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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Deutschland by Rammstein: An Analysis

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Heyyy best arrows in the Game here.

Coming in with some media analysis about a very controversial piece of media that was

released by one of Germanys most successful cultural exports a couple of months ago.

Of course Im talking about the band which singlehandedly taught the world the German

wordsDu hast”, Rammstein.

In the wake of the band releasing a snipped of their music video for the songDeutschland

orGermanythere has been quite a lot of condemnation hurled in their direction.

An Israeli ambassador calling it shameful and demanding immediate removal.

Former head of Germanys Jewish council said the band was exploiting the suffering and

murder of millions for entertainment purposes and the governments commissioner for anti-Semitism

said the band had crossed a red line.

Despite that, the song immediately became a number 1 hit and its music video is close

to eighty million clicks on YouTube.

So, lets talk about it and maybe we can make sense of it all as we go through the

video and decipher whats shown, what it might mean and at the end well talk about

if this reaction is warranted.

But please, while youre watching this, keep in mind that everything I say in this

video is completely right, uncontroversial and not up for argument.

The video opens showing roman soldiers walking through a forest with the title card reading

Germania Magnawhich was the Roman term for the region in north-central Europe and

home of the Germanic tribes.

We see the soldiers walking up to a tree which has several bodies hanging from its branches

and encountering a black woman cutting of the head of another Roman soldier.

At first, I thought this scene was a depiction of the Battle of Teutoburg Forest.

When the Romans sought to bring the regions that would later become Germany under their

control, they suffered a disastrous blow at the hands of Arminius, who was taken from

his tribe as a little boy, received roman military training but later returned to Germania

Magna, uniting previously hostile Germanic tribes against the Romans.

Obviously an immensely important point in German history, there are a bunch of memorials

dedicated to Arminius and this historical moment is often seen as the birth of theGerman

people”.

Besides the thick forest, another indicator that this scene is referencing this battle

are the roman soldiers hanging from the trees, because legend has it that after the battle,

a roman was hung from or nailed to every tree in the Teutoburg Forest.

And while this battle might be an influence, the year 16AD doesnt quite fit so it might

also show the campaigns of Germanicus who sought to bring the region under Romes

control from 14 AD to 16 AD.

But since these campaigns also failed, the takeaway pretty much remains the same, namely

the uprising of the Germanic people against the Romans.

The black women the Roman soldiers encounter is not supposed to represent a literal person

in the context of the video but is supposed to serve as the personification of Germany

itself.

She takes on the role ofGermaniawhich has been a stand-in for Germany for hundreds

of years.

Some of you might be wondering why Germania, the personification of Germany is portrayed

by a black woman, which are a minority of Germans.

Well, trust me when I say it will become clear when we look at the lyrics in a couple of

minutes

Our next historical setting is some sort of cellar in which two guys are beating the hell

out of one another with brass knuckles.

Judging from the clothes and hairstyles, I think its safe to say this is supposed

be set during the Weimar years.

The setting specifically might speak to the large amount of violence in this period and

the whole scene resembles thedance on the volcanoimage we have of the Weimar

years as a period of swing and cultural progress on one side and social upheaval and violence

on the other.

Now violent political clashes werent unusual even before that period but in the 1920s it

took on a whole new quality.

For instance, in 1920, a group of reactionaries executed a successful coup in Germanys capital

and seized control of the parliament.

And while the coup only lasted 100 hours in total due to a nationwide general strike,

it kicked off a chain of violence much more grim than your average political altercation.

As a response to this coup something called the Ruhr Red Army had risen up in West Germany

but after the initial right-wing coup was defeated by the general strike, this armies

goal shifted to revolution.

What followed was the now reinstated government sending in armed forces to put down this rebellion,

with over 2000 Germans being killed in the process.

And not just due to fighting but mass executions afterwards.

This kind of violence is much better described as regional civil wars than just violent clashes

between opposing sides.

As Mark Jones writes in his bookFounding Weimar: Violence and the German Revolution

of 19181919”:

At this stage of history, violence was politics, and politics was violence; Any attempt

to present the two as separate historical chapters would misjudge the basic character

of this epoch.”

The violent clashes defining Germanys inter war period especially early on didnt just

involve fists or milkshakes.

It involved machine guns, it involved artillery and mass executions.

