There are some textbook stereotypes that many people from different cultures have learned when it comes to the Germans. The most common stereotypes that I have heard regarding Germans include the fact that they are obsessed with high quality products, take matters too seriously, and they don’t know how to laugh and have fun. That is unless you are someone like Vicco von Bulow (alias Loriot) who begged to differ from these myths.
I was first introduced to Loriot by my then fiancée (now wife) when I was an exchange student at her alma mater in Jena (located southwest of Leipzig and known for its optical and tech industries) and had all these stereotypes that I had learned during my days in college in the US flushed away in an instant. Born in Brandenburg an der Havel (located between Berlin and Magdeburg) on 12 November, 1923, Loriot first started his career as a cartoonist in the 1950s, but expanded his career to include actor, comedian, conductor, poet, narrator, storyteller……. Well, as you can see, he was one who had multiple roles because he had multiple talents, which made those like me respect him throughout his career. He was also one who could play multiple roles in not only his own films, but also his own shows during the 70s and 80s. Take for instance the film Papa ante Portas, a film that was produced in 1991. Loriot played as many as 10 roles in that film, in addition to his main character, Heinrich Lohse, a retired senior executive who seemed to have some problems getting acquainted with life as a retiree, driving his wife Renate (played by the late Evelyn Hamann) and son over the edge. In the end they eventually find that common medium in their relationship and family life at a birthday party for the wife’s mother at the expense of the siblings and their spouses that were there at the event. But looking at the roles Loriot played, he was a violinist, reader at a event in a local library and the old grandpa. In many scenes, he played more than one part which is impressive to even today’s Hollywood standards (not many actors and actresses can pride themselves on that feat). With his sidekick Evelyn Hamann (who succumbed to cancer in 2006) and other actors appearing frequently on his shows, the dream team made the Germans and those who knew Loriot laugh for two decades, ending in the early 90s when he decided to call it quits and retire. Even if his hey day was in the 70s and 80s when there were two Germanys and lots of bickering between the Americans and the Soviets, many of us still laugh at his antics and blunders, resulting in Hamann’s rolling of the eyes and reactions stemming from question marks to irritable remarks. Putting it bluntly, he made the Germans laugh at the way of life that can always go wrong even if they pride themselves on extensive planning and high quality as a result of the way of thinking. But most importantly, Loriot proved those, who though Germans were too serious , wrong just by his own work that is still highly respected to this day. Even the current German President Christian Wulff considered Loriot the face of Germany- “There’s German humor and then there’s Loriot,” he stated.
Sadly, while camping in Little Falls, Minnesota, I was informed of his passing on 23 August as a result of old age. He was 91 years old when he passed away at his home in Ammerland an Starberger See. He is survived by his wife, Romi, two daughters and two grandchildren. Loriot left a lasting legacy which has made us think differently of Germany. We can no longer think of Germans as way too serious or too obsessed with the way of life, even though some people try and stress that still. We can no longer think that they are perfectionists, although some products, like the BMW, Audi, and Volkswagon are made to be perfect. But we can think of Germans as innovators and creators of our own talents, which if not spoiled rotten by the media, like it has happened to the likes of Justin Bieber, we can respect them and count them as one of our own culture. Loriot fits the German profile quite nicely because after all, Germans have humor and they have Loriot to thank for that. From my perspective Loriot, thank you for allowing me to get to know you and your humor and for helping others prove Germany differently than what the stereotype tells us. May you entertain those in the heavens including your sidekick Evelyn and make them laugh.
Some interesting links to Loriot and his legacy can be found here: