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Culture

#germangemütlichkeit: Championing normality on Instagram

Dark taverns, drab concrete blocks and small garden allotments: With hashtags like #germangemütlichkeit, Instagram users are telling stories about a Germany far away from the tourist hotspots.

A neglected garden gnome, a balcony with an awning straight out of the 1970s, a panel building among the fall leaves, outmoded lace curtains: Anika Meier's cellphone snapshots of her daily life are what she calls "cracks in an idyllic world." Meier works as a freelance journalist and art historian, and can be found on Instagram under @gert_pauly.

Meier is particularly keen on a very typical German concept: "Gemütlichkeit" ("warmth or friendliness"). She created the hashtag #germangemütlichkeit, a term used on Instagram to showcase a self-deprecating look at the German way of life. And she's far from alone in her efforts.

Using pictures to dispel clichés

#germangemütlichkeit has nothing to do with the picture commonly associated with Germany.

"Many people are quick to notice that kitsch plays well on Instagram. The Alster River, immersed in beautiful light, does indeed look romantic. So you are likely to receive more likes for that than for a gray townhouse. That's why you need to grasp the irony behind #germangemütlichkeit," explains Meier.

DW_1 germangemütlichkeit. Copyright: Anika Meier

Instagram user Meier says she feels attracted to "the incongruity within the picture"

"Looking through the photos, you'll be hard pressed to come across traditional timbered houses or pretty little alleyways. This is about showing how people are trying to embellish something that is, in fact, ugly" - for example a ramshackle house or a sterile-looking building facade.

"I'm convinced that focusing exclusively on locations listed in travel guides does not allow a person to really understand a country's cultural tradition," said Christina Vetesnik, @stina_valensina on Instagram. One of her objectives is to present images of Germany that her followers would otherwise not come across, and to find what's special in what is perceived as everyday normality.

Also tagged with #germangemütlichkeit, her pictures tell little stories from daily life that remind her of her own experiences: "my grandma's freshly washed laundry, or the little corner shop of my childhood," Vetesnik explains.

Screenshot Instagram stina_valensina. Copyright: Instagram/stina_valensina

Vetesnik thinks that the "true German way of life takes place outside of tourist hotspots"

But she's not the only person who says she enjoys these glimpses into everyday life in Germany. More than 65,000 users follow Vetesnik and Meier on Instagram, many of whom are based abroad. Meier says that fact also played a role in looking for a suitable hashtag. After all, "Gemütlichkeit" is one of the few German words that have made it into both the English and French vocabularies - without having a direct translation.

Rather than focusing on Berlin's trendy scene, Meier is struck by "the congeniality of small towns, villages in southern Germany or the particular sense of melancholy encountered in the cities of the Ruhr valley." She says she was inspired by US photographer Stephen Shore, as well as the Düsseldorf-based artist couple Bernd and Hilla Becher.

Smug about being shabby

With pictures depicting German normality, #germangemütlichkeit is trying to counter more prevalent messages about Germany seen all over social networks. André Krüger (@bosch) is another Instagram user who loves to photograph things that are in complete contrast to commonly-held clichés about Germany.

Screenshot Instagram bosch. Copyright: Instagram/bosch

Ode to ugliness: More than 3,600 photos can be found under the hashtag #uglygermanarchitecture

"No, people here aren't always clean, punctual and orderly. When you take a second look, you also discover things that are shabby and crooked," says the blogger, who is based in Hamburg. Together with other photographers, Krüger has put together photographic declarations of love to the ugliness of German building facades under the hashtag #uglygermanarchitecture.

Post-war architecture in particular "stands in contrast to all those Instagram pictures one encounters every day, where everything is beautiful and filled with light," says Krüger. "But daily life can also be gray and sad. We need to show that as well."

Krüger adds that during his stays in Berlin, he prefers to visit the district of Marzahn or the Hufeisensiedlung rather than the Brandenburg Gate and other polished areas.

Gemütlichkeit: a German export

Meier says that these days he is especially interested in one particular hashtag: #xmasgemütlichkeit, a part of the Instagram project "This Ain't Art School" that she herself initiated.

Screenshot Instagram hypercatalecta. Copyright: Instagram/hypercatalecta

#americangemütlichkeit: Inflatable Christmas decorations serve to depict every life in the United States

The account tries to motivate users to photograph things that would otherwise not make it into social networks, regularly assigning creativity "homework" to its users on certain topics. Most recently, users were asked to post their contributions to #xmasgemütlichkeit in the run-up to Christmas, with a prize for the most creative contribution.

At the beginning most of the contributions were posted by German photographers with an obvious penchant for irony, Meier explains. But later, contributions were also sent in from Mexico, the US and even Bethlehem.

In the meantime, the hashtags #americangemütlichkeit and #frenchgemütlichkeit have also come to the fore, kicking off a triumphal procession of normality on Instagram.

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