In fact, the first bomb dropped onto Berlin wasnt dropped by the Allies in World War

2, but during the Berlin March Fights in 1919 by government forces fighting revolutionaries.

This scene communicates a level of political violence that would very much shape Germanys

way forward.

Next up we have an office with the band being dressed as party higher ups of the SED regime

during east Germanys time as a socialist dictatorship.

The lead singer is dressed up as Erich Honecker, in his time general secretary for the central

committee of the socialist unity party.

Later in the video we see them partying, popping champagne bottles and generally acting very

unrestraint.

And this imagery is quite common in artistic portrayals of east Germanys ruling party.

The DDR was from beginning to end plagued by a lack of consumer goods like toilet paper

for instance, which was notoriously scarce.

Heating material in the winter, Drinks in the summer and so on.

Partially this was due to reasons out of the ruling parties influence like having less

trading partners available than their western counterpart, but also due to sheer incompetence

or political decisions like prioritizing heavy industry over the production of consumer goods.

In nineteen fifty eight the party even started a program titleda thousand little things

promising to deliver all the stuff that was lacking like can openers, razorblades.

You know all those little things.

The stated long-term goal of these programs was to raise living standards to a level that

would eventually exceed living standards in Western Germany.

While this goal specifically was never met, there were ways to get around the problem

of lacking consumer goods.

One of these ways was to rise through the ranks of the ruling party which came with

a lot of benefits like a greater variety of food being available to you or skipping ahead

in waiting lists to get a car.

Portraying the ruling party of the DDR in this way is often used to show the hypocrisy

of a leadership chastising the West for perpetuating an unjust class system, while at the same

time disregarding the notion of equality when it came to themselves.

The members of the band all grew up in East Germany and lived under this regime so that

might explain why they not only included this imagery in their video but also included this

set of lyrics in the song:

You (you have, you have, you have, you have) Cried a lot (cried, cried, cried, cried)

Separated in mind (separated, separated, separated, separated)

United in heart (united, united, united, united)

Most likely a reference to Germanys forceful separation and the suffering connected to

it.

Lots of people couldnt see their family members anymore or were murdered attempting

to flee the East.

In their song Radio from the same Album they are even more explicit in their critique of

the DDR and the song revolves around censorship and escaping a largely closed off society

via the radio, with which you were able to catch signals from the West.

And while were on the topic of East Germany, there is a shot later in the video showing

riot police sitting on a tank in front of a giant Karl Marx head.

And in case you dont know, this head exists in real life in the city of Chemnitz formerly

known as Karl-Marx-City.

What the tank and riot police are supposed to reference in combination with this monument

is open to interpretation, but one possible event would be the East German Uprising of

Nineteen fifty-three.

As a response to a raise in work quotas, which basically means more work for the same salary,

construction workers went on strike not only demanding to drop the quotas but broad democratization

and political freedoms.

As more and more workers joined the protest, the government decided to deal with these

demands by violently suppressing the uprising, turning to the Soviet Union for military aid.

Soviet tanks were deployed, military and police opened fire on protestors and dozens were

killed.

Next up we have the band being led through a prison while receiving physical abuse and

money raining down from the ceiling.

And while the scene takes place in a former DDR prison, the clothes of the inmates and

Germania being dressed in what seems like a parade uniform of the Garde-Dragoner Regiment

alludes to the early Weimar years again.

Up until 1923, incarceration and the treatment you received in the criminal justice system

were supposed to serve deterrence.

Under the new social democratic government this changed and physical abuse as well as

confinement in a darkened cell were abolished.

Despite this new approach, the concept ofresocializationdidnt really seep

through to the actual prison guards and the abuse of inmates continued throughout the

Weimar years.

1923 was also the year of the hyperinflation which might be referenced by all this cash

raining down.

Inflation was already quite rampart in the German Empire since you cant really fight

a world war with pocket change but when it really hit the fan was when French and Belgian

forces occupied parts of the Ruhr area due to Germanys inability to pay demanded reparations.

Naturally, this sudden occupation outraged the German public and the countries leadership

called for passive resistance.

Workers in the area went on a general strike and did everything possible to sabotage the

efforts of the occupiers.

BUT those workers still had to be paid, which the German government couldnt, so they

created even more money out of nothing which led the inflation to explode.

