Stable economies, punctuality and strong car brands, Germany is often compared to its northern neighbours. But German cities are dirty, and their drinking culture is vulgar. They could never be Nordic…
As in the UK, Scandinavia is admired by Germans as a social paradise. Germans spent a total of three million nights in Sweden in 2017 and fascination for all things Swedish got so strong it prompted officials to warn of German tourists stealing elk warning signs. In fact, the romantic view of Scandinavia is so widespread, there’s even a term for it: ‘Bullerbü-Syndrom’, promoted by a TV series called Inga Lindström that led to the idea of Germans wanting to be Scandinavian, but knowing they can’t. Environmentally, for example, though Germany continues to battle to effects of the former DDR, almost sixty of its cities have unsafe levels of air pollution. That’s because Germans use their car as a status symbol. In Scandinavia, Jante Law forbids signs of status, and in Copenhagen 62 per cent of inhabitants choose to bicycle to and from work.
Primarily, however, it all comes down to sexism. Germany may have a female chancellor, but female representation on company boards is appalling. A report in 2017 showed that of the thirty members of Germany’s stock market, just 12.1 per cent of board members were women. Eleven of those companies didn’t have a single woman on their board. One estimate, by the Institute for Economic Research, says no more than 2.2 per cent of senior management jobs in the biggest German companies are taken by women. In Scandinavia, female representation in top level boards easily averages 40 per cent and each country has introduced quotas requiring set representation. Norway, for example, demands listed companies reserve at least 40 per cent of director seats for women, on pain of dissolution. In 2013, Angela Merkel opposed an EU proposal to introduce a 40 per cent quota on executive boards in Germany. She may be a female leader, but she’s inspired few female politicians. Just over 30 per cent of seats in the German Bundestag are held by women, compared to just under half of seats in the Swedish Rikstag.
Socially, too, a shocking two-thirds of mothers with children under three don’t work in Germany. They’re known as ‘rabenmütter’ or ‘raven mothers’. In Scandinavia, by contrast, parental leave is generous and always shared between both father and mother. In Sweden, for example, parents are given 240 days leave. Ninety of those days are earmarked as a minimum for each parent, so they’re both back at work fast.
“In Germany, a shocking two-thirds of mothers with children under three don’t work. In Sweden, parents are given 240 days leave. Ninety of those days are earmarked as a minimum for each parent, so they’re both back at work fast.”
Germany, unlike Scandinavia, isn’t homogeneous. While over 70 per cent of Danes are paying members of the Lutheran Church, Germany is now split 50-50 Protestant to Catholic. Furthermore, before the current waves of mass migration, Germany was home to thousands of Turkish guest workers (‘gastarbeiter’), brought in to fill a post-war labour shortage. Add to this the fact that Germany has only recently been reunified, and existed as one country for only seventy four tumultuous years before division. It becomes clear that, unlike Scandinavia, Germany is the sum of its parts.
Travelling in Germany, the lack of national identity can be numbing. Unlike monarchies such as Scandinavia or the UK, or republics like France or the United States, history has demanded there be no figurehead in Germany. While there is a common language and customs, there’s nothing to look up to. So, sure Germany might be cheaper than Scandinavia, but it’s also more run down and dirty. I know where I’d rather live.
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