Part 1: The Origins of the Germans
Who were the first people on German soil? What traces did they leave behind, and how much survives today? Questions like these take historian Christopher Clark to the Schwäbische Alb Mountain, where Stone Aged hunters and gatherers lived around 14,000s. There members of Homo sapiens tracked reindeer and bears, sought shelter in chalk caves and made cleverly fashioned stone tools. But they were by no means the Germans’ earliest ancestors. Among the Ur-Germans were Neanderthals. For a long time, people thought that the Neanderthals – called that because their first fossils were discovered in the Neander Valley near Düsseldorf in 1856 – were an alternative branch of the human species that developed parallel to Homo sapiens but died out. Today we know that the DNA of Neanderthals, who disappeared 30,000 years ago, lives on within us. Around four percent of our genes can be traced back to them. At some point, Homo sapiens and Neanderthals must have mated – that was probably around 50,000 years ago.
Part 2: What We Love
Why do forests, castles, fairy tales and legends exercise such a fascination over the German mind? In this second episode of The German Saga, historian Christopher Clark explores what makes Germans tick. On the emotion scale forests are pretty much at the top. Germans’ infatuation with trees goes back a long way. The Roman historian Tacitus described Germania as a land of endless forest. The legionaries were puzzled by the lack of temples and even more so by the mystical role ascribed to glades and trees. Even today Germany remains a nation of tree lovers, with oaks and chestnuts proudly marking the center of many a village. Forests play a central part in many German fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel or Little Red Riding Hood. After Luther’s Bible, the Grimm brothers’ famous Children’s and Household Tales is surely the most prominent and familiar example of Germany’s literary cultural legacy. These tales are embedded in German tradition and have enriched the childhoods of many the world over. Christopher Clark’s journey takes him along the Rhine. For thousands of years the Rhine has been a vital trade route. Pilgrims and armies were also familiar with the waterway. But it was a long time before anyone posed the question “Why is the Rhine so beautiful?” In times past the sight of the Loreley Rock or the Binger Loch was associated more with dangerous currents, rapids and shallows than with romanticism. Christopher Clark also takes time to explore the Germans’ intense romance with soccer. The statistics speak for themselves: some six and a half million Germans are members of over 27,000 football clubs.
Part 3: The Long Road to Unity
The unforgettable images of the Fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification are now over a quarter of a century old. There had been repeated earlier efforts, however, to make Germany one nation. 1,200 years before German reunification other individuals were striving to secure unity in the heart of Europe. In the third part of 'The Germany Saga' historian Christopher Clark travels in his VW Beetle to Aachen – the city of Charlemagne, who was already dubbed the “Father of Europe” in his own lifetime. Driven by the vision of a Christian empire, the mighty King of the Franks gave the diverse patchwork of western European peoples a political structure – thus creating the foundations for modern Germany. Clark’s quest to discover what makes the Germans a people takes him to the man who gave them their common language. Martin Luther became a hugely inspirational and influential figure, preaching against the Papacy and appealing to nationalist sentiments. The Reformation movement he triggered, however, was also highly divisive and eventually leading to the Thirty Years War – which devastated Germany after turning it into the battlefield of Europe. Clark also surveys the period between the failed revolutions of 1848-49 and German unification in 1871. The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 presented the nation with the first major threat to its unity. Then, after the Second World War, Germany was divided among the victorious powers, who were adamant that mass murder and war should never again emanate from the country. Only after reunification in 1990 were Germany and Europe able to cement the close relationship they enjoy today.
