Germany - Culture
Unsurprisingly for a country whose land has so often been at history's crux, the moods and preoccupations of Germany's people are reflected in a rich artistic heritage: from the claustrophobic beauty of its cathedrals to classical films from the silent era of cinema, from the most influential philosophers (try Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche and Marx for starters) to some of the world's great physicists (Einstein and Planck), from the cream of classical composers (Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Handel and Wagner) to contemporary industrial-grunge music and Krautrock, from the genius of Goethe to the revolutionary theatre of Brecht, Germany has it all. The scope of German art is such that it could be the focus of an entire visit.
Arguably the finest artist Germany has produced, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) was a poet, dramatist, painter, scientist and philosopher. His greatest work, the drama Faust, is a masterful epic of all that went before him, as the archetypal human strives for meaning. The ghost of Goethe inhabits the soul of Germany. A steadfast commitment to excellence in artistry persists in more recent forms, with Germany a notable producer of excellent and challenging cinema from Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Werner Herzog, among others.
Germany's artistic diet, rich though it is, has nothing on its food. This is traditionally a meat-and-potatoes kind of country. Though vegetarian and health-conscious restaurants are starting to sprout, it's best to stop counting calories and cholesterol levels while in Germany. The assault begins with a good German breakfast: rolls, jam, cheese, cold meats, hard-boiled egg and coffee or tea. To be fair, many Germans have switched to lighter breakfasts like cornflakes or muesli, but visitors can still be served the traditional cut meat and jam. Lunch is the main meal of the day, but breakfast is so big you'd be forgiven for just picking up a midday bratwurst from the ubiquitous Imbiss (takeaway-food stand). Dinner is allegedly a lighter meal, but this can still mean a plate full of sausages and dumplings. (Light eaters may want to opt for international cuisine from Germany's immigrant communities.) Beer is the national beverage and it's one cultural phenomenon that must be adequately explored. The beer is excellent and relatively cheap. Each region and brewery produces beer with a distinctive taste and body. Impromptu visits to small breweries are better than adding your bulk to the already crowded festivals like Munich's Oktoberfest. In winter, you can experience the glorious haze induced by Glühwein, a hot, spicy mulled wine guaranteed to take the chill away.
Despite their penchant for continual improvement and modernisation, upholding cultural traditions is dear to the German heart. Many hunters still wear green, master chimney sweeps get around in pitch-black suits and top hats, some Bavarian women don the Dirndl (skirt and blouse), while their menfolk occasionally find suitable occasions to wear typical Bavarian Lederhosen (leather shorts), a Loden (short jacket) and felt hat. In everyday life, Germans are fairly formal, although more so in the Protestant-dominated north than the beer-swilling south. In eastern Germany many older people are relatively unused to tourists, so it's best to err towards deference. Except with very close friends, older Germans still use Herr and Frau in daily discussion. The transition from the formal Sie address to the informal du is generally mutually agreed and sealed with a toast and a handshake. You don't have to worry so much with people under about 40; in fact, exaggerated politeness will probably be laughed off as beginner's Deutsch.