SPIEGEL ONLINE

SPIEGEL ONLINE

04/28/2008 06:23 PM

A Day in the Life

What Makes the Average German Tick?

What do Germans earn? How much do they drink? How loyal are they? How often do they lie? What do they believe in? What are they afraid of? How often do they have sex? How do they die? A new SPIEGEL report gives a unique picture of the average German and how they think, live and love.

Last year Thomas Müller ate 42.9 kilograms (94.6 pounds) of fruit, consumed 540 glasses of alcoholic beverages, wore pajamas to bed, watched at least 1,200 hours of TV, drank champagne at birthday parties, received new music CDs for Christmas, drove to work and had sex with his wife 117 times. He is a man without secrets.

In the same year, Sabine Müller ate 57 kilograms (126 pounds) of fruit, consumed 229 glasses of alcoholic beverages, slept in a nightgown, occasionally baked a cake and watched more than 1,400 hours of TV. She has an orchid in her living room and puts up a real Christmas tree for the holidays -- and she had sex with her husband 117 times. She is a woman without secrets.

The Müllers spent two weeks of the year on vacation -- in Germany -- and on Jan. 1, 2008, they discovered that they had gained 370 grams (13 ounces) over the holidays. Thomas is 45, 1.79 meters (5'10") tall, is slightly overweight at 83.5 kilograms (184 lbs), and earns €3,702 ($5,923) a month gross. His wife, Sabine, is three years his junior, 1.66 meters (5'5") tall and weighs a little under 67 kilos (148 pounds). She works part-time, wears her hair long but not too long, runs the household on her own and likes reading horoscopes.

The two have been married for 17 years, and their only child, Alexander, turned 15 last summer. He was 14 when he kissed a girl for the first time.

The Müllers live in Cologne, a reasonable choice for the typical German family, but because everything about this family is a bit odd, their living room happens to be in Hamburg. To be exact, it's in a dark, brick building housing the offices of Jung von Matt, one of the country's most successful advertising agencies. This can only mean one thing: The Müllers are fictional. Thomas Müller is the average German man, Sabine is the average German woman and their family is the average Teuton family. They are what marketing experts call the "most common Germans." They exist, but then again, they're a figment of marketers' imaginations. Whatever their status, though, they are indispensable.

To keep its reputation alive as an "idea factory," four years ago the agency came up with the concept of creating the Müllers' living room. Using mountains of statistical data, survey results, opinion polls, sales figures, together with home interviews with 20 real families, they built the average German living room, complete with the most popular German wallpaper, indoor plants and knickknacks on the sideboard. Jung von Matt's creative and strategic teams now use the space for meetings. It gives them the sense that they are talking shop in the middle of the average German life, while gazing at the walls of the average German living room.

Anyone entering the room has the eerie sense that its occupants have left it only moments earlier, perhaps to make a sandwich in the kitchen or walk down to the basement to put the laundry in the dryer. But there is no kitchen or basement.

The room is updated periodically to conform to the latest trends and news headlines. Trainees at Jung von Matt double as "living room attendants." Their job includes making sure that the TV program guide is always opened to the correct page, the plants are kept watered and the books on the shelves are current. "Moppel-Ich," a bestselling diet book, was added in recent years (for Sabine Müller), along with the latest installments of the Harry Potter series, a book on the pleasures of quitting smoking, a smattering of popular self-help books and the latest bestsellers, next to a travel guide for the Mediterranean tourist haven of Mallorca -- a little light reading for husband Thomas.

Average Germans Thomas and Sabine like to paint their walls yellow and decorate them with pictures of family and animals. A small collection of stuffed animals lined up on the back of the sofa provides the necessary dose of coziness.

Knowing all of these intimate details is as important to advertising agencies as it is to the companies that are their clients -- because the average German rules the country's economy, determining what is purchased and what is produced. Political parties are also keenly interested in finding out what Thomas and Sabine Müller are thinking and what they want out of life. Politicians want to be there for the Müllers, or at least create the impression that they identify with the typical German voter. Everything about their politics is geared toward the average voter at the political center, even though the center is gradually shrinking. And anyone in the media who fails to take note of what the average German likes to listen to, read and watch is doomed to fail.

The average German, this fictional creation of a handful of advertising executives, is the most important person in the country, wooed and pursued by the business world, the political class and the public sphere. This average German -- who also happens to be ridiculed, despised and feared -- is the true King of Germany.

Those who embark on a search for this person, who engage with the generalization, are working with a composite image, fuzzy on the details and yet no less fascinating. Every person is curious about his or her own proximity to the norm and, by the same token, everyone wants to be special, original and recognizable as an individual. And yet, in pursuing uniqueness the individual is in fact moving within the great procession dubbed "the average" far more often than he or she suspects. Even the greatest individualist, convinced that he is one of a kind, measures his happiness against the average person. Ironically, it is clear this average German is nonexistent or, at the very least, exists only as the average German woman or the average German man. We make our daily decisions far more uniformly than we believe, some stemming from forced necessity and others reached completely of our own free will. Why is it, for example, that bright red was the most popular color of German cars for years? And why is that this color preference then changed, as if by some secret agreement, to metallic grey and, more recently, to black?

Even private and plainly individual decisions, like the naming of children, follow clear patterns and fashions, with the Pauls and the Maxes, the Maries and the Hannahs dying off for decades before returning to popularity. Will traditional German names like Ernst, Wilhelm and Elfriede soon be back in vogue? If so, why? What are the criteria behind the decisions we make? What do we allow to influence us? What is freedom?

