American Influences

From Coca-Cola to Jazz and Jeans

The presence of American occupying forces in Germany and Austria after World War II, the impact of Hollywood and American television, the sounds of American entertainers from Elvis to Madonna, and numerous other factors have all combined to lend a decidedly American flavor to the German cultural landscape. Europeans do not always regard this strong American influence as a good thing, but there is no denying that they are drawn to many elements of Americana. From jazz to jeans, from IBM to MTV, from Coke to CNN, from Apple to Starbucks, Germans experience aspects of “the American way of life.”

More than 85 percent of the movies playing in German Kinos are Hollywood films. (After Japan, Germany is the largest market for American movies abroad.) American television shows run on German television channels either directly dubbed into German or as Germanized remakes of the American originals. No less than three-quarters of the music heard on German radio and seen on MTV Europe is either American or in English. If it weren’t for the announcer speaking German, the listener or viewer could be anywhere in the US.

A McDrive in Germany

Sometimes American influences take on a definite German flavor, as at this McDonald’s drive-through.
PHOTO © Hyde Flippo

American companies like Ford, General Motors (Opel), IBM, Burger King and Subway have been in Germany for so long they have become part of the German landscape. In large cities like Berlin or Frankfurt it seems almost as if there is a Starbucks on every corner. (By the way, T-Mobile, also seen on almost every corner, is a German company.) But companies like McDonald’s and Starbucks are often faced with political and cultural protest they don’t encounter in the US. Pressure from German environmentalist groups has caused McDonald’s Deutschland headaches for years. German advertising and public relations often attempt to counter the attacks with ecological information.

The German love-hate relationship with American influences sometimes manifests itself in negative forms. Rolf Winter’s 1990s German best-seller, entitled American Impudence (Die amerikanische Zumutung), called attention to what the author viewed as bad American influences — generalized by the term “Coca-Cola culture”… Fortunately, most Germans and their fellow Europeans realize that America, despite all its faults, is not the cause of all the evils of the world.

Note: This article is based on a chapter in the book The German Way by Hyde Flippo.

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