Hans Holbein the Younger

Hans Holbein the Younger (1497–1543) was a German painter and printmaker who worked in the Northern Renaissance style, and is considered one of the greatest portraitists of the 16th century.

Holbein was born in Augsburg, Bavaria, but he worked mainly in Basel, Switzerland as a young artist. Holbein travelled to England in 1526 in search of work, with a recommendation from the great European thinker, Erasmus of Rotterdam.

Holbein was welcomed into the humanist circle of Thomas More, the Archbishop of Canterbury, where he quickly built a strong reputation. By 1535, he was King’s Painter to none other than Henry VIII of England.

Of particular interest to us as students of German culture are minutes 22:20 to 25:00 in this very interesting mini-documentary about Hans Holbein. Pay particular attention to the segment 24:00-24:37. “If you wanted precision, quality and Vorsprung durch Technik (the current motto of Audi) you bought German.”

And by the way, the documentary is done exceptionally well. Tudor England. Henry the VIII. Thomas More. And, of course, Thomas Cromwell. Very much worth watching in full.

selbständig – independent

“The team at Minderleinsmühle opened up their hearts to me. From the first minute onward I felt very comfortable. In my area I work independently. My colleagues, however, are always there for me should I need help. Every day I learn something new.” Anna, Intern in Quality Control, 2019

Minderleinsmühle near Nuremberg, Germany. From their website:

“Our mueslis & cereals, pastries, sweets, chocolates and snacks stand for high-end quality, sustainability and best taste. Under leading of the Hubmann Family, the Minderleinsmühle was arisen from a craft mill with connected agriculture to an established manufacturer in the sector of organic food. As a grown enterprise with a vision, we unify craftsmanship and experience with technology and innovation.”

Germany’s future? Look at its cars

A well-done description of the current – September 2021 – situation in Germany. By the economist. Using the German automobile industry as a window into the wider challenges to the German economy and to German society.

It’s bottom-line question is whether the German people are capable of responding to the challenges of today and the near future.

“March to our own beat”

WordPress software powers 70 million websites. Just about half of the biggest blogs in the world run on WordPress. Automattic – owner of WordPress – is not your typical Silicon Valley Web start-up.

“We march a little to our own beat, and sometimes it’s out of sync with Silicon Valley — and that’s been to our advantage and disadvantage,” co-head Toni Schneider said. 

“We don’t get sucked into the latest thing, while some of our competitors are distracted by the latest shiny object. The disadvantage is sometimes we’re against the grain of what everyone else is excited about, and people ask ‘Why don’t you have x yet?’ — but we go at our own pace.”

Another way that Automattic is unusual is its extraordinarily low rate of staff changeover. It currently has 106 employees — and it has only ever hired 118 people.

Automattic was founded by Matt Mullenweg. From Houston. An American with a German background.

World-class whiners

Jammern auf hohem Niveau – whining at a high level. This is one of the many ways in which Germans complain about their complaining. And, indeed, the Germans complain quite a bit. Nothing seems to be right, or just right, or good enough.

Sven Astheimer wrote a very interesting editorial in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in June of 2015. His basic argument was that German whining – a more accurate term is German Unzufriedenheit or dissatisfaction – is one of the German people’s great strengths.

Never being fully satisfied. Always “looking for the hair in the soup.” Striving for perfection. “Geht nicht, gibt’s es nicht” is a very well-known German figure of speech. It translates loosely into: “It can’t work, doesn’t work for me.” Or “It’s impossible, is impossible.”

Astheimer fears that Germans are becoming too satisfied. The country is extraordinarily successful. Strong economy. Balanced federal budget. A finely meshed social net protecting the weak and the unfortunate (and the lazy).

In other words, Jammern is under threat. Germany does not have abundant resources. It has only the creativity, the innovation, the strong minds of its people. Knowhow. And knowing how to do something – how to do it better or in a new way – is driven, is sparked, by Unzufriedenheit.

Harry’s Razors

Harry’s makes shaving equipment for men. Two American MBAs with experience in strategy consulting bought a German manufacturer in Thuringia (Thüringen in former East Germany), founded in 1920. Their goal is to challenge the world’s dominant products.

“Our team in Germany has been grinding high-grade steel into some of the world’s sharpest blades since 1920. Today, more than four hundred German engineers, designers, craftsmen, and production workers build and operate sophisticated, custom equipment that produces millions of precision blades per year. We’re excited to partner with our new team to innovate and continue to make the fine blades you deserve.

