Why do Germans work so efficiently

Germans are neat and efficient? All not true!

Berlin - We Germans imagine that our democracy is the best in the world, that everyday life in Germany works without a hitch, that we are export champions, advocates of democracy and talent for organization. All of this is based on the myth of the German order. But is this idea even true? The editor-in-chief of the English-language online pages of the Berliner Zeitung, Maurice Frank, was born in Great Britain and grew up in the USA. At the age of 27 he moved to Germany. The German-Briton has lived here for 20 years. He has a completely different view of the country.

Read the English version of this article here:

Last week I got a strange letter from my landlord. While most tenants were informed at the end of November whether and by how much their rent would be reduced thanks to the new rent cap, my landlord waited until January to inform me that he would keep the difference between my old rent and the lower one. In an escrow account. He would only return the difference if the Federal Constitutional Court found that the rent cap was constitutional this year. Yes, you read that correctly: My landlord keeps what I am entitled to under the law. In most countries this could qualify as theft.

The lawlessness of German landlords is legendary. It is not uncommon for a property manager to add a few hundred euros to annual ancillary costs in the hope that you will not notice. A friend has her ancillary costs checked by a lawyer and receives a hefty repayment every year. The tricks used by landlords to harass their tenants are well known. To make a building more profitable, a Berlin landlord brought residents from Romanian slums to Germany a few years ago and invited them to move in in huge cohorts. To scare away old tenants with cheap rent.

That may sound shocking to outsiders. But it's nothing new to anyone who lives here. Germany is not the lighthouse of order and efficiency that the world thinks it is. I think: The country should finally stop cultivating the myth “there must be order”.

It's a cliché that foreign journalists also like to use. Last June, the BBC did it and asked in astonishment: "What makes Germans so tidy?"

The cliché has a long history. In 1934, Time Magazine featured Paul von Hindenburg, the last Reich President of the Weimar Republic, on its cover with the words “There must be order!” And burned the cliché sentence into the collective consciousness of Americans.

The Germans also like to spread it. In 2012, Peter Zudeick wrote in a column for Deutsche Welle: “Order is the regulated state. No matter what. And order is half the battle. Says the vernacular, the German. The other half should safely be taken care of by the others. "

I have a different opinion. The stereotype needs to be revised. It is based on outdated, misconceptions about this country and its citizens. Germany is more chaotic than you think.

I'm not a sociologist, but in my opinion there are two basic categories of order: the kind of order that makes life easier, more dignified, and free. But there is also the other kind that makes life more rigid, oppressive, more dysfunctional.

The Germans believe that their country is built on the first variant. After living here for two decades, I would say that much of everyday life in Germany is shaped by the second kind: the remnants of the oppressive Prussian order and bureaucracy. So the idea that Germany is a particularly well-organized, orderly society is: a myth.

"I'm very German there," friends and colleagues sometimes tell me, meaning that they have a tendency towards correctness, discipline and order. This means “German virtues”. As if the Germans had a monopoly on it!

In reality, the country is far more lawless, sloppy, inefficient and incompetent than its self-image suggests. Daily life is bureaucratic, pointlessly complex or criss-crossed with outdated systems and technologies. Communication with large and small institutions is often difficult.

Exhibit A: Littered Cities

Some major German cities are a complete mess: homeless people who hang around in front of train stations and are left alone by the authorities. In front of every bank beggars that nobody cares about. Cigarette butts everywhere you look. And these broken trash cans everywhere! When, please, will German engineers finally be able to construct a robust garbage can? What also bothers me: graffiti on all the walls. Devastated flower beds. Destroyed benches. The lack of public toilets. Everyone sees it as normal for a person to pee in the bushes on the playground. In short, the public space suffers from massive vandalism and urban neglect.

Exhibit B: BER and Other Atrocities

I don't want to go into every BER embarrassment. The airport opened in the fall, nine years late. And there are still mishaps. Recently, security workers were electrocuted on their devices while checking hand luggage. Four employees were admitted to the hospital. The Verdi union is now calling for a terminal to be closed. The airport refuses to repair the equipment. Is BER cursed? Or is Germany simply unable to build such large-scale projects? The exorbitantly expensive Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg and the station debacle of Stuttgart 21 could point to this.

