Typically German? A cartoonist's perspective

From bread culture to extreme punctuality: 25 comics that sum up German culture

German punctuality: a myth?

Punctuality is a virtue in Germany. But the compulsion to always be on time can also be nerve-wracking. As the popular saying goes: "German punctuality is five minutes ahead of time." Funnily enough, neither German airlines nor railways are among the world's top 10 most punctual. Placing value on something and actually living up to it are two very different things.

From bread culture to extreme punctuality: 25 comics that sum up German culture

German bread culture

In Germany, there are more than 3,200 types of bread — not to mention innumerable rolls. In 2014, German bread culture was even included in UNESCO's list of intangible cultural assets. If keeping track of them and choosing one at a bakery is too complicated, pointing and saying "that one there," or "no, that one next to it," will usually do the trick.

From bread culture to extreme punctuality: 25 comics that sum up German culture

The Hoff

Even before David Hasselhoff's legendary performance of "Looking for Freedom" on the Berlin Wall during new year's eve in 1989, "The Hoff" was a star in Germany. While he saw success in the US as an actor in series such as Knight Rider and Baywatch, in Germany he was also taken seriously as a singer. Several of his albums went gold and platinum in the country — much to the amusement of Americans.

From bread culture to extreme punctuality: 25 comics that sum up German culture

Car culture

The German love of cars seems to know no limits. A 2017 survey came to the conclusion that every tenth German considers having a car more important than having a partner. But in these tough times of diesel scandals and air pollution, this love is being put to the test. Alas, a happy ending is not yet in sight.

From bread culture to extreme punctuality: 25 comics that sum up German culture

Love thy neighbor

Austria and Germany are so close to one another, yet so far away. Germans tend to be viewed as condescending to their neighbors, and Austrians return this condescension with words that are less than kind.

From bread culture to extreme punctuality: 25 comics that sum up German culture

Tendency to gripe

Too sunny, too rainy, too hot or too cold — Germans are known for their tendency to complain. They will find the fly in the ointment, and go on and on about it. But that doesn't mean they are unhappy: According to a 2017 survey by the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), overall satisfaction levels are at their highest in Germany since German reunification.

From bread culture to extreme punctuality: 25 comics that sum up German culture

'A perplexing language'

Three genders, the interplay of prepositions, cases and adjective endings — German grammar is undoubtedly complex. "Deutsche Sprache, schwere Sprache," ("German language, difficult language") a saying goes. In his 1880 essay "The Awful German Language," American writer Mark Twain confirms "a person who has not studied German can form no idea of what a perplexing language it is."

From bread culture to extreme punctuality: 25 comics that sum up German culture

Stick to what's familiar

The many restaurants in Europe's tourist hotspots that offer German bratwurst, schnitzel, fries and beer show that German tourists abroad like what they know and will happily choose familiar food over exotic local cuisine.

From bread culture to extreme punctuality: 25 comics that sum up German culture

Say what you think

Germans are know for being direct and speaking their mind, a form of unfiltered honesty can border on rudeness for people from other cultures. Being superficially polite is not a German thing, and they usually don't mince words or beat around the bush, preferring to cut to the chase and say what they mean.

From bread culture to extreme punctuality: 25 comics that sum up German culture

Free Body Culture

Not everywhere is nudism, or so-called "Free Body Culture," as widespread as in Germany. Here naked bodies are not only found on the beach, but even in the English Garden in Munich, or among the venerable oaks in Berlin Tiergarten.

From bread culture to extreme punctuality: 25 comics that sum up German culture

Territorial pissing — Teutonic style

German tourists are infamous for marking out their territory on the beach in the early morning with a towel, and then heading off for breakfast. Here Germany's most famous dog seems to have inherited this territorial trait.

From bread culture to extreme punctuality: 25 comics that sum up German culture

Coming or going?

For months, Prime Minister Theresa May has been trying to get a Brexit deal through the British Parliament. But as this flummoxed German train conductor shows, noone knows whether Britain will actually leave or ultimately stay in Europe.

From bread culture to extreme punctuality: 25 comics that sum up German culture

You have to set priorities

Germans are football crazy. The earth may shake, World War Three may break out, or a wedding may be planned: But everything comes second to an important football match.

From bread culture to extreme punctuality: 25 comics that sum up German culture

Trespassing prohibited!

The train is running late, so there's enough time for a cigarette — theoretically at least. But since 2007, smoking is banned outside marked zones at German stations. Some in the rule-bound nation are nonetheless 'rebels' who dare to dangle their toes over the line.

From bread culture to extreme punctuality: 25 comics that sum up German culture

Gnomes know

Garden gnomes are a ubiquitious part of typical German front gardens and come in endless guises: Gardeners, musicians, footballers, bikies. These gnomes have a long tradition and remain a kitschy mainstay of the German suburban landscape. They are also sometimes so weird that they've developed an ironic kind of cult appeal.

From bread culture to extreme punctuality: 25 comics that sum up German culture

Fashion faux pas

In Bavaria, a pair of traditional lederhosen, or leather pants, belongs in almost every wardrobe. But beware: The traditional garment may cause confusion in some circles. Members of German bikie gangs also wear leather pants; but as we can see here, wouldn't be seen dead in lederhosen.

From bread culture to extreme punctuality: 25 comics that sum up German culture

Harsh words

Granted, the spoken German language is not known for its melodious sound. On the contrary; if you do not understand the language, you might get the impression that Germans are constantly arguing. But what makes the German language sound so harsh? One reason, say linguists, is the relatively large number of consonants.

