As I am sitting on my balcony in northern Bavaria, enjoying a slight breeze in the last few sunny hours of this year’s summer, I just heard the rumbling grunt of an American V8 that’s muffled by many feet of exhaust pipe. Even though it probably says “cat back” on some piece of paper, you can hear clearly that the sound has a long way to be released from the tail pipe before finally reaching my ear. Obviously the chant of a large pick-up truck - probably a ram.
Alright, enough of that charade: I may distinguish one V8 from another by hearing it, but as a German, I’m not able to tell the brand of car/truck going by, just from its sound.
It’s easier than that. The only large displacement V8 in our little street is the one of a big red 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 Crew Cab with the 5.7 liter Hemi and the nifty Ram-Boxes in its bedsides, besides it’s a nice Laramie. It belongs to a guy that uses it around town, where you can often see him go by. Of course, the truck is gargantuan, next to a regular Golf or Passat, but just so that everybody notices, the owner parks it on at least three parking space at a time, because, you know: ‘Murica, that’s why.
He is the perfect example of how the US-car culture is catalyzed in Germany.
I don’t know how much you - my dear reader - may have heard about Germans thinking of the U.S., but I can assure you, that other Germans do. It is somewhat of a stereotype.
Chrome rims? Yup. U.S. Flag stickers? You betcha! Route 66 sign decals all over the thing? But of course!
It’s not me to judge, since it’s up to the car’s owner to style it the way he or she likes it, but you can find this kind of folklore on almost every U.S. car around - even on most of the P.T. Cruisers that were regularly sold here in Germany (and most of them are just as crappy as they are in the U.S. by now...). I couldn’t even promise, not to think about one of these adornments myself if I ever had an American car. Where does that come from? There’s no sign of origin on other foreign cars, so what’s so special about the American ones?
I call that The American Dream. Not the one, U.S. citizens mean when they think about a dishwasher becoming a millionaire and so on.
I’m talking about the yearning for anything from beyond the Atlantic ocean. This goes way back to the time of WW II, where large parts of Germany were freed by American soldiers. It was the G.I.’s kindness, their style, their savoir-vivre that amazed many Germans in post-war times. Since then, Germans could only gaze in awe at soldiers stationed in Germany in the 50's and 60's.
Spending leisure time in comfortable looking clothing, chewing gum or carrying around a can of soda; that just wasn’t a thing you’d do around here at the time where everybody was using there last coins to rebuild the war-stricken country.
With the soldiers came Jazz and Rock and Roll - an entire pop culture, that was yet unknown, due to the repressions of the nazi regime. Each and every American thing that came to Germany seemed to be from a wonderful promised land. This aura developed until the mid 70's until probably every German has once seen an American movie. This cinematic surge of realism didn’t impair our view on the U.S. but rather emphasized it, because now, every hearsay about America seemed to be proven by motion picture.
Try to think of Easy Rider to understand the romanticized view on the U.S. as the land of the large open spaces and the free men with their TÜV-unimpaired motorcycles. There you have the image that the average German has in mind, when he or she thinks about the U.S.A.
Now if you appoint that to the world of cars, it’s easy to see that nearly every American car almost automatically gets its status as a muscle car that deserves to get Uncle-Samarized in every detail. Mind you, that only goes for Germans who haven’t been to the U.S. yet.
If they had, they’d probably think of the plentiful open-mindedness that surrounds the American car world. A thing that I’ll have a look on in my next article.