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Learning to Laugh, the German Way

DW staff (jam)
June 22, 2005

Germans aren't known as the most lighthearted folks around: Getting one to laugh can seem like pulling teeth. An entrepreneur in Berlin wants to change that and wants to educate his countrymen about the joy of laughing.

https://p.dw.com/p/6osx
With that winning smile, chances are he's not a GermanImage: BilderBox

Chortling, chuckling, giggling and busting a gut are words not often associated with Germans, whose spectrum of facial expressions generally ranges from dour to, if you're lucky, neutral.

Susanne Maier, a therapist and German herself, admits as much.

"We Germans aren't very easygoing and loose," she told Der Spiegel magazine. "We've got to laugh before we make ourselves sick."

To ward off any collective despair-fueled illness (which some might say has already struck), Maier has opened Berlin's first school to actually teach Germans to laugh, since the jolly gene for that appears to have mutated out of the general population.

Lachende Schülerinnen, Lachen
They seem to be doing pretty well alreadyImage: Bilderbox

It's not a new idea. Maier took it from India, where 10 years ago a doctor, Madan Kataria, developed laughter yoga. It was meant to relieve stress and improve participants' quality of life.

It's okay to be silly

In the school in a northern district of the capital, participants do very un-German things. They run around the classroom without any purpose; they clap their hands, saying ho-ho-ho and ha-ha-ha; and they actually look each other in the eye, something few sane people would attempt on Berlin's own mean streets.

"Fake it until you make it," is Maier's motto and her students of laughter have to pretend to crack up until the real thing comes along.

She admits that it all appears very German, this need to train Germans to do something that comes naturally to most people, but it doesn't bother her.

Weltlachtag in Indien
'International Laughing Club' members gesture and laugh as they celebrate World Laughers Day in Bangalore, India, on May 2, 2004. The laughing club was founded in 1995 by Madan Kataria with the belief that laughing fits boost the immune system.Image: AP

"If Germans can only learn to laugh through a kind of formal methodology, we'll go ahead and use it," she said.

There's a good chance Maier will be successful: After all, following orders -- unlike laughing -- isn't something Germans seem to have a problem with.