Germans Do Everything Wrong: Real Medicine Will Get You Killed

Having now read about Germany’s pre-mediaeval understanding of disease, you will probably no longer be surprised to learn that their ideas about curing diseases are no less unscientific. It will probably not surprise anyone at this point that homeopathy—the idiotic belief that if you put something poisonous in water, then take it out again, the water becomes an antidote for that poison and anything with similar symptoms to it—was both invented in Germany, and is also highly popular here. Germans, being a highly nationalistic people (as we saw twice in the early 20th century), certainly prefer to throw their money away on local quackery rather than the foreign stuff.

Despite having a fairly good (and, of course, needlessly complicated) public healthcare system, German medicine is plagued with all kinds of pseudoscience, which doctors, insurers, and especially pharmacies support. Not only are homeopathy, chiropractic, herbal medicines, acupuncture and other such woo highly popular in Germany, but all of those treatments are also available for your pets! Picture it so:

You spent a few seconds too many standing under a ceiling fan, and now that you have an infection, which your German colleagues insist is draft-induced, you have arrived at the pharmacy with a prescription from the doctor. Let’s assume that a miracle has happened, and you’ve convinced your doctor that you don’t want Natural Brand Herbal Remedy X, and what your doctor has prescribed you is actual real medicine, to treat your actual real disease.

First, there is the high probability that you will be walking into a very popular pharmacy chain whose name literally translates as “preferably natural,” which tells you a little bit about their position on real medicine. Whether or not this is the case, it is still very likely that when you get to the desk, the pharmacist will look at your prescription and start to shake her head.

“Are you sure you want to be putting chemicals in your body?” she asks, incredulous. “We have a number of homeopathic remedies to treat this, and they are much better for your body.” You will, I hope, refuse, at which point she will probably start telling you about how the pet formulation of the particular brand she recommends has been working great on her horse. Germans, you see, love nothing more than a good anecdote, which they consider a suitable replacement for any and all forms of real evidence.

But you don’t even need to have a real disease to go to the pharmacy. Perhaps the reason Germany has such a fascination with fake medicine is they’ve managed to conjure up an equal number of fake illnesses to go with it! We’ve already learned about the dangers of air, but perhaps the most mysterious of these airy illnesses is the Föhnkrankheit, a very specific made up disease which is caused when wind blows over a mountain, down the other side, and onto you. The wind goes up the mountainside and cools, but—and here’s the twist!—as it comes back down the other side it warms up again, becoming a Föhn, a name for a thing so unnecessarily specific that it could only possibly be German! This magical process imbues the wind with evil juju, causing the sufferer a general sense of malaise and unease that is just perfect for homeopathic or herbal treatment!

One of the more dangerous sounding made up diseases (and one often blamed on the Föhn like some kind of made up illness Inception) is a Kreislaufzusammenbruch, literally a “circulatory collapse.” In any other country in the world, if your circulation collapses, you fall over and die, but not so in Germany, where a collapsed circulation makes you juuuuuust dizzy enough not to come into work today, but not enough to cause you actual bodily harm. You see, young auslander, all manner of vague and unusual symptoms can be blamed on vague circulatory problems, and we all know that the cause is stress. Tell your boss you’re having a circulatory collapse, and they’ll frown, wish you the best, and give you a stress-free week off work to recover. Vaguely defined diseases which are serious, but not serious enough to see a doctor about, are, you will find, a very common theme in Germany.

Coming from an Anglophone country as I and probably you, the reader, do, where employees are treated like mindless robots banned from having emotions whose only purpose seems to be to cost the company money, you would be forgiven for thinking that Germany being about the only country in the world to take stress seriously is a good thing. And you’d be right, except Germans don’t take stress seriously at all! Germans treat stress the way American teenagers treat the word “awesome.” Teenagers bandy around the word awesome like it actually means “something mildly amusing,” and Germans have about the same relationship with the word “stress,” using it to mean “something mildly annoying.” An array of made up diseases are caused by stress in Germany, and a number of real diseases are blamed on stress despite having very real, and sometimes much more dangerous, causes.

Or maybe Germans really are more stressed than their Anglophone counterparts despite having better working conditions, a lower cost of living, more housing security and a no-fuss approach to marriage that doesn’t break the bank. After all—between apartments that you practically have to build yourself, a nationwide refusal to adopt modern technologies that the rest of the world has had for decades, a general fear of anything that is mildly convenient, a national commitment to unnecessary rudeness, unhelpful customer service staff who see customers as an inconvenience and are determined to make sure they know about it, archaic forms and arbitrary rules that no one really knows the purpose of anyway, and a language that seems like it was built to be a complex interactive puzzle—as you will learn in this book, if there’s one thing Germans know how to do, it’s how to add a little extra stress to a situation that really doesn’t need it.



Up Next: “Let Me Correct You on Your English,” said the German to the American

And soon to come:


If You’re Too Incompetent to Succeed at Life, Become a German Public Servant!

All the special little ways German bureaucracy can make your life more miserable.

A Wohnung Need Not Necessarily Be Wohnable

Why finding a new apartment should be the most awful experience imaginable.



