The 'New Statesman' on the German Opinion Corridor

The Swedish term for the Overton Window is the "opinion corridor" (åsiktskorridor). Germany has one too, well-described by this piece in the New Statesman from a year ago:

What is interesting about the AfD is what it tells us about the changes afoot in Germany. Its rise is a product of the constrained and elitist nature of German politics, in which – after the experience of Nazism – many subjects are declared to be outside the realm of political competition. All the mainstream parties are in favour of EU membership, the euro and the Atlantic alliance, and against war, inflation and nationalism.

What this leaves is a restricted political sphere where politicians have often been able to act against public opinion without fear of challenge – as in the decision to replace the popular Deutschmark with the strikingly unpopular euro in 1999. But those who dare to cross the threshold of political correctness tap in to a vast reservoir of pent-up popular frustration. And because the establishment cartel turns them into outcasts rather than arguing with their views, this reservoir continues to grow. A CSU minister recently told me that the German debate on refugees reminded him of the old East Germany, where there was a fundamental disconnection between what people thought and what they thought was acceptable to say in public. According to a recent poll, nearly half of all Germans are afraid to voice their opinion about the refugee crisis.

Leonard is not a right-winger, and the New Statesman is not a right-wing publication. But even Leonard finds German taboos childish and counter-productive. For an informed German-language critique, see this fine piece by Heribert Seifert in the NZZ.

I am tempted to say Leonard's comments show the typical divide between German and Anglo-American ideas about speech, but that's not quite right. America and England also have their taboos, they're just difference from the ones in Germany, or for that matter France.

The main difference, I think, is the structure of the press landscape. The line between topics that are considered proper for "tabloids" and the "respectable" broadsheet newspapers is enforced much more firmly in Germany. The same goes for tone. Every self-respecting English Bobo (f) obediently professes to despise -- despise!! -- the Daily Mail, whose lively, detail-rich, copiously-illustrated reporting should be a model for journalists everywhere. Yet you will often see the same topics covered by both the Daily Mail and the Guardian -- often in the form of the Guardian noticing and attacking something the Daily Mail wrote.

German respectable broadsheets, by contrast, simply pretend that German tabloids (and their readers) don't exist. They never mention them except to use their names as an insult, and scrupulously avoid topics (such as celebrity gossip, onerous EU regulations, or crimes by foreigners) which are associated with the tabloids. When they do address "tabloidy" topics they consciously choose a vague, euphemism-clogged manner of reporting which seems intended to put the reader to sleep.

Then, often as not, they quote some professor, all of whom understand the Bobo party line, and many of whom helped create it. The professor will then duly recite more euphemisms about "context", a "nuanced perspective" and "not jumping to conclusions". Often, what the prof says contains minor or even major distortions and distractions, but the reporter (even assuming he knows) doesn't care, since the point of the interview is not to spark a debate but rather to instruct right-thinking people which opinion they are expected to hold.

I call it Respectable Waffle, and Leonard's phrase "constrained and elitist" is a pretty good way of characterizing it.

This is why, in my experience, it is incredibly easy to flummox German Bobos who get their news only from the Respectable papers -- they are simply unaware of anything which isn't considered worth knowing by Die Zeit or the FAZ. They have never been exposed to thoughtful, informed challenges to the party line which Leonard describes, and therefore have no way to defend their views.


German Word of the Week: Fremdaussprechen

Behold the German (or "German") menu for McDonald's:

170309_McMenue_Landingpage_Teaser_948 (1)

Holy superfluous nipple, you might be thinking: it's almost all in English! This must make ordering a breeze even if you don't know German.

Not so fast. If you just waltz up to the counter and announce you want a "McWrap Chicken Caesar" the way you'd ordinarily pronounce it in English, there's about a 50/50 chance the clerk will look at you with befuddlement. And nobody likes to be befuddled. Or just plain fuddled, for that matter. Wait, where the hell did that word come from?

