What is up with Germans and Scheiße?

I’m like a ripe stool and the world’s like a gigantic anus and we’re about to let go of each other. –Martin Luther on his deathbed

Keeping with our tradition of tackling hard-hitting questions of great social and political import, today we examine the German obsession with scat.

Freiburg Minster, 13th century
Freiburg Minster, 13th century

Now, I know what you might be thinking: Hey wait a minute. I’m German, or I know a German, or maybe I’ve seen a German on TV –- They don’t ALL have an unhealthy obsession with shit. Why do you have to make such gross generalizations?

I know, I know. While no single citizen is responsible for the works of Martin Luther or Heinrich Böll, it just so happens that some of the most famous Germans in history were really into toilet things. And I don’t know of any other country that advertises financial services like this:

“This fairy tale will probably never come true. Life teaches you to be smart and save.”
“This fairy tale will probably never come true. Life teaches you to be smart and save.”

In Life Is Like a Chicken Coop Ladder, Alan Dundes conducts a survey of German folklore and colloquialisms, and posits that German national culture is defined by anal eroticism. The fixation begins at birth, when infants are subject to tightly wrapped swaddling and disciplinarian toilet training.

According to Freud’s theory of psychosexual development, children have a healthy and natural curiosity towards their bowel movements. If toilet training begins too early or is too strict, the child may develop feelings of guilt that become sublimated into an anal-retentive personality. This persists into adulthood and is characterized by obsessive tidiness, punctuality, and deference to authority. Anal personalities also tend to be overly cautious with their money, although that doesn’t seem to have been a problem at Deutsche Bank.

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So the theory is that anal-retentive adults toilet-train their kids in anal-retentive ways, which propagates scatological obsession until it becomes a national culture.

Dieter Rollfinke’s Call of Human Nature also points out the relationship between authoritarian parenting and an anal-retentive culture. The fixation is especially prominent because Germans are not a terribly emotive people. Emotions are more easily expressed through the sphincter, which makes shit a convenient and relatable literary device. To humanize a character, portray him on the latrine (All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Remarque, 1929). To depict frustration, make a character constipated (The Flounder, Günter Grass, 1977). To show internal conflict, describe a rectal exam (A Man and His Dog, Thomas Mann, 1912). As a result, scatological themes frequently turn up in German literature, film, adult film, and Michael Lewis articles.

This book sat in the library for thirty years and not once was it checked out. Sad!
This book sat in the library for thirty years and no one ever checked it out 🙁

But Germans don’t have a monopoly on shit references. International content creators include Jonathan Swift, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Salvador Dali, and the guys who brought us South Park. Why is no other country branded as a scat-loving nation-state?

farting

Historically, it’s been culturally acceptable to make fun of Germany without fear of recourse. The country started two world wars, after all. There’s some unofficial doctrine that if you start a war and lose, the rest of the world gets a free pass to mock your people for all of eternity. I think it’s even written in the Treaty of Versailles somewhere.

So we can openly allude to German toilet habits, knowing that residual war guilt makes it politically okay. And, you know, stuff like this probably doesn’t help:

Hotel Kaiserworth in Goslar im Harz, Lower Saxony
Hotel Kaiserworth in Goslar im Harz, Lower Saxony

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