View Full Version : The German sense of humour, oder der deutsche Humor

5th May 2013, 08:53
I once worked in an office with Gerhardt, a very serious German architect from Hamburg. It was in the days of manual drafting.

Gerhardt's desk was in front of mine. In the time that I knew him, I don't think I ever saw Gerhardt laugh.

'Tim,' he said, turning around, 'May I borrow your German Curve?'

A French Curve is a template for producing a curve of inconstant radius. There was, as far as I knew, no 'German Curve'.

'Do you mean French Curve,' I replied, offering him my French Curve.

'No,' said Gerhardt, 'German Curve. There it is, I give it back,' he said, and took my ruler.

I'm not sure if that is indicative of a national sense of humour, or some national malaise. I've certainly never forgotten it.

5th May 2013, 08:58
A German joke is no laughing matter.

5th May 2013, 09:02
My father used to say that the German sense of humour was based upon schadenfreude... in the sense that a man falling of a bicycle might be funny while a man falling off a bicycle and hurting himself is hilarious.

In truth the Germans I have met all seemed to have sophisticated and ironic funny bones...


5th May 2013, 09:19
This guy is really funny. A regular on Radio 4, where he is a welcome change from the usual bunch of whingeing leftie comics.

Henning Wehn On Daves One Night Stand - YouTube

5th May 2013, 09:24
In truth the Germans I have met all seemed to have sophisticated and ironic funny bones...


I once sat on a committee with a somewhat portly German gentleman. Whilst sat opposite him at lunch one day I saw him liberally sprinkling salt over everything.

As a high BP sufferer, I remarked "Dieter, salt is bad for your blood pressure you know".

He fixed me with a steely stare and replied: "For the blood pressure I take a little pill. There is no pill for bad taste."

Closest I ever got to something close to humour from him.

5th May 2013, 09:28
All the Germans I work with on committees have a very good sense of humour. Sometimes, however, the peculiarities of the English language mean that they don't always see things in the same way as the English and then it appears they have no sense of humour.

5th May 2013, 09:31
For example, there is no crime in Germany, it is against the law.

Krystal n chips
5th May 2013, 09:47
German humour, or perceived lack of, is another urban myth perpetutated by the Brits.

German humour tends to be dry, and also self-deprecating. They are pretty good at taking the proverbial out of others, and themselves. :ok:

Which is probably why I like it and understand it given that I have met and worked with plenty over the years.

5th May 2013, 09:52
I work with many Germans, most are ex-Luftwaffe. They all have a brilliant sense of humour. It is very closely aligned with British sense of humour and they really do take the mickey out of themselves too. :D

5th May 2013, 09:52
Absolutely untrue to say Germans have no sense of humour. In my very happy 25 years living in Germany, I heard a German tell at least one joke. Must have been, oh, about 1982.

However they didn't laugh at my favourite joke from Kaiser Bill's time: "Vy do ze Chermans spell Kaiser mit eine "K" ? "Because England has command of ze "C".

(No longer true, of course).

5th May 2013, 09:54
Basil Fawlty waits on the Germans - Fawlty Towers - BBC - YouTube


5th May 2013, 09:55
there's the rather dry (but true) German joke about cats and dogs..

5th May 2013, 10:12
At TLP, the Germans did a wonderful little review at the end of the last debrief, taking the mickey out of themselves using every other nation's stereotype of them. Finishing with
"Still, at least there is one thing we all have in common....we all hate the French!"

5th May 2013, 10:12
33 Sqn in the 80s had a regular (annual?) detchment to Landsberg am Lech for snow and mountain flying. The Jerries displayed a wonderfully self-deprecating sense of humour. Or is it my humour!

There again, they often stressed that they were Bavarians, not Germans- perhaps that's the difference.


5th May 2013, 10:12
We don't know whether or not Germans made this, but I do know that my German friends found it very funny, and when I used it in a presentation about communications, at which about half the audience were German, I was asked to play it again. At lunch, I heard several of the Germans saying : "Vot are you sinking about ..." and laughing.

I did get one complaint. Some sourfaced PC English woman thought it was 'inappropriate and disrespectful to the Germans'.