Where was I? Oh, right. If you want to be understood the first time, you're well-advised to butcher the pronunciation of "McWrap Chicken Caesar" so it sounds the way Germans would pronounce it. Germans consider it hip as hell to read English and write English, but not many can actually pronounce it.

Take the Big Mac. The "a" sound in Mac does not exist in German. German vowels tend sound more pinched and nasal and front-of-mouth than English vowels. Also, the standalone letter "c" is rarely used in modern German, having been replaced with the much more straightforward "k". The word for Caesar in German is Kaiser. Explains a lot, doesn't it?

So a German would pronounced Mac much more like "meck" (which a German, in turn, would spell Mäc). And a hapless Teuton with a high-school education would look at the meaningless letter-salad "Caesar", which breaks about 8 rules of German orthography, and pronounce it "TSAY-zarr"). "Big Tasty Bacon" becomes "Beg Testy Beckon".

Germans are aware of how ridiculous it is to use English words you can't pronounce. There's even a series of books (g) mocking the Deutsche Bahn (a favorite German pastime) based on the English phrase German train conductors always say at the end of announcements: "Thank you for traveling with Deutsche Bahn". The books are called "Senk ju vor träwelling", which mangles German spelling to re-create, for Germans, the butchery of words in English. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

So whenever I go to a store or a fast food place or cafe here in Germany and encounter English words, I gotta say 'em all wrong. Of course I could insist on the proper English pronunciation, and attach a short homily on how you shouldn't butcher words in languages you don't understand, but I prefer to be served spitless beer and dine unslapped.

I do as the Romans do, and pronounce my own beloved mother tongue as if my mouth were full or marbles. It always leaves me feeling soiled, as if I were begging for change in a red-light district by by reciting the Second Inaugural Address while wearing a crotchless Abe Lincoln costume.

Oddly enough, German doesn't actually seem to have a word for the phenomenon of having to pronounce your own language incorrectly to be understood in a foreign country. So I'm going to make one: Fremdaussprechen. Fremd for foreign or alien, and aussprechen for pronounce.


Anna Sauerbrey, Like Germany, Misses the Point

Infografik-vom-kopftuch-bis

[source. A handy German field guide to Muslim head coverings. I see the four on the left every time I leave the house, although the niqab remains pretty rare; I see it 2-3 times a week, not every day. The irony is that almost nobody wears a burka in Germany, but the debate about this issue is called the "burka-debate".]

Which brings us to one of Germany's periodic, tedious Leitkultur debates. I'll let Anna Sauerbrey, the New York Times' Germany-whisperer, define the term:

Consider the topic of the moment among Germany’s political class — whether the country has a “Leitkultur,” or guiding national culture, or whether it is a truly multicultural nation.... The term surfaced in 2000, when the Christian Democratic politician Friedrich Merz wrote an article in Die Welt asking whether it is enough for immigrants to obey German law or whether there are other manners, habits, traditions and conventions that everybody should respect as well.

Sauerbrey herself counsels: "Germans will have to accept habits and thoughts that are unfamiliar or even disturbing. Not because we accept them, but because we probably won’t change them."

The first response which pops to mind (aside from how you can "accept" something you don't "accept") is: Why? Did they vote for this? I don't meet very many Germans who are eager to be confronted with "unfamiliar" or "disturbing" things. Indeed, I don't meet many people in general who are this way.

The deeper problem is that this debate dances around the only relevant issue. If German acted like the majority of developed countries and only imported immigrants with a proven track record of adapting successfully to other cultures, there would be no Leitkultur debate.

If you want foreigners to integrate easily into your society, pick foreigners who will integrate easily into your society.

This is not mystery. Düsseldorf plays host to the largest Japanese expat community in Europe. These folks of course preserve their own habits and culture, much to the delight of their German hosts. But because they tend to be well-educated and come from a culture which has broadly similar values to German culture, they cause no problems. The whole Leitkultur debate is not about what immigrants do in their own homes and businesses, but about aspects of their behavior in public and in interactions with institutions.

