Will Project Runway Make German Fashionable?


Like many otherwise sensible adults, I have caught the reality show bug, especially contest shows like Project Runway with host and former supermodel Heidi Klum. She looks good and definitely has a “cute” German accent.

When contestants (aspiring fashion designers) are asked to leave, Heidi hugs each one and says Auf Wiedersehen. It’s become such a signature that Bravo TV now asks viewers to shout “Auf” their thoughts (Auf = “out” in German).

This leaves me wondering...will German become a “fashionable” language like Italian or Spanish? When I was growing up, German was mostly associated with Nazis or mad scientists and the language, as my mother once commented, was very “useful for watching WWII movies”. The stereotypical “accent” was meant to be “harsh” and “authoritarian”...hardly the stuff of romantic fantasies of travel and glamour. It’s no wonder that when Die Hardwas looking for a good European terrorist archetype, they went with Hans, the psychotic German superthief!

As for learning German, unless you were stationed at a German military base or conducted business in Germany, it didn’t seem as useful to me as Spanish or French would be, especially since the former West Germany was one of the countries willing to teach their children English (and we didn’t worry about East Germany so much).

But since then, German has been making a comeback. Supermodels and athletes like Claudia Schiffer, Katerina Witt, Heidi Klum and Boris Becker have shown ... there ARE good looking people in Germany and that German accents are not always “harsh”.

I think the new “romantic” stereotype may be gaining ground because in the romantic historical thriller The Illusionist, set in pre-WWI Vienna in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Edward Norton (the hero) created his own cute German accent (sweet). It’s actually a return to the pre War era of Marlene Dietrich and Little Women (remember that Jo married a German emigré) when German was as “romantic” as French or Latin icons are today.

I don’t know if enrollment in German classes are increasing yet, but it is nice to see that our perceptions of German are evolving beyond the WWII movie.