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It’s christmas time again. It’s the time when some parts of Germany and Austria do weird things.
When I was a young boy the Nikolaus and his evil companion visited us at home. My dad hired that couple through the church. Can you imagine how it feels, when you suddenly hear a loud noise outside the door of your living room? You know - it’s NOT outside your house, it’s inside, just a few steps before your living room. All the bells and heavy foot steps make you sweat already. And when somebody knocks with a wooden wand and asks to come in, your father won’t tell him to go away. In fact, he will open the door. I remember two giant persons coming in. One was St. Nikolaus, carrying a huge bag full with presents for the nice kids. And one is Krampus. His chains were unbelievable loud and he was looking at me with eyes, telling me: I didn’t get you last time, boy, but I am sure this time I will be allowed to put you in my bag, and then you’ll never return.
St. Nikolaus would open his book in which he has scratched my Sins during the past year. He knew everything - it was just as he would have talked to my parents. Keep your room clean, make your homework and so on. The list of my failures were more than impressive and I thought I would end up with Krampus. But wow, I was so lucky: my dad asked the Nikolaus for a last chance. And after careful consideration, he agreed, gave me some chocolate and told me I should do better next time. Last chance, you know?
I did. At least it worked a couple of years, until I recognized the Nikolaus was one of my school teachers. Then the magic was gone.
This story - or a similar one - might have happened to many of your business partners from Germany. Actually the 6th of december is the date when all the magic happens. Kids often get a visit from Nikolaus alone and he is already rigid. These days the Krampus is not coming so often, but it happens. If he joins he is definitely the bad cop.
The Krampus actually is a figure from the alpin countries - and as such not from scandinavia. According to Wikipedia, this fellow is known in Germany (I can confirm that), Austria, Slovenia, Crotia and Hungary. Scandinavia has it’s own Krampus: they call it Black Metal (yes, I am joking, but don’t they show a bit of similarity actually?).
That said, Krampus is a living tradition in Germany. At least the older business partners of you know exactly who he is. I doubt many young kids know it these days, except from sayings. Honestly, Krampus looks pretty evil, it might be better from a development psychology point of view to not bring this guy at home.
Do you think this is a brutal and weird tradition?
I have some news: it’s not the only one. Many old sayings and stories are utterly brutal. For example, take Brother Grimms “Fairy Tales” (from 1840). As a young boy I was told these are tales for children. Actually they are pretty nice. Go and read a modern version of “Snow white”. Later, when my interest in mythology awoke I read them in original. I didn’t expect anything but found out the originals were unbelievable brutal.
It’s some kind of survival horror: Two kids went through the woods and meet a cannibal woman. They can escape only by burning her in the oven. This is Hansel & Gretyl. Everybody of your business partners might know this tale. When you discuss some quotes with them, remember they grew up with a story from kids burning a mentally sick woman and eating up her home afterwards (and showed no regret with what they have done).
There are more fairy tales which were even more brutal. Most of them I actually didn’t know.
The german past has even more brutal stories to be told: for example, the Inquisition (sorry, the english Wikipedia article is not so good. The german one is more exhaustive). It was a basically an organized witch hunt. Some people claim there were millions of victims, but others say there were just thousands. In any way, there is a good likeliness that your German business partner has grown up in a city which still has a torture chamber. Like Regensburg, where I grew up.
It is pretty much normal that you’ll make a tour through the torture chamber either with your school class or alone. You’ll find out there was not a single witch burning in Regensburg, but the chamber is still scaring. And of course you learn about Bamberg, a city near to Regensburg, where many were killed.
Even before the Inquisition, a roman named Tacitus travelled through Germany (or Germania) around 98 AC. He did write about the several german tribes. He recognized they were skilled in battle and without fright. German tribes are faithful, honest and love their freedom. But he also mentioned they drink to much beer and their feasts are taking to long, usually ending in a fight. And Tacitus mentioned the only thing they really do seriously is to play with dices. Looking at this description again, not so much has changed. The most serious thing in Germany today is Soccer. No matter what happens in the world, Soccer news are omni present. Soccer players usually are always saying one of two sentences. Either: “we have fought, but lost, and now we do it better” or “we have fought and did win, the whole team is really glad about it”. But you can constantly hear an interview with some soccer player at almost any location. We drink too much Beer. Statista says, every German drinks 100 litre of Beer each year (in 2000 it was 125 Litre, we are getting better). And we have 1300 breweries. When it comes to “battle without fright” - these days our allied often call us hesitating. At least this point has changed (luckily).
Some people claim Germany is boring. But if you look more close Germany has a rich set of mythology and stories to tell. They influenced your german business partners, even when they don’t know that there is another Odin than neighbors dog. mythology and tradition is a part of our daily life, even when most of us do not recognize. Maybe, if we all would learn more about our traditions, the backgrounds and would share them we would have a more colorful world.
This might be my last post for this year. Merry christmas and see you in 2014!