Japanese immigrants cause no friction at all. In particular:

  • Japanese immigrants don't engage in honor killings.
  • Japanese immigrants do not get radicalized by online propaganda and commit terror attacks on German soil.
  • Japanese immigrants don't form clan-based criminal syndicates which engage in violent street battles in the poor areas of German cities.
  • Japanese immigrants are happy to shake hands with members of the opposite sex.
  • Japanese immigrants do not believe religious laws should take precedence over civil laws.
  • Japanese immigrants don't insist their female children be exempted from swimming lessons or school trips.
  • Japanese immigrants don't commit crimes at a rate hugely disproportionate to their share of the population.

The list goes on. You could substitute "educated, worldly Muslim" for the word "Japanese" in each of those bullet points.

Germany is having a debate about how much (formal or informal) pressure they need to apply to "get" immigrants to fit in is because those immigrants aren't doing it themselves. And that's because Germany has imported too many of the wrong kind of people: uneducated young males from conservative, traditional Muslim societies (or the conservative, traditional parts of Muslim societies). These people have few or none of the preconditions necessary to thrive within a very different, much more modern culture than their own. Yet they also don't want to go back to their home countries, where standards of living are much, much, much worse than Germany in every way. Who can blame them?

Choose your immigrants more wisely, and the Leitkultur debate vanishes. Yet Germany keeps on making the same mistake, over and over -- importing people who cannot adapt to German society, and then being surprised when they do not adapt. As Albert Einstein Narcotics Anonymous once said, "Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results."


An English Idyll in the Rheinland

This blog is getting too political lately. Now for something completely different.

I visited Heltorf Castle Park (g) yesterday, an English-style landscape park from the early 19th century located on the very northern outskirts of Düsseldorf. It's part of the private holdings of the Spee noble family (g) which has resided near Düsseldorf for centuries and has left its mark on the city and the surroundings in innumerable ways. 

The park was originally part of the private grounds of the nearby Castle Heltorf, an early 19th-century pile. A certain Abbé Biarelle conceived of the idea of creating an English-style park in 1796, and the renowned landscape architect Maximilan Weyhe (g) began the work in 1803. The park is 54 hectares, and open to the public only on weekends during spring and summer. I'd always meant to visit. I rarely met people who had, but the ones who did returned singing its praises. 

It's quite far outside the city center, a 20-minute streetcar ride away, but very much worth it. The place is magical, on a par with the finest English parks. The landscape is lush, slightly hilly, and dominated by a spectacular centuries-old trees from all over the world -- conifers, firs, maples, magnificent copper beeches (called "blood" beeches in German!) and the largest tulip tree in Europe, which must be at least 45 meters tall. A brook winds through the park, and forms several ponds in which fat carp meander and tadpoles squirm. There are innumerable rhododendrons throwing off blossoms in all colors.

And the best thing is visitors have it all to themselves, since the park isn't very well-known, is somewhat out of the way, and is only open for a small part of the year. I saw only 6 other people in the few hours I spent there. The park is located well outside the city, charges €3 entrance, and has no "attractions" or ice cream vendors or playgrounds or bandstands or trashcans or bathrooms or any other distractions. The only sounds are birdsong and occasionally a faraway hum of traffic. (This is the most densely-populated part of Europe, after all.)

If you need any more stimulation than nature, discreetly molded by men of impeccable refinement, you're in the wrong place. And probably quite unclubbable.

I saw not a single speck of litter anywhere. The park doesn't even have any seating (although there are a few simple log benches) or signs, except two discreet wooden arrows pointing you in the general direction of the exit. You can get a photocopied map of the park about the size of a postcard at the entrance, but it looks to be about 30 years old. Not that anything's changed much in that time, of course.

You're meant to meander around, pleasantly lost, until you encounter a moat or ha-ha. The modern Spee family runs a forestry business in the area, and a small corner of the park is apparently used for this purpose, since I saw a small, discreet sign asking visitors to keep out. But that just adds to the charm. Something's got to pay for the massive effort of work it takes to keep the park looking so unpretentious.