5th May 2013, 10:16
On reflection, perhaps Gerhardt's poker-faced delivery of a very funny line indicated a deep ironic, even surrealist humour in the bloke. I'm sure he enjoyed his 'leetle joke' even if he didn't laugh out loud.

5th May 2013, 10:22
Very funny (Coastguard trainee). Try this:

Do You Speak English? - Big Train - BBC comedy - YouTube

Lon More
5th May 2013, 10:22
They like Monty Python, who produced two 45 minute shows in German.

Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus (Teil 1)

5th May 2013, 10:25
A BA 747 pilot had waited for take off clearance for 45 minutes. A German 737 was cleared immediately. The BA pilot asked the tower why the German aircraft had been given clearance at once. Before the tower could reply, the German pilot came back with "Because I got up very early in the morning and put a towel on the runway!".

Or else the Luftwaffe pilot climbing out of his iron-crossed fighter on a UK base during a recent WWII reunion and proclaiming "ve are back!"


Windy Militant
5th May 2013, 10:27
Germany as has been pointed out here is made of many states, a friend of mine works out there now and says that the Prussians seem to be the but of most of the jokes!
I found this quite jolly,if some what black humour!
Forklift Driver Klaus English Subtitles - YouTube

5th May 2013, 10:35
An English Electric Lightning was cleared for departure from Thunder City at CPT, took off, did two barrel rolls over the runway, and climbed vertically to 60,000 feet (so the story goes.)

The tower then gave a waiting LH 747 its departure clearance, and the Captain thanked him and said : "Und ve vould like ze same departure pattern as ze previous aircraft."

glad rag
5th May 2013, 10:41
Germans most certainly have a sense of humour it's just a bit different to us Brits.

Another thing they are wickedly good at is playing the ball not the man....they do not criticize someone personally but that's about all that is of limits....:ok:

5th May 2013, 11:44
Hermann Goering, head of the Luftwaffe, used to tell this joke:

What do you get when you have one German? A fine gentleman.

What do you get when you have two Germans? A Bund (association).

What do you get when you have three? A war - ha, ha, ha!

5th May 2013, 11:47
I'll take a German humorist than a bloody French one any day.

The crouts can at least understand lateral humor.

5th May 2013, 11:52
An essential part of Teutonic humour, long lost to the Anglo Saxon, is the sneer.
As in saying with a sneer:
Slasshher - You mean the Krauts! The Croutons are the French and they do nor scar us even before Waterloo where we save the English bacon!

5th May 2013, 11:59
If you want to talk about humourless, it's the French, closely followed by the Swiss. The difference is that whilst most French are born without a sense of humour, most Swiss have theirs surgically removed at birth. Some escape. As for the Swedes, they are disqualified as they don't even have a word for humour.

In all my travels, I have found that (excluding native English speaking nations) those that have the best sense of humour (and closely aligned to the Anglo) are the Dutch, Indians, and odd as it may seem, Romanians.

5th May 2013, 12:09
Hilarious (the coast guard video), Capetonian!



5th May 2013, 12:22
56 Sqn had a German exchange officer. The JP was picked to host the German's dad who came over for the Battle of Britain cockers-P & w/e. Stuck for conversation the JP tried..

"So, there's a trip to London organised for tomorrow. Have you been before?"

"Some time ago..........1940........................................... ..didn't stay long!"

Der Vater had been a Heinkel 111 pilot.

5th May 2013, 12:43
When I worked in Austria I used to say to my friends "Auf Wienerschnitzel" instead of "Auf wieder sehen" - they always got a laugh out of that one.

5th May 2013, 15:01
Germans most certainly have a sense of humour it's just a bit different to us Brits.

Another thing they are wickedly good at is playing the ball not the man....they do not criticize someone personally but that's about all that is of limits....:ok:

So what you're saying then, our own Interflug, is really not German?

5th May 2013, 15:26
Years ago when prices were lower my friend Werner complained about an expensive barber "over here".

"Eight tollar! Zat is zwei tollar for vun corner".

