Lieber Armin Laschet

Bitte nicht immer “wir müssen” sagen, sondern eher “wir werden alles unternehmen, dass wir … erreichen”. Mehr zupackend argumentieren, der klare Wille muss bei den Menschen ankommen. Danke.

Please don’t always say “we must”, but instead more like “we will do everything possible, so that we … achieve more.” Argue more dynamically. Get across clear determination and willpower. Thanks.

That was the advice given by a German professor for information security and data privacy. As a comment on an article in LinkedIn.

Armin Laschet, the Premier (think governor) of Germany’s most populous state, Northrhine Westphalia, is the Christian Democratic Union – CDU (think Adenauer, Kohl, Merkel) chancellor candidate in the September 2021 federal elections in Germany.

Jesse Owens and Lutz Long

Berlin, 1936, the Olympic Games. The great American track and field athlete, Jesse Owens, wins the gold medal in the 100 meter, the 200 meter, the 4×100 meter dash, as well as in the long jump.

What many people don’t know, however, is that the silver medalist in the long jump, the German Carl Ludwig “Lutz” Long, had given Owens the kind of advice that only a true colleague, and friend, would give.

Going into the 1936 games Long had been the reigning German champion and holder of the European record. The Nazi hierarchy – and the German people – had anticipated gold for Germany.

In the qualification round Owens had fouled twice in a row by stepping on the white board delineating the jump-off point. A third foul would have disqualified him. Jesse Owens would have failed to advance to the final round. The crowd, the millions listening by radio, and especially Owens himself, were unsettled.

After that second fault, Lutz Long walked over to his competitor and advised him to simply imagine the foul line to be located one foot closer than it actually was, saying that he just had to avoid fouling a third time, and that his third jump would easily be enough to advance to the next round.

Some sources claim that Long went so far as to lay down his white towel marketing where Owens should leap from, ensuring that he would not foul a third time.

Jesse Owens took the advice given to him by that German, advancing to the final round, and then setting a record which would hold for decades. Lutz Long took the silver.

Immediately after the medal ceremony, when Owens and Long stepped off the podium – and in full view of Adolf Hitler and many of the highest ranking National Socialist officials – Lutz Long, the German, smiled, shook hands with Owens, then hooked Jesse’s right arm into his left and proceeded to walk with him around the track, smiling, talking, congratulating.

1936. Tensions in Europe were very high. The German regime was espousing a crude racial theory. And in the United States, an African-American like Jesse Owens was treated as a second-class citizen, at best. With the world watching, and in conscious defiance of his own government, Lutz Long, a German, reached out to his archrival to give a small bit of helpful advice. Unsolicited.

Postscript: After the 1936 Olympic Games Jesse Owens was celebrated triumphantly in the U.S., only then to be forgotten for two decades, and to struggle financially, until the 1950s brought him a presidential appointment as American Ambassador of Goodwill by Dwight Eisenhower, and with it lucrative celebrity endorsements as well as a long, healthy, happy life.

Lutz Long, his German friend, died in battle against the Western Allies in Italy at the age of thirty. Fast forward the video above to 1:38 mins:

“You could melt down all of the medals and cups I have and they wouldn’t be a plating for the twenty-four carat friendship I felt for Lutz Long at that moment.” Jesse Owens

Not German Know-it-alls

Germans believe in norms. Conformity, uniformity. Rectitude, righteousness. Accommodation, assimilation. Subordination, subsidiarity. If the law states that adults may not ride their bicycles on the sidewalk, then German adults do not ride their bicycles on the sidewalk. Doing otherwise breaches, transgresses, goes against the law, order, against agreements made which are then communicated in the form of a law. The breach demonstrates a lack of respect, of making oneself more important than the others.

In public spaces – such as automobile, bicycle, pedestrian traffic – Germans feel responsible for each other, allowing them, expecting of them, to point out to others what they are doing wrong, which could injure them or others. Just as one would help an older person carry their packages across a busy street, so to one would point out to a parent who forgot to put a bicycle helmet on their child’s head.