The situation is paradoxical. In an age when total individuality is celebrated by some and painted as the source of all evil by others, a creeping uniformity is taking hold. In the big picture, it is only a handful of major corporations that clothe us and provide us with accessories, furnish our apartments and houses, produce the electronics with which we amuse ourselves, equip our computers with more or less the same software, serve us our prepared food and help us dispel boredom with a series of interchangeable games. Meanwhile, Hollywood and its surrogates serve up perfectly formatted desires to help us fill some of our free time.

Cigarettes were once marketed by telling us that "everyone is an original," and for almost 20 years marketers hawked the popular German margarine brand "Du darfst" ("You May") by suggesting that the typical "Du darfst" consumer is someone who insists: "I want to remain the way I am." But what am I like? What am I? Am I the master of my life or a product of my environment? People have always asked these questions, but never before have they been so intent on finding the answers, and never has such a wealth of data existed to point them in the right direction.

The German Federal Statistical Office and its counterparts at the state level use increasingly refined methods to illuminate all of the central aspects of our lives, encouraging us to write diaries and list the ways we spend our time at 10-minute intervals, then apply complicated procedures to describe the general direction taken by the entire herd.

But it is not just our businesses, and not only our governments, that are busily X-raying modern man. Banks, mail-order companies and telephone service providers constantly examine the individual, determined to discover whether he is creditworthy, or which of us are too often behind on our bills and come up short in the credit rating game.

Meanwhile, market researchers in the business world are not interested in the individual, but in the average person, the face of the masses. The condom, refrigerator and cigarette industries, importers of fresh flowers, distillers of Scotch whiskey and sports leagues -- they all want to know how we live, what we think, what we do and what we don't do, what we like, what we hate and -- what makes us tick.

Abundant data exists on the habits of the Germans. The Society for Consumer Research, for example, knows which TV programs we watch and for how long, whether our interest in spending money is rising or falling and what we intend to purchase. The Federal Statistical Office knows how we live, how much rent we pay and how much we earn, the German Automobile Club (ADAC) and auto insurance companies know who prefers which cars and what kinds of drivers are most likely to cause accidents.

Sex research institutes offer figures on our sex lives and beer brewers on how much we drink, while traffic experts can tell us the number of kilometers the average German sits in traffic every day. Trade unions have their statistics on the working world and health insurance agencies know why we call in sick. But never before have all of these figures been combined into one image, as SPIEGEL has now done. In those cases where no data was available, SPIEGEL conducted its own research. In each of two series of opinion polls, 1,000 Germans were asked about their attitudes and habits. In addition, data supplied by major German polling institutes like TNS Infratest and Allensbach was analyzed.

The end result is this image of the average person. It is a generalization, and as precise as the details of this generalization are, it remains just that: a generalization. When we examine and compare the figures and supposed conclusions, we gain a surprisingly large amount of information about what our lives would look like if our names were Sabine and Thomas Müller, with a living room in Hamburg. But the irony of it all is that we are in fact these fictitious people -- some more, some less so -- or at least to a far greater extent than we assume. Visitors to the living room at Jung von Matt are often shocked at how much it resembles their own living space, and they leave with the realization that we always behave relative to the social community around us, and that we apparently often use our freedom to relinquish that very same liberty and individuality.

Thus, we are left with a composite sketch of the German, the composite image of an average day in the life of average Germans Sabine Müller and Thomas Müller. It's a variation of the paint-by-numbers concept, and what comes out in the end is a portrait of a people with respectable resources, a well-fed, rather well-educated, reasonably satisfied and generally modest people.

How Germans Wake Up in the Morning

6:23 a.m. Germany Wakes Up

Each morning, Valerie Weber wakes up 38 minutes earlier than average, meaning that she is out of bed before Sabine and Thomas Müller. It is during these 38 minutes that Weber decides how listeners, for whom she feels responsible, will start their day -- which news they will hear and how the news will be delivered, which songs and jokes they will listen to, and what sort of a mood they will be in when they leave their houses. This is Valerie Weber's mission, and it isn't easy.

Weber is an expert on the way Germans wake up in the morning. "Because," as she says, "I too am basically a completely average person."

The alarm on her clock radio goes off at 5:45 a.m. She gets up, puts on a pot of coffee in the kitchen, adds two artificial sweeteners to her first cup, grabs the phone and heads back to bed.

She is wide-awake and focused. For Valerie, the next hour is the most important one of the day.

Weber is in her early forties, bright, blonde and attractive. She is unmarried and has no children, which makes her a little less typical than Sabine Müller. She majored in theater and psychology at university, and she has worked as an actress and television host.

"A person has his very own psychogram in the morning," she says. This applies in equal measure to Sabine and Thomas Müller.

Weber is now sitting in bed, listening. Her clock radio is tuned to Antenne Bayern, a privately owned radio station in the southern state of Bavaria for which she has worked as program director for more than three years. The station can thank Weber for turning its "Guten Morgen Bayern" ("Good Morning, Bavaria") program into Germany's most successful breakfast show.

Weber is an expert on Germans' morning habits. She has read dozens of studies and psychology books on the topic, has polled her friends for their views and observed her own behavior. She knows that women sleep for eight minutes longer than men. She knows that about 38 percent of women sleep in pajamas and 25 percent in nightgowns, and that two percent of men wear nightshirts. How many sleep naked? Not many -- at least if you go by the research. Weber knows that Sabine Müller dreams about sex five times a month, compared with her husband Thomas's 15 monthly erotic dreams.