5th May 2013, 16:55
There was one on a James May show where they had a "race" between Ze Germans and the Brits which involved model trains covering quite a distance on an old, disused rail route in the south west.

Since they each had to build a "special", it says everything when the Germans decided it would be funny to power their one with fuel made from fermenting cabbage so they had a "Sauerkraut Special".......

5th May 2013, 17:16
Dead heading on a Lufthansa flight out of somewhere tropical. The weather was atrocious, and the take-off was followed by severe turbulence on the climb out. Bags fell out of the overhead lockers, people were thrown around in their seats, thunder and lightning outside, until finally we broke out into clear air and the seat belt sign went off. Simultaneously the captain came on the PA: "Ladies und tchgentlemen you vill be glad to know ve have finally regained control of ze aeroplane" :)

5th May 2013, 18:59
Hermann Goering, head of the Luftwaffe, used to tell this joke:

What do you get when you have one German? A fine gentleman.

What do you get when you have two Germans? A Bund (association).

What do you get when you have three? A war - ha, ha, ha!

IIRC, Goering's sense of humour extended to practical jokes, too. I recall having dinner in the upper turret dining room in what is now Princess Royal Barracks (Gutersloh). One of the timber beams in the ceiling was rigged with a hidden hinge, operated by a lever in the floor by the seat where Goering used to sit (when it was Luftwaffe base). Apparently he was in the habit of inviting new junior officers to dine with him, ensuring they sat under the beam. He'd then release the beam over the unwitting junior officers head, as a joke.

5th May 2013, 22:38
Best post of the day, thanks, had me splitting my sides. And thank you whoever it was (Capetonian?) for reminding me of the Berlitz "what are you sinking?" clip.

German curve indeed.

Many years ago we had some spare office space and struck a deal with a Nordic classification society whereby their temp team rented one of the rooms. Very practical guys. They had a little metal sign that needed screwing onto their door with philips head screws. We had only a very basic set of tools in the office. Telje picked one out, smashed the screws into the wooden door, turned to me and said, deadpan, "Norwegian screwdriver" as he handed back the hammer.

5th May 2013, 22:45
VP959 - Your story about the Goering room in Gutersloh mess is only partially correct. Apparently there was (is?) a saying in German to the affect that "if I'm telling a lie, may the ceiling come down on my head". Thus if anyone was "shooting a line" as pilots are apt to do, the beam would be dropped on the lineshooter's head. Last time I was there (c1975) the beam was still in place but the mechanism wasn't working, so I never actually saw it in action.

5th May 2013, 23:21
The tower then gave a waiting LH 747 its departure clearance,....

and .... British pilot called for clearance from Majorca to UK and was given a long wait for start-up, Lufthansa then called for clearance to Munich and was given immediate start-up.

British pilot asked why, he'd asked first etc. Lufthansa pilot replied ... because ve got up at 3 o'clock dis morning and put our towels on ze runway.

( only British holidaymakers to Majorca will understand - think poolside deck chairs and German tourists )

6th May 2013, 00:15
They can be pretty good, I think:

Nazi orchestral conductor Fuertwangler: "How can it be, my dear von Brauchitsch, that you Prussian officers, legacy of Frederick the Great, can take your orders from a Bavarian Gefreiter?

General von Brauchitsch: "My dear Fuertwangler, if the Fuehrer could play the harmonica, you would not be conducting the Berlin Philharmonic".

6th May 2013, 02:02
One young German expat FO I really enjoyed flying
with had a great sense of humor. We'd always be
joking as if it was 1940.

One night it was his sector out of BKK. Just to the
North was a line of storms we had no choice but to
punch through.

As we entered it we got some pretty rough turbulence
and he quipped "Ze Flak is heavy over London tonight

I replied "Ja kamerad but nein Spitfuer."

A nanosecond afterwards BKK said to another aircraft
"XXX turn heading 030. You are following a A320 (us)
one one miles ahead climbing."

FO said "I sink Ventnor are onto us!"

6th May 2013, 03:00
Davaar: Wilhelm Furtwaengler was not a Nazi, as attested to by no less an authority on being a Nazi than Doktor Paul Goebbels. Additionally, he was cleared of this charge by a post-war commission, and no less a personage than Yehudi Menuhin spoke out on his behalf.

