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Why Germans hate male babies

I always felt like Germany cultivates a culture of intellectualism while America … well we like hamburgers.

Nowhere did I see this more than when my wife was pregnant.

When we were awaiting our second child – our son – my German friends began to act strange.

“We’re having a boy,” I would say.

“Oh,” my German friends would say with alarm. “Poor you.” Some hugged me as if to say: It’s going to be all right. We’ll get through this too.

Strange, right?

german babies
Both have opinions on your unborn child.

I never had any idea what they were talking about. But they said it so openly, so confidently, that I couldn’t profess ignorance. The way they said it, it sounded like all of Germany knew having a boy was a bad thing. Except me. I started to wonder if Germany was the anti-China. Girls only, bitte.

I was afraid that my ignorance of the pitfalls of boys would reflect poorly on me. So I didn’t admit I didn’t understand. I just said, “I know, right?” And changed the subject.

But I was prepared for this reaction because it’s the way a certain kind of American and Brit reacts to news that you’re having a daughter, which we did, right before we had a son.

“A daughter, huh?” Americans would say shortly after meeting me and hearing I was expecting a daughter. “Poor you.” Unlike my German friends, they didn’t hug me.

But poor me.

The assumption here is that I would suffer as my little girl grew up and became a woman and started having boyfriends and – gasp – sex. As if your daughter enjoying a cornerstone of the human experience is the worst thing. Ever.

The implication is that fathers have to protect their daughters and make their choices for them, while teaching their sons to be strong humans capable of making all the good and bad decisions on their own.

You know: sexism. Yuck.

German babies

I prefer instead to teach both of my children to be strong, confident people capable of making both good and bad decisions, just like other humans. Though, to be honest, I hope they make a few fewer bad decisions than I did. Like not having Steak Frites on Kurfürstendamm after a bucket of popcorn at the French cinema. You lose your gall bladder with decisions like that.

And they probably should decide against seeing Hangover 2 (come on, you know you liked Hangover).

So, in a way, I was ready when suddenly my German friends started acting the same way about my soon-to-be son. Poor me. Except I had no idea what they were talking about.

It happened so often that I decided I had to stop faking as if I knew. When my German documentary filmmaker friend – a leftist intellectual with little equal – made the same statement, I dropped my guard.

“What are you talking about?” I asked him between bands at White Trash Fast Food. And then I told him the story about Americans and daughters. He was repulsed.

“Nothing like that,” he said. “The Freud thing.”

“Oh, right,” I said.

No idea what he meant.

Luckily my generation invented this thing called Google and when I got home I put in “Freud son father” and was horrified at what the Germans were warning me about. You see, it’s Oedipus. It’s always Oedipus with these Germans.

In order to fulfill his mother fantasy, Oedipus had to kill his father. Germans (and Freud and even Jung, I discovered) extrapolate this on to the human condition to mean that a boy can’t become a man until he replaces his father in the world. Germans were trying to warn me that my son would become a murderer. And me, a murder victim.

What?

Either way, people shouldn’t be warning anybody about the sex of their baby, though a warning or two about babies as a species is certainly warranted. Anyone who’s ever had one – or shared an airplane with one – knows what I’m talking about.

Poor me indeed!

My Own Private Deutschland 83

Do you know what they call really good TV in America? TV.

Do you know what they call it in Germany? Qualitätsfernsehen. Quality TV. Already it sounds uninteresting. But don’t worry, there isn’t much of it, which is something worrying Germany’s television producers.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s some great German TV. Most of it Scandinavian: The Killing. The Bridge. And that tubby Wallander guy.

Foto thanks UFA Fiction.
Foto thanks UFA Fiction.

 

Part of it’s the country’s creatively stagnant public TV infrastructure, which skews toward retirees, but it’s also because of the country’s taste for character (Klaus Kinski anyone?) over story.

When The Wire got huge in the U.S., suddenly a mini-series called Im Angesicht des Verbrechens (The Face of the Crime) appeared and it was pretty great, if only because it showcased neighborhoods and a corner of Berlin rarely acknowledged.

But with the success of things like Breaking Bad, House of Cards and Girls, Germany’s TV production companies are trying to bring out more Qualitätsfernsehen – and snag some of that production $$$. And they’re succeeding, sort of. Im Angesicht des Verbrechens was a good start. Then there’s Weissensee, about a sometimes-ignored suburb of Berlin (and the former East Berlin). And now Deutschland 83.

What’s it about (for anyone who hasn’t seen it)? Germany in 1983, dummkopf. More specifically, an East German spy in Bonn for a couple of key days.

And it’s pretty great. We binge-watched it over Christmas and it’s got everything I love about Cold War Germany: the Stasi. American generals. Mean Russians and clownish East German officials. Deutschland 83 even picked up the American Qualitätsfernsehen habit of ending on a tune – usually some New Wave ditty.

But just like how much of the best German TV is Scandinavian, Deutschland 83 is conceived pretty much by an American: Berlin novelist Anna Winger and her German husband. Acquaintance and fellow American journalist Ralph Martin even wrote an episode (private to Ralph: nice job on the brothel!).

It’s like the executives at broadcaster RTL were so panicked by the American TV invasion they couldn’t even trust their local heroes. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

The show is a hit abroad and a yawner at home.

I’m not surprised. RTL’s audience rarely has an attention span longer than the word Qualitätsfernsehen. And, anyway, everything us aging Americans and Brits love about Cold War Germany has been done more times than a Hasselhoff gag in Germany. They lived it. Some subtleties are bound to go missing.

But the question now is, will there be a Deutschland 1984? I hope so! And hats off to RTL for making it easy to watch the German-language version from rainy Portland, Oregon for a laughable $0.99 an episode (otherwise I would have just stolen it from some dodgy Russian site).

I’d love if Qualitätsfernsehen became Fernsehen.