From bread culture to extreme punctuality: 25 comics that sum up German culture

Teutonic canines

There is nothing more German than Birkenstock sandals and socks, worn often in unison with shorts. Even this German Shepherd has adopted the national stereotype.

From bread culture to extreme punctuality: 25 comics that sum up German culture

Addicted to speed

Sitting on 220 kilometers per hour on the highway is no problem in Germany. The country's car lobby has successfully resisted highway speed limits that are routine in other countries. Hence visitors to Germany might be shocked when they are travelling at twice the legal speed limit set at home.

From bread culture to extreme punctuality: 25 comics that sum up German culture

Built for speed

Anyone who has spent their lives racing down speed limitless German highways will want to continue the national pastime into old age — though sensibly of course. For pensioners, 120 kilometers per hour seems a good compromise.

From bread culture to extreme punctuality: 25 comics that sum up German culture

Waiting at the lights

"Red means wait, green means go!" This national rule is drummed into German children, sometimes even before they can walk, meaning that as adults few citizens would dare disobey a traffic signal — even when it's broken!

From bread culture to extreme punctuality: 25 comics that sum up German culture

Sense of duty

What would the Germans be without their jobs? Maybe healthier? At any rate, being sick and missing work is not as option for many duty-bound Germans. Here the motto is not "get well soon," but "get well fast!"

From bread culture to extreme punctuality: 25 comics that sum up German culture

Still standing

When it comes to beer drinking, the Germans have a mythical resilience. No wonder. Eight billion liters of beer are consumed in Germany annually. The nation is especially proud of its beer purity law, which states that beer may only be made from hops, malt, yeast and water.

From bread culture to extreme punctuality: 25 comics that sum up German culture

About time

Punctuality is allegedly one the great German virtues — or alternatively, their most annoying traits. "Five minutes ahead of time is German punctuality," goes a popular saying. But ironically, Germany doesn't actually live up to the myth, ranking outside the top 10 for most punctual national air and rail travel services.

From bread culture to extreme punctuality: 25 comics that sum up German culture

Playing by the rules

Germans might not always be on time, but they remain sticklers for rules — and regulations. So it wouldn't be surprising if a rule-heavy game like chess was invented by a German, despite its ancient origins.

Razor-sharp and funny to boot: That's the cartoonist's mission. But could those adjectives describes Germans as well? Artist Miguel Fernandez pokes fun at the stereotypes and personality traits attributed to the Germans.

How can you tell if someone is a German? Is German-ness even recognizable to oneself? To others? Can you tell a person is German by their certain need to be overly precise or crazy-making need for structure or their hot-blooded passion (for cars)? And is it really true what they say about German punctuality?

Lifestyle | 12.08.2015

In search of answers to these clichés and traditions is cartoonist Miguel Fernandez, who has taken them on one at a time in cartoons drawn especially for DW social media channels.

"Do you understand German?" and "That's so German..." will be shared every Tuesday starting on November 6, 2018. Taking a magnifying glass to German traditions, manners and preferences, the cartoonist has worked hard to make his drawing understandable for an international audience.

"At the very latest, when you see the title of the series, you should know that it's about Germans and their peculiarities and so it should be clear what the meaning behind the cartoon is," says Fernandez.

Culture | 09.05.2018

Read more: A brief guide to German garden colonies

Germans do have a liking for garden gnomes

On his other projects, which are primarily intended for a German audience, the artist says he knows "what to expect of readers, because they have the same experiences I do. When it comes to people from completely different cultural backgrounds, I can't say whether they know whether this or that is a German peculiarity. I really have to fall back on those things which are well-known."

Among those clichés that Fernandez draws on are the German love for garden gnomes, for fast cars and the country's incredible selection of bread and rolls — things which both Germans and foreigners can smile about.

Miguel Fernandez takes on those everyday areas of life with a sharp eye. "You can't walk through the world waiting for an idea to fall at your feet, it doesn't work. The cartoons must always be so overdone or so far away from reality that you would rarely encounter anything like it in real life. That's finding the muse."

The cartoonist

A career as tax clerk

The 44-year-old got his start in a completely different way, apprenticing as a specialist assistant in tax and business consulting. "I was probably the worst trainee they ever had," he laughs.

"It just didn't work for me. I woke up with a bellyache every morning and had this urgent thought that I had to do something else." When one day there was trouble with the boss, suddenly everything became clear. Miguel Fernandez quit his job, finished his high school diploma, did his year of community service and went on to study visual communication.

"I'm not an advertising person," Fernandez says about his studies, "but I really took a lot with me, especially from the illustration courses." His thesis was a book of comics that went on to be published. But Miguel preferred cartoons. "Only very few people can make a good living from comic books and I just like cartoons better, it's funner and I'm much happier doing it."

Read more: 10 very German passions

If it's true that Germans are always on time, why are the trains so late?

The comedy of the German everyday

His Spanish uncle was good at sketching, something which impressed the young Miguel when he visited him on his summer holiday. And in the 1970s and 80s, he devoured the comic books that were popular in Germany: MAD, Kowalski, as well as Werner comics and Clever&Smart.

To date, several dozen of his books of cartoons have been published. He has likewise produced entire series of cartoons, like the "Geschafft!" series, in which things are named that you no longer have to do — as a man; as a single woman; as a dog; or after the age of 25 — or that you are now allowed to do — as a grandmother; after receiving your high school diploma; or once you own your own home.

The topics are personal and close to his heart, but they also have to remain socially relevant. "I want to reach a lot of people and make them laugh," says Fernandez. "I enjoy it when I get an e-mail from someone who has seen a cartoon on the internet and thanks me for making him laugh. That's a nice thing."

The cartoons about the Germans and their quirks are now available on the DW Euromaxx Facebook page.