Your joke is okay, but you might want to draw back from that gratuitous slur on Furtwaengler. Perhaps you had him mixed up with Herbert von Karajan, who did have a membership card in the Nazi party, although he also, like Furtwaengler, did not espouse their warped ideology.

6th May 2013, 03:35
The full and true account of Wilhelm Furtwänglers position and responsibility within the Nazi regime - that he essentially considered was of no importance, as compared to preserving German cultural history, via classical music - is in the link below.

No-one but anyone who lived within those terrible years of the Nazi's criminal reign, and who lived with the useage and manipulation of important figures, that was so vital to sustaining the Nazi regime, could even begin to understand the pressures under which Wilhelm Furtwängler worked.
The very fact that he was targeted for liquidation by the Nazis, and which information made him flee to Switzerland, should leave no doubt that he did not support the Nazis.

Wilhelm Furtwangler, Genius Forged in the Cauldron of War, Classical Notes, Peter Gutmann (http://www.classicalnotes.net/features/furtwangler.html)

6th May 2013, 06:57
VP959 - Your story about the Goering room in Gutersloh mess is only partially correct. Apparently there was (is?) a saying in German to the affect that "if I'm telling a lie, may the ceiling come down on my head". Thus if anyone was "shooting a line" as pilots are apt to do, the beam would be dropped on the lineshooter's head. Last time I was there (c1975) the beam was still in place but the mechanism wasn't working, so I never actually saw it in action.

Thanks for the correction - I blame the AAC for spinning me the wrong tale, as they were my hosts that evening.

BTW, the mechanism was back in working order in 2004, operated by a lever in the floor next to the chair at the head of the table. I witnessed the beam drop (it falls maybe a foot or so on a hinge) during dinner.

6th May 2013, 09:19
My understanding is that Fuertwangler enjoyed favour with the Nazi party. I did not make that up. Is it not true? If true, it does not surprise me. I do not have access to the Party membership lists, and I leave it to others better placed than I to know who was a party member and who was not. My reference was only incidental, to identify the man, which it apparently did, not in the least essential to the story, and not a slur.

No-one but anyone who lived within those terrible years of the Nazi's criminal reign, and who lived with the useage and manipulation of important figures, that was so vital to sustaining the Nazi regime, could even begin to understand the pressures under which Wilhelm Furtwängler worked.

I do not doubt that for a moment, but what is it meant to prove and, as I read it, to justify? That he did enjoy favour with the Nazi party? What else can it mean?

To make it all clear, the man I have in mind was a prominent musical figure in Germany during the Nazi years, but was widely known not to be a Nazi.

draw back from that gratuitous slur on Furtwaengler

I must infer from that last quotation that the alleged "gratuitous slur" is the association of a name with a Party. Am I right in that? It does appear that there were many many actual members of the National Socialist Workers' Party. Many thousands, I think. If Herr Snooks was one of them, was that illegal? Is it a slur ("gratuitous" or just "tiddly-piddly") to suggest he was a member? If so, why?

We seem to wander far from sensitivities in humour.

6th May 2013, 10:36
Many years ago my Brother in Law was in the States when he came across a pavement artist whose pictures included lots of WW2 Panzers in various scenes.
Discussion about the pictures followed and subsequently he found that the artist was in fact of German nationality and had indeed been a Panzer crewman during and after the war.My Brother in Law enquired if he had ever been to Britain.
The answer was a, dead pan, " ve vere going, but it vas cancelled".

6th May 2013, 11:40
Davaar, you could have made the same joke without naming Furtwaengler as a Nazi, something he was not. So, it was gratuitous, and it was a slur. I like most of what you post, and there are idiots enough here in this corner of Pruneland, so why not correct your error, as I see that you have done, instead of also trying to defend it by saying that you have no idea who was or was not a Nazi? That's a matter of public record, as with Herbert von Karajan who did hold a Party membership card, albeit one he may not have sought. The same sad charade is being played out now in Germany over who had worked for the Stasi as an informant, or not.