Germans Do Everything Wrong: The Draft Will Get You Killed

I have decided to begin posting extracts from my sometime-next-year “soon” to be released new book, “Germans Do Everything Wrong (and a few things they get right)”. First up:

The Draft Will Get You Killed

No, not the kind where your government drags you off to fight in its wars without your consent. We suspended that in 2011. No, we’re talking about something far more deadly here.

Ask any German, and they will tell you that air, in its various states of motion, is the cause of all illness. It seems that concepts like viruses and bacteria simply haven’t reached Germany yet, which has instead gotten stuck on the miasma theories of pre-scientific medieval Europe. You see, the German relationship with air is so perplexing because it is, like most of the things wrong with Germany, completely self-contradictory and yet they are just as completely unaware of this fact.

Let us start with the German fear of the draft. Germans believe, with absolute conviction, that air moving through a building can bring even the strongest German to his knees, starting with a stiffness in the neck, progressing to a sore throat, and progressing, in various stages, to full-blown bed-ridden debilitation. I have even heard Germans assign it as the cause of their co-worker’s meningitis, with said co-worker nodding in agreement.

You’d think this was a fear of outside air—which I am about to confirm and which will be contradicted later—and Germans would tend to agree. If it’s at all likely to be windy outside, you’d better wear a scarf, even if it’s 90 degrees out there and not a cloud in the sky. If you don’t, you’ll certainly get a sore throat from all that wind doing … something—the mechanism for all these things is never really explained.

Of course, it’s not just air coming from outside that is the problem but—and take note here, for this will be contradicted later—the very movement itself which causes illness. Thus not only will you find German offices and homes so well insulated as to be hermetically sealed from any outside air, you will also find them lacking in fans, air vents, or modern air conditioning and forced air heating systems. These all cause air to move, and are therefore highly dangerous.

But here’s the kicker. German are afraid of air that moves, but they are equally afraid of air that isn’t moving. Stale air, as much as air that happens to be moving, will make you sick. Thus, despite spending their whole day hermetically sealed from the outside world, Germans will, like clockwork, get up every morning and open all the windows to air out their houses. You can literally, I kid you not, buy charts which tell you exactly how long to open your windows for each day of the year as the seasons change, adjusted for whether you are opening them fully or have them tilted.

Combine this fear of stale air with a German’s deathly fear of mould and you get an explosive obsession with airing out their apartments. In their pursuit of a completely damp-free home, Germans, you will be amused to discover, all squeegee down their showers after use—you know, that one thing in your house that is literally designed to get and be wet. You’d think the whole mould thing would be the explanation for their obsession with airing out their apartments. It makes sense—cold countries mean cold houses, mean less frequently opening the windows so as to keep the heat in, mean mould—but it isn’t. Stale air is bad, and mould is bad, but are completely unrelated concepts, apparently.

Of course, the amusing part is when this fear of stale air conflicts with a fear of the draft. It results either in a ridiculous situation where Germans seal off a part of their house, open the windows in it and then close the door and go hide in another room and cower until this whole thing is all over, or in them running around, opening all the windows, and then pegging it out the door while they go do their shopping out of fear that the slightest touch of moving air will get them killed. If only there existed some sort of modern technology designed to ventilate buildings…

But it gets worse, for the rules on moving air vs. stale air start to get a little bit more complicated when the seasons come into play. If, for example, it is a stifling day in the middle of summer and the office is hot and humid, your German co-workers will insist that the windows must remain closed, because, of course, drafts kill. But in mid-winter, it is the fear of stale air that takes precedent, so that it is not uncommon to enter the office on a cold winter morning to find all the windows thrown open to let in the frosty air, with any attempt to close them being met with a stern talk about the dangers of stale air and an insistence that we must remain just as cold as if we were standing outside naked in the snow for the benefit of our health. It seems that the rules of balancing the threat stale air against that of moving air are more complicated and esoteric than they seem, with the only hard and fast rule seeming to be that the situation which is most suitable to a German in a given circumstance is that which makes everybody else the most uncomfortable—which actually pretty accurately describes just about any situation in Germany about equally well.

So what the hell is going on here? Well, if you press a German on this and repeatedly point out the contradictions, you will eventually get to a point where they tell you that it’s not the moving air that’s the problem, but air that moves through a room. Germans even have a special word for this that no other language has: “Durchzug,” meaning “through movement.” Remember a few paragraphs back I told you to take note, for contradictions were on their way? Well, I ask said Germans, if it’s air moving through a room that’s a problem, then why are you deathly scared of fans, vents and air con? “Ah,” they will tell you, “well that’s different.” If you press them for an explanation, instead of actually getting one, you’ll just get a story about their co-worker who once used a fan and got meningitis. Trust me.

You’d think (and hope) that we’d be through with this by now, but we aren’t. There are, apparently, benefits to air too, as long as you’re in the countryside, outside, and have your neck safely covered in case of wind. For you see, if you do fall ill, probably because of the air, of course, rather than insist on bed rest and some actual medicine, your doctor is equally likely to prescribe you a trip to the countryside to indulge in the miraculous healing properties of fresh green air. Which brings us onto our next topic…


Up Next: Real Medicine Will Get You Killed