I even ran into the owner, Wilhelm Count of Spee (pronounced 'shpay'). He lives in fairly modest water castle on the edge of the property, and was out taking pictures on this fine spring day. Like every member of the German nobility I've ever met, he was quite friendly and laid-back, but also impeccably groomed and dressed. He looks a bit like Ulrich Mühe. He obviously loves this jewel of a park, and seems to know something about every tree in it. He says he's working on a detailed book on the park's history, which I'm looking forward to.

DSC_0141
DSC_0141
DSC_0141
DSC_0141
DSC_0141
DSC_0141
DSC_0141 DSC_0174
DSC_0174
DSC_0174
DSC_0174
DSC_0174
DSC_0174
DSC_0174
DSC_0174
DSC_0199
DSC_0199
DSC_0199
DSC_0199
DSC_0199
DSC_0199
DSC_0199
DSC_0199
DSC_0199
DSC_0218
DSC_0218
DSC_0218
DSC_0218
DSC_0218


Paul Hockenos on German Arrogance

In Foreign Policy:

One year ago, Germany was named the “best country” in the world, according to a poll by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. The poll relied on criteria measuring entrepreneurship, power, public education, and quality of life, among others. But for a growing number of Germans, the important thing was that it offered confirmation of their own self-image. Their country slipped to fourth in this year’s poll, behind Switzerland, Canada, and the United Kingdom, but that seems unlikely to do much to dim the self-confidence of a country enjoying a surging economy and growing international cachet.

Whether the field is migration or manufacturing, fiscal policy or renewable energy, Germans increasingly believe that they, and they alone, know best, at least judging from the attitude newly on display everywhere from newspaper columns to parliamentary speeches to barroom chats over beer. In German the phenomenon is summed up in one word: Besserwisserei, a know-it-all attitude, which the Germans themselves admit is somewhat of an engrained cultural trait.

But it’s increasingly clear that one country’s allegedly evidence-based Besserwisserei is another country’s intolerable smugness. Just ask Germany’s European neighbors, and others, including the United States, where resentment of Germans has been percolating for years, under constant threat of bubbling over....

German high-handedness is eliciting angry charges of “moral imperialism” from Hungary, and its central European neighbors, including Slovakia, Poland, and Croatia, largely concur. Meanwhile, during the first round of the French presidential election, candidates from more than one party chastised Merkel for dictating a German eurozone policy. “We order it, you obey, and tout suite,” is how the German publisher Wolfram Weimer critically summed up Germany’s new modus operandi during the bailout negotiations in an article titled “Virtuous Totalitarianism”. U.S. economist Paul Krugman repeatedly blasts Germany for “moralizing” on European fiscal policy, namely Germany’s obsession with budget discipline, which he considers entirely counterproductive. Since Germany’s setting of the onerous terms for the eurozone’s recovery packages, beginning in 2011, surveys in Europe show that many fellow Europeans consider Germans arrogant, insensitive, and egotistical (while, strangely, praising their dependability and influence in Europe)....

Of course, another reason German smugness can get under the skin is the fact that Germany simply isn’t nearly as universally superlative as it might prefer to think. A close corollary of Besserwisserei has always been hypocrisy. So Germany may browbeat other countries about their deficits today, but other Europeans remember that in the 2000s, when the German economy was in the dumps, and again during the financial crisis, Berlin consistently ran budget deficits in excess of eurozone rules — and avoided penalties for it. The deficits were critical for Germany to get its economy going again.

Meanwhile, Germany insists that other countries follow its lead on climate change, shutting down nuclear power stations and switching to clean energy generation. But Germany is Europe’s biggest burner of dirty coal (seventh in the world), and it’s not on track to hit the Paris Agreement’s reduction targets for 2020. Its best-selling export is big, expensive, gas-guzzling luxury automobiles, including diesels. The Dieselgate scandal caught Volkswagen and other German car manufacturers cheating on emissions tests.

