Joe Louis and Max Schmeling

Not many people know of the great friendship between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling, at their time the world’s greatest boxers.

June 19, 1936. In famed Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. The American Joe Louis versus the German Max Schmeling. Their first of two fights. Louis undefeated 24-0 and never knocked down, hits the canvas in the twelfth round. The fight is over.

Round 12 starts at 27:27. At 29:27 Louis is defenseless. He gos down. The referee end the fight. Schmeling rushes over to help Joe Louis. Schmeling stays with Louis all the way over to his corner of the ring. Schmeling’s people have to literally pull him away from Joe Louis.

Among the attendees of the fight was Langston Hughes, a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance and a noted literary figure. Hughes described the national reaction to Louis’ defeat in these terms:

“I walked down Seventh Avenue and saw grown men weeping like children, and women sitting in the curbs with their head in their hands. All across the country that night when the news came that Joe was knocked out, people cried.”

Poet and author Maya Angelou, recounted her recollection. A young Angelou had listened to the fight over the radio in her uncle’s country store in rural Arkansas. While Louis was on the ropes,

“My race groaned. It was our people falling. It was another lynching, yet another black man hanging on a tree …. this might be the end of the world. If Joe lost we were back in slavery and beyond help. It would all be true, the accusations that we were lower types of human beings. Only a little higher than the apes.”

June 22, 1938 – one year from the day Louis had won the world heavyweight title – the fighters meet once again in a sold-out Yankee Stadium in New York City.

Louis defeats Schmeling in the very first round. Knowing what a true and loyal friend Schmeling was to become to Joe Louis at the end of Louis’ life, it breaks your heart to see how helpless Max Schmeling was in the final seconds of this first round.

After retiring from the ring, Schmeling purchased a Coca- Cola bottling and distribution franchise in Hamburg in 1948, the first in Germany after World War II.

Schmeling reached out and developed a friendship with Louis after their boxing careers ended and provided financial assistance to his former foe in the 1950s. He also paid for part of the funeral arrangements when Louis died in 1981. Max Schmeling was one of the pallbearers.

“It wasn’t until after World War II that I saw him again,” Louis said in his autobiography. “We hugged each other and we’re real friendly and kept in touch by phone.”

The battles between Louis, a black man, and Schmeling came to symbolize for some the coming struggle between Hitler’s Third Reich and the Allies in World War II. Although Hitler had praised Schmeling after the first fight, Schmeling was not an admirer of the German leader and refused to join the Nazi party.

Schmeling, who served as a German paratrooper in World War II, later received an award from the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation for risking his life to hide two Jewish brothers during the Kristallnacht on November 9, 1938, when Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues were attacked and destroyed by Nazis.

The boys, Henri and Werner Lewin, made their way to the U.S., where Henri became a hotel owner. Schmeling kept his act of courage secret. Henri Lewin revealed it at a dinner honoring the former champion in 1989:

“He risked his life for us. Our lives weren’t worth a penny,” Lewin said in a 2002 interview with the Jewish Bulletin of Northern California. “I said, ‘If this is a Nazi, he’s a good Nazi. But I want you to know one thing: I wouldn’t be sitting here today if it wasn’t for this Nazi.'”

Max Schmeling never joined the Nazi Party.

August 9, 1973. Legendary boxers and great friends, Max Schmeling and Joe Louis meet in New York, as Schmeling arrives for visit.

This History Channel documentary is well worth watching.


True Friends

If to consult is to provide advice, then that advice might, perhaps should, include what the customer needs to hear, but does not want to hear. A fine line. How to walk it? To withhold that advice could mean to under serve, or even damage, the customer. To provide that advice could damage the relationship. 

If true friends are those who tell you what you need to hear, but surely you do not want to hear, at the risk of damaging or destroying the friendship, aren’t true suppliers-vendors-consultants those who do the same?


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.

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.

“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

I, John Otto Magee, can attest to the sincerity, loyalty and love of the friendships I have made with many Germans. When you ask a German for help they will never turn you down. You simply have to ask for it. And be sure to use the word help: “I need your help.” or “Can you, please, help me.”


