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.

Dem Ingenieur ist nichts zu schwör!

Qualität. Quality. Latin qualitas, how something has been made, a characteristic; how crafted; the sum or totality of characteristics; the level of workmanship.

Beschaffenheit. The outer, inner, material, make-up of something.

Tüftler. Tinkerer. Someone who with patience and stamina can work on a complex problem; a kind of inventor; a person who finds new ways to solve a difficult problem.

Ingenieur. Latin ingenium, an ingenious person, inventive, complex thinker; to create, produce; one trained at a university.

Dem Ingenieur ist nichts zu schwör! For the engineer is nothing too difficult, with Ingenieur and schwör rhyming, from the Engineer‘s Song by Hinrich Seidel, a German engineer and novelist of the 19th Century.

The text of the song contiues: Dem Ingenieur ist nichts zu schwere – Er lacht und spricht, geht dieses nicht, so geht doch das! For the engineer is nothing is too difficult. He laughs and claims: It this doesn‘t work, then that will!

Wo man ihm ein Rätsel schenkt, steht der Ingenieur und denkt. When he‘s given a problem, the engineer stands still and ponders, with schenkt (to give) and denkt (to think) rhyming. Engineers are tinkerers. They‘ll work on something until they find an acceptable solution.

Not in Kansas anymore

In May of 2007, a grade 5 tornado (the highest possible) destroyed the town of Greensburg, Kansas, killing 13 people, injuring more than 60 others and flattening 95 percent of the town structures (while seriously damaging the other 5 percent). The tornado was estimated to be 1.7 miles (2.7 km) wide at its base, and traveled almost 22 miles (35 km). Wind from the twister was estimated at 205 mph (330 km/h).

In May of 2011, a grade 5 tornado ravaged the city of Joplin, Missouri. Although this tornado was only .75 miles at its base, and traveled 6 miles on the ground, it also had winds estimated at over 200 mph, and, because this tornado hit a city rather than a small town, it had far more devastating figures of destruction: 158 people died, over 1000 people were injured, and around 7,000 homes were destroyed (not including businesses and public buildings).

According to the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) an average of 1253 tornadoes occur in the United States every year. Although more common in “tornado alley” (the Midwest), tornados have been documented in every state in the U.S. After the United States, the country with the largest average number of annual cyclones is Canada, with around 100 twisters.

If there’s a relatively high probability that your home will be completely destroyed in a storm, then “long-lasting” won’t be one of your main concerns when buying it or having it build for you.

Familiarity breeds contempt

A New Broom Sweeps Clean – A fresh leader gets rid of the old and brings in new ideas and personnel. This term can be found in English as early as 1546 in John Heywood’s proverb collection.

Climb/jump on the Bandwagon – Join a growing movement in support of someone or something, often just as that movement appears to have become successful. This phrase developed after American politicians in the late 19th century began using bandwagons when campaigning for office.

First known use: 1899 by President Theodore Roosevelt: “When I once became sure of one majority they tumbled over each other to get aboard the band wagon.”

Familiarity Breeds Contempt – The better you know someone, the more likely you are to find fault with them. First known use: 1386 in Chaucer’s “Tale of Melibee.”

The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side – A different situation always seems better than your own. First known use: 1400s.

You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks – Old dogs (and people) learn less well than the young. Although this phrase primarily refers to people, not products, it nevertheless shows how Americans tend to view old things as outdated and unadaptable. First known use: John Fitzherbert’s 1534 The Boke of Husbandry.”


There are a lot of American websites that describe ways to make use of old products after upgrading to newer models. If you type “creative ways to reuse things” into Google, you are met with over 20 million websites with such titles as “40 Awesome Ways to Reuse Old Stuff” and “534 Ways to Reuse Things You’d Normally Throw Away.” These sites have suggestions for reusing everything from bicycles to wrenches, and even to fruit peels.

Some of the suggestions listed on these websites include: Using an old bicycle as a sink stand. Turning an old cassette tape into a coin purse. Bending old wrenches into wall hooks. Cutting old credit cards into guitar picks. Turning an old suitcase into a chair. Grinding old egg shells to make sidewalk chalk.