Al Murray’s German Adventure

Do you find Hollywood films which portray English people as evil upper class tyrants mildly annoying? Well, imagine how it must feel to be German. At any given moment on earth, 98% of all satellite television is made up entirely of evil Nazis (the other 2% is formed from bits of shark and Peter Andre). The very, very rare non-Nazi depictions of German people on our screens only show sausage-eaters in comical lederhosen or German footballers being better than us at football. Apart from that, there’s nothing. Just like homosexuals or Scousers, we normally require our Germans to fulfill all of our ingrained stereotypes in order to be allowed onto our TV screens.

And just try looking for good books about modern Germany on Amazon. There are hardly any. This is a diverse modern country that has 82 million inhabitants, some of the world’s greatest art and the largest economy in Europe; but we just don’t seem to be interested in them. So it was great to discover that the schedulers at BBC4 have decided to commit ratings hari kari and run a ‘German Season’ with a series of programmes trying to shine a light into that dark and mysterious realm. In an attempt to jolly up proceedings, they’ve come up with the rather forced jape of sending Al Murray, a comedian who usually takes the (ironic) mickey out of the Krauts in his alter ego The Pub Landlord, to wander around pointing at pretty things.

From the strand of films included in the German Season, Al Murray’s German Adventure (BBC4 Wednesday 9pm) was the dumbed-down entry level one but I found it oddly charming, as did my German wife, who was very excited indeed about being able to watch a programme on British TV with a positive message about her homeland.

The programme has its failings. There’s not much in the way of context or coherence, all we are offered is a set of very fragmentary postcard glimpes of interesting places, as our host whizzes past with a quick wikipedia-style precis of what he’s looking at. Yet Germany, shown in the grip of a ferocious winter, looks ravishingly melancholy.  Sclerotic ice chokes the Baltic and the shots of black steam trains puffing through the snow are all deeply Dr Zhivago. Murray is a pleasant enough host with his serious hat on, (literally – he sports a Homburg hat in some sort of geographically misplaced homage to The Third Man.) Between Berlin and the Bauhaus there is so much goodness to see that it seems a shame that there are only 2 episodes; the next one attempts to take on the whole of South Germany- a region of excellent contrasts and beautiful scenery, sadly neglected by most Brits apart from youngsters who like to get drunk at the Oktoberfest and look at the Eagle’s Nest (Nazi mountains!) Try to catch both episodes on the iplayer if you can – for knowledgable and novice Germanophiles alike, this programme is an enjoyable meander.

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About Author Profile: Worm

In between dealing with all things technological in the Dabbler engine room, Worm writes the weekly Wikiworm column every Saturday and our monthly Book Club newsletters.

27 thoughts on “Al Murray’s German Adventure

    December 8, 2010 at 09:49

    I think you’ll find that’s a Crushable Fedora by Borsalino by the look of it, rather than a Homburg, Worm. Says I wearing my hat pedants hat.

    Fantastically and incomprehensibly unknown country to the average Brit, is Germany.

    December 8, 2010 at 09:51

    Did the BBC choose Al because he looks exactly like a Munich bierkeller landlord? and what sort of documentary is it that spends some time in Hamburg and doesn’t do a piece on Freitag von Elberry.

  3. Worm
    December 8, 2010 at 09:59

    Recusant, I bow to your superior hat knowledge sir – as proved above, I know absolutely nothing at all about hats – in fact I spent about 15 minutes googling hat pictures whilst writing the piece and they all looked the same to me, so I just plumped for the word homburg as it sounded a bit german.

    malty – yes, it was remiss not to have a look at the cultural impact of the Elberry movement on Northern Germany, I agree.

  4. Brit
    December 8, 2010 at 10:13

    I love visiting Germany. Beer and sausages is my kind of cuisine and it’s the most fun place to try out your language, as they’re so very patient.

    It must be a grind for those born decades after the events to be constantly reminded of the Nazis, who feature, as you say, in 98% of all television documentaries. But I’m a bit ambivalent about all that business; how exactly does the world go about forgiving something like the Nazis? Unanswerable.

  5. Gaw
    December 8, 2010 at 10:30

    Well said, worm. Berlin is one of my favourite cities and I’d like to get to know the country better. But so little time…

    Has anyone noticed that Al Murray’s head is by Gustave Verbeek, the upside-down cartoonist?

  6. Worm
    December 8, 2010 at 10:52

    gaw, he does indeed have an interchangeable face!

    Brit – good question! But do Russians get the same kind of scrutiny for what Stalin did all those years ago? Or the Chinese for Mao?

    Maybe its the case that the communists just didn’t have sexy enough uniforms.

    December 8, 2010 at 10:56

    I think it’s a more that the general population isn’t blamed in those countries for being complicit in the actions of their respective dictators. I say nothing on the fairness or otherwise of this.