And it’s no accident that the scandal was uncovered in the United States, far from the reach of German political and cultural power — nor that Germany’s discussion about the scandal has been just as focused on how the German auto companies in question can be saved rather than about the financial or moral atonement they might owe. “It’s obvious that the EU should take over emissions testing and that the commission should impose huge fines on Germany,” Lever says. “But it won’t, because it’s Germany, that’s why. It shows how much power Germany has now.”


"Every Other American" Thinks Like the German Right

Der Spiegel interviews (g) the Israeli-American-German journalist Tuvia Tenenbom, who's been called the Jewish Hunter S. Thompson. He's a rubicund old Jewish kibitzer who travels the world and reports what he sees in blunt, unvarnished, politically-incorrect language that you'll either find crudely oversimplified or refreshingly direct.

He's written books about Germany, America (this one was called "brutal, irreverent, and cutting"), and just published in German a book called "Alone Among Refugees" (g), which recounts his travels through Germany visiting refugees and activists on all sides of the issue. A few of his thoughts on comparative freedom of the press and opinion: 

Spiegel: Mr. Tenenbom, what is your opinion on the media landscape and freedom of opinion here in Germany?

Tenenbom: There's no more journalism, especially in Germany. Instead there's activism. Journalism no longer just report what happens, but what we're supposed to think....

Spiegel: So to you, the best journalists are those who...

Tenenbom:  ... report facts. And don't tell us what's right and wrong.
The reporter asks him about positive comments he has made about the personalities of German right-wingers such as neo-nationalist intellectual Götz Kubitschek and anti-immigration activist Lutz Bachmann: 
Tenenbom: I'm not naive. I know very well what they say and think. But to treat someone respectfully or like them doesn't require that I share their opinions. And by the way: Every other American thinks the things which Götz Kubitschek says, and what Lutz Bachmann says.

Spiegel: Well, that hardly makes it better.

Tenenbom: I just want to say: Should we treat all Americans this way [i.e. ostracize them because of their views]? No. And you know what? Many Germans think the same way, they're just afraid to say it aloud. And so what? All these people are entitled to call themselves Europeans. There is simply a difference of opinion between one point of view which existed earlier, which is based on the preservation of one's own culture -- you could call that narrow-mindedness -- and another movement which doesn't want borders or nation-states and wants to see cultures mixed. Those are two valid arguments, two acceptable wishes. Let the voters decide! But don't call these people Nazis merely because they want to preserve German culture.


The Students Without Qualities

The German newspaper Die Welt reports (g) on the case of a 14-year-old Jewish student from in the Friedenau suburb of Berlin who was harassed and attacked by his fellow students after he revealed he was Jewish. According to him, one of his fellow students told him: “Listen, you are a cool dude but I can’t be friends with you, Jews are all murderers.” He eventually had to leave the school.

A Jewish student being harassed, beaten, and insulted in the capital of Germany? This should be a major scandal, right?

Well, no. It has gotten some press coverage, as the Welt article shows, but not very much. Does this mean Germany really doesn't care about violent anti-Semitism?

Well, yes and no. To explain the response, we need, as always, to ask the question: Who is engaging in anti-Semitism? The Welt article, of course, never tells us. In that story, the young man is being attacked "by other children" or "by his classmates". Male? Female? Older? Younger? Ethnicity? Nope, none of that, thank you very much. All the Welt thinks you need to know about these violent anti-Semites are that they are "students".

They're the Students Without Qualities. Fans of the American sitcom Community might be reminded of the Greendale Community College mascot, the "Greendale Human Being": 

Only at the end of the story do we get a brief hint of who might be behind these attacks: "According to Tagesspiegel, 75% of the students at the school do not speak German as a native language, and many come from Turkish and Arab families."

Let's now turn to Tagesspiegel, the Berlin newspaper that first reported on the case in German. There, we come gingerly closer to the truth. After indeed reporting that there were many Turkish and Arab students at the school, the Tagesspiegel states (g) laconically, almost in passing: "According to the school's principal Uwe Runkel, this is also true of the criminal suspects [in the anti-Semitic harassment]." Blink and you might miss it, but here we finally have the truth: the anti-Semitic harassment did not come from Germans.