Part 4: What We Seek
Bach, Beethoven, Wagner, Kant, Marx, Nietzsche ... Why has Germany given birth to so many famous composers and philosophers and why are the Germans seen as a nation of poets and thinkers? Unlike in France, where everything important came from Paris, Germany had no single cultural center but many small ones. Centuries of rivalry between Germany’s noble houses had left the country politically fragmented. But they also created a wealth of theaters, opera houses and universities, of which there are more in this country than elsewhere in Europe. In this episode, Christopher Clark looks at how foreigners such as Mark Twain and Madame de Staël saw the Germans. The French writer, who traveled to Germany in the early 19th Century, coined the image of “a land of poets and thinkers” and was also the first to notice a provincial element to the German genius. This included quirky bachelors who wanted to turn the world upside down from their unheated garrets in small towns. Carl Spitzweg and Wilhelm Busch later aimed their scathing images and writings at these cranks from the sticks. Christopher Clark knows that many roads lead to Weimar. It is the city of the poet-genius. The Germans already loved one, Friedrich Schiller, in his lifetime, whilst respecting the other, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, as a poet laureate. In “Faust,” Goethe created a literary hero who still fascinates us. Many authors including Thomas Mann have tackled the “Faustian” dichotomy that strives restlessly for the highest and deepest in man. The Nazis exploited the play, as did Marxist thinkers in Communist East Germany.
Part 5: What Drives Us
Discipline, thoroughness and precision are the basis for the Germans’ success, but where does their inventiveness come from? Christopher Clark takes a trip through the history of German discoveries and inventions. In the fifth episode of “The German Saga," the British historian Christopher Clark explores the list of things the world has to thank German “brainiacs” for: bicycles, cars, dynamos, aircraft – it’s a long list. German scientists share currently share the top of the patent league with competitors Japan and the United States. But what are their origins? Can the German success rate be largely attributed to employee morale, or to structures arising in the industrially undeveloped Germany that benefited both practical development as well as research for its own sake? In an old VW Beetle Convertible, one of many cars "Made in Germany" that conquered the world market, Clark in the tracks of mobility. This did not begin with Carl Friedrich Benz, the inventor of the modern automobile, or Otto’s engine of the same name. As early as 1813, Karl Drais built the first four-wheeled vehicle, powered by foot pedals. But the lumberjack from Baden forester was an avid inventor is still best known for the running machine that became famous as the Draisine, a forerunner of the bicycle.Even the great developments in communications technology – the telephone, radio, television, and computers – came from Germany. German physicists and chemists made groundbreaking discoveries such as quantum physics or nuclear fission and have long been major recipients of Nobel Prizes. But there was a downside: the Nazi regime also marked a turning point, forcing brilliant scientists suck as Albert Einstein, James Franck and Max Born into exile. Other submitted to the will and orders of the inhuman regime.
Part 6: Who We Are
The German people are said to be punctual, orderly, and hard-working; they're known for their hearty dinners, and for public clean-up days. Historian Christopher Clark explains who the Germans really are. A 2013 BBC poll of people in 25 different nations showed that Germany is the world's most popular country. What was behind their choice? Still, Germans are often caricatured overseas as rabid aggressors with Hitler moustaches, or buxom Teutonic goddesses wearing spiked military helmets. In Episode 6 of "The German Saga," historian Christopher Clark presents some amusing and sometimes contradictory aspects of German life -- and also a few stereotypes that have their roots in German history. These include "German Angst" -- a concept often dismissed by foreigners as mere melancholy and pessimism. But some historians and psychologists say that this phenomenon has its origins in the armed conflicts that have plagued the German experience -- from the Thirty Years' War to World War II. A number of other "typically German" characteristics -- such as a sense of thrift -- also have their origins in times of crisis: "Waste not, want not." Martin Luther has been quoted as saying, "A penny saved is better than a penny earned." So professor Clark is not in the least surprised that many Germans squeeze the last possible milligram of toothpaste out of the tube, turn off the lights when they leave a room, darn socks instead of throwing them away, and faithfully clip supermarket coupons from the papers. Germany enhanced its international image even further by hosting the 2006 football World Cup. The Germans have long since put their militaristic ways behind them -- and today, they are a generally happy and open-minded people. Christopher Clark has come to the conclusion that Germany wants to live in peace with its neighbors, not dominate them.