TV News

German television news provides an example of how Germans separate message from messenger. News anchors present the news in an unemotional, correct, almost stiff way, maintaining an objective distance to the news. They sit behind the news desk, with the reports in their hand, read nonetheless from the teleprompter, show only discreet facial expression.

More recently, news achors will come out from behind the news desk and stand in front of a large screen. Although somewhat more informal, many continue to read from notes or at least hold the news report while using the teleprompter, making clear to their viewers: “This news is official. Not subjective. Not made up. Here it is in this official document.”

The branding approach of the German networks, especially the news departments, is based on substance, not personality. Topics, journalistic methods and form of presentation are far more important than the individuals presenting the news. The news presenters are interchangeable.

Der Tagesschau

Der Tagesschau – Germany’s most popular evening news. First from November 2020:

And 2010:

And on 9 Nov 1999, the tenth anniversary of the so-called Fall of the Berlin Wall:


“Pie in the sky“

Jemandem das Blaue vom Himmel versprechen – to promise someone the blue of the heavens – is to promise the unreachable. It is an attempt to persuade via promises which have”weder Hand noch Fuss – neither hand nor foot.

To exaggerate, to paint a rosy picture of future developments is not in any way convincing to Germans. This might be one of the reasons why they are so sceptical about utopias of every kind.


“For the first time I understand the Germans”

The history of Germany, as well as the historical consciousness of the German people, continue to impress and attract me. Today, just as strongly as a quarter century ago. You need only to go into a bookstore in Germany. Their books are not only solid, well bound and have great covers. The Germans have a very special relationship to books. There are always many older and newer publications about history, about their history. For those Germans who want to know their history there will never be a shortage of opportunities.

Every city in Germany, large and small, has museums in which history, but not only theirs, is told, is kept alive and relevant. In my early years in Berlin and Bonn I was astounded by how many fascinating and well-made documentary films were shown on German television. There was never a day without at least one in the evening. The German language is worth learning if only to read their books, to visit their museums, and to watch their documentaries. Although not a documentary, but one with the look and feel of one, was Heimat, by Edgar Reitz.

It was the summer of 1992. I watched episode for episode of Heimat. My eyes were glued to the television, my mind racing to understand every word, to pick up on as many nuances as possible. What an opportunity for me to gain insight in Germany of that time period, between the world wars. Time and again I had to turn to my then German wife to get the meaning of this or that word, for the dialogue was in the dialect of that region of Germany, the Hunsrück, along the Moselle River, between Trier and Koblenz. After every episode I was in a kind of trance, reflecting about what I had just taken in.

Then another time. I was in the car. Driving through Bonn. Evening. I turned on the radio. Deutschlandfunk. A book review was being read. It was about the immediate post-war years in then West Germany. The first sentences grabbed my attention. They flowed: complex, clear, rich, full of substance, critical, analytical, yet elegant. That feeling had come back, from when I was a student at Georgetown. History. German History. The history of another people. In another part of the world. And when I read the books by John Lukacs. Trance.

The reader continued. I was captured, drove further, but as if on a soft cloud just a few inches above the road. I think of the many war memorials in Germany. When I walk or ride my bicycle down the hill from the Venusberg in Bonn to the former government quarter on the Rhine, I pass through Kessenich where there is such a memorial.

It’s round, cement, encircling a lovely oak tree. Six pillars about eight feet high. Plenty of space between them to step in and out. The tops of all eight crowned – or held together – by a cement ring providing the tree with space to stretch out its branches. Just below the top each of the eight the face in cement of a German soldier with the iconic German steel helmet from the World War I.

Chiseled into the pillars, from the top to just about the bottom, are the names of the men who died in the two world wars. Six pillars, three sides each. Longs lists. Names. Of men, and boys, from that part of Bonn, from the neighborhood. Yes, boys, many no older than seventeen or eighteen years old. Sad. Especially sad for me, as one of five Magee boys, to read the same last names. Meyer. Schmitz. Leyendecker. Two, three, sometimes four of the same last names. Brothers. Cousins.