She knows many statistics by heart, including the fact that the average listener gets up between 6:17 and 6:23 a.m., stumbles into a seven-and-a-half square-meter (80 square-feet) bathroom, where he uses 0.616 grams (0.022 oz.) of toothpaste, or about 50 tons nationwide, and that he feels vague pangs of guilt over the fact that one-third of the potable water he uses disappears down the toilet -- bringing the nationwide total every morning to over 1 billion liters.

"But these are only numbers," says Weber. "It doesn't mean that we've somehow discovered the wake-up formula."

Weber listens to her station until about 6:30 a.m. By that time, most of Germany is on its feet. Electricity use has risen rapidly since 6:00 a.m. It will reach its morning peak for private households at 8:15 a.m., only to be surpassed by the evening peak at 7:45 p.m., between dinner and the evening news.

Traffic on Germany's autobahns is picking up by the minute. It's an average morning, and yet traffic jams will cover 170 kilometers (106 miles) of those autobahns between 8 and 10 a.m. In kitchens across Germany, coffee machines are bubbling away and sandwiches being prepared for schoolchildren. The morning programs blaring from 32 million kitchen radios reach 74 percent of Germans, although more women (53 percent) listen to them than men (47 percent). Weber's station, Antenne Bayern, is one of 341 stations nationwide, a modest number compared with four times as many in both Spain and France.

The hours between 6 and 8 a.m. are the most important time for radio stations. This is when they must capture the attention of listeners, and they throw their entire marketing arsenal -- the best hosts and the most interesting games and contests -- at this lucrative morning audience. Given its importance, everyone is looking for the magic morning formula. Valerie Weber has already found it.

"You have to imagine that the host is a visitor, a friend sitting on the edge of your bed, gently shaking you awake. How do we feel when we're being woken up? And how do we want to be woken up? We are emerging from the world of dreams, and we want to feel comforted, to be allowed to turn over and snooze a little, continue to experience the warm sensation of sleep. At the same time, it's the visitor's job to give us a little push, because we know that we can't stay in bed."

At about 7:00 a.m., Weber leaves her house and drives out to Ismaning, a town near Munich, where the station broadcasts its programming from a building in a commercial area devoted to media businesses. About to face a day of meetings, Weber is stuck in a traffic jam, and the first thought on her mind is whether the station has reported the problem.

How Germans Get to Work

7:00 a.m. Getting to Work

In the morning, when 30 million Germans are trying to get to their jobs, much of the country is in fact standing still. Those who drive are usually stuck in traffic. This daily torture is what experts mildly refer to as "traffic peaks."

The man who studies Germany's chronically snarled traffic is standing in front of a computer, looking into the future. Dirk Zumkeller heads the Institute for the Study of Traffic at the University of Karlsruhe in southwestern Germany. His job is to develop traffic forecasts. How will the construction of a high-speed rail line affect traffic? What happens when you add a new autobahn to the mix? What does it mean when store hours are extended in the evening and Germans end up driving home at a later hour? And, perhaps most important of all: Will we be stuck in traffic just as often in the future as we are today?

Zumkeller has pulled up a map of Germany on his screen, on which the road network is marked in gray. He presses a few keys and adds the color red to the mix. It spreads along Germany's roads and highways until it covers almost the entire country. Red is the color of traffic density. The thicker the red lines, the greater the risk of traffic jams. Various scenarios are possible, but the outcome is always the same: the future is red.

Germans hate traffic jams. They cost gas and precious time, and they put people in a bad mood. There are 41 million cars registered in Germany, a number that is growing, albeit slowly. Germans drive 170 billion kilometers (106 billion miles) a year in city traffic, or the equivalent of 220,000 round-trip flights to the moon. Traffic experts estimate that 10 to 15 percent of the time Germans spend in the traffic grid is time spent waiting. Average German female Sabine Müller drives 31.6 kilometers (19.6 miles) a day, while her husband Thomas drives 45.3 kilometers (28.1 miles). The average German man walks 4.2 kilometers (2.6 miles) and the average woman 6.9 kilometers (4.3 miles) a week.

Traffic jams also cost money. A few years ago, researchers calculated the average cost to the German economy, in lost productivity, that could be attributed to traffic jams: The figure totalled a staggering €100 billion ($160 billion). What was so miraculous about Germany's economic miracle was that it kept moving. Nowadays, Germans are realizing that many of them spend far too much time stuck in traffic, a daily irritation for some.

Most people believe that they would gain time if traffic jams could be avoided. But they are mistaken, says Zumkeller. When people gain time, they immediately use it to expand their radius of activity. We spend about 80 minutes a day getting from one place to another, says Zumkeller, and we have been doing this for a long time. Thirty years ago, Germans traveled about 27 kilometers (16.8 miles) a day; today it is 39 kilometers (24.4 miles). The easier it is for man to travel, the farther he goes.

Notorious traffic jams present the real challenge for traffic researchers. They form on all five weekdays, always in the same place, are always roughly the same size and always involve the same people.

About one-third of all traffic jams are predictable. There is only one political solution for these monster traffic jams, says Zumkeller: a system of tolls, graduated to reflect different times of the day and geographic factors. The more costly driving gets, the more people are likely to do without it. Economists argue that tolls must be set to be high enough so that traffic continues to flow, if only at a slow pace.

Politicians are afraid of tolls, though. They hope someone will come up with forecasts to show that tolls are unnecessary after all. Traffic planners like Zumkeller ask themselves a few core questions so that politicians will know what they face: How is demand changing in public transportation? What about car ownership? Fuel consumption?