Germans believe in having a high degree of collective responsibility. They show concern for, look after, the people around them. Germans do not believe in leaving others alone to suffer the consequences of their own avoidable failures. Both the individual and the group is responsible for the individual. The weak – or less informed – should be supported with “Rat und Tat”, literally advice and action.

Der Deutsch-Franzoser

Not long ago. In a café, talking with a German graduate student interested in doing project work for me. He is intelligent, polite, listening carefully. At the table next to us another guy, same age, drinking tea, eating cake, typing into this laptop, headphones on, on his head a thin woolen cap. It‘s late November. After an hour or so our neighbor pays his bill, packs up his laptop, stands up then turns to me and says: Wissen Sie, es ist sehr unhöflich auf Menschen mit dem Zeigefinger zu deuten.

I was not aware that during my talk with the grad student that I had pointed to him with my index finger. But, wait! Who is this guy to interrupt our conversation and correct my behavior? I was shocked, but then again not surprised. I turned to the grad student – we were discussing differences between cultures – and smiled, saying softly: “There you are. Germans giving unsolicited advice.”

Hardly had I gotten that statement out and my friendly neighbor – not yet finished gathering his things – turned to me again and said: Ich bin Deutschfranzoser. He‘s bicultural, German and French. It wasn‘t worth my time to engage in a debate with him about the matter. It made me wonder, though, if the French also give unsolicited advice.

“Don’t walk around“

Several years ago. Atlanta. A management seminar. One of my first. I have the habit of walking around the room while I talk or listen. Two straight days of sitting is not healthy. And I tend to be wound up.

Day two, just after breakfast, I head to the seminar room to prepare a few flipcharts. Coming down the hall is one of the participants. German. He stops me, clearly angry with me. Sie sollten nicht die ganze Zeit im Seminar aufstehen und herumgehen. Das ist unprofessionell und stört. I should not stand up and walk around the room during the seminar. It is unprofessional. My reaction? Oh, ok. How nice to get such friendly advice.

Infant in a Pouch

Our son was only a few months old, but big enough to place in one of those pouches which hang over the shoulders with the child resting against your chest. It was a beautiful autumn day in Germany. Sun, blue skies, not even a light breeze. We headed out for a walk. Around the corner, up the street, then a turn into a wooded area with a maze of different walking paths.

From the opposite direction comes a woman, early 60s, alone, with her walking stick. Before we pass each other she makes eye-contact with me, says Guten Tag. We stop. She then offers her opinion.

The pouch my son was resting in was not good for him. Ungesund. Unhealthy. I looked at her. Surprised. Already a bit irritated. Another German offering their wisdom. Controlling myself, I asked why. The design cuts off the circulation to the upper part of the child’s legs. Das sollten Sie nicht nutzen. I shouldn‘t use the pouch. The woman continued on before I could react. It would not have mattered anyway.

Bike Helmet

End of a workday. 6:30 pm. Winter. Dark. Raining lightly. I hop on my bike and head home. Turning into my street I ride along the sidewalk on the left hand side of the road. Slowly. Don‘t want the bike to slide out from under me. I also want to be respectful of pedestrians.

I see a woman about twenty-five meters ahead of me. Just before I pass her she suddenly sticks out her left arm like a pole to block me. It works. I brake suddenly, jump off and confront her. “Are you crazy? I could have fallen from my bike and injured myself.”

She stands her ground, looks me in the eye and says very calmly: Sie fahren auf dem Bürgersteig, auf der linken Seite der Strasse und ohne Licht. I was riding on the sidewalk as an adult, on the left hand side of the street and without a bicycle light on.

In Germany, all against the law. I was flabbergasted, not so much at the laws, which make perfect sense, but at the audacity of this woman to play enforcer of the law. I could hardly contain myself. Upon arriving at home I described the scene to my German wife. Her response? Sie hat recht. The woman was right. The marriage didn’t last.