The Germans' craze for certification

written on 05/10/2020
by Jutta Triebe

Who does not know the aphorism "What you own in black and white you can confidently carry home." from Goethe’s Faust? 

What's behind it? You can always refer to written information. The writing is "black on white" (ink on paper). You can take the document with you (take it home) and rest assured.

The last time I realised how important a certificate is to Germans was when my daughter received her high school diploma in early July. All class teachers presented their respective sections and the students in their own way.

In the German Section two-thirds of the students received award certificates for competitions in which they had participated. And that reminded me of my school days when I collected commendations and certificates, like others nowadays collect Facebook friends.

The Bavarian Purity Law - almost 500 years of consumer protection in Bavaria! One could almost say consumer protection was invented in Bavaria.

The Bavarian Purity Law, which affects the permitted composition of beer, was recorded in writing in 1516 by Duke Wilhelm IV and his brother Ludwig X. A film on the tradition and history of Bavarian beer can be viewed in German here.

Since then, nothing has changed in the wording. The “Purity Law” is legally binding for the whole of Germany, anchored in Section 9 of the announcement of the revision of the Provisional Beer Act of July 29, 1993.

"Made in Germany", nowadays a seal of quality, was actually meant completely differently at first. The story is cited from "A Brief History of Made in Germany":

The British officials who coined the phrase “Made in Germany” intended it as an insult. In 1887, alarmed at an influx of low-priced German products, the British government required goods imported from Germany to be labelled as such.

Back then, Germany was to Britain something like China is to Europe or the United States today. It was an aggressive emerging economy with a large store of cheap labour and ambitions to become an economic superpower.

But Britain’s attempt to shield domestic companies from competition backfired. Made in Germany became a synonym for quality. The story of how Germany succeeded within a few decades still tells us something about the German mind set and tradition.

Mit Brief und Siegel (literally “With letter and seal”)! This saying guarantees that everything will go well. A phrase that goes back a long time. The seal on the letter or certificate was indispensable; the signature wasn’t, since not everyone could write. It is from this old legal custom that we seal something - in the worst case, our fate.

That the need for "black and white" also exists in times of crisis shows the fact that if you do a corona test / smear in Germany and it is examined at the Bioscientia Laboratory in Ingelheim, you actually get a "personal corona certificate" with the Test result on it.

Photo 4: ©Manfred Kopka