According to Zumkeller, society will increasingly become divided into winners and losers. The winners will constantly expand their range of activity by taking advantage of their knowledge, money and global contacts. The losers, to put it somewhat simply, will stay where they are. Seen in this light, the commuters who spend frustrating hours in traffic every morning are losers in the game of modernization -- because they cannot afford to reduce their commutes by moving to better locations, and because they have no alternative.

How the Germans work

8 a.m. How the Germans work

The days when most German workers spent their day on workbenches or assembly lines are long gone. Today, they sit at computer screens with a keyboard and a mouse. Only about one-third of workers still soldier their way through the day by hammering, welding or turning screws. The others are busy typing.

They sit in offices navigating the Internet, putting together presentations, reports and doing calculations on flat-screen monitors. They sit alone, in pairs and in groups. They are surrounded by telephones, printers, fax machines and scanners. Artificial light brightens the room and file folders are stacked behind them.

More than half of the 12 million women with regular jobs in Germany work in five professional groups: 3.1 million sit in offices, 1.1 million work as nurses or physicians' assistants, 1 million are sales clerks and a further million work as teachers or providing childcare. Another half-million are cleaners.

Young girls tend to dream of becoming teachers, doctors, nurses or singers, while boys want to become train drivers, police or soldiers. Or computer scientists. But reality looks more like this: Women tend to become office clerks, physicians' assistants, hairdressers or waitresses. And the men? Fewer and fewer are choosing to become automobile mechanics, painters, electricians and carpenters. And a good 40 percent of all women and men believe you have to suck up to your boss in order to move up the ladder.

Of the 35 million people in Germany who work for companies, only about 12 percent feel motivated within their companies, two-thirds get by at work by doing the bare minimum and one out of five is so dispirited that they have entered a kind of mental resignation. The success of the German economy is carried on the shoulders of a minority. In addition, Germans this year wasted 26 of a total average of 192 working days with unnecessary administrative work and through insufficient consultation with other workers. That represents a waste of €160 billion ($250 billion), or about seven percent of the country's gross domestic product.

If you include part-time workers in that figure, the average German works about 30.3 hours per week, down from 41.4 hours in 1960.

How the Germans Take their Lunch

12 p.m. How the Germans eat lunch

Frank Bornkessel says it's impossible to change Germans' eating times. The age-old 12 p.m. appointment will remain an eternal German habit -- it just can't be changed. Bornkessel has tried. He wrote e-mails to co-workers noting that lunch isn't any worse at 1 p.m., that the selection is no smaller, but that cafeteria lines are definitely shorter. Still, nothing's changed. Eighty percent of the meals sold in the employee cafeteria go through the cash register between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. The average worker spends about 15 minutes eating a meal, he estimates.

Bornkessel, 48, runs the central kitchen at the Mercedes-Benz factory in Stuttgart. Close to 40,000 people work here, and about 60 percent eat at the 11 on-site company restaurants. Each year, the company sells 3.6 million meals, and Bornkessel is an expert on what the German masses like to eat when they hit the cafeteria at lunchtime. In this regard, there's been a dramatic change over the past 100 years. On average, each German consumes almost twice as much meat as in the year 1900 -- about 87 kilograms per year, of which 50 kilograms is pork. The average German consumes one-third less bread than a hundred years ago, or about 86 kilograms, and only a quarter of the potatoes, 68 kilograms. But the average German also eats substantially more eggs -- 206 per year -- more fruit and vegetables and a greater number of tropical fruits.

Women tend to be more concerned about nutrition than men. They are more than twice as likely to be vegetarian (2.2 percent of all women compared to a mere 1 percent of men), they eat more wholefoods or Hay's diets. Close to two-thirds of women know what a pro-biotic yoghurt is, compared to just 50 percent of men. And 80 percent of all women can give an accurate definition of the meaning of the organic label on food packaging, compared to just 68 percent of men.

Before going to work for Daimler, Bornkessel was a chef at a five-star hotel. For the past 12 years, he's been in the cafeteria business. Bornkessel says "food is a motivating factor," and variety is important. You can't just eat pork -- you also have to think about your health, especially in a country where 37 million people are overweight and 4 million diabetic. One in three Germans is out of shape, and nutrition-related illnesses cost the medical system an estimated €70 billion per year, almost one-third of all health costs.

Expectations about food are also increasing, Bornkessel says. In the old days, people ate to satiate their hunger. Today, eating is also a matter of conviction. The willingness of Germans to fork out more money for better food, though, has not risen, and the cheapest meal at the Mercedes plant costs €1.60.

The top five dishes at Mercedes-Benz in Stuttgart have gone unchanged over the years, defying every fashion trend and nutrition debate: currywurst (curry ketchup-smothered, sliced sausage), schnitzel, Cordon bleu, spaghetti, thick lentils with belly of pork and sausage and spätzle (German egg pasta). "Lentils," Borkessel says, "are the absolute highlight." In fact, the company's employee council stipulates that lentils be offered on the menu at least twice every five weeks because of demand. The most unpopular item on the menu?

Nobody likes celery, he says.

It's just after 12 p.m. and Bornkessel is standing in the cafeteria above the carmaker's central kitchen. Hundreds of people pass by with trays in their hands at the peak of rush hour lunch traffic. For his part, Bornkessel prefers to take his lunch around 1:15 or 1:20 p.m. For a full half-hour -- and totally relaxed.

How the Germans Drive

4:00 p.m. After work -- the Germans and their Cars

The average car owned by Germans stands in a gravel driveway behind a green wire fence. It is a six-year-old, silver-metallic VW Golf with a moderately powerful, 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine, central locking system, electronic window openers and air-conditioning. No other car is requested or sold more often. "It's a good car," says Elvan Ongün.

