Hitler, war, beer, cars -- Americans who still exclusively associate that with Germany can drop in at New York's Grand Central for an exhibition to clear up those clichés and find out what makes modern Germany tick.
It's not all just order and rules in Germany
New York's famous Grand Central Station is frequented by half a million commuters daily, rushing to get their trains, browsing through the shops below the tracks or grabbing a coffee and sandwich at the several restaurants and cafes in the massive complex.
Given its prominent pride of place in the heart of the city, it seems the best place to connect with a large number of Americans. That's exactly what the organizers of an exhibition meant to bring Americans up to date on current day Germany seemed to think. This week the show called "Germany Sensational" opened in the majestic Vanderbilt Hall of the Grand Central Station.
Organizer Peter Soetje, head of the Goethe Institut, Germany's language and culture institute, in New York, agreed that the venue was perfect. "We were wondering where we could place a huge show on German culture and language in New York," Soetje said. "And actually there is no better place than here in the heart of the city because here you don't need to bang on the drum to attract people -- they're already here."
A more realistic picture of Germany
German Ambassador to the US, Wolfgang Ischinger, who opened the exhibition titled "Germany Sensational" on Thursday, said it was high time that the often antiquated image of Germany held by many Americans was changed.
"It's not encouraging when you read surveys and study results that show that the image of Germany among many Americans is still influenced by the figure of Adolf Hitler, the Holocaust and the Second World War," Ischinger said. "And then there are other clichés, albeit positive, that however don't present the whole Germany either -- lederhosen, beer and maybe cars."
Ischinger added that what was needed was a more realistic picture: "That Germany isn't just a country, where high-tech products are made, but where millions of people feel comfortable and have fun in life -- too few Americans know that."
Playful and light
The exhibits on display are correspondingly playful. For instance, given the looming Soccer World Cup in Germany next year, German researchers have designed a soccer game with dog robots, who chase a orange-colored ball with the help of a software hooked via a memory stick in the dogs' bellies. Visitors are invited to try it out.
A healthy breakfast with Müsli, fruit, coffee, honey, egg
The playful theme runs through the culinary fare on offer too. Americans expecting the clichéd stodgy Eisbein (pork knuckle) and Sauerkraut (sour cabbage) are in for a surprise. Visitors instead can sample some light, health food instead -- Müsli, a breakfast cereal made of rolled oats, wheat flakes and various pieces of dried fruits and nuts and the choice of an increasing number of health-conscious Germans, as well as health chocolate bars filled with nuts and fruits rather than sugar and cream.
Even the German language -- for many foreigners a nightmare and about which the famous American author Mark Twain once said that 'only the dead had time to learn it' -- has been made as easy as child's play in the exhibition.
Uwe Rau from the Goethe Institut explained that popular videos showing kids explaining words and boards illustrating examples of words from poetry together with graphics was all part of the show, intended to show that German is simpler to learn than widely believed.
Tradition isn't dead
Despite the playful and unconventional exhibits intended to show a more modern and fun Germany, the show isn't entirely devoid of the more widely known German traditions.
The skyline over Cologne
Michaela Klare of the German National Tourist Office is clear that the country after all wants to draw -- much like last year -- millions of American tourists to Germany in future too.
"The Americans love the culture, tradition, the good food and drinks in Germany," said Klare. "They often begin their trips in Bavaria and end in Berlin. And it's simply important that we bring our country to the heart of Manhattan to the Vanderbilt Hall."
The double-edged strategy of old and new -- traditional beer halls and high-tech-- seems to be working.
New Yorker David Ilten, who visited the exhibition, was impressed. "I find it highly interesting, it's a wonderful exhibition about modern Germany."
The exhibition "Germany Sensational" runs through June 23, 2005