Not everyone who lived and worked in Nazi Germany was a Nazi, although the Nazis certainly wanted to make out that that was the case. When you call a non-Nazi a Nazi, you are unthinkingly carrying water for the Nazis! Now, there is a joke!

You Brits do get a bit careless with your jokes about Germans, sometimes. That might be down to the way that, as it turned out, you lost the war to them and their Japanese ally. (No joke! Try buying a British car today.) Well, what did you expect, with us to help you?

6th May 2013, 13:45
Ambiguity seems to be our theme for the day.... curiously.

Characteristic of German language and speech is a low tolerance for ambiguity. Utterances and writings auf Deutsch that are ambiguous are mostly wrong in structure, if not actual total nonsense per lingua, and so have little standing to convey meaning. Deciphering ambiguity takes too much hard thinking to allow jokes and similar to filter into one's German mind before happy-hour, and after happy- hour commences, nothing will be remembered, eh? Ein Befehl, ist das. Genau?

A very large part of our humor celebrates the trickery that lies near surface in the gift of language for the Romance cultures, steeped in the idle comforts of life around the Med, soaking up the sun, the wine, and the nuances of metaphor and idiophor that easily creep into language when minds are not freshly sharpened by the morning light.

Noralpin cultures did not have the convenient luxury of survival on a platter, especially for the long chill when grinding out of the Pleistoscene, so precision in communication and some degree of terseness grew into thir language as intrinsic tools for achieving linguistic optimal precision of effect. The ones who did that best had more bambini surviving, even when called Kinder.

So, terse determinism and unavoidable precision, even when fundamentally off-point, are intrinsic latent baggage from 20 or 50 thousand lonely years of cold feet and survival stress requiring precision and effect in communication, as a much higher priority than amusing variations to pass the time while sipping vino on the terrazza.

Likely will wear off, after another 50K.


6th May 2013, 13:47
And then there was Professor Eric Zepler, who had the distinction of radio equipment that he had designed being used by both sides in WW2. He got out of Germany in 1935 and made very positive contributions to the Allied war effort, before becoming the first Professor of Electronic Engineering at Southampton university - where there is a building named after him. In no way a Nazi, but his early work did support their war effort.

6th May 2013, 14:04
The same intrinsic bent toward precision that makes humor more difficult auf Deutsch also helps clear scientific thinking come markedly easier in research and analysis.

That don't have Nichts zu machen with politics.... just with the curious twists and bends as the DNA of language filtered North from nexus near the South of India over a span of some few hundreds of thousands of years.

6th May 2013, 15:20
and it was a slur

I think not, but apart from the principle the conductor's pro-System -- How shall I call it? -- "accommodation", or "tolerance", or "acceptance", put him in a cosy pro-Ruling-Party-circle chat with a or maybe the top man on the Military Staff.

Both would have lost their jobs in an instant if they had come out against the Top Man, which was an essential part of the irony in their "inner-circle" exchange of wits on "the corporal and the harmonica". The identification brought relevance to the joke. Two top-level participants in the System made a witty joke about their own Top Man. If he had heard it, he might not have liked it. It might be a slur to suggest they were disloyal, or maybe not.

How is it a slur to associate in passing a man with a political party legal at the time? Would it be a slur, gratuitous or not, if I had written the "Communist Conductor"?

Either you or some other recent poster attempts to justify him through the immense pressures of the day. That argument does not persuade me much.

Some who felt that way just left, as he could have done. For long enough the BFU in the UK was, I believe, a legal party, to which many prominent Brits belonged or adhered. Is it a slur to say so?

6th May 2013, 18:17
You probably wouldn't want to refer to Sviatislav Richter as "the Communist pianist," would you? But, Richter lived and worked in Stalin's USSR, more Communist than which there were not many systems on the world scene at that time. And Richter did that out of preference, not need, same as Furtwaengler.

I have no need to make excuses for Furtwaengler, because it's not up to me to judge the man. It is simply that the historical record is fairly clear that he was not a Nazi; even Yehudi Menuhin said so. Oh, and Reichspropagandaminister Herr Doktor Joseph Goebbels, him too, and he was working from inside knowledge.