Ongün is 45 and wears boots, jeans and jewelry. He owns a company on the outskirts of Berlin called D.E.A.-Automobile. The business began as a gas station, which no longer exists today.

Ongün has been in the used-car business for the last 12 years. He operates at the lower end of the market, where shiny new showrooms are unknown, and where there are no colorful brochures or lattes for waiting customers. Ongün focuses on the basics. He sells cars, nothing else.

Germans spend an average of €8,400 ($13,440) for a used car. This gets them a 19-year-old Mercedes 560 SEL with a quarter-million kilometers on the odometer -- or a Korean Kia Picanto with only a handful of kilometers under its belt. But for most Germans, the Mercedes is too old and the Kia too puny. Instead, they tend to go for a car from the broad center of the automotive world, the compact class -- a Golf.

The Golf is largely classless, the way Germany once wanted to be -- at least before the gap between rich and poor started to grow in recent years. A Golf always looks good, as long as it's painted black or silver. And it never seems out of place, neither at the curb in front of the corner bar nor parked at the opera. An Opel, on the other hand, only works in front of a bar. Women prefer VW or Ford, while men have a fondness for BMW and Mercedes.

Ongün specializes in VWs and Audis, which means that he sells the car Germans buy most frequently and the one they would most like to see themselves in: the Audi A4.

The average German buys his or her first car, usually used, at 29, and then moves up to the first new car about 12 years later. When Germans buy a new car, they keep it for eight-and-a-half years, driving it 122,950 kilometers (76,414 miles) and changing the oil every 16,230 kilometers (10,087 miles).

In 2007, German drivers spent an average of €241 ($386) on maintenance and €163 on repairs. To keep their cars looking good, Germans wash them nine times a year. Four out of 10 accidents happen with women at the wheel, mostly because they ignored a right-of-way or didn't see another car while making a turn. Men are more likely than women to speed, drive while intoxicated and misjudge distances while passing another car.

Silver-Metallic VW Golfs are the the most popular cars in Germany, but the Audi A4 is the most desired.
DPA

Silver-Metallic VW Golfs are the the most popular cars in Germany, but the Audi A4 is the most desired.

To be able to afford their cars, the Germans take out loans to cover just under 30 percent of the purchase price, and used car buyers are just as likely to pay off their loans on time as new car buyers.

Before Ongün puts a car on his lot, he has it thoroughly washed and cleaned, especially the interior. About a quarter of Germans under 30 have had sex in their cars.

As in other countries, cars are increasingly being sold on the Internet in Germany. Eighty percent of Germans use the Internet to gather information while buying a car. In 2007, 970,000 used cars were sold through the Internet. Ongün isn't very happy about this phenomenon, since it is taking away some of his own sales.

How Germans Shop and Consume

5:00 p.m. How the Germans shop and consume

Wolfgang Twardawa is standing in a Rewe supermarket in a suburb of the western German city of Nuremberg. A thickset, 64-year-old man, he is wearing a dark coat and a red tie. It is 5:00 p.m., almost exactly the time at which Germans are most likely to shop. Germans spend an average of 10 minutes a day shopping, and the amount of time they spend in shops is steadily declining. Twardawa is the head of consumer research at the Association for Consumer and Market Research (GfK) in Nuremberg, one of the five largest market research institutes in the world.

At GfK, roughly 9,000 employees gather market information from 90 countries. They analyze consumer behavior and purchasing decisions in 20,000 German households, capturing the data with so-called in-home scans, a sort of electronic diary in which consumers record the types of goods they buy as well as the prices and locations of their purchases. Twardawa has been in charge of GfK's consumer panel division for the past 35 years.

The composite average Germans created by advertising agency Jung von Matt -- Sabine Müller and Thomas Müller -- consume according to what market researcher Twardawa calls their "gender-specific involvement." In other words, very differently. She buys mostly food, cosmetics and clothing. He craves power and control, loves numbers and machines and buys technology: mobile phones, Blackberrys, laptops and, most of all, cars. More and more cosmetics are being sold for the metrosexual man. Twenty-five years ago, cosmetics giant Nivea had only one male skin care product in its line-up. Today it has 20. Nowadays, 42 percent of the buyers of a Dyson vacuum cleaner are men, and companies market full-body shavers and everything imaginable for joggers and amateur chefs. Otherwise, however, not much has changed.

"When it comes to consumption behavior, emancipation has stood still since the 1960s," says Twardawa." The person who evaluates, selects and buys products is the critical factor, and that person is still Sabine Müller.

In the shopping arena, the man is usually in charge of little more than heavy and bulky items. He drives to beverage supermarkets once a week, on average, where he buys in bulk. The typical German woman shops three to four times as much as her male counterpart, using the family's second car to buy smaller and more sophisticated products, as well as necessities.

Fifty-four percent of Germans say they pay attention to price first when shopping.
DPA

Fifty-four percent of Germans say they pay attention to price first when shopping.

Eighty thousand brands are advertised on the German market alone, twice as many brands as there were 20 years ago. Nowadays, German shops are open for longer hours, and as a society, Germany is becoming more flexible as it ages. In fact, nothing is the way it used to be. A decade ago, stores still closed early in the evening on working days and early in the afternoon on Saturdays. Today, you can shop in many cities until 10 p.m. or midnight six days out of the week.

