Halfway There

This spring, the German newspaper whose web site isn?t quite as bad as another?s began publishing a series of 50 Great Novels from the Twentieth Century. It?s an admirable project in many ways — not least a cover price of EUR 4.90 per hardback. Thirty-seven books have been published so far, and I?ve now read about half of the whole list. Which is as good a point as any for taking stock.

I haven?t quite read 25 of the 50, but let?s face it, with Deutschstunde (German Hour, Siegfried Lenz, no. 28) clocking in at nearly 800 pages, and hefty volumes such as Jorge Semprun?s What a Beautiful Sunday! (Was f?r einen sch?nen Sonntag, no. 17) and Juan C. Onetti?s The Short Life (Das kurze Leben, no. 11), it?s going to be quite a while before I manage all of them.
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Wir sind doch amusiert

Living in Germany as I do, I often find that I have hard things to say about the Germans. (Germans should see this not as evidence of their special faultiness but of my misanthropy. Were I living in Tahiti, I would doubtless have a lot of hard things to say about the Tahitians, who I understand from the paintings of M. Gauguin to be a happy, friendly and good-looking lot.) So why don’t I preface this by pointing out some of the nice things about Germans. They have contributed immensely to the world’s wealth of science, literature and philosophy. Everybody concedes that they make good cars and beer. The food is better than you might think it is.

But with the best will in the wortld, Germans are not funny, are they? We’ve all heard the German attempt at The World’s Funniest Joke — ‘der ver zwei peanuts valking down der Strasse, and von vas assaulted … peanut‘ — and even that needed Englishmen to be thought up.

Not a barrel of laughs, then, the Germans. Most of you have probably never seen German comedy, and you are the lucky ones. Those of you familiar with teutonic jesting will have had to suffer through Otto Waalkes, Dieter Hallervorden, Gottschalk & Kr?ger and similar highlights.

But wait. There is a narrow but rich seam of gold running through the dross. Germans might not often be funny, but when they are on song they can hold their own with the best. Here then, in the interest of fostering cross-cultural understanding, are some suggestions for those of you who can read and understand German.

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