Terrifying German Culture Hour — „Music“

Music is the universal language, they say. And every country and culture has their equivalents of grand symphonies, dirty ditties and horrible songs. Germany is no different…

…you’d think. And you’d be wrong. Especially in the 70es and 80es, there was a union of music, showmanship and.. well, humour, creating a blend that might be a bit hard to understand. On top of that, there was the perceived need to have songs in german language.

Let’s have a look at the results, shall we? Americans will probably have heard „The Battle of New Orleans“ at some point. I mean, Tommy Horton and even Johnny Cash performed it.

Well, considering that it is a song that commemorates the victory over the british, it is a bit surprising that Les Humphries changed the lyrics to some sort of complete nonsense when he landed this hit in Germany:


One of the many singers involved here is Jürgen Drews, who, much later in life, become King of the Mallorquins:

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The need to localize was strong, and spanned all genres of popular music. With an utter disregard to the source material. Enter Cindy & Bert, germanys very burgeois and tame Sonny & Cher, performing their version of Black Sabbaths Paranoid:


(In case your german is failing you: They are indeed telling the story of the dark Hound of Baskerville)

But fear not — there was originality in german music, even at that time. And some songs even got sung in english. But with more showmanship than any broadway production could ever hope for — exhibit a: Genghiz, err, Dschinghis Khan, singing… Dschinghis Khan:


This song was as big a hit as the production makes you think it is. Really, it was the number one hit in germany for 29 weeks! Produced by Ralph Siegel, they immediately also took Moscow by storm:


Still, you can’t have terrifying german music without acknowledging that germans are actually able to build more terrifying things on top of it. Enter german 70es prime comedian Otto, conducting a live orchestra performance of Dschinghis Khan:

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Do not be fooled: This man is a musical genius, who can take the names of the dissidents & dictators and beat box ahead:

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A propos Ralph Siegel. This guy is a titan of the german music business, responsible for the production of what feels like 95% of all terrifying german culture. Europeans might remember his very weltschmerz-driven plea for „a little bit of peace“:

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I should let you enjoy that peace and end this blogpost at that point, but remember, this is Terrifying German Culture Hour after all. So here, have another cover song, this time based on Grease’s You're the One that I Want — a title that german ears easily mishear as the equivalent of „the bathtub is full“. Yes, german is a weird language, I know:


And next time, I’ll explain the connection between cartoon bikers and two grown men in sailor suits.

Terrifying German Culture Hour — Shows!

TV Shows, what a grande theme. The thing you have to realize at this point, is that when germans hear „show“, they don’t think of Law and Order or Baywatch — those are Serials in our lingo. A show is a grandiose affair, usually reserved for saturday evenings.

On top of that, there is a very german variant of the talk show, which invariably has a group of at least 5 to 6 people sitting around a table and, well, talk.

So, shows. If you’re american, you now probably think of either Rat-Pack-style entertainment or at the very least Larry King or David Letterman. Well, no. We instead got a guy licking pencils but more on that later.

So, to give you an idea how these talk shows looked, and to confirm all your suspicions on how perverse sexually liberated germans are, here’s Nina Hagen demonstrating how women can masturbate. During prime time TV.

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There were also small-scale talk shows for the regional programming. Things were a bit rougher there:

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(no, this was not staged. Yes, the guy with the axe is a musician)

But the big saturday evening shows reigned supreme. You could safely expect a large live audience, some well-known band or musician performing and, this is inevitable, a small band of text running at the bottom at some point, informing you that they are already over their allotted time-slot, meaning that the news that were scheduled for 10pm will now be shown at 10:30pm or even later. and most of the time, the entertainment involved ordinary citizens being either skilled, talented or at least clever. They were the precursor to todays game shows, but apart from five minutes of fame, there wasn’t much to win. Still, the intros got imprinted into the brains of those who grew up at that time:

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(You might want to hold on to the image of the cartoon at the beginning. Those two were made by Loriot, and he will figure in a later installment!) Still, if a german suddenly makes a spooky voice at you, intoning „Risiiikooo“(Riiiisk) at you, then that’s where it’s from.

Another thing in terms of intros was that some shows were deemed to be big enough that they were aired via Eurovision, meaning that they were broadcast to not only germany, but also into the neighbour countries! Such a momentous affair usually got announced with an extra fanfare:

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And now we’re finally at Wetten Dass — the german game show that Will Arnett waxed forth about mightily in US TV already. This is a show where ordinary people made claims about being able to do extraordinary things. Pull a truck by pure muscle mass. Have all lottery numbers from the past 20 years memorized. Have a dog that can destroy 100 balloons in under 60 seconds. Then celebrities were invited to bet on the outcome of the attempt. Wetten Dass was the holy mountain of all saturday evening shows, and the cases where the host was switched out were subject to a major national crisis and debate.