Twardawa embarks on his tour of an ordinary supermarket. He walks past three registers, keeping to the right. "Germans walk to the right," he says, "unless they're left-handed." By the time he gets to the produce department, says Twardawa, the typical consumer pulls out his shopping list. It typically includes laundry detergent, coffee, milk and frozen items.

"Germans painstakingly plan their shopping," he says. "They don't like to shop, and they want to be able to find the items on their list without wasting any time." When it comes to the frequency and duration of shopping for so-called "fast-moving consumer goods," or necessities, the older the consumer, the more frequent the shopping. A 24-year-old woman goes shopping on 116 days each year, while a 70-year-old woman does it more than twice as often, namely on 247 days. Young people are more likely to shop in self-service supermarkets than at smaller stores with counter service.

The combined purchasing power of all Germans equals €1.488 trillion ($2.381 trillion) a year, or €18,000 ($28,800) per capita. In 2008, each German will spend about €700 ($1,120) more than in 2006, which means that affluence is growing faster than inflation.

On average, a Germans spend a quarter of their income on rent and rapidly rising incidental rental expenses, like electricity, gas and water. About 10 percent of incomes are saved or invested. Spending on entertainment has increased slightly. While the English value service, the French variety and the Italians tend decide spontaneously what they want to buy, Germans are considered both environmentally conscious consumers and bargain-hunters.

The idea that thriftiness is cool, the rallying cry of consumers for whom quality is not paramount, may be a trend that has already seen its day, but Germans are nevertheless still looking for savings. Fifty-four percent of Germans say that they pay attention to price first when shopping, while only 44 percent look for quality -- the highest level in Europe.

The discount supermarket is a German invention. The Albrecht brothers invented Aldi in the 1950s, and other discounters followed, including Penny, Norma, Netto and Lidl. Every second European discounter has its headquarters in Germany, and the average German lives within a five-minute drive of at least three different discounters.

Market researcher Twardawa behaves like many men in his age group. He rarely shops, instead leaving the task to his wife. Sometimes he carries her shopping bags to the car. And when his wife tries on dresses in the city's boutiques, he walks across the market square in Nuremberg, his favorite place to shop, or waits for her in a tavern.

How Germans Decorate and Relax

6:00 p.m. The Germans at home

A young woman, 32, blonde and petite, is standing in front of the stove in an older apartment in Cologne. She says that the kitchen is her favorite place to be.

Anja Backhaus lives in three-room apartment with about 100 square meters (1,076 square feet) of floor space, which is only slightly larger than the German average of 90.2 square meters (971 square feet). She lives with her boyfriend, which is also typical for Germany, where the average household consists of 2.2 persons and the average rent, excluding utilities, is €408 ($653).

Backhaus hosts a home decorating program called "Wohnen nach Wunsch - Das Haus" ("Living the Way You Want to - The House"), which airs every Sunday at 6:15 p.m. on Germany's Vox television channel. Her program is relatively popular, reaching an audience of 700,000. Backhaus drives to people's homes, where she strolls through their houses, shaking her head at the drab, run-of-the-mill décor she encounters. Her team, an architect and several workmen, renovate the house, and in the end the owners weep for joy. Backhaus says that she also likes to spend time in the living room, which mirrors her candidates' preferences. "The kitchen and the living room are at the top of their list of places to be. For women, the kitchen is even more important." She says that the families who take part in the program are always the happiest when their living rooms and kitchens have been redone.

Backhaus, who recently paid a visit to the Paul family in the Sauerland region, says that their house looked the way 80 percent of German houses look: "Wooden ceiling, a huge wall unit and ugly wallpaper."

The Paul's home, says Backhaus, is like 70 percent of the cases profiled on her show: Left more or less untouched in 30 or 40 years and still containing patterned upholstered furniture.

Backhaus explains that tastes are slow to change, especially in rural areas, where they can sometimes last for generations. German furniture chains like Höffner and Roller still advertise wall units in their brochures with names like "Del Sol" and "Swing." "But they know what they're doing," says Backhaus. Two-thirds of Germans live in small towns and villages with populations of less than 100,000. In fact, provincial living is the norm in Germany.

Almost every German has a piece of furniture from IKEA.
DPA

Almost every German has a piece of furniture from IKEA.

"We spend a lot of time traveling through rural areas," says Backhaus, adding that perhaps this is because there is more demand for her services in the countryside. The crew on "Living the Way You Want to" does its fair share of clearing out and throwing things away, buying new furniture and giving houses a makeover. Sometimes the makeover extends to the patio, including a barbeque grill at end -- a bigger and better model than the old one.

Every German likes a new barbecue. Germans are also partial to parquet flooring. "Cherry or walnut," says Backhaus. Besides, she adds, they're tired of wall-to-wall carpeting and woodchip wallpaper. Nowadays, many would rather have "plastered walls in sand colors, along with a new kitchen," says Backhaus, "with vanilla-colored cabinets and dark countertops." The kitchen is becoming more and more important.

Furniture retailer IKEA conducted a survey to find out what people like to do most in the kitchen. According to the results, only 24 percent of Germans now use the kitchen purely for cooking. Thirty-five percent see the kitchen as an entertainment space, and 43 percent like to use it to make phone calls.

IKEA stores in Germany receive 90 million visitors a year, and almost every German has a piece of furniture from IKEA at home. The company painstakingly studies the living habits of its customers. This has led to the development of the company's classic designs, the pieces of furniture that everyone knows. IKEA's most popular furniture includes the Ivar and Billy shelving series and the Klippan sofa.

"The bedrooms are shabby in almost every house we go into," says Anja Backhaus, sitting on her couch in Cologne. She believes that this is because visitors normally don't go into people's bedrooms. "With many candidates, the car -- something that other people can see -- is in better condition than the house."