By the end of the year, people had to carry their money in wheelbarrows when going to

the store because a single egg, for instance.

cost 320 billion Reichsmark.

A very scary time as you can imagine.

Here is how the German correspondent of the British daily mail described the situation

and luckily, I could avoid faking a British accent for this quote:

In the shops the prices are typewritten and posted hourly.

For instance, a gramophone at 10 a.m. was 5,000,000 marks but at 3 p.m. it was 12,000,000

marks.

A copy of the Daily Mail purchased on the street yesterday cost 35,000 marks but today

it cost 60,000 marks.’

It got so bad that if you were to sit down at a café and order a coffee, while you were

sitting there the price for that coffee might have gone up from 5000 to 8000 marks.

The impacts of this inflation are impossible to list but naturally due to many people no

longer being able to afford basic necessities, crowds began to riot, loot food stores and

violence, again, ran rampart.

However the biggest impact of this inflation is one that wasnt immediately visible because

when people lose faith in the economic system, they also lose faith in the political system.

Hyperinflation became a trauma whose influence affected the behavior of Germans of all classes

long afterwards.

It added to the feeling in the more conservative sections of the population of a world turned

upside down, first by defeat, then by revolution, and now by economics.

It destroyed faith in the neutrality of the law as a social regulator, between debtors

and creditors, rich and poor, and undermined notions of the fairness and equity that the

law was supposed to maintain.

It debased the language of politics, already driven to hyperbolic overemphasis by the events

of 1918-19.

It lent new power to stock fantasy-images of evil, not just the criminal and the gambler,

but also the speculator and, fatefully, the financially manipulative Jew.”

In addition to that, with this economic crisis the novelty of the Weimar system had significantly

worn off and the people who were in favor of this new republic had less and less in

their arsenal to argue for preserving it.

The next scene were going to look at is the one that caused the earlier mentioned

controversy.

We see the band dressed as inmates of a Nazi concentration camp, lined up at the gallows

awaiting their public execution.

And there are some details worked into this scene that are easy to miss.

If we take a closer look at the uniforms of the bandmembers we can see that the bass player

of the band is marked as gay, the person next to him as a Jew and the lead singer wears

a combination supposed to identify political prisoners who are also Jewish, so a Jewish

socialist for instance.

Judging from the rockets in the background, this scene most likely takes place in the

concentration camp Mittelbau-Dora, which is the site where the V2 rocket was built.

The V in V2 standing forVergeltungorRetribution”.

The weapon in itself wasnt really of any use, to the Nazis except for propaganda purposes

and more people actually died during its manufacturing, than the rockets killed when reaching their

destination.

Why Rammstein chose this specific image of a public execution clearly set at a V2 manufacturing

site is anyones guess but it might reference a great injustice connected to this camp specifically.

The manufacturing of the V2 rocket at Mittelbau-Dora happened via a company called Mittelbau GmbH

whichs general director was a guy named Georg Rickhey.

Obviously, this wasnt an ordinary company but one that was deeply build around the exploitation

of concentration camp inmates and thus co-responsible for the over 20.000 deaths connected to the

manufacturing of the V2 rocket.

After the war was over, nineteen people were put on trial for what happened at this site,

one among them, the general director of the Mittelbau GmbH Georg Rickhey.

During the trial a former inmate testified that he remembered Rickhey to be present at

a particularly cruel mass execution of thirty inmates in March 1945.

It wasnt simply a mass execution though but a mass strangulation.

Rickhey denied this and also any involvement in implementing the cruel and inhumane work

practices at the site, something uncovered documents would later prove to be a lie.

He ended up being acquitted without an explanation given and well, go back to where he was living

before the trial.

Which happened to be United States.

He was one of many German engineers, technicians and scientists brought to the US. in something

called Operation Paperclip.

Here you can see former NSDAP and SS member Kurt Debus who became the first director of

NASA sitting between John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

Id love to tell you that later in his life Georg Rickhey faced justice for his involvement

in the death of thousands but sadly, nobody knows what happened to him after returning

to the US.

Probably took on a new identity and you know, lived his life.

Later in the video the roles are reversed, and we get some cathartic violence with the

inmates executing a couple of Nazis via shooting them in the face.

Now before we talk a bit more about this part specifically, lets look at the last scene

where we see the band dressed in 70s clothing clashing with the police and kidnapping our

Germania figure.

