reeling from the implications of this campaign, and may well have more to say about it in further posts here, but meanwhile, I'll look around me and see if it seems to be working. I'm not going to hold my breath, however.
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Check out these Du bist Deutschland parodies:
It's one thing to try to dissipate a deeply ingrained national mopiness and inferiority complex, but the Du bist Deutschland campaign managed to hit all the wrong notes, especially the commercials. Interviews with the ad agency type who conceived the thing as part of an initiative of media personalities and only indirectly the government revealed him to be a really superficial nebbish with skewered priorities. An expensive PR campaign for the benefit of the growing ranks below-the-poverty line -don't think so.
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