According to Backhaus, people are withdrawing more and more, watching TV a lot, spending more time at work and hardly inviting anyone into their homes. Backhaus is a case in point. She says that she works 30 days out of every month.

Her kitchen is painted curry yellow, and her countertop wobbles.

How Germans Read and Watch TV

7:00 p.m. How the Germans read and watch TV

When Germans stay at home, they watch a lot of TV -- a full 208 minutes a day, in fact. And viewership has been rising in recent years. The only other place where Germans spend more time than in front of the TV is in bed, where they spend 428 minutes. The country begins to congregate in front of the TV at between 6:00 p.m. and 6:15 p.m.

Fifty-five percent of viewers are women. Most viewers have turned off the set by 11:30 p.m., by then only a few are still watching. Eighty-nine percent of Germans watch TV every day, which they use to provide information, entertainment and relaxation. Germans share more than eight hours of their day with television, the radio, newspapers, magazines and the Internet -- and with up to 3,000 advertising messages to which they are exposed daily. The economy spends €21 billion ($33.6 billion) a year to attract the attention of Germans, running ads and developing commercials, which finance the nation's primary source of entertainment. However, when commercials are on TV, about 9 percent of women and 14 percent of men immediately switch channels.

The man who has an overview of all this is standing in the bookstore at the Düsseldorf train station, reaching for a women's magazine, with its heavy paper and glossy pages. A book, the "Big Annual Horoscope," is attached to the cover. Twenty-six percent of women, but only 11 percent of men, take horoscopes seriously.

Media agencies in Germany research what kind of women buy Vogue.
obs/Vogue

Media agencies in Germany research what kind of women buy Vogue.

Christian von den Brincken, 39, is the managing director and head of research for MediaCom, Germany's largest media agency. It's his job to make sure that his clients' advertising is placed so that it reaches as many interested people as possible. And to do his job well, Brincken has to know what Germans watch, listen to and read, and why someone would buy Vogue instead of Lisa.

"Most of all, the reader is buying the magazine's promise," he says. In some cases, it's a 90-cent deal, for which the reader gets crossword puzzles, gossip and the 50 top recipes for minced meat. In others, a magazine goes for a pricy €9 ($14) and offers its readers exclusivity, luxury and excess. "Women buy Elle and Vogue because they're the opposite of cheap," says Brincken, standing in front of the shop's "lifestyle" shelf. "They hope that some of the glamour will rub off on them."

The market is big and crowded. There are roughly 2,500 publications in Germany, more than in almost any other country on earth. No niche is too small to support additional small-circulation publications. Ten different tattoo magazines and scores of model railroad publications are crowded together on the shelf. Customers spend an average of €370 ($592) on the magazines, newspapers and books that they know and like.

In no other country is media use studied so carefully. The Germans listen to the radio and read the paper in the morning, surf the Net on their lunch hours and spend their evenings in front of the TV. They use the media more intensively in the winter than in the summer, in the evening than in the morning, and rarely as much as on Sundays. Men spend more time using the media than women. Three-quarters of media consumption is of radio and television, while three-quarters of radio use is secondary. About 60 percent of Germans surf the Web, which men do for a significantly longer time than women, who spend more of their time reading books and magazines.

These are the facts. We can gather data that tell us how the Germans utilize the media, but our capacity to understand the data is limited. When Brincken tries to explain why someone uses a particular medium, he uses words like openness, trust and even love. Sometimes he sounds like a couples therapist, which isn't far off the mark. He is interested in a relationship: between the product and the potential buyer.

His mission is to bring the two together in the most favorable environment possible, to serve as a matchmaker for the romance-obsessed viewer of the film "Titanic" and sensual chocolate advertising, or for a men's magazine reader bursting with testosterone and the masculine ads for home improvement stores.

How the Germans Go Out

8:00 p.m. How the Germans go out

Stephan Niebuhr surveys the room. It's filled with 400 people, eating and drinking, singles, couples, bowling clubs. They're about to switch to Discofox, and the party will get going by 9 p.m. The man is perfectly familiar with the choreography of the evening, because he's the one who developed it.

Niebuhr knows that men go to the movies and rock and pop concerts more frequently than women. They are more likely to meet friends at nightclubs, where they smoke less but flirt more than women. During the course of an evening, men are not as likely to go to a different bar than women, but they will spend more money. They spend about two-thirds of their beverage budget on beer and prefer tunes with a heavy beat over softer music in clubs and discos. On average, every German man spends seven minutes a day in bars or clubs.

Niebuhr, 48, runs a recreation park called "Dorf Münsterland" ("Münsterland Village") west of the northwestern city of Münster, which is deliberately average so that everyone can feel comfortable there. Niebuhr's job is to organize the party of a lifetime every Friday and Saturday night for four or five thousand guests.

Niebuhr, who has worked in the hospitality industry for 30 years, notes with concern that Germans are spending less time going out and drinking. According to Niebuhr, the Germans have developed standards. When it comes to going out on the town, they've becoming choosier and not as easy to impress.

"The guest has become more sensitive," he says. Women are more likely to spend their evenings or weekends at the opera or the theater, and five percent of German women meet a group of friends at a bar once a month. In clubs, women prefer mixed drinks and cocktails, rarely drinking beer.