Pretty unambiguously a reference to the RAF, the Red Army Faction which was a leftwing

extremist terrorist organization active in West-Germany in the seventies.

The group understood itself as communist, anti-imperialist city guerrillas and was responsible

for the death of over thirty people and also causing one of the biggest crises in modern

German history known as the German Autumn.

This period started with the kidnapping of German industrial leader Hans Martin Schleyer

in September 1977, during which three police officers and his driver were killed.

The goal of the terrorists in this case was to negotiate the release of some already arrested

members of the organization but the German government at the time, did not budge and

was not willing to agree to an exchange.

Tensions increased when about a month later, members of the Popular Front for the Liberation

of Palestine hijacked a German airplane making the same demands among other things and threatening

to execute all eighty-six hostages onboard the airplane if denied.

Quite the turbulent time for this young republic and needless to say, the political climate

got heated up with left-wing politicians being accused of harboring terrorist sympathies

and a general feeling of unsafety among the population.

The German autumn ended when counter-terrorist special forces stormed the captured Airplane,

freeing all 86 hostages, the earlier mentioned incarcerated members of the RAF killing themselves

when hearing of this development and Hans-Martin Schleyer being executed by his captors.

Now there are a couple of things more one could talk about like a scene where presumably

a witch is burned at the stake with Nazis burning a bunch of books right next to it.

There is a medieval battle scene in which Germania resurrects the fallen knights while

a zeppelin passes by and there is a scene at the end where Germania gives birth to a

bunch of Leonbergers which is a German dog breed.

But these are really more open to interpretation than the ones we discussed so you can comment

your own speculation about them.

Before we now try to get at what this video and the song lyrics are supposed to say, well

have to take a look at the politics of the people starring in it.

But for the uninitiated the question in the back of your mind is probablyis Rammstein

a Nazi band?”.

And this accusation is something the band has been feeling the sting of since its founding.

It reached its height when the band used footage from Leni Riefenstahls Nazi propaganda film

about the summer olympics in 1936 in their music video for the songStripped”.

But even if youre unaware of this controversy, there are several things that might make you

question their political leanings like the rolledRor the hyperclear pronunciation

of the lyrics.

Things often associated with the very specific speech pattern in Adolf Hitlers speeches.

There is also the band logo imitating the shape of a Balkenkreuz, often used by the

German armed forces.

Besides these things, the whole video to Deutschland is dripping with national romanticism which

usually wouldnt cause such a scandal depending on its context but when combined with imagery

from the third Reich, things get murky.

There is the risk of presenting the pretended superiority of the Nazis as rooted in reality

or make them seem tempting like with these shoots.

It looks more like a movie production than a reflection of reality.

Or just look at this picture used for the promotion of the song.

Now the band is kind of notorious for not giving many interviews and almost never speaking

about their political leanings but in an interview with Rolling Stone they had this to say when

asked about the controversy of using footage from a Riefenstahl film:

The intensity of the reactions really surprised us.

Back then we sincerely thought this will find a way of working itself out.

We are from the east and grew up as socialists.

Back then we were either Punks or Goths.

We hate Nazis!

(…) We come from an entirely different culture.

In the past we fought with these right-wing idiots and we would do so today”.

Well, that seems pretty unambiguous, Rammstein says punch Nazis, there you go.

After this controversy Rammstein sought to clean the table in releasing a song called

Links 2 3 4orLeft two three fourwith a marching beat and the lyrics

They want my heart on the right side, but when I look down it is beating left”.

If we look beyond what is shown in the video to Deutschland and combine it with the actual

lyrics, we can clearly see Rammsteins opposition to Nationalism and right-wing views shimmering

through.

Probably the best example is their decision to choose a black actress to portray the personification

of Germany.

During the third Reich, German society understood itself as a community defined by its ethnicity

as well as a shared past and destiny.

All employees and officials in the public sector had to own a certificate proving their

membership of the Aryan race sometimes tracing their roots back to the seventeen hundreds.

Now of course a document like this isnt handed out anymore since there is no requirement

to become a German thats connected to your skin color.

But is that really true?

If it was, there wouldnt even be a question of why Germania is portrayed by a black woman.

Why shouldnt that be the case?

