Notes on German Culture, Prussia...Northern Germany

Whereas the US has Uncle Sam and England has John Bull, Germany has Michael, known as Der Deutsche Michel

Whereas the US has Uncle Sam and England has John Bull, Germany has Michael, known as Der Deutsche Michel (The German Michael).michel.largeHis popularity peaked in the 1840s, so perhaps this is why most people never heard of Michel. Even the name, Michel or Michael, is quite rare in today’s Germany.

The German Michel figure is meant to represent how in general the German people see themselves… easy-going with an everyman appearance, and with the characteristics of Gemütlichkeit (coziness), integrity and an openly earnest need for rest, exhibited by the Schlaf- Zipfelmütze (sleeping hat) that he wears.

The Michel figure first appeared at the beginning of the Northern Renaissance and was first used as a means to represent the old reliable medieval German farmer and his parochial way of life in the Middle Ages. It was a way to distinguish the educated who used Latin and looked to the outside world, versus the majority who were less educated, only spoke German and looked inwardly.

Keep in mind that figures such as this Michel differ from those that serve as personifications of the nation itself. For example, the armored female warrior Germania is the allegorical symbol of the German nation, just as the revolutionary Marianne symbolizes France and the female Italia is Italy’s allegorical symbol.

In today’s culture, the German Michael is mostly used as a comedic character to poke fun at various aspects of stereotypical German behavior.

The image shown here is “Der Deutsche Michel”, an 1895 statue by Friedrich Reusch, situated on the roof of the Academy of Art in Königsberg, East Prussia… unfortunately, the statue was totally destroyed in WW2, along with the former City of Königsberg, which is no longer part of Germany.


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