Comedy, or Komödie as it is known in Deutsch, is not the first thing you think of when you think about Germany. The Germans are far better known for their mechanical expertise, their superlative beers, and their invasions of other countries. But you would be surprised at the wit that lies beneath those bristling moustaches and finely-pressed uniforms. Here we explore a brief history of German humour.
The first known German joke was invented in 1735 by a Bavarian man called Helmut Bürger. It goes:
'A chicken crosses the road. For what purpose? Discuss.'
Unfortunately, the German punchline was not invented until many years later. It was Immanuel Kant himself who in 1762 discovered the first solution to the above "joke". He famously wrote, "I postulate that the chicken may have been seeking for something which could only be found upon the other side of said road."
And so, the complete German joke was born. From then on, German joke-writing went from strength to strength. Here is another classic from 1847, written by the well-known Swiss German joke-teller Gerhard Schickelgruber:
'Who goes there?'
'I do not understand why you have not opened the door. I have already knocked twice.'
One must remember that these were simpler times, and people were more easily amused in those days. Also German humour is renowned for being very very dry - "ein zwei drei" as they say in Leipzig.
It was in 1870 that Germany became a united nation for the first time. This led to a surge in German nationalism which terrified the rest of the world, but which led to an increase in confidence within Germany itself, and a stronger definition of what it meant to be German. Here is an example of a nationalist joke from that period:
'What do you call a Dutch man who bows before the Kaiser?'
'He must be German.'
It is this kind of German arrogance that sadly led to two world wars. During most of the early part of the twentieth century, there was little laughter in Germany, or in any neighbouring countries for that matter. Indeed the German word for laughter - lachen - was only invented in 1953.
But this death-filled period was not all doom and gloom. One little known fact is that the world's first ever television sitcom was broadcast on German television during the Third Reich. Entitled "Achtung! Ich muss überprüfen Sie Ihre Pass" ("Stop! I Must Check Your Passport"), it was intended as a light-hearted farce based around a train station. Unfortunately, television at that time was very heavily influenced by the state and producers were given little artistic freedom.
In the third episode, station guard Keller was supposed to have a hilarious run-in with the police, but this was changed so that instead he spends the entire episode making a oration praising the hard work and ruthless efficiency of the police force, in a speech written by the Führer himself. The series was cancelled soon afterwards.
After the war, Germans began to laugh again, and the rest of the world began to forgive them their invasive tendencies. The 1960s are said to be a golden age for German comedy, when cinema audiences rolled in the aisles at the hilarious antics of such classic films as:
"Hamburg Wurst Partei" (Hamburg Sausage Party)
"Nonnen in Schnurrbärte" (Nuns in Moustaches)
"Hilfe! Meine Frau ist nackt und ihre haarige Achselhöhlen habe meine Wüstenrennmaus verärgert" (Help! My wife is naked and her hairy armpits have upset my gerbil)
Nowadays, Germans are able to visit comedy shows, comedy bars and comedy workshops, and thanks to the internet they can even hear jokes from all over the world. They are no longer newcomers to comedy, and are capable of telling jokes that would make even the most xenophobic Brit chuckle. So, I will leave you with one final German joke, a rare example of a joke written during the First World War, when jokes were officially illegal in Germany itself:
'Why does the Kaiser's helmet have a point on the top?'
'Because it was manufactured that way in the factory in Düsseldorf, just like all the others.'