You can be black and be as much a German as everyone else.

Maybe you even caught yourself asking the question why a black women is in this music

video.

Looking at the pattern of the lyrics, the song starts out with the lead singer saying

the first part of a sentence and a choir repeating the first word of what is about to say next.

Here is an example: The lead singer says the wordyouwith

the choir repeatingyou havedirectly after, and then the lead singer continuing

the sentence withhave cried a lot”.

Were always led into the next part of his sentence this way.

However, shortly before the first chorus, the choir following what the lead singer says

dont lead into anything and seemingly just finish his sentence.

With that we get the sentences: You can,

I know, We are,

You all remain,

Now Rammsteins lyrics are meant to be ambiguous but this part specifically combined with their

choice to cast a black women as Germania which is also on the cover of the single, seems

to get at the underlying attitude in Germany of what a German is.

Namely that the values you hold or how much you might benefit the country, only comes

secondary to what you look like in determining if youre a German or not.

At least sub-consciously Its something not really openly said but I assume a lot of Germans

who are also people of color will have encountered this one way or another.

Thats doesnt mean that this attitude is never openly mentioned.

For instance, after our last federal election the speaker of Germanys far-right AfD party

on a panel, during which he vehemently defended his party from accusations of racism, complained

that he doesnt see enough Germans in our inner citys.

How would he know who is a German citizen

and who isnt?

I guess I dont have to spell it out for ya.

While the Nazisblood and soilrhetoric is long gone and Germany on the whole is sensitive

to exclusionary language, blind spots like judging someone by their skin color are ever

present here, as well as in other European countries.

And by the way, the German government still accepts the Ariernachweis as an official document

to prove German nationality, which is kinda messed up.

The risk of making the Nazis seem tempting with the earlier mentioned shots is also undercut

by casting a person who the Nazis would have intense disdain for.

In a different part of the song we see the band distancing themselves from Nationalism

in a manner that is pretty cut and dry compared to their other work:

Germany - your love, is a curse and a blessing,

Germany - my love, I cannot give you,

From the right, German anti-Nationalism is often framed as a kind of self-hatred due

to an underlying guilt left over from the third Reich.

And despite research showing the opposite to be the case, they seemingly can not fathom

someone viewing their country of origin in a nuanced manner and not strictly positive.

If we go beyond the basic understanding of a fifth grader though, the position espoused

by Rammstein and parts of the German left is obviously much more thought out thanGermany

is bad”.

The truth is that Nationalism as a political force is only really powerful, if there is

an enemy to wield it against.

Theoretically Nationalism should be inclusive.

You know, regardless of skin color we are all part of the same Nation, upholding the

same values etc. but obviously it doesnt work that way in reality.

Nationalism goes hand in hand with the exclusion of others, be that an outside force like a

colonialist overlord or a subset of the population not deemed to be truly part of the in-group.

At the end of the second verse, we get the lyrics.

Germany, Germany above everyonewhich is a reference to the first verse of the Deutschlandlied

which readsGermany, Germany above all”.

Now again, in intention, these lyrics are not meant to show superiority over others.

It was written back when the German state didnt exist yet and this line was supposed

to express the long existing desire for a German nation state.

A translation more faithful to its intent would beRealizing Germany (as an idea)

is more important than anything else”.

Doesnt have the same ring to it unfortunately.

Similar the German sentenceIch liebe dich über allesis not meant to tell a person

their superior, but that they are more important to you than anything else.

Rammstein changing the lyrics toGermany above everyonegets much closer to how

the first verse of the Deutschlandlied ended up being understood and used.

It shows that the exclusion of others is very interwoven with Germanys history.

After the takeover of the Nazi-Regime they scrapped the second and third verse which

calls for Unity, justice and freedom and only kept the first verse and combined it with

theHorst-Wessel-Lied”, the anthem of the party.

If there is anything to take from Germanys long and multi-faceted history its that

right-wing Nationalist movements, only ever lead their countries into misery and destruction.

And of course, any self-espoused Nationalist these days will deny this, trying to frame

Germany as a historical anomaly but we can see this trend play out from Italy, Romania,

Japan or in the language used by self-espoused Nationalists today.

At a certain point in time, Nationalism was useful since Germany was a country in which

just as much religious division as class division existed.

It is also something to easily overdose on, unfortunately.

