I think Jeremy Clarkson is unnecessarily rude about the Germans. Yes, I know he occasionally says nice things about German engineering and Teutonic efficiency, but there always seems to be a subtext that conjures up humourless, bull-necked and implacably punctual people that come across quite creepy, and occasionally even scary.
Okay, I know he does it to get a rise, and I remain among his myriad fans – largely, I think, because I appreciate his mastery of invective, but also because I love his deployment of what close friend (Clarkson’s, not mine) AA Gill refers to as the “syncopated pause”. As any entertainer will tell you, timing is critical: get it wrong, and you’ve lost your audience.
My own experience of the German nation – gained from many visits over a period of four decades – suggests something quite different. Just about every German I’ve met – granted, most of them were involved in the motor industry – has been focused, imaginative, intuitive (yes, even sensitive), and certainly not lacking in humour or charm.
In reaction to the stereotyping, Germans (okay, Germans) have developed a self-effacing, slightly rueful sense of humour that can be just as effective as the British variety, and considerably more sophisticated. I saw this in action many years ago when I ran into a genuine prince during a function at the Oriental hotel in Bangkok. He appeared to like our small group of South Africans (I recall that he was something of a celebrity racing driver at the time), and joined us for a leisurely supper cruise that lasted deep into the night. We found him highly entertaining, brilliantly erudite, refreshingly modest, and willing to share all manner of fascinating anecdotes, some of them quite risqué.
I announced that I had always believed his grandfather (or was it great-grandfather?), King Ludwig of Bavaria, builder of that amazing Disney-esque castle, wasn’t as mad as legend had it. In truth, I suggested, it was probably no more than mild eccentricity. Exactly, exclaimed the prince. The old guy had been handed a raw deal by the historians and gossipmongers.
Anyway, I digress.
My admiration of the Germans was reinforced in a recent visit to Munich for BMW’s annual “Innovation Day” event, marking the 25th anniversary of the founding of Forschung und Technik GmbH – a technological hub that has produced some astonishing feats over the years. I expound on a few of these in the June 2010 issue of PM (go out and buy the damn magazine on Monday, 24 May), but for the purposes of this blog, I’d like to focus on one bit of techno-wizardry in particular – the so-called Emergency Stop Assistant.
This amazing technology, part of a research project focused on the needs of senior citizens, monitors the driver’s vital signs. If the driver suffers an incapacitating incident (for example, stroke or heart attack), the system kicks into action to prevent an accident. If required, it will manoeuvre the vehicle across several lanes of a highway and bring it to a stop on the side of the road in a controlled manner. Not only that, but it automatically summons medical assistance.
In 10 years’ time, this kind of technology may be commonplace, but right now, I have to say that I’m impressed. And there’s more to come; much more.
* Do you believe modern automotive technology is coddling drivers to the point where they’re losing essential skills, or should we be grateful for anything that reduces the chances of an accident? Let’s hear from you.
* Video: BMW innovation – Hands off the wheel technology
* Article: Learn how BMW’s techno-wizards are taking automotive innovation to new heights