Fortunately, in this case we don't have to rely on the cloudy abstractions of the German press. The incident was originally reported in the English-language Jewish Chronicle:

Emma, who is British, said her son, Phillip (not their real names), 14, had been moved to an English language high school in Berlin .

Emma said she and her husband had originally been attracted to the school, Friedenauer Gemeinschaftsschule, which has a large proportion of Arab and Turkish children, by the fact it was so multicultural.

She said it had never occurred to Phillip to deny his Jewishness, and one day he mentioned it to his classmates.

One of them responded: “Listen, you are a cool dude but I can’t be friends with you, Jews are all murderers.”

The verbal abuse escalated to physical violence, until earlier this month, “when he was attacked and almost strangled, and the guy pulled a toy gun on him that looked like a real gun. And the whole crowd of kids laughed. He was completely shaken.”

“It was terrible,” Phillip said, “but I didn’t have time to think what’s happening at the time. Now when I look back, I think, oh my God.”

Emma said she decided then and there that “I am not sending him to this school any more, and that was it.”

...

The case underscores concerns that educators and parents have expressed for years in Berlin about the antisemitic harassment of Jewish pupils, particularly by Arab and Turkish children.

Berlin’s Jewish high school receives between six and 10 applications a year from parents who want to move their children away from schools where they are being subjected to antisemitic harassment, said Aaron Eckstaedt, principal of the Moses Mendelssohn Jewish High School in Berlin.

The requests generally are “in reaction to antisemitic statements coming overwhelmingly from Arabic or Turkish classmates,” he said, adding that “in most cases, the families complain about the relative lack of response from state schools” to the problem.

Being the target of anti-Semitic attacks seems to motivate people to actually want to know who's behind them. Indeed, the sub-head of the article reads: "Case illustrates long history of antisemitic harassment of Jewish pupils, particularly by Arab and Turkish children."

Now, to be fair, the principal has expressed dismay and regret:

When contacted by the JC, [the principal] Runkel said he regretted the antisemitic bullying of Phillip. He added he had hoped to help the student feel safe and also to make perpetrators face the consequences of their actions, but that obviously “for the parents it wasn’t fast enough”.

He said “a general approach in the school to antisemitism” was clearly needed, and was being developed.

Ahh, the "general approach" -- the Gesamtkonzept! You can't do anything in Germany without one. I am sure the principal actually is disgusted by a Jewish student being insulted and "almost strangled" at his school. But things get quite awkward when the anti-Semites in Germany turn out to be, er, not so German after all.

Although Turks and Arabs are allowed to point out the fact that anti-Semitism is endemic in Turkey and the Arab world, ethnic Germans can't really come right out and do so, for fear of being charged with stoking prejudice against Germans of Turkish and Arab descent. And there are a lot more of those than there are Jewish residents of Germany.

It's delicate, you see. Very, very delicate.

The problem with all this delicacy, though, is that sometimes people need clear information: "Emma said she and her husband had originally been attracted to the school, Friedenauer Gemeinschaftsschule, which has a large proportion of Arab and Turkish children, by the fact it was so multicultural." Apparently, nobody informed these folks that sending a Jewish child to a German school with a large Muslim population might not be such a good idea.

Euphemisms can be dangerous.

In any case, Phillip got the message: "As for Phillip, he would not necessarily recommend that other children reveal their Jewishness to classmates unless it’s 'a nice, quiet school.'"


The Sweariest Case Against Dubbing You'll Ever Hear

Living in Germany as an English-speaking expat is probably easier than living in France. France may be more charmante, but in Germany, stuff works. Having stuff work is a type of charm in itself. The kind that's important when you have to actually live there.