All that said, if this is supposedly the message of this Rammstein song, why all this controversy?

What is it about this scene that caused such an outrage?

Well, nothing to be honest.

This scene as part of the video is largely uncontroversial in the broader German media

landscape and it makes sense for it to be there.

Because all these quotes I read to you in the beginning were uttered before the actual

release of the song.

Shortly before the song came out, the band released a little snippet from the video for

promotional purposes showing only the scene from the concentration camp and nothing else.

It wasnt clear at that point in time, that this scene is part of a broader tour through

Germanys history.

Which is not to say the band is beyond criticism though.

Releasing just this part without providing further context was obviously a marketing

gimmick, because the band and label behind them knew the reaction and media storm it

would cause.

And while Rammstein is still a successful band, they hadnt released a studio album

in over ten years, so this was an easy way to get their name out there again.

Which is an effective marketing strategy, I guess.

But its also a shitty and above all lazy thing to do.

The band has always played with nationalist aesthetics because in large part its shock-rock

and in Germany thats obviously what you would do and of course the band is free to

do that.

This marketing trick specifically just feels very cheap, while not saying anything.

I think this is the part of the media analysis in which I should talk about what this piece

of media means to me personally but honestly something like national identity was never

something I thought about much.

But it is without a doubt a topic much more complex in Germany than other countries considering

how recent the Third Reich ended.

What I feel like a lot of people miss regarding this discussion is that wondering about what

Germanyis, what values it should uphold and even if it should exist at all are thoughts

that are older than the country itself.

Germany being involved in a conversation about National identity on the regular might seem

like a product of the second world war and the atrocities committed during it, but honestly

different versions of this conversation are seen all throughout Germanys history.

Not only the question of if a united Germany should exist but also how should it exist?

One of the reasons the first revolution on German soil failed was because there was so

much disagreement on what this new country should even be.

Should it be a monarchy or a republic?

Should we have a Kaiser?

Should Austria be included or not?

Then, a few decades later the German nation state is formed but not due a revolution from

below but by military force with serious disagreements about if the Kaiser should be aGerman

KaiserorKaiser of Germany”.

A few years later the big questions rile up the country again like should we be a great

power or a world power?

Should we be part of the West or not?

Then after the devastating defeat of the first world war should we really be a republic or

isnt that something fundamentally un-German.

What about all those Germans now living in lost territories?

Take over of the Third Reich, proclaiming that excluding Austria was a mistake and that

they are actually Germans.

On top of that Germanys role in the world is and allegedly always has been the one of

a Manichean struggle against the Jewish race.

Third Reich is defeated, Germany is split in two with the Western side accusing the

east of being nothing but a soviet satellite state and the east accusing the West of being

the fashist successor of Nazi Germany and round and round it goes.

As Rammsteins video shows, there are so many different facets to Germanys history,

that its impossible to make out a single national character.

Being unsure about national identity and Germanys place in the world is and has always been,

part of this country.

One thing that has proven successful in avoiding another catastrophe is being honest with Germanys

missteps on the question of what Germany should be and not shying away from the disastrous

consequences.

As Rammstein does in their video, recalling Germanys past without leaving out the ugly

parts is not is not only necessary for our own sake but also for Europe, a project we

share with others.

Thank you for watching everyone.

I hope you liked this little venture into media analysis because there might be more

to come.

But, Im not sure about that yet.

A massive thank you to my patrons especially because this took so much longer than initially

anticipated.

We should be able to go back to the regular schedule now though.

Something else I wanted to mention is that I often get the question if I feel like my

channel gaining some popularity is an indicator of a shift in the political landscape on YouTube

and it very well might be.

Im actually not sure about that but what I know is that I and a couple of other creators

have the big advantage of a viewer base which spreads their videos far and wide.

So, the driving force behind this trend is actually just you folks, as far as Im concerned.

Im always amazed at the places my content ends up being spread to so from me to you,

a sincere thank you for helping me out here.

Couldnt do it without ya.

Also thank you to Big Joel and and Hbomberguy for lending me their voices for this one.

Check out their channels via the video description.

Links as always down below, join the Patreon for extra content and other cool stuff.

Check out the social media links etc etc. and I hope to see you the next time.

Until then, have a good one.

The Description of Deutschland by Rammstein: An Analysis