  8. Worm
    December 8, 2010 at 11:12

    also lets not forget the whole secret doomsday weapons – flying saucers, death rays and possible alien involvement etcetc

    AND the fact that never in the history of mankind has a man looked more genetically predisposed to being an evil kinky weirdo than Heinrich Himmler

    December 8, 2010 at 11:16

    I lived in both Frankfurt and Hamburg in the 80s and experienced normal living as much as possible. I skied in the Hartz mountains skated in the Alster Lake and holidayed on Sylt among many other fun things; and of course discovered that there is no typical german any more than a typical brit. but I still couldn’t escape those who fell into their own stereotypes.
    There was the young Prussian who still maintained Germany and Britain would have made the winning partnership during WW2. I was barged out of a bus queue by a fat Hamburger and when I remonstrated in English he excused himself by saying he thought I was Turkish. It was impossible to try my german socially in Hamburg as they were determined to prove how proficient they were in english. Also the Bavarian who drank and partied too much and thought tomorrow could look after itself.
    However, admirably, every one cleared their own frontage when it snowed and if your neighbour was frail you did theirs as well. This was before the wall came down and friends who travelled to the East on business came back full of guilt and mortification. A lovely and diverse country full of people just like us. (After all a 2 generations ago it was easy to find brits who thought Hitler had a point until we felt threatened, we did not go to war to save the german jews)

    December 8, 2010 at 11:56

    And there’s also the problem that a lot of western left-leaning academics took a long time to acccept that ‘nobly intentioned’ Communism could have even more blood on its hands than ‘obviously evil’ fascism. Some still don’t.

  11. Worm
    December 8, 2010 at 12:02

    very true Brit.

    Moth (great name BTW) I too have lived in Germany and you are right, the germans are very very similar to us. Perhaps thats why we don’t like them?

    December 8, 2010 at 12:11

    Isn’t the crucial difference that they lack our irreverence? For example, no Briton would ever take goose-stepping seriously…Doh!, back on the Nazis again, it’s more difficult than it looks, this business…

  13. Gaw
    December 8, 2010 at 12:55

    There are two reasons the English aren’t identical to Germans: 1) living on an island; 2) sharing that island with Celts. That’s it.

    Re the goose-stepping, living on an island means you don’t really need a standing army. When you haven’t got one of these defending you or threatening you it’s easier to laugh at soldiers.

    December 8, 2010 at 13:09

    Look out Dabblers, the Bosch are about……….

    Germans take pleasure in art that is unsure of itself and this stems from the fact that they are dabblers, for a dabbler cannot allow good art to be valid, else he himself would be worth nothing at all.

    Goethe, Art and antiquity.

    December 8, 2010 at 13:21

    Clearly, German Dabblers are fundamentally different to British Dabblers. It must be the sea air we have – we need a BBC Four show to investigate.

    December 8, 2010 at 13:31

    Germany is responsible for some of the most disgusting food I have ever encountered in my life (including a huge piece of flaccid tripe hanging over the sides of a plate on a mound of lifeless looking cabbage). This is one of the reasons why Germans and anyone visiting Germany needs to have a sense of humour (or huge volumes of weiss bier/apfelwein). Fortunately, my German friends include some of the most gregarious, fun loving and bonkers people I’ve ever met.

  17. Worm
    December 8, 2010 at 13:36

    Goethe is talking rubbish – German’s don’t ‘dabble’. If they are going to do something, they do it to the max – anything less is a weakness. Hence, walking through a park you will see all the beginner rollerbladers wearing every single piece of the most expensive professional-level kevlar padding money can buy. And you can’t go for a stroll unless you have the most expensive mountaineering boots, nordic walking poles, a compass and one of those rucksacks with a built in water pouch that you drink with a long hose kept permanantly in your mouth

    Richard T
    December 8, 2010 at 13:46

    If you’re going to wear a hat in Germany, a Homburg is of course appropriate.

    December 8, 2010 at 13:51

    Here’s another angle. Can you think of anyone more English than Nige? And now, can you think of anyone less German than Nige?

  20. Worm
    December 8, 2010 at 13:55

    Basing my knowledge purely on saturday afternoon films – surely this means Nige may, in fact, be a german spy?

    December 8, 2010 at 14:31

    No, no, Worm. Nige is the brilliant, eccentric lepidopterologist from a provincial university that Major Jones-Hinkley from the War Office engages (in stoic desperation) to figure out how the air currents from the wings of massed butterflies can be used to divert V2 rockets as they pass over the Channel. Repeatedly frustrated, he finally succeeds with a sound machine he builds out of old bicycle parts that is inspired by the unique whistle of his landlady’s tea kettle. The rest is history.

    December 8, 2010 at 14:32

    Worm, I did discuss this Goetheism at last nights Skypefrence with Junior, Martin, Silka, Simone and Sila. Sila was of the opinion that, Goerthe, Schmoethe, what do these airy-fairy theatre directors know anyway. Unfortunately Sila being a Romanian rescue dog, her opinions are somewhat slanted towards the canine, Junior just thought “why don’t you get a life Dad.” Silka and Simone, well, just a couple of Germans burdz. Martin was busy playing his mock Strad and was incommunicado.

  23. Worm
    December 8, 2010 at 15:12

    I still think we should torture Nige, just to be sure

    December 8, 2010 at 15:38

    Rumour abounds that the enigma machine was actually Nige with three abacus and a blackboard.

    December 15, 2010 at 19:05

    Actually those hats ( whether crushable fedora or Homburg ) are quite popular at the minute among young men in Berlin. They look incongruous on them too!

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