UGH, IT’S A METAPHOR. (Deutschland über us.)
Mark-Eduard Orth is a German business school professor and he has, as I do, some strong opinions about ice cream. According to his latest op-ed in Die Zeit, there is something fishy going on at the Eiscafés in the criminally idyllic college town of Tübingen — and not just that the German word for ice cream is the same as the German word for ice, which causes all manner of confusion vis-à-vis coffee drinks and alcohol drinks: Eiskaffee is coffee with ice cream in it, and not iced coffee, but Sekt auf Eis is champagne with an ice cube in it, and not, unfortunately, a champagne float.
No, what plagues Tübingen’s ice cream consumers — a.k.a. everyone, as I believe there is a federal law that stipulates all Germans eat at least one ice-cream cone per day during the summer — is far more sinister than linguistic ambiguity. IT’S PRICE-FIXING. Did you ever notice, wonders Orth, that at every Eis shop in town, the delicious wares go for between 1,20 and 1,50 EUR per scoop????
It’s because of SHENANIGANS, Freunde, thanks to the, and I quote, “powerful Tübingen ice-cream cartel,” a.k.a. the unspoken (or spoken but impossible to prove) agreement between them all not to raise prices higher than 1,50 EUR or lower them lower than 1,20 EUR per scoop. Apparently, these waffle-cone Tony Sopranos are simply joining their equally corrupt brethren in the Bavarian Christmas market racket, where unsuspecting outdoor-winter drunkards can also find suspiciously consistent prices across stall purveyors of Glühwein (GLUE-vine, or hot alcoholic punch in a ridiculous souvenir mug that results in an even worse hangover than I imagine a champagne float would).
This might seem convenient — Hey, I just scrounged together all of my small change and I 100 percent know I can now purchase a double scoop anywhere in this fine city, since Germans love paying for shit with coins! But it’s actually bad, because don’t you remember Ryan Phillippe in Antitrust?
Fine, fine; as Orth describes it, the Tübingen ice-cream cartel is detrimental to competition, the German word for which is Wettbewerb (VET-buh-VAIRB), which comes from the verbs wetten, or to gamble, and bewerben, to apply (for something). So when German businesses engage in the VERY IMPORTANT act of the free market which shall rule and save us all, they are essentially applying for the privilege of uncertainty. And who’d want to do that, if you could be the Kaiser of Ice-Cream instead?
Especially if, as Orth reveals, nobody could really stop you.
For, despite Germany being a geographical Montana and a populatory two Californias, there is both a federal government, the Bundesregierung (BOOND-us-reh-GEAR-ung) and multiple states, or Länder (LEND-ur), each of which has their own government. Orth’s beef — indeed, the entire purpose of this particular magnum opus of journalistic Geschäftsdeutsch (guh-SHEFTS-doytsh, or Business German) — is that many of the states’ Kartellbehörden (car-TELL-be-HEEEEEEER-dun), or antitrust offices, are poorly staffed and inconsistent in their regulatory priorities. This is especially the case in Baden-Württemberg, which is currently buckling under the scoop-shaped fist of the Tübingen Ice Cream Cartel.
If this still doesn’t seem too bad, that’s because YOU HAVEN’T FIGURED OUT THAT HE IS SPEAKING IN METAPHOR. “Antitrust law ensures more competition, and competition ensures lower prices and larger scoops, better ice cream or more varieties,” he explains.
God dammit. This isn’t really about ice cream, is it?
Now, Orth’s call for more government regulation of capitalistic competition (something definitely not a concern over here in the motherland of capitalistic competition; I’m not freaking out, YOU’RE freaking out) should appear eminently reasonable even to the Atlas Shrugged set. But it’s also indicative of one of the largest cultural differences between the leaders of the free world and us.
What I mean is: Because Germans are in love with rules and want to marry them, their baseline feeling about the role of government regulation is that it’s a default force for good that should be used in moderation, which is the only way that Germans know how to use anything.
I, on the other hand, just ate an entire sleeve of these evil IKEA cookies while researching the next part of this post, because I am an American, and I have no self-control, and (unrelatedly) my culture tends to view government regulation of everyday life from a baseline level of OH HOLY FUCKING SHIT IT’S TYRANNY WHERE ARE MY BOTTOMLESS BEVERAGE AND GUN. That is why my fellow beverage/firearm enthusiasts and I find it absolutely shocking that, for example, Germans regulate the hell out of what they name their kids.
There is, first of all, a literal actual list of allowed German first names (or Vornamen, FOR-nom-un), maintained by every locality’s Standesamt (SHTON-dus-omt), or civil registry office, which they consult when you submit, for official permission, the name you’d like to give your child. Granted, the current selection of allowables is far more extensive and permissive than, say, its 1938 version, which had a short list for Aryans and another for Jews — but still, pretty much every fellow parent I know would currently be a lawbreaker in Germany.
Among the multitudinous rules that would obliterate basically the entirety of my kid’s storytime crowd? All German first names must be “recognizable as a first name” (ya burnt, Braxleigh); they can’t be anything too easily mocked or associated with “evil,” such as Judas or Cain — curiously, Adolf is still allowed (though for some reason, its use became statistically insignificant around 1951). German first names can’t offend the religious sensibilities of others — so, no “Christus,” though in some situations “Jesus” is now allowed, so long as it’s the Spanish pronunciation. And, until 2008, all names had to be gendered: A girl had to get a weiblich (VIBE-lick), or “feminine” name; a boy’s had to be männlich, or “masculine.” Nowadays, thanks to the brave parents of a child named “Kiran,” German names may also be gender neutral. However, if you want to name a boy Helga (a “girl’s name”) or a girl Helge (a “boy’s name,” pronounced almost identically), you’ve still got to appeal.
There’s more: No brand names (I feel like this is a direct commentary about America, do you?); no last names as first names (okay, it DEFINITELY is); no titles (like Lord or Darth); a first name can’t be copyrighted. If the name you submit is rejected by the registrar’s office, you can submit the aforementioned appeal. Some win (Emily-Extra, Galaxina and Jazz are now all students in some fortunate Kindergarten somewhere); others lose (sorry Hemingway, Tom Tom and Woodstock). All of the regulations, however, are in place for the same reason, a very practical one you’d expect Germans to have: to protect people from mockery as kids, and adverse professional treatment as adults.
Well, this is pretty bad news for me. I imagine my daughter, Archduke Madison H. Christ for New Balance™, is going to be really ostracized in her new German Kindergarten that she’ll be starting in the fall, given that I should probably get the holy fuck out of this country immediately, and move to a place whose relentless ginormous government has no active immediate plans to totalitarianize itself.
Until then, like the rest of us, I’ll be dining on a steady diet of my feelings, in the form of ice cream — if the free market will allow it.