Ada Abroad: Living and Working in Germany

An online journal recording two years spent as a Fulbright/Pedagogical Exchange Service Teaching Assistant at secondary schools in Germany. (2003-2004 I was in a village near Bautzen; 2004-2005 I will be in Nordrhein-Westfalen.)

Location: Münster, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany

I'm an American living in Germany, working as a foreign language assistant at a secondary school. Future plans: getting my Ph.D. (probably in Germanic Linguistics), becoming a professor, living an ethical and meaningful life.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

It Hits

American ex-pats in Germany are a fairly diverse bunch. We represent all ages, races, religions, and political persuasions. But there is one thing that unites us: a passionate hatred of Schlager.

Schlager is a specifically German genre of music. The name Schlager comes from the verb schlagen, meaning “to hit.” This leads some foreigners to the mistaken impression that the word Schlager simple means “a hit,” but this is not the case—while some Schlager are (regrettably) hits, not every hit is a Schlager (thank God). The German word for “hit,” in the American sense? It’s Hit, actually—the slogan of a local radio station in Bautzen is “Hit für Hit, ein Hit!” (“Hit for hit, it’s a hit!”)

My theory is that Schlager got its name because when you hear it, you are overcome by the need to hit the singer, or, if that’s not possible, to be hit over the head with a heavy object until you are put out of your misery.

So, what is Schlager, exactly? Let’s start with adjectives I’ve heard other ex-pats use to describe it: “horrible,” “nasty,” “wretched,” “pathetic,” “crappy,” and even “infernal.”

I started with adjectives because Schlager is actually kind of hard to explain to people who haven’t heard it. There’s no precise equivalent in the Anglo-American cultural sphere. It’s music your grandparents would listen to—but not the good stuff like Frank Sinatra or Nat King Cole. And a lot of Schlager fans are nowhere near old enough to be your grandparents. It’s what might have happened to popular music if Chuck Berry and his buddies had never invented rock and roll. And, finally, the best description I can give: if Barry Manilow and Paul Anka sang in German, they would sing Schlager.*

Both of them are much more popular in Germany than in the States, incidentally. There was a segment on Paul Anka on Kulturzeit the other day, and at least once a day the local morning show plays Barry Manilow’s “Mandy.” The song was so big here that for a few years, Mandy was one of the most popular names for East German girls.

So, I suppose that Schlager could be loosely compared to “easy listening.” Except that Schlager enjoys a greater popularity, across a much broader age range, than easy listening does. And of course, Schlager is much, much worse.

I have a suspicion that Schlager is more popular here in the former Soviet-occupied zone than in West Germany, but I haven’t spent enough time on that side of the country to be sure. I do know, though, that in additional to pan-German Schlager, there are also specifically East German Schlager. Sample title: “Ein himmelblauer Trabant.” (“A sky-blue Trabant.” The Trabant, better known as the Trabi, is a comical-looking East German automobile about the size of a VW Rabbit. It’s powered by what appears to be a lawnmower engine.)

There are posters up at the bus stop. In a couple of weeks the neighboring village of Neschwitz is hosting a Schlagerabend (“Schlager evening”), featuring artists with first names like Karlheinz, Jürgen, and Gerda.

I plan to skip town.

*I have heard other people say the same thing about ABBA, but I will refrain from doing so. The first reason for this is that I don’t have a huge problem with ABBA, actually—I even boogied to “Dancing Queen” at the Fulbright Conference’s goodbye party. The second reason is that my mentor, ID, who is much bigger than me and is a former professional athlete and could hurt me very badly if she wanted to, is a really big ABBA fan. So, let me repeat, I am making fun of Schlager, not of ABBA. There’s really no comparison. I mean, Schlager is German and ABBA is Swedish, right? Stop aiming that basketball at my head. Thank you.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Schlager are popular in Western Germany. My host father had a cassette tape (only one, I think - at least it always seemed to be the same one) of Schlager that he used to pop in the cassette deck any time we jumped in the car. This wasn't often and thankfully it wasn't far from the village he lived in to the city where I was studying. It really was musical torture. I feel about Schlager the way I used to feel about country music, meaning I listen to both now and actually enjoy some songs of each. Ok, maybe I was ruined by a brother that had an ABBA record (yes, I think this was my brother, the same one that later joined the Marines) and a sister that had Barry Manilow and Neil Diamond cassettes.

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Blogger Unknown said...

Music aside for a moment, Schlager is also Surname. Before coming to America during the Revolutionary War, our family's name was "OstenSchlager" Literally, "Eastern Strikers". We were Hessian deserter. One third of all the Hessians never returned to “The Duchy of Hess” in Bavaria
There is a sword that is often used to this day, a heavy cross between a Rapier and a Saber also call "the Schlager", with is used in Dueling club. Facial scars suffer in such duals of form and nerve are considered markers of honor and courage.
One version of the ME-109 fighter, the principle German war bird of the WWII Battle of Britten was called "the Schlagator".
Schlagers in this country were Jeweler and Watchmaker making fine Swiss movement watches.

6:45 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

if its any consolation, most germans hate schlager as well, many comedians make fun of schlager musicians.

10:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Years to late, but would like to add this thought: pls be aware of the censorship in East Germany before the reunion. Every text was censored.

So Schlager from 1971 "Ein himmelblauer Trabant" has a hidden code to pass the censorship. But for sure everybody understood that sky-blue has sth to do with freedom.

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