Our blades will get even better. Your shave will get even better. We’ll listen to your feedback about what makes a great shave and create products that deliver you that experience. In the end, we hope you’ll enjoy shaving even more.

We spent over a year meticulously crafting our first Harry’s line. Our blades are made by German engineers with decades of experience honing high-grade steel. Our handles were designed to blend timeless simplicity and modern ergonomics. Our shaving cream comes from the same chemists who make creams for high-end brands. The result: a set of modern shaving products made with respect for the tradition of a good, clean shave.”

Quality product combined with respectful marketing.

And John Otto Magee – Founder of understand-culture – is a very happy Harry’s Razors customer. So happy that he recommends Harry’s to friends. All the time. Thanks, Harry’s. And special thanks to those great Germans in Thüringen.

„The best engineers come from Germany“

The BBC reported in September 2013: “I think the apprentices will be guaranteed a job when we go back, so I think we’ll be ok,” said Rhys from Bristol, UK. He is one of just 2,200 young workers chosen from some 45,000 applicants by the electronics and electrical engineering giant Siemens for its pan-European training scheme. 

Another apprentice, 21-year-old Gabriel from Northampton, says he came to Berlin to learn the German way. “They are much more precise, they go into detail a lot more. It helps you understand why all the best engineers and creatives come from here.”

“Everybody knows what the label ‘Made in Germany’ means,” says 22-year-old Vainius from Lithuania. “This is a perfect example of how they do it. It is an excellent chance for everyone here.“

Germany’s vocational system has been around for decades and is deeply embedded in society. Youngsters who are not qualified for or interested in going to university can join a program in which they work part of the week for a firm that pays them and teaches them relevant skills. The rest of the time they spend in the classroom.

Chambers of commerce and industry bodies are involved to ensure that the work and the teaching are matched. After their apprenticeships, the trainees often have jobs to walk into, in sectors including electrical engineering, sales and marketing, shipping and agriculture.

Roughly two out of three young Germans go through this system.

German Engineers – Quotes

“The way in which one handles risk distinguishes between a serious engineer and a speculator and gambler.” Adolf Münzinger, agricultural economist, 1876 – 1962.

“Every person is an artist, whether trashman, nurse, medical physician, engineer or farmer.” Joseph Beuys, German sculptor, 1921 – 1986.

“A German engineer strolls into a primeval forest with a few tin cans and comes out later with a locomotive.” Felix Wankel, inventor of the rotary engine, 1902 – 1988.

“Engineers are the camels on which the business people ride.” Author unknown

Made in Germany

England in 1887 required all products imported from Germany to be labeled „Made in Germany.“ At the time German products were considered to be of substandard quality. Germany was a late-comer to the industrial revolution, much later than England. A famous German engineer admitted that German products were „cheap and bad.“

Many were enraged, but it led to a national discussion and a quality offensive. At the beginning of the 20th Century, and especially in the post-World War II era, „Made in Germany“ took on a new meaning: high quality, newest technology. It became synonymous with West Germany‘s economic miracle of the 1950s.

The Germans recognized the importance of such a label, of the reputation of their products. They became particularly proud of their technical and economic achievements. Germans continue to view their products as having high quality, often as being the best in the world. From the early 1980s until recently Germany was the world‘s leading exporter.

The label „Made in Germany“ is used less today than in the past, however. A minimum amount of a product‘s parts must be produced in Germany before it can boast „Made in Germany.“

Modern German industrial and technology companies, however, have segmented their supply chains to include manufacturing sites and suppliers in many parts of the world. Nonetheless, the label „Made in Germany“ remains a key, positive element in the self-understanding of every German.

When German engineers are bored

Engineering in Germany is prestigious. As a field of study it ranks among the most respected. Germany‘s economy, its sophisticated technical products, rely on an abundance of first-class engineers. More than 20% of all first-year university students major in a technical field.

No other European country has a higher percentage of engineers among the workforce than Germany. Nonetheless, industry and the media constantly warn of decreasing numbers of Germans willing to enter the engineering profession.

In order to attract more women to the engineering sciences, German schools and universities organize so-called Girls Day, hoping to fascinate young women with the prospects of a technical career. Engineers begin their careers with a yearly salary of roughly 45,000 Euros. Graduates in the humanities, in contrast, earn about 31,000 Euros per year.