IOL - South Africa - - 02.05.2003
Humour is a serious business in Germany
Berlin. You have to hand it to the Germans. Rightly or not, they don't have a reputation as the world's funniest nation, but they're very serious about putting a bit more laughter into their lives.So it's handy that the ninth International Humour Congress, opening on Friday in Stuttgart, western Germany, offers an ideal opportunity to do just that. A series of seminars with titles such as «discover the clown within» and «clowning around in hospital» promise the social and therapeutic benefits of gelotology, otherwise known as the science of laughter.
«In our countries, imbued with Calvinism and Puritanism and more staid than Catholic countries, we feel a particular need to liberate our emotions through humour,» explained Michael Titze soberly. Titze, a psychoanalyst who is the scientific director for the congress, leads group therapy for people suffering from social phobias when he's not running «humour universities» against depression.
More than 1000 educators, health professionals and psychotherapists of all ilks were expected at the congress being held in a Protestant-run hospital. On Sunday, delegates can expect a religious service with amusing extracts from the Bible.
Psychologist Thomas Holtbernd, who will give a seminar on how to succeed in business using humour and irony, said big companies regularly ask him to come in and resolve internal disputes or raise the morale of the troops when sales figures are down. «I’ve noticed a greater openness to humour in German companies for the past two years now, partly because they realise that people who laugh a lot fall sick less often,» he said.On one of his laughter missions, he may ask everyone to don a red nose and act out a conflict scenario. He said the nose «sets off an incredible freedom of expression and creativity.»
And if you still can't see the funny side of things, you could always join one of the 40 or so laugh clubs set up in Germany.The concept, which was also being presented at Stuttgart, was conceived in India in the mid-1990s by Madan Kataria. The aim is «to activate the healing force of laughter, using the principle of yoga, and so contribute to peace in the world.»
Very noble, but does it work? Berlin has four such clubs. The oldest of them in the middle. Around 20 of them meet once a week in a gym as instructor Josefine Grimmer takes them through the motions. «Clubs’ activities are strictly non-verbal,» Dr Titze said. «There is no discussion, no jokes are told, people just play - and laugh.» Laughter trainees are taught to stick out their tongues or chatter in imaginary languages. Some later graduate to political life or (in at least one case) to the Foreign Ministry. This may also help to explain the present state of the transatlantic relationship.