German exhibition surprises visitors with facts and fables

December 06, 2013 - 3:06:17 am

Gartenzwerg or garden gnomes on display at the expo,  with a famous Bavarian castle in the backdrop. Tales of the garden dolls abound with opinion divided over why Germans place them in their yards.

By Mukesh Sharma

Doha: The luscious Black Forest cake you dig your teeth into originated in the Black Forest region, a thickly wooded area in southwestern Germany almost grazing the borders of northern Switzerland and eastern France. Germans consume much more coffee than the beverage you think makes the country of Oktoberfest popular in the world. 

The nation that produced words like Kindergarten and Blitzkrieg (from the Second World War) has a swathe of land straddling hundreds of kilometres where many fairy tales— from Cinderella to Red Riding Hood to Snow White — are said to have originated. Traditions and quirks abound in the country of 82 million, helping define the German identity. 

Many Germans place wooden dolls in their gardens you might be sometimes forgiven to believe, are Santa Claus-like figurines. They are the Gartenzwerg or garden gnomes, says Dalia Shalaby, Curriculum Director of the German Language Centre Doha, Partner of the Goethe Institut, which has laid out a fare of things German as part of an exhibition open until December 12. Germans – known for their dexterity— believe that the humanoid creatures would ‘do some house chores while they were out’. At the same time it is not hard to find a German who would not relate positively to the dolls, says Dr Anke Schmidt, General Manager of the Language Centre. 

The German shepherd dog, also known as Alsatian, is endemic to the land of knut, the Berlin zoo polar bear that once became a phenomenon. Thirteen percent of German households own dogs, and hell hath no fury as a German’s dog scorned. “You may insult your German friend but not his dog,” says Shalaby, adding that citizens of the European industrial powerhouse adore their canines.

Deutschland im Koffer — Germany unwrapped — at the German International School shows a side of the country unknown to many. 

What is the German stereotype? They are thrifty, pedantic, punctual, very formal (at least until you befriend them). 

The German bureaucracy, known for being exacting, embodies a stereotype. 

The stinginess probably takes from the post-war and inter-war periods when one had to be thrifty to survive — remember the Great Depression of the 1930s when the Deutsche Mark fell so sharply that kids flew kites made of the currency? 

Angela Merkel’s country sells 21.5 million newspaper copies a day. With 333 strong newspapers, no wonder German president Christian Wulff had to resign in 2012 after the Bild, Frankfurter Allemeigne and Der Spiegel came out with his indiscretions. 

The exhibition has a doormat peppered with German pejoratives — Trottel and Dummkopf among them stand for ‘stupid’. Didn’t Albert Einstein, a German, say — Two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity. I’m quite not sure about the universe.

The Peninsula

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