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Of mullets and men

The Local · 11 Feb 2011, 15:40

Published: 11 Feb 2011 15:40 GMT+01:00

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When I was 17, my mother started hassling me daily to let her cut my hair. Even though by that time she was an executive of a hair-colour company, she swore she had never forgotten her roots working long hours in salons.

I deflected her requests – I'd let her pay for my clothes but she didn't get to pick them out and the same was true for my hairstyle. After all, at 17, the last thing you want is to look the way your mother wants you to.

I also had a secret reason why I wanted to keep my hair the way it was – it had originally been cut by a German (at the time I thought this was synonymous with "European") and it was the same style as all the Dutch cyclists I worshipped back then. Maybe you can guess just what kind of hairdo I had: It was the late '80s and most pro cyclists favoured the same style as pro soccer players. That's right, I had a mullet.

But it was very stylish, I assure you. It wasn’t of the Rudi Völler mullet variety.

At the time, I also didn't know Germans had named the hairstyle using their penchant for acronyms. In Germany, a mullet is known as a VoKuHiLa for: Vorne Kurz, Hinten Lang (short up front and long in the back). It's the same way they arrived at the candy treat Hanuta: HaselNussTafel. Or Adidas, short for the name of its founder Adi Dassler.

I eventually acquiesced to my mother's pleading and let her give me a crappy haircut. After an hour of bickering, she swore she would never, ever cut the hair of such an ungrateful son again. A bad haircut is an expensive price to pay to get your mother off your back, but it also cinched my obsession with German hair.

My father once visited Germany during some election and Kurt Beck of the Social Democrats was constantly on the TV as the head of his party. It bothered me that this roly-poly, hairy dude was the face of German politicians – there are normal people here, I assured my father, not like America’s über-slick political class.

But when Beck's visage pops up on television I think one thing: hedgehog. And it's not just me. Officially, the hairstyle that man – the state premier of Rhineland-Palatinate – wears is called the hedgehog, or the Igel. Trust me, Google it.

To me, if one of your most important elected officials walks into the salon and says: "Give me the Igel," he's doing something wrong. He just wants a haircut, not a spiky hirsute mammal. No, the Igel hasn’t landed – ON YOUR HEAD.

And he's not the only politician doing it. It's popular with Petra Pau over at the post-commie party The Left too. It' s a unisex Teutonic hairdo, I guess. Maybe everyone should get the hedgehog – plenty of my German in-laws certainly have it.

There's only one style that would be worse on a politician, and even the tabloid Bild would pick up on it: the Porno Palme. That's right: the Porno Palm. What is it, you ask? It's that little tree of (usually) bleach blonde hair formed when a woman creates a pony tail on the top of her head rather than the back. It's usually accompanied by an Arschgeweih (literally “ass antlers” and we call a “tramp stamp” in English) and is de rigeur at Tussi Toasters – bimbo toasters aka tanning salons.

Speaking of ponytails, I'm always bothered when Germans talk about their ponys, not just because they’re misusing English but because I immediately think of a ponytail. But what they actually mean is their bangs (or fringe for you Brits). A ponytail is a “horsetail” (pferdeschwanz) in Germany.

However, my favourite word for a German haircut is the Irokesenschnitt, the Iroquois cut otherwise known as a Mohawk. Wikipedia tells me the Iroquois were the parent tribe of the Mohawk Indians, so both are apparently proper hairdo nomenclature.

It turns out, haircuts go even deeper into German culture. Back during the War, a simple women's hairdo was known as the Entwarnungsfrisur, or “all-clear cut” since it was the perfect thing for spending nights in a bomb shelter.

Story continues below…

There is also of course the Glatze – how Germans refer to a shaved head – which can be either bad or totally modern depending on the accompanying wardrobe. Though the right-wing extremist look might not be what you think – as I once learned during a night out in Berlin's gay district. Remember: A tough-looking skinhead may just be very, very gay.

Don’t even get me started on meaning of the German Schnauzer moustache, but be forewarned – it’s coming back.

These days my frisur is difficult to define as it's shaped by my duties as a father of two, a full-time correspondent, a part-time comedian and lack of a niggling mother. I believe the Germans would call it the Fatwofuticopaticonimo.

Since a good German Stammtisch is a place where pub regulars come to talk over the issues of the day, Portnoy welcomes a lively conversation in the comments area below.

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Your comments about this article

23:34 February 11, 2011 by finanzdoktor
Unlike you, it was my father who cut my hair until I was about 17. Because he was in the military, my haircuts always had the look of a fresh recruit. However, one day as he was getting ready to cut my hair (always on Saturday), he asked if I was tried of it. When I responded in the affirmative, he remarked how tired he was of cutting my hair.

From now on it was long sideburns and hair (okay, just a little bit longer in the back, not much). That is, until I joined the military. Now that I am 50 and mostly bald, wish I had enough hair for a military haircut.
09:32 February 12, 2011 by Landmine
To the Author

No such thing as a stylish mullet...
12:03 February 12, 2011 by thomass66
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
11:31 February 13, 2011 by HANNIBAL-BARCA

I share your sentiment. It can hardly be said that those are men in the picture. The local has been overly gay friendly in my estimation. From crazy young Israelis to gays adopting babies, it seems like there is always some rainbow topic in the local.
17:44 February 13, 2011 by thomass66
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
20:03 February 13, 2011 by lordkorner
For all of you who do not recognize the two, be thankful for small mercies. And I have to agree,there is no such thing as a stylish mullet.

Apart from hair I realized as a very young man that German style in general was a little suspect, when traveling here in the 80s I came across people mostly young men wearing stone washed jeans with strips of brown fake leather down the side of the legs,the thought of them even now makes me cringe .I'm from Ireland ,hardly known for high fashion,but I'm glad to say that crap never made it across, nor mullets either except for maybe Bono,poor lad who lost his way there for a while.
07:05 February 14, 2011 by Yontrop
Getting back from that nasty detour (no one is interested in your opinion of other people's loafers thomass), most men don't like to talk about their hair, which is reflected in the small number of posts here. I'll make an exception because it brings back a warming memory of my own short lived mullet. It happened when the woman (not my mother) who was cutting my hair suggested it. I said I wanted to keep it kind of long, and she said I had such good looking ears that I shouldn't cover them up. What was I to do? It was a very warm day in Phoenix, and she was wearing a bikini... I was in no position to argue.

By the way, I thought they were called a Bundesliga or some such spelling.
12:00 February 15, 2011 by FigN
Well, I wasn't sure if the article was written with a good dose of sarcasm but nevertheless, very entertaining. Just one thing, a photo of said hairstyles would have done wonders to make the article more enjoyable. I tried googling for images for the "porno Palme" style and came out empty handed. If google doesn't have images for such thing, then I guess it was not that popular after all to be mentioned.
04:50 February 17, 2011 by Lisa Rusbridge
A mullet:

Business in the front. Party in the back.
07:07 February 19, 2011 by Wrench
I'd be thankful to have enough hair to grow a mullet.
22:13 February 25, 2011 by serilanimi
The men in that picture are definitely not gay.

No gay man in their right mind would have that bad taste in hair and fashion!
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