Imagine the deep, deep sadness of the mothers and fathers who saw their boys go off to war only to kill and be killed. 1914. 1915. 1916. 1917. 1918. Four long years for an entire continent. Then on the other sides of the pillars. 1939. 1940. 1941. 1942. 1943. 1944. 1945. Many of the same names. The sons and nephews of those fallen between 1914 and 1918. The Germans suffered, too.

“For the first time I understand the Germans.”


Analysis

A separation of a whole into its component parts; the identification or separation of ingredients of a substance; a statement of the constituents of a mixture; proof of a mathematical proposition by assuming the result and deducing a valid statement by a series of reversible steps; an examination of a complex, its elements, and their relations; a method in philosophy of resolving complex expressions into simpler or more basic ones.

In their curriculum vitae (resumé) German job applicants highlight their analytical abilities, knowing well that German employers value those skills especially.


Scientific Management

Scientific management originated in the U.S. in the 1880s and 90s. Also called Taylorism – named after Frederick Winslow Taylor – it was an attempt to apply science to work processes. And although scientific management as a school of thought was obsolete by the 1930s, most of its ideas remain key parts of industrial engineering and management today:

empiricism, efficiency, elimination of waste, best practice standardization, know-how transfer between workers and from workers into tools, processes, and documentation. At its core scientific management rejects traditions preserved for their own sake or to protect the social status of particular workers with certain skill sets.


überzeugen, not überreden

The German word überzeugen – literally over-witness or more than enough witnesses – means to persuade or convince with plausible arguments, evidence, proof that something is true, right, correct.

überzeugen for Germans means to use rational arguments only, to appeal to reason, without attempting establish a personal (subjective, emotional) relationship with the target audience.

The German word überreden – literally over-talk or more than enough talk – means to coax, plead, cajole, browbeat, armtwist the other person to do something they originally did not wish to.

überreden for Germans means to use subjective-emotional argumentation, to appeal to the emotions, to the non-rational. Germans reject überreden.


Problembewusstsein

Germans focus on problems. The more difficult, complex and serious the problem, the better. Problembewusstsein means literally problem consciousness. In order to persuade Germans of a course of action, they first need to be persuaded that the presenter has fully understood the problem, in its depth and breadth. First identify, understand, analyze, then solve the problem.

A major criticism in Germany is to have not – or not adequately – understood the problem. The Germans often say: Das müssen Sie differenzierter sehen meaning “You need to see the situation in a more differentiated way.”

differenziert also means sophisticated. This is their way of saying that one thinks too simplistically. The implication is that they are more intelligent, their problem consciousness more developed. To be intelligent in the German context means to be problem-aware and -oriented.


Trajectory

Germans view the past and the present as two points along a continuum. They establish a Weichen or course, path, trajectory. But not unchangeable. Neither automatic nor preordained.

Although people can affect real, even radical change, the Germans are realistic about the possible range of change. Every path has its past, where it came from. Seldom can people suddenly move in a totally different direction. Seldom do the Germans want to. Seldom are they persuaded when it is proposed.


Methodology

German academic training focuses on methodology. The quality of results – whether in the natural sciences or in the humanities – is determined by the quality of methodology. German students are taught that the person applying the methodolgy, but not the methodology itself, is interchangeable:

“… the conclusions verifiable; the starting point and operating assumptions logical and understandable; the individual steps taken re-traceable; so that the same results are arrived at by anyone taking the same path of inquiry.”

The academic (scholar, scientist, inquirer) is fully detached from the topic substance, both in the execution of the inquiry and in the presentation of results. Message and messenger are kept separate.


“… an idiot could lead”

“I’m looking for companies which an idiot could lead.” Warren Buffett. May 2015.

Buffett is an American investor, businessman and philanthropist. With an estimated $72.7 billion he is estimated to be the third-wealthiest person in the world. 

The majority of that wealth is in Berkshire-Hathaway, the  investment firm he founded and leads. Stocks in Berkshire are the most expensive in the world.

His formula for successful investing: He looks to buy stocks in companies that are so successful that an idiot could run them. For sooner or later one will. Buffett has a few basic rules. One is investing in companies whose business model is immediately and intuitively understood.