Exhibit C: Corona Cowboys

Getting a PCR corona test in Germany is tedious and only free if you have symptoms of Covid-19. It would be sensible to offer free tests nationwide, as in Denmark, where I got a test quickly and easily - all in English (simply unthinkable for German bureaucrats). In this country, the gap has been filled by private test centers that offer the less reliable rapid tests. In Berlin it is easier to open these centers than a snack bar. And almost unregulated! Not a good idea, I think, when it comes to fighting a deadly, highly contagious disease. If that is not messy enough for you, it should be revealed that private test centers often do not report positive tests or report them too late to the health authorities.

Evidence D: The car

Of course, most of what has just been stated could be seen as the sole failure of the “failed state Berlin”, a city run by incompetent muesli eaters and Marxists. But the mess extends beyond the shabby-chic capital. Take the pearl of German industry, the Automafia - sorry: the automaker. To this day, the term “German engineering” is being thrown around, as if the exhaust gas frauds of almost all German car manufacturers had not blown a crater into the myth of German order.

The big brands have been selling diesel engines until they can no longer be sold instead of investing heavily in electric cars. Until Elon Musk showed up and showed BMW, Mercedes and Co. how to do it. Namely with a huge car factory in Brandenburg, which is now being pulled up with a "provisional" building permit.

Whereby - even Musk's sudden appearance in Germany seems somehow suspicious. I am not going to write that corruption was involved because that would be slanderous. But one can safely say that the Brandenburg Environment Agency - led by impartial “Prussian” bureaucrats - let itself be talked into by one of the richest men in the world. We will probably never find out details. In the meantime, Daimler is closing its engine plant in Berlin-Marienfelde, laying off thousands of employees and relocating production to China. How was that again with the “social market economy”? We shouldn't be too mean to automakers. After all, they keep our economy going, right? Every few weeks their managers just stand on the mat and beg for more pocket money for their electromobility concepts and to sell more “clean diesel” while they still can.

Evidence Q: e-governance

Warning, now we come to the real mess. While Denmark set up an e-mailbox for each of its citizens years ago as a central point for all government, tax and health matters and Estonia, which is not far away, introduced the e-signature back in 2002, Germany remains the bottom of the class in terms of e Governance. The ten year old project “e-perso” was supposed to introduce online identification. The government has invested hundreds of millions of euros in the project. But hardly anyone uses it, because the user friendliness is lousy. Whether it is about registering a company or finding a daycare center: electronic communication with authorities in Germany is still hopelessly primitive. You're in luck if you can find the right PDF form that can be printed out and sent by post. The tax office has an online system, but unfortunately it's ridiculously complex. And why the hell do we need a “tax identification number” and a “tax number” at the same time? What for, what for, what for?

I could tell a lot more about the lack of order in this orderly society. From the scandals at Wirecard to those at Deutsche Bank or Siemens, the Toll Collect fiasco or the cum-ex scandals to the flood of fake doctorates among politicians. From the failure of the police in the NSU murders to police breakdowns in connection with the terrorist attack in 2016 on the Christmas market on Berlin's Breitscheidplatz.

And despite everything and everything that I cannot list here, Germans continue to believe that order is the defining characteristic of their society.

If at all, Germany has failed to create adequate structures to create an order that promotes the well-being and trust of its citizens. In the midst of the fragments of failed reform projects remain the bitter-tasting remnants of the old Prussian order - an order that serves the state before it serves the people; which is confused, delayed and clouded. Such an “order” resists progress and sees no point in improving people's lives. Their structures are deliberately obscure and difficult to see through - as with Kafka - in order to stage authority. But even this backdrop could soon crumble, as Germany simply cannot keep up with the times.

I could blame Angela (“The Internet is new territory”) on Merkel. But no, I blame the German people for Merkel's party coming to power four times in a row. Voters have chosen to stand still and to be complacent. And the result is a failure in dealing with the societal challenges of our time, as there were: digitization, housing construction, greenhouse gas emissions, to name just a few. And, yes, Corona. Merkel's much-vaunted rational approach to fighting the pandemic only masks the serious backlog in the digital restructuring of the state and the transfer of state services into the 21st century.

The one-party rule of the CDU (at least in the West) over most of German post-war history has led to a petty-bourgeois conservatism that has become second nature to the Germans. Restraint with every step. No experiments. Decaying systems chug on. Twenty years ago foreign media described Germany as “the sick man of Europe” and the country is still not well.

My family doctor recently lost a diagnosis sheet that a specialist faxed her. I called the specialist again to fax her the diagnosis again. I had no luck. Today I went to the family doctor. Your fax machine is broken.