Weekly Review

When Germans take off

Female bare feet from sand on a blurred background of the coast.
Source: Fotolia

It’s August, and the Germans are on vacation. Chancellor Angela Merkel is hiking in the Italian Alps, as is expected of her. Only Martin Schulz, her Social-Democratic challenger in the election on September 24th, cannot afford to go on holiday because he is so far behind in the polls. But his electioneering is not helping him: first, because too many voters are away; second, because many of those left behind find it morally suspect for a German to be working in August. Something must be wrong with that man.

Incidentally, if you’re hoping to do any business in Germany in the coming weeks, just forget it. But you already knew that: The out-of-office replies from your German business partners are spamming your inbox.

Germany is not the only country that all but shuts down in August; France does too. But Germans do take their vacations awfully seriously. They even have special words for the intended effect, such as Erholung, which means something between recuperation and rejuvenation but has no translation. This cultural obsession with vacation has a long tradition, as Cathrin Schaer, one of our editors, explains in her perceptive — and hilarious — anthropological investigation into the subject. I mean, really: Is there any other place in the world where you can get an angry call from human resources remonstrating with you for not taking enough vacation?

This German vacation culture has consequences for the rest of the world. Some are positive, because the Germans love to travel and spend money, especially in sunny places. Others are, shall we say, challenging. Most notorious is the habit Germans have of competitively reserving beach chairs with their towels, a staple of parody in Britain and beyond. It goes far beyond lounge chairs, as I explain in this rumination: Germans reserve everything — library carrels, cafeteria seats, hotel rooms several years in advance: This “points to a deeper Germanic discomfort: the unacceptability of randomness, chance, and uncertainty. A proper German future ought to behave itself and follow rules.” And that’s especially true during vacation.

As always, I’d love to hear your reflections on these subjects, so email me. You’ll get an out-of-office reply, because I’ll be on vacation.


To contact the author: kluth@handelsblatt.com

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