The other day, Harald Wolf from Canada contacted & asked me a very interesting question about us Germans, our German History, and why we are the way we are.
However, because I’m a greenhorn when it comes to the topic of history (who would’ve believed that… but my favorites in school were Mathematics, English, Geography and Sport), I had to ask our history buff and German History expert, Lisa Keller, in terms of what could be an accurate answer to Harald’s question.
So here it comes… Harald’s question first, Lisa’s response next, and then some final thoughts from yours truly…
Here’s something for you to pick up on, or keep in mind. I’ve been searching for many years for the origins of the prowess you talk about in “German Engineering Is A Leading Engine In Our World.”
Studying the origins of civilization in general is a bit of a hobby of mine, as is early German history. Of course, German history is rather swamped by more recent events, and I get the idea few Germans like to spend a lot of time thinking about the past.
There seem to be several black holes — between the Völkerwanderungen and the rise of the Frankish Empire and during the Dark ages. What events may have contributed to the intense “can-do” National pride that put the Germans among the top technical innovators — and kept them there for longer than any other nation?
Having learned that Germans are at least as much a mixture of races as any other country, I certainly don’t buy Hitler’s Ayrian superiority concept.
How did we get from a bunch of feuding Barbarian tribes to a nation that refuses to play second fiddle to any other nation in innovation and engineering?
If you have any suggestions of where I could find such information, I would appreciate that too. (And yes, I can read German, though with a bit of a struggle when it gets technical.)
Again, excellent question. Here’s Lisa’s response…
I’ve thought long & hard about this question–and you’re probably better able to answer some things better than I could.
But, from a historical standpoint, Germany wasn’t really a technological leader until around the mid-19th century. The country had been in the midst of wars (Peasants’, 30 Years, even the Reformation itself for that matter for the better part of two centuries).
What Germany did have was location, location, location. The country was located on some old major trade routes, it had resources (silver, etc), rivers for navigating around to trade with other countries. And it had food, as much of the country was used for agriculture.
If you ain’t worried about eating–you got time to think about other things, right?
Too bad the church hierarchy and the “guilds” wielded too much power for the common man to change much of the status quo. It wasn’t until Wilhelm II came to power, and wanted to at least be on par with countries like England–wanting to build a navy like the Brits–and a chance to get away from the bureaucratic way of thinking of his father, grandfather, and Otto von Bismarck. He kicked off much of the industrialization that propelled Germany into a technological marvel.
Of course, education comes in to play. Men like Copernicus & Kepler are only two of the brilliant minds that came from Germany educating its population–plus the 20 year battle of the French Revolution helped to bring around changes of equality and liberty to the people–even though all this took place before Wilhelm’s day.
Women were another resource, they made great strides for themselves in the Weimar Republic–until the Nazis came to power, that is.
The Nazis might have used the phrase “Aryan superiority”, but they ostrasized many brilliant minds–forcing the likes of Einstein and others to flee the country. So, no–I don’t “buy” into that either.
My opinion there wasn’t one catalyst event that caused German to become a technological leader. It was (and still is) a combination of events, people, education, and location that leads (and led) Germany from barbaric tribes to all the technological advances it’s made and will continue to do so.
I hope this helps!
Thank you very much, Lisa!
Thinking about it myself, four characteristics usually come up in my mind that could explain how we Germans are and why, and be reasons for the prowess of German Engineering — in addition to what Lisa said above…
Perfectionism — Probably a prime reason, we have a distinct sense and desire for perfectionism. We simply go an important step further and discover and fix flaws where others give up or think it would be “good enough.” It’s not. It’s never good enough.
Discipline — Discipline helps us focus and stay on track. I’m not sure where our tendency towards discipline stems from. Perhaps due to all the wars we had and the “trainings,” “camps” and “drills” we went through and experienced?
Seriousness — Yeah sure, after all those wars (and we really don’t want any other war anymore, ever!) we lost happiness and joy and now go through live in a serious manner — looking down on earth when walking. Kidding aside, our seriousness helps us “get down to business” and focus on the task at hand (rather than get sidetracked by distractions or delayed by dull chatter).
Climate — Germany is ideally located in Central Europe. The climate is not as warm or hot as in, say, Greece or Portugal, nor is it as cold as in Island or Canada. This, too, helps us focus and concentrate to deliver top (and perfected? ;-) products.
A possible fifth reason just popped up in my mind… Silence. We love silence and a quiet environment that helps us relax, enjoy, think, consider, contemplate, focus (again), and concentrate.
70% of our population lives in smaller (& quieter) towns and villages with less than 100,000 inhabitants. With 82 Million people living in 14,000 German towns, they are scattered all over the country — something rare in our world. And these smaller towns and municipalities provide a quieter environment which, again, helps us focus and concentrate on what’s important.
And focus and concentration ultimately leads to better performance, productivity, and products.
(This does not mean Germans don’t love to party. Yet still…)
And speaking of silence, ever noticed that windows in our houses are usually so thick and insulated, they eliminate noise from the outside almost completely?
Again, thank you very much for this excellent question, Harald. Really something to chew on… (although my own response was probably more about the current state rather than historical roots… ;-)