The Pub Landlord Discovers the Art of Germany

Just like buses — you wait for a programme on German art for ages then a whole series comes along on BBC4, which started last night. This should be fertile material for anyone writing about a character who’s a German artist.

Part of the press release for the programme hints at an underlying reason why German culture is less known outside German-speaking countries than it deserves to be. The presenter, Andrew Graham-Dixon said in a press release ‘Following two World Wars, there is a tendency to deny German culture the equal reverence of Italy or France, and this enlightening new series provides a wonderful opportunity to explore a great, yet often neglected, artistic tradition whose influence has been just as profound.’

BBC Four controller Richard Klein added: ‘Germany is beautiful and has a rich and luminous cultural heritage, but it is virtually unknown over here, or simply misunderstood.’

I caught the second half of the programme and recorded it so will return to watch the rest and found that even the section I saw was quite fascinating in terms of explaining the German character. There were plenty of shots of green plains, forests and Alpine meadows which illustrates the German love of the outdoors — despite some very urbanised areas (such as Berlin and the Ruhr) many German cities (like Hanover, Munich and Stuttgart) have large areas of forest or parkland close to their centres.

Whereas the English love of the rural idyll tends to be a romantic aspiration (with suburbs being invested with rural decoration) the Germans are, perhaps, more practical. They might be happy to live in apartments in the city most of the time but many of them love to get out into the countryside in practical terms.

I’ve experienced this several times. I once went for an overnight business meeting at a very rustic lodge hotel in the middle of a forest by a huge lake called the Steinhuder Meer. The manager, who lived in Frankfurt, who organised it always stayed in the middle of the forest rather than in the centre of Hanover, where the office was, about 40km away.

I’ve also been taken on long walks up hills with German colleagues and, in one very memorable event, walked up through an Alpine forest when we stayed in a ski resort in the summer to a ski lodge at the top of a mountain where we were all plied with schnapps and cold cheese and meats — and one of my English colleagues got so drunk she was ill the whole of the next day.

When I workshopped the last extract of the novel people were wondering about Kim’s ‘German-ness’ and I also had some comments about what does she see in James and why on earth would a left-wing urban artist want to go out and live in the countryside. To my mind these two aspects are bound together — because she’s German my theory is that once she gets out into the relative wilderness (Buckinghamshire compared to Hackney and Shoreditch) that some desire to escape back to nature will be triggered. It might not last but, as someone who’s already a bit rootless, it seems a bit more plausible for her to move as a German than perhaps as a native Londoner or English suburbanite.

The back-to-nature theme is continued on BBC4 as part of a wider mini-Germany season. Tomorrow night (1st December) Julia Bradbury starts a German hiking season with a walk along the Rhine — the spectacular valley between Cologne and Frankfurt is spectacularly pretty. ‘The Germans enjoy a relationship with walking that has lasted over 200 years. The exploration of their landscape has inspired music, literature and art, and Romanticism has even helped shape the modern German nation, as Julia discovers.’

Also tomorrow, Al Murray (probably one of the very few Oxford-educated ‘pub landlords’) does one of these documentaries where we’re believed to invest more in the subject because it’s of interest to a celebrity. Given Murray’s alter-ego this series should hopefully be of great interest to my novel (what could be better than the pub landlord going to discover Germany?) — and perhaps shows that there’s maybe a latent interest in discovering about modern German characters?

The BBC website says: ‘Making fun of the Germans has had ‘Pub Landlord’ comedian Al Murray’s audiences laughing in the aisles, but behind the scenes Murray is a serious historian with a fascination for the real Germany. In this two-part documentary, Al sets out to discover the truth behind the wartime jokes and banter that still plague all things German. In a breathtaking journey through one of Germany’s coldest winters, he discovers a country of warm and welcoming people and two centuries of stunning arts and culture. From Bach to Bauhaus and the Brothers Grimm, Al falls in love with the true historical, natural and cultural beauty of this much-maligned land.’

12 Replies to “The Pub Landlord Discovers the Art of Germany”

  1. Not sure about the second episode as I was watching The Apprentice and recorded it. I’ll watch it over the next couple of days and see if I recognise it. Sometimes they flash up the names of music pieces if you watch with subtitles on.

  2. Just watched the second episode and I heard some different sorts of piano music around the ten minute mark — some classical and then some sort of ragtime stuff. Perhaps the classical was Lizst as he was listing (no pun intended) off his name as a famous inhabitant of Weimar at that point.

    Fascinating programme — could easily have got an entertaining third or fourth episode on there. And ties in quite well with my own feelings on Germany and the Germans — particularly the liking of the wilderness and the Sturm und Drang.

  3. I watched the programme about Rügen which my wife and I visited in 2001. We had no difficulty in finding the spot which closely matches the painting by Caspar David Friedrich. We have photos which clearly show this match. Although there has been continual erosion over the centuries, in the last decade there has been excessive damage to a number of cliffs and it is possible the scene I took has changed.

  4. I’ve never been to Rügen but I heard a lot about it from my German ex-manager who had a holiday home there — and told me how great it was.

    I thought the hunting for the painting location might have been a bit contrived — to try and insert some mild drama and suspense when in fact there was none. I often think this happens in documentaries — although perhaps not as blatantly as in this one — where the conclusion or the final discovery is, in fact, well know to the narrator/presenter already but they throw in lots of red-herrings and dead-ends to try and keep the viewer in suspense.

  5. Can someone please tell me the name of the town which features in the 1st part of the doc, where snow floating in the sea is lapping up onto the nthern Baltic shore line & there is a functioning steam train that winds through the town.

    It’s located 2 hrs nth of berlin

    Can’t remember the name but I’m trying to make a trip there in the next couple of weeks


  6. Tina,

    I’m not able to view the Al Murray programme again but had a look in a guidebook and it might be this one called Molli :

    It runs between Bad Doberan, Heiligendamm and Kühlungsborn. It goes through the streets in Bad Doberan, which I think is on the sea. It looks pretty likely that Heiligendamm ( was the place featured in the documentary.

    I hope you have a good time when you visit there. As mentioned above, I heard many accounts of what a lovely place Rügen is, which is not far away.


  7. For everyone who commented on this post who asked questions about details in the Al Murray programme, I’ve noticed that the first episode is going to be repeated tonight on BBC4.

  8. Loved the Programme, and recognised a few music track excerpts from
    ” the penguin cafe orchestra”, I have a couple of their superb albums. There were some other musical interludes that I wasn’t familiar with; I’d love to know what the music was. It all fitted perfectly with the programme.
    well done to the beeb!

  9. An english collegue of me send me this documentation and i fell in love with it – mostly because i am german and love your english culture. I´ve never would have guessed that al murray is capable of such an amazing work.

    Thanks BBC and of course thanks to “the pub landlord” for this documentation. Come to Germany have a drink with us, trust me when i say that we lough a lot and we REALLY love beer 😉

  10. Thanks for the comment Daniel.

    I’ve not been to Germany for a couple of years now, although I used to go every couple of weeks. I used to go out for plenty of beers with my German friends and we had lots of laughs too.

    I have a German character in the novel I’m currently working on and she likes a laugh too — and beer.

  11. Quite a lot has changed here. The younger Generation is capable of defying ‘our’ own past. Not only the two world wars, but also the seperation in the cold war and of course the ‘new’ united Germany. We had to deal with quite alot! But still, change is a progress that should never stop.

    I can only hope that your character will have a Jägermeister sometimes…occasionally of course 😉

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