Wunderwerk

“Buy yourself a flatscreen tv!” was the advice given by one German graduate student to the other, after the latter struggled to carry his old television – Röhrenfernseher or cathode ray tube television – up several flights of stairs to his new, smallish, apartment. The old tv is, indeed, just that. Twenty years. It belonged to his grandmother, then to his parents.

This Wunderwerk deutscher Ingenieurskunst – wonder work of German engineering – a term once used ironically by a tv repairman – was built by a renowned German electronics company. Siemens. It continues to work flawlessly.

When the Röhrenfernseher – literally tube far see-er – some day gives up the ghost, it will be replaced by a flatscreen tv. But because the age-old German belief in not throwing anything out which still works applies to this truly durable German household appliance, it could see a few more schweißtreibende Umzüge – sweat-inducing apartment moves.

Crazy Germans!

Unpuncturable

Unpuncturable – it can’t be punctured. No flat tire. 

The Marathon Plus is the only bicycle tire in the world which is allowed to describe itself as unpuncturable. It is made by the German company Schwalbe with its patent on a Pannenschutzgürtel – literally flat tire protective belt. The belt is five millimeters thick and is made of highly elastic rubber. Neither thumbtacks nor glass can cut through it.

The Marathon Plus tire is not only unpuncturable, it has a so-called anti-aging exterior. Schwalbe’s goal was to create a truly durable product, a deep-seated German desire to make things which have Beständigkeit – resistance, stability, permanence, constancy.

Schwalbe was founded in 1992 by the Bohle family. It has remained a family-owned and -run company. It is the leading bicycle tire company in Europe, operates worldwide. They describe themselves as tire fanatics.

Prussian Reforms

Much of what is Germany has its roots in the Prussian reforms of the early 19th Century. Napoleon‘s rapid defeat of Prussia in 1806/07 led to a deep-dive analysis of what went wrong, of what required reform. The Germans radically changed their agricultural system, their business laws, their military training, and most importantly their system of education.

Public eduction for all was introduced. The universities adopted the Humboldt education philosophy, which stressed free and independent inquiry and teaching. Knowledge quickly became the foundation of a modern Prussian economy and state, in many ways for contemporary Germany.

The Prussian Reforms also addressed state institutions. A system of professional civil servants and a bureaucracy was instituted. Bureaucracy then stood for efficiency and professionalism. The tax laws were simplified and made transparent. The state should function more efficiently and become a motor for positive change.

Germany today remains a rather bureaucratic country, with its scores of civil servants, rules and laws. It is a country where one simply cannot do as one pleases. From the perspective of other societies this is a limitation on freedom. Germans, though, view it as a sign of security and stability. Doing things the right way, punctuality, reliability, predictability, following the rules, bureaucracy. Germany has a 200 year history of these. They are who the Germans are as a people.

TÜV

TÜV Technischer Überwachungsverein. The Institute for Technical Testing has locations across Germany (and in many countries), applies vigorous testing procedures to products of all kinds. A TÜV certificate is a sign of the highest quality.

Stiftung Warentest. The Foundation for Product Testing, similar to Consumer Reports in the U.S., is an independent, neutral organization which tests critically over 200 products each year. Its standards are among the highest internationally, including all requirements defined by law. The media covers many of the test results.

The quality of a product is its most important characteristic. The testing results produced by TÜV and Stiftung Warentest are considered by Germans to be 100% reliable. Each have been taken to court many times for the critical scores they have given products. Neither organization has lost a court case.

Crisis and insecurity

The experiences during, between and after the two world wars continue to exert great influence on German thinking. During both wars the economy was geared fully towards producing armaments. There was little material, money and manpower to supply everyday consumer goods.

The years between the wars were filled with civil war type unrest, weak governments, and several phases of inflation including a dramatic hyper-inflation. The years after the Second World War were marked by hunger, lack of housing, severe winters, high unemployment and a fear of what the future would bring.

The entire West German economy had to be rebuilt. This was achieved surprisingly fast due to the generous and far-sighted help of the Western allies and on the production of high-quality technical products. After nearly thirty years of instability, unpredictability and hardship, there was a strong demand among the German people for reliable, durable, high quality products. The Germans wanted security and predictability.

The German product philosophy has not changed, even though there are few alive who experienced the war years. The experiences were so dramatic that they have been passed on to the younger generations. German products which carry the name Bosch, Siemens or Volkswagen speak to the experiences of both earlier and current generations.

Cost-benefit relationship

Langlebig. Long lasting, to work over many years; effective over a long period of time; functional, usable over an extended period of time.

Germans prefer products which last a long time, rarely need repair or replacement, and pay for themselves several times over. The unstable economic times of the 20th century have taught the Germans to calculate precisely and carefully the relation between investment and use.

Residential homes and automobiles in Germany, for example, are much more expensive than in other countries. On the other hand they are often of higher quality, meet higher standards. The Germans will pay more, however, for many other kinds of products, such as furniture, household appliances, tools, and clothing.

Many well-known, but expensive brands continue to command customer loyalty. They are of high quality and solid durability. They offer a sense of security to the German consumer.

Although Germans in general like the newest in technology, they are bothered by the fact that many electronics – computers, television sets, mobile phones – are improved upon in ever shorter product development cycles. In those cases it is rarely worth it to invest in expensive models.

Durability, reliability, and quality are product attributes not easily distinguishable. Durability is a question of how long a product lasts. Reliability is about how well it performs. And quality is a general term encompassing many product attributes, but focused primarly on craftsmanship.

Imprint