Wetten Dass was such an important show that the premier german pop duo used it to announce it’s reunion (in a fake Blind Date format):

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Anyway: Here’s a guy who can tell you the colour of a pencil by licking it:

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The Great Saturday Evening Show died somewhere around the turn of the century, got briefly revived by a former butcher and is now consigned to the graveyard of memory.

Terrifying German Culture Hou- wat?

There’ve been a few „this was terrifying, why?!“ comments in the side channels to the last blogpost. Let me explain a bit, why Terrifying German Culture Hour exists:

Click 4 Big

I’m a nerd. And so is the girlfriend. Being nerds, our interests are often… eclectic. And cynical — as anyone who ever worked with computers, we sometimes want to retire to a farm, so, when the conversation shown at the left side happened, there was only one possible answer:

One-up her and assert dominance! So, I posted this:

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Which is, despite what you might think, actually sung in german. And as I did that on her Facebook timeline, innocent bystanders got blindsided, and demanded an explanation. I finally found the relevant Facebook post again, so I can make you suffer reconstruct this explanation here:

Have you seen „A most wanted Man“? You should, it’s a great movie. If you’ve seen it, there’s a german bureaucrat in there, who is played by Herbert Grönemeyer. You can briefly see him in this YouTube clip. He’s the chap on the left:


Kinda unimpressive, right? But the fact that the video headline mentions his name and the word „comeback“ should tell you that he might be a bit of a thing here. And yes, he is. Maybe you do remember Das Boot? He was in there too, as a reminder, here he is:

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So. Grönemeyer, actor, that’s it, right?


Grönemeyer is a german national treasure, and not because of his acting (which is top notch), but for his music, dummy! Us germans, we love Herbert for his music, here’s his hit:

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And no, this is not something weird and one-hit wonder by some random actor-trying-musician. Herbert fills stadiums! 

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And he stayed active as a musician quite a while, making videos that put Werner Herzog to shame:

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If there is any doubt in your mind, he is so beloved, he got to sing the official soccer world cup song!

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Should you still be unconvinced, rest assured, he is so famous, there are cover songs of his work:


And next time, I’ll do the Die Ärzte thing, promise.

Terrifying German Culture Hour — The Punk Edition

When one lives together with ones girlfriend who has been socialized in the US, and only caught the occasional glimpse of german TV, there is great fun to be had. At least for me, the girlfriend just kinda suffers through it. We call it „Terrifying German Culture Hour“. This one is about punk rock. In the 80ies, german language punk rock got kinda big — and, on occasions, terrifying.

So, to break you in gently, let me introduce you to Die Toten Hosen, performing a song for the Clockwork Orange stageplay:

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Yes, you got that right: Germans made a stageplay out of that beloved dystopian book, and got a young and eager punk band to provide a live soundtrack. You should get the whole album, it is good stuff, and nicely catches all the different moods and themes of the book.

But an earlier song, and especially the video made for it, put them on the map:

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In case your german isn’t that good, here is a translation of the truly brilliant lyrics, which are repeated quite a few times:

Ice cold Bommerlunder
Bommerlunder, put on ice

Ice cold Bommerlunder
Bommerlunder, put on ice

Add a bread with ham — HAM!
and a bread with eggs — EGGS!

Those are two breads,
one with ham, and one with eggs

That song was the equivalent of the annual summer smash hit, maybe even more so. It still is a big hit at parties, thanks to those easy-to-shout lyrics. To give you perspective, it was such a success that the record label immediately commissioned a remix with Fab Five Freddy, a bona fide New York hip hop artist:

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What you just saw here is a live performance, but of course there exists an official music video. And when I write official, I meant horrible. And with horrible, I mean really really horrible. Seriously, it includes the german punks as cannibals in blackface.

Now, at this point you probably think „ok, wacky germans, business as usual.“ But you fail to grasp the enormity of this band. They fill large sized concert halls and arenas. Not only in Germany, but they also made it big in Argentina:

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Die Toten Hosen isn’t the only german punk band that made it big outside Germany. Their eternal rival, Die Ärzte, made it in Japan, so there are folks who subtitle their songs in japanese:

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But all the glory about Die Ärzte will be covered in another post. Prepare for controversial songs that make fun of bestiality, incest and the alleged domestic abuse perpetrated by the then german chancellor..