A Day in the Life What Makes the Average German Tick?

Part 12: Dreams of Love, Happiness, Money and Betrayal

11:00 p.m. How the Germans sleep, and get robbed in the process

Nighttime starts early in Germany: at 10:47 p.m. That's when most Germans go to bed, and it takes them exactly 15 minutes, until 11:02 p.m., to fall asleep. They feel safe, living, as they do, in one of the world's safest countries. In 2006, Germany's Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA), reported 6.3 million felonies, or about 90,000 less than in the previous year.

If sleeping poorly and having nightmares are expressions of fear and uncertainty, German women feel significantly less safe in bed than men. One in four German women have sleeping problems, which includes trouble falling asleep and waking up in the middle of the night. Only one in eight men have similar problems. About 20 percent of German men and women alike drink a nightcap before going to bed. Twenty-two percent of German women complain of nightmares, and more than five percent take sleeping pills.

By 11:19 p.m., when most people in Germany are asleep, Hans-Georg Richter already has 82 alarm messages on his screen. Since his shift started at 6:00 p.m., he has received an alarm from somewhere in Germany about once every five minutes. Richter, who asked that his real name not be used, because he works in the security industry, is sitting in a low-rise building behind bullet-proof glass windows in an industrial complex in Potsdam outside Berlin, a godforsaken area at this time of night. Richter's control room, the Emergency and Service Control Office at Securitas, can only be reached after passing through an entrance control system.

Securitas is the world's largest private security firm, and its alarm systems are installed in 16,000 homes and businesses throughout Germany.

According to Richter, there is a burglary once every two minutes in Germany, but only one in five burglaries is solved. An average loss of €2,422 ($3,875) is incurred every two minutes.

The screens in the control room start blinking, signaling the 86th alarm of the night, at an amusement arcade in the town of Wedel near Hamburg. It is 11:47 p.m.

Richter immediately notifies the intervention control office at Securitas Mobil. Within seconds, a small, white car with three dots on it, the Securitas company logo, is on its way to the amusement arcade in Wedel.

Germans spend €4 billion ($6.4 billion) a year on private security guards. This isn't much when compared with other countries, especially the United States. The boom that was predicted after Sept. 11, 2001 hasn't happened, and the security market has been stagnating for years.

The time period in which most property crimes are committed starts at about 1:00 a.m. and lasts until 4:00 a.m. A Securitas patrol driver calls this period the "hours of dead eyes."

Germany is asleep, the "average Germans" are resting, the designer lamps in the Müller family's living room in a Hamburg advertising agency are switched off, the television set is silent and the computer, its screen darkened, on a small table in the corner. This is the time of dreams for Germans, in the big cities of Hamburg, Cologne and Munich, or in smaller cities like Osnabrück, Bayreuth, Erfurt and Schwerin.

They are dreams of love, happiness, money and betrayal. Seven percent of Germans admit that they lie at least once a day. The rest apparently fib less often -- or perhaps just when it comes to surveys. The model German also claims that his fellow citizens lie more frequently than he does.

The year will bring the average German a bit of vacation and a smattering of luxury, a few meals in restaurants, a few nights out at the movies, champagne on birthdays and a little sex now and then. The radio will be on, day after day, and so will the TV -- for at least three hours a day -- and the message it will convey to viewers is that some people make 1,000 times as much money as they do, that their lives are 1,000 times as exciting, even though they cannot possibly be working 1,000 times as much.

Bild and similar tabloid newspapers will push our buttons once again, paint their distorted images and lead us to believe that every other uncle is really a child molester. They will start new dog wars, out new famous couples and celebrate or disparage celebrities, and it will all be for the public, because that, as they claim, is what the public wants. We are constantly fed the unusual and the outrageous, as if these things somehow had a lot to do with our own lives.

But our lives happen elsewhere. The mean is where we feel comfortable, and we avoid straying too far from it, neither to the left nor the right, and neither up nor down. When an individual is lumped in with the mean, the average, it isn't usually meant as a compliment. But when applied to an entire people, especially the Germans, being average has its positive sides.

The term 08/15 used to mean "average" in Germany, and it reveals how much times have changed -- for the better -- in a single, great, collective movement. A 1950s trilogy of novels by Hans Hellmut Kirst, a saga of the lives and passions of soldiers in Hitler's army, the Wehrmacht, was named after a type of machine gun, the 08/15. Nowadays no one would think of associating Germans with guns anymore. And anyone who accompanies them through their day, from the time they wake up in the morning until they fall asleep at night, will come away with the calm certainty that this is unlikely to change anytime soon.

After turbulent centuries and catastrophic decades, we have arrived in a state of a moderate, average democracy, of the kind Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in his epochal work about America roughly 170 years ago. "Every citizen, being assimilated to all the rest, is lost in the crowd," Tocqueville wrote, and that "the love of public order is often the only political passion."

We prefer to enjoy that order in the living room, where we eat sweets and drink our pilsner beer. We drink champagne on birthdays, we have woodchip wallpaper on our walls and stuffed animals on our sofas, and we listen to German rock start Herbert Grönemeyer. Most of the time, it seems that everything is simply taking its course: the world, time, and life.


Editor's Note: SPIEGEL ONLINE will continue this series throughout the week. You can also read the second installment, or the third, " ." Check back on Thursday to find out how Germans spend their evenings.


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