Niebuhr's village covers an area the size of 19 football fields, and includes four pubs, two nightclubs, a concert hall, a hotel, four restaurants and snack bars -- in short, an entire universe of fun. To do well, the manager of this "village" needs to attract an entire cross-section of society: roofers, secretaries, lawyers, 18-year-olds, 60-year-olds -- in other words, all Germans who like to party and go out. In principle, says Niebuhr, everyone is part of his target audience.

Although young people prefer to listen to house and dance music in the club, his DJs in various bars and clubs also play AC/DC, popular "schlager" music singer Wolfgang Petry and Faithless. Niebuhr can't afford catering exclusively to young people.

"Everyone wants to have as much as possible and pay as little as possible for it," says Niebuhr. He is sitting in Plückers, a bar with a bowling alley and armchairs, designed for the over-40 crowd. His competition is the living room couch. Even young people would rather stay at home and listen to music, watch TV or surf the Internet than go out. His village is starting to lose its new blood.

After 30 years in hospitality Niebuhr, the abstemious chief designer of excess and manager of structured cheerfulness thinks he knows what composite average Germans Sabine and Thomas Müller like. They love proximity and the familiar. They hate brightly lit rooms and empty spaces. In his Münsterland Village, Niebuhr can shift walls, making his pubs smaller. He dims the lights to set the mood, and he plays familiar hits. If there is one thing the Müllers detest, it's a song they don't know. They don't like to be irritated.

What Happens When Germans Pull Back the Covers

10:00 p.m. How Germans Have Sex

And so Thomas and Sabine Müller are back at home and, assuming they're in a good mood, back in their most intimate surroundings. They have sex twice a week. Thirty-eight percent of Germans are satisfied with their sex lives. For 31 percent, a partner's novelty wears off after only a year, at which point they start looking for new thrills. Half of all men describe the first time they have sex with a new partner as anywhere from outstanding to acceptable. Only a third of women are as positive.

Fifty-three percent of German men and 27 percent of women masturbate at least once a week.

Fifty-nine percent of 35 to 44-year-olds experiment with sex toys. The most popular products are lingerie.

One in five women owns a vibrator, compared with every other woman in the 35- to 55-year-old age group. The popular Beate Uhse chain of sex shops in Germany sell 100,000 vibrators a year, most of them in normal sizes and delicate colors: rosé, pink or candy blue.

Vibrators are the reason 35-year-old Heinrich Brueggemann is standing on the stage in the conference room of a Hamburg hotel, holding a pink specimen in his right hand. His tone is that of an engineer: to the point and businesslike. "Today's woman," he says, "wants to know what she's inserting into her body."

Brueggemann develops sex toys for Beate Uhse, and the company's top-selling vibrators come from his workshop. He is the most successful dildo designer in Germany, perhaps even in all of Europe. It's fair to assume that Brueggemann knows a thing or two about Germans and their sexual practices.

The differences between what men and women would like to see happen in bed and what they actually get are significant.

Seventy-one percent of Germans receive oral sex. Of those who don't, a quarter -- most of them men -- would like to.

Seventy percent of Germans occasionally give or receive a massage. Of those who don't, 33 percent -- most of them women -- would like to.

Men would like to have anal sex more often, while women want to see erotic lingerie play a role in bed more often.

One in five German women owns a vibrator.
DDP

One in five German women owns a vibrator.

When Brueggemann tells people at a party what he does for a living, a few men always look a little piqued. They see sex toys as competition, which explains why men who give their wives or girlfriends vibrators always opt for the smaller size. The new line of vibrators comes in 17 and 21-centimeter (6.7 and 8.3-inch) lengths, and it's the first vibrator to come with the seal of approval of the TÜV, Germany's official product testing agency.

Men think about sex more than women. Every other man is interested in sex daily, compared with only 29 percent of women. And 47 percent of men have cheated on their wives or girlfriends at least once, compared with only 38 percent of women.

Forty-seven percent of men and 25 percent of women have slept with someone they had only known briefly until then. But the notion that women are more reserved isn't necessarily true. Men tend to exaggerate, while women are less open about discussing how many partners they have had.

When Germans have sex, it lasts for 36 minutes, foreplay included -- which puts them squarely in the middle in a worldwide comparison. The Greeks have sex the most often, the Swiss spend the most time on foreplay, and the Mexicans consider themselves the most imaginative. Or perhaps the Greeks, the Swiss and the Mexicans are the ones who exaggerate the most on sex surveys.

Fifty-six percent of Germans say that they can talk about their sex life with their partner. Every other German uses pornography to get in the mood, and one in seven is into bondage and S&M.

Although sex has become omnipresent, and although it seems completely normal for young rappers to talk about anal sex and gang-banging, for dominatrices to appear in cigarette ads and for clitoral hood piercing to have become as common as navel piercings, in the end, many feel that sex is totally exciting for everyone else, just not for them. Dildo-maker Brueggemann believes that this impression has nothing to do with reality in German bedrooms. "Our real needs are much more banal."

His top-selling vibrator is called "Paulchen" ("Little Paul"). It looks a little like a toy caterpillar, with a bulbous nose and funny little eyes. It seems that even vibrator buyers -- likely the more liberal-minded women -- prefer all things cute. When German women say they are happy with their Thomas, 44 percent attribute it to the sex. And happy men? Sixty-six percent of them are convinced that they owe their bliss to sex with Sabine.

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.

JOCHEN BRENNER, UWE BUSE, FIONA EHLERS, ULLRICH FICHTNER, HAUSE GOOS, JOCHEN GUTSCH, BARBARA HANS, BARBARA HARDINGHAUS, RALF HOPPE, ANSBERT KNEIP, PHILIPP OEHMKE, CHRISTOPH SCHEUERMANN

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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