German Naval Recruits Take the “22 Pushup Challenge”

Some of you won’t be able to follow this, because it’s all in German, but it’s one ~7 minute webisode of an entertaining Bundeswehr web “reality show,” which follows 12 recruits through 12 weeks of basic training. If you do know German, the show is entertaining. But this is interesting because the Germans, who have had their own people engaged in Afghanistan and elsewhere in OEF, are doing the 22 Pushup Challenge in memory of American PTSD sufferers who have committed suicide — and in awareness of their own countrymen who have the same issue.

Time hack and event

1:20 Lt. Commander Hensel takes command. (As in most Western militaries, these would-be German sailors have little contact with commissioned officers during basic training. It’s largely NCO/PO business. So it’s a big deal when the big cheese comes out). The formation includes the recruits, but also instructors and staff.

1:35. He commands “Headgear off!” and then, “In solidarity with our comrades who have been damaged by PTSD, and the 22 a day who have taken their lives from this. Pushup position, move!”

1:55 Recruit Seaman Demelius is already conscious of the significance of the event.

2:10 Leading Petty Officer Scholwin is himself a combat veteran.

2:58 an unidentified recruit talks about the negatives of returning from combat.

3:27 Scholwin again, noting that, in the service, another trooper always has your back.

3:56. They’ve done their 22 pushups. Some of these guys were pretty ragged towards the end. Apparently pushing the naval base back into Davy Jones’s Locker is not a major component of Bundesmarine basic, or these kids would not be having a hard time with 22 “Liegestutzen.

4:15. With the 22-pushup challenge over, The Recruits move into a typical basic training test that every military has to give at some point, recognizing ranks and their insignia. Things are simplified for a recruit, which all of us were, once (even if only as a cadet): who outranks you? Everybody, that’s who. But on the test, you have to recognize the insignia and name them. These recruits were civilians less than two weeks ago, so they’re a little tense about the quiz. The test takes place in a narrow corridor, which is apparently their usual modus operandi. 

4:20 Abgucken = Bescheisst = Raus means cribbing of your neighbor is cheating, and cheating is, to steal a word, verboten. Cheat, and you’re out.

4:30 “Seaman Recruit Martin is surprised.” A couple of other recruits express unreadiness.

4:51 “Leading Seaman Neubert Explains the Rules.” You have ten minutes! The recruits have pictures of Bundesmarine shoulder-boards, and have to label them by filling in the blanks.

5:10 During the sped-up test, a recruit nervously waves the camera away. Others either are blasting through the test, or scowling at their pages (not good). Some finish early… some need all ten minutes.

5:35 Drop back into real time for the ten-second countdown to “Finish!” (“Fertig“).

6:00 Various expressions of recruit confidence or lack of the same in their performance. “Scheisse!” should require no translation.

6:12 Counseling a recruit who performed poorly. “How’d you do?” “Terrible.” “Terrible? Why?” (In the Day 13 — next day — video, the recruits learn that only one of them got all the questions on the Ranks quiz right).  (Here’s an interactive with Bundesmarine ranks, if you want to do better when you join up.).

It ends with a plug to check out the website for the Die Rekruten web series. Obviously, this is a recruiting initiative for the German military, and it’s likely to be lost on you if you don’t have at least some of The Awful German Language, but we found it entertaining on a Wagnerian scale. The differences between German and American training are stark (to German readers, though, be advised that Full Metal Jacket is not a documentary), but the similarities are enough to call up both positive and negative memories of our own US Army basic, back so long ago that there were two separate Germanies seated in the UN.

Die Rekruten is still running. Monday-Friday at 1700 Central European Time, they publish new episodes, plus, periodic “specials” on such subjects as Bundeswehr chow. The episodes take place in chronological order and focus on the high point of each day, from the recruits’ train travel to the Naval Technical School at Parow, on through PT, swimming, and even introduction to Germany’s embattled G36 rifle. Here’s the YouTube channel.