The Office

The hit TV series The Office, which originated in the UK, now exists in nine different versions adapted to the individual languages and tastes of the American, French, German, French Canadian, Chilean, Swedish, and Israeli people as well. The U.S. and German versions are by far the most successful and longest running of the lot.

That a mockumentary show about everyday office life should have to be adapted so many times to fit tastes across cultures, in spite of keeping a similar structure, set of characters, and setting speaks volumes about the importance of minor cultural differences in such a mundane setting.

Here, in broad strokes, are some of the chief differences. In the British version, nobody is working, nobody has a happy relationship, everyone looks terrible, and everybody is depressed.

In the French version, nobody is working but even the idiots look good, and everybody seems possessed of an intriguing private life. In the German version, actual work is visibly being done, and most of the staff is coupled up.

The American version most clearly shows the staff typically working, and places emphasis on their relationships outside of the office, highlighting the reality that many of them have relatively strong relationships outside of the workplace as well. Especially clear are the tactics of Michael Scott to be the best friend of everyone in the office, in spite of being their boss and having to make the tough decisions which don’t make everyone happy.

His German counterpart, Berndt Stromberg, also seems to value the attention of his employees over his actual tasks, but clearly does not want to be everybody’s friend.


Colleagues and friends

Differences in the workplace environment can be reflected in the sorts of extra-workplace relationships that develop between co-workers. Company policies aside, of course. Two recent independent surveys of couples in Germany and the U.S. yielded the results that 24.5% of U.S. couples met their partner at work, while in Germany this number lies at only 12%. However, the most common way in which couples met was the same for both countries: through friends.


Colleagues aren’t best friends

In 2010, Karriere.de, a web-portal on the subject of professions sponsored by the publications, conducted an interview with Simone Janson, an expert on career advice.

The interview was titled Kollegen sind nicht die besten Freunde – colleagues do not make the best of friends, in which she extensively discusses interactions and relations between colleagues. Her statements demonstrate in the German work environment the importance of having a clear boundary between one’s career and private life.

Bei der Arbeit ist zu enger privater Kontakt nicht immer von Vorteil. – Too close of personal contact at work is not always of benefit.

“One can choose one’s friends, but not one’s colleagues […] presumably everyone has had the experience of having a colleague share a lot of private information about themselves, and discussing their private concerns which they did not know how to handle at least once. Or they themselves have shared something private which they then realized was making their sympathetic colleague uncomfortable.”

“There also exist the long-term professional contacts, which eventually evolve into true friendships. Even I can’t succeed in maintaining a strict separation between the two areas. That would be synthetic and non-authentic. After all, no one can forcefully avoid conflict between fellow humans. These are part of cooperating, both at work and at home. Nevertheless, I still advise maintaining a certain professional distance wherever it is necessary.”


You not you

For “you” the German language has both and an informal word: Sie and Du. It is typical for German colleagues, even those who work well together and have known each other for many years to use the Sie-Form. The Knigge – Germany’s best known books on proper behavior, first pubished in 1788 by Baron Adolph Knigge – recommends the Sie-Form in the work context.

Knigge considers it appropriate to reject the offer of the Du-Form from a work colleague if one feels surprised or thrown off balance. For accepting the informal Du is a commitment to a level of personal friendship and trust one may not wish. Knigge recommends a polite response: “Your offer honors me. Thank you. However, I feel more comfortable using the Sie-Form, and prefer to continue using it, also out of respect for you (Sie).“

Maintaining a certain respectful distance to others is considered a sign of respect in the German culture. A famous example is the relationship between two of the best-known soccer tv-commentators, Günter Netzer (a former star German soccer player) and Gerhard Delling (a respected tv sports journalist).

Their conversational-type commentaries during half-time and after games are enjoyed by millions due to both their expert analysis and relaxed interaction. Yet, on camera they address each other with the formal Sie, even though Netzer was a groomsman (witness) in Delling’s.