The best German joke I ever heard, as much in the way it was told me, by a German, as its structure, is one that's kind of old now:

Three work mates are in a pub having a few beers after work. Johan gets a bit tipsy and starts in with a terrible joke about the Jews, "Why do German shower heads have eleven holes?"

Hans goes all moody and sensitive then, so that the other two ask him what the problem is.

"I'll have you know that my father died in one of those camps!"

Profuse apologies, "We had no idea. Oh my God... But, your father... what happened to him, how did he end up in a camp?"

"It was very tragic. He got drunk at the guards' Christmas party and fell out of a machine gun tower."

6th May 2013, 19:00
not need
That is an excuse, right there.

He had no need; he made a choice.

Himmler, I understand, used to hold out the Jehovah's Witnesses to his SS troops as worthy examples of "the right stuff" (and just to be sure we do not start off on another tangent, that is not a quotation). Put them in the camps, beat them, starve them, but still they would not bend: that was the spirit they should have. They did not go with the flow out of need.

7th May 2013, 01:12
We are not all made of the right stuff. Certainly not me, otherwise my career in Nigeria would have been a very short one, when instead it was, "Have a nice day, Mrs. Babangida, and anything else I can do for you, please don't hesitate to ask." Grovel, grovel.... Didn't cost anything, didn't hurt my pride, just didn't think to ask the woman about all those people turning up dead after they must have said something to upset her smiling and amiably dim-seeming husband. Funny thing, that.... You really think I should have taken a strong moral stand, there? Okay, maybe next time!

Speaking of our original topic, German humor, there is a photo from the wonderful world of classical music, from some time in the early Fifties, I believe. It shows a top British conductor taking a sidelong, penetrating look at two of the top German postwar figures of the music scene, a singer and a conductor, major personages who had somehow managed not just to survive but to flourish during the Nazi period, yet they had passed their exams for de-Nazification. The brain is hammered flat right now, what with the end of three years of intense study coming to an end, but if I can remember who they were, I shall pass their names along for review and comment. Anyway, the Germans both look as if they had just let silent but deadly farts and were now putting on very brave faces, as if to say, "Who, us?"

7th May 2013, 07:13
It is somewhat sad that one's appreciation of the ironic German sense of humour often seems to be subsumed by "the war" but for all the horror and evil of the Nazis there is some truth that they and their trappings were somewhat risible and ludicrous at one level... a fact that Charlie Chaplin used to great effect in The Great Dictator.

Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator - YouTube


7th May 2013, 10:01
...not just to survive but to flourish...

Missing a comma there Chuks. It should read "...not just to survive, but to flourish..."

...let silent but deadly farts...

And another one. Should read "...let silent, but deadly farts...[/quote]


7th May 2013, 13:46
Okay, just a grammar Nazi, but...

Sorry, mein Führer, but you messed up too, correcting a mistake I made, assuming that it is a mistake.

If you must put in the comma, then you need two: "...silent, but deadly, farts...."

There, of course, one must pause to meditate upon the nature of the silent fart. I maintain that its silence is intrinsic to its deadliness; minus that warning "Paaarrrppp!" its victims do not know to move out of range before its throat-closing stench envelops them, just as the deadly coils of the silent anaconda envelop a fat American tourist who has stopped to eat a donut on the banks of the Amazon, fixated upon that greasy national treat. Then one should write of "the silent but deadly anaconda," as well as the "silent but deadly donut," given its well-known heart-clogging property.

If that is so, then one should not use commas, because "silent" is part of "deadly." If it is not so, then one should use a pair of commas, not the single one you used. Please surrender your Party armband ASAP and retreat to the ranks of the "great unwashed."

I have already turned mine in, because of my gross and unforgivable failure to use one after "survive." When we finish writing this, we are on the way to the village fire pond with our pockets full of rocks, and we "may be some time."

Another German joke:

What is the name of Osama bin Laden's little brother?

Osama bin Kiosk! (Laden is German for "store." A corner shop is a Kiosk.)