Paul Taylor, an English ginger and comedian who lives in the Hexagon has an amusing YouTube series called "What the Fuck, France?" which explore some of the peculiarities of French life. As you might expect from the title, they're extremely sweary. Why? Because English people are extremely fucking sweary, you fucking knob. Yes, I know that's a fucking cultural stereotype, you condescending prick, but stereotypes exist for a fucking reason.

Here Taylor takes on dubbing, the bane of every expat's existence: 

I will say, in Germany's defense, that German dubbing is extremely good. They've had decades of practice, and they're German. As I said, stuff works here.

The odd thing is I was just in Paris over the weekend, and I can't help noticing that France is rapidly catching up to Germany in the having-stuff-that-works department. The metros and buses run on time and have clear signs, the system of tickets is a hell of a lot simpler than in any German city, and everything's quite clean and orderly, even in the shabbier parts of town. There is still more dogshit on Paris streets, though.

Yet one day, sooner than you think, we are going to reach the Continental Singularity. As Germany gets more random and disorderly and France improves, there will come a time in which the orderlines efficiency of France's infrastructure, bureaucracy, and daily life are all as efficient as Germany's, a condition last seen only in 1788. 


Germany's Dumbest Inadvertent Condom-Machine Suicides

There's a show in the United States called "America's Dumbest Criminals", which does what it said on the tin. The show's main fodder is grainy surveillance camera footage, with some "dramatic re-enactments" when that wasn't available. Über-stoned robbers who forgot their wallets at the crime scene or shoot themselves, drunk drivers plowing into anything you can imagine, inadvertent confessions, you name it. The show's tagline was "names have been changed to protect...the ignorant".

I have the feeling this show has probably launched a thousand jargon-clogged dissertations ("Social Exclusion, the Authoritarian Personality, Cognitive Shaming, and the Re/In-Scription of Culpability on the 'Ghost' Body of the Offender in 'America's Dumbest Criminals'"), which we may safely ignore. Germany doesn't seem have an equivalent of this show, but there are plenty of articles (g) and video features (g) with the same theme (some variant of Deutschlands dümmste Verbrecher).

Mocking criminals for their stupidity seems a pretty harmless response to crime. From a criminological point of view, these shows seem to be a useful counterweight to the stereotypical movie portrayal of criminals either as ruthless masterminds (USA) or the hapless victims of psychological disturbance or turbo-capitalism (Germany). In fact, most criminals are neither cunning nor mentally ill, but generally are indeed very, very dumb. Studies from both the US and UK show that prison inmates, on average, have IQs in the mid-80s, about 1 standard deviation below the mean of 100, which is a big difference, and that lower intelligence is associated with more violence among prisoners. I can't find numbers for Germany offhand, but I can't imagine why they would be significantly different.

Which brings us to the guy who blew himself up yesterday in Dortmund. He was trying to rob a Deutsche Bahn ticket machine in Scharnhorst (g) in Dortmund, but instead inflicted "massive facial injuries" on himself and died at the scene. A few years ago, another young man killed himself while trying to blow up a condom machine (g) in sleepy little Borken (pop. 42,000), Germany. 

The first level of stupidity here is that these guys killed themselves. And that's a pretty significant level of stupidity! But the second level is why ticket and condom machines? I travel a lot on the German railways, and trust me, it is the exception to see someone paying for an expensive ticket with cash. Although perhaps the machines aren't cleaned out very regularly, and it piles up. I can't really say, since I've never broken into one.

But a streetside condom machine? I haven't ever seen anyone use one of these, have you? Besides, the maximum value of anything there is usually no more than 6-8 euros for the "luxury items" such as the notorious "Travel Pu**y" (let's keep it clean here, folks) or the "Vibrating Penis Ring"*. I have no idea how much is inside the average German condom machine, but I bet the explosive was probably more expensive. And even if the explosive was made from cheap homemade materials, the risk is obviously fairly astronomical.

Are these criminals really stupid for targeting ticket and condom machines here, or am I missing something?

Continue reading "Germany's Dumbest Inadvertent Condom-Machine Suicides" »