Recruits can and do drop from the course. The producers of the film can’t have known at the outset who would fail. Indeed, there might be more drops before the end.

Here’s an interview (again in German) with Thomas Wiegold, whose writing is sometimes excerpted here, about what the BW is trying to do with the Die Rekruten webseries — basically, appeal to a younger, more connected generation. (And that is, we’re sure, the intent. Selling the BW to the greater German public as something that a young German might do for reasons of personal growth or patriotism is a bonus).

Sorry to all of you who cannot follow German. (And advice to the young: learn all the languages you can. The best way is to go live there and talk to people, and from then on, the Internet will help you keep current).

21 thoughts on “German Naval Recruits Take the “22 Pushup Challenge”

  1. Loose

    I had German a couple of years in high school. But remember very little

    The only other language I can speak or understand and read at a functional level is Vietnamese. Thanks to dating one for years. Having a cute girl teaching it to you helps. I can understand a little Japanese and Korean. But can’t really speak it or read it. Again. Thanks to women that are easy On the eyes. I have been trying to learn to read Thai but that seems to be a bridge too far for me. I have never had an interest in any European languages I guess I would not have been a very well rounded guy during the enlightenment. Hell I mangle the English language so bad I now wonder why I work so hard to perfect my Vietnamese. Lol

    1. Loren

      For me, pulling some meaning from a Thai road sign is like interpreting dead worms on a sidewalk. Much like Arabic.

    2. Hognose Post author

      It is impossible to beat the “long-haired dictionary” as a language training aid. 100% SF approved! (You don’t think I learned these languages all from books, do you?)


        haha No. I assumed all straight men learn their second and third languages via something like the” Long Haired Dictionary”. I know nothing else motivates as well. I am honored I have at least one learning method approved by the Special Forces.

        I will admit with no hesitation. I have a very big weakness for the asian ladies. I will go through great efforts for them. Up to and including, learning a completely alien language

      2. obdo

        my french neighbours maintain that the best way to learn a new language would be on the pillow.

        so far i cannot disagree, as this advice worked quite well for me.

        except for latin and classic greek, but i was too young then anyway…

  2. Boat Guy

    My German didn’t get useful to me until I went to Germany; it improved steadily from then on. Doubt I could pass the DLPT for it any more though. Certainly couldn’t for my other non-English language either. I guess i served more as a “Kurz-haare worterbuch” for my German girlfriend; her English

    (which as very good) improved more than my German. Good advice to learn languages as soon as one can; it gets MUCH more difficult as one ages.

    And no “… Full Metal Jacket is not a documentary… ” but neither is it very far from what I experienced (save the shooting of the DI in the head)

    1. jim

      ‘Gunnery Sergeant Hartman’ was shot in the chest, not the head. The recruit shot himself in the head afterwards…OCD factual correction rant over.

      1. Boat Guy

        Gunny was shot in the chest alright … IN THE HEAD (Naval Terminology)

        OCD terminology rant over.

      1. Mike_C

        Hah. A Taiwanese-born friend of a friend was working in Los Angeles where he met and ultimately married a recently-immigrated Swedish girl. She had good book knowledge of English, but really didn’t speak it. Sure enough, she picked up his Taiwanese accent in her English, which caused no end of confusion for people hearing this blue-eyed blonde speaking for the first time. We also had a Japanese faculty member who went to grad school in Texas, where he acquired a broad Texas drawl along with his doctorate. People used to laugh when hearing this short, very stereotypically Japanese-looking guy speak, until they realized it wasn’t him trying to be funny.

        I was spared the equivalent by Scanian girl (for whom I was the long-haired dictionary and handy American cultural reference — she only had collar-length hair, which I considerably exceeded) who said “You really don’t want to learn Swedish from me. Because you will get my bad accent.” Which was true: she spoke a thickly accented “hicksvenska” and not at all rikssvenska. (It should be abundantly clear that I’m not bitter about how things turned out ;-).

  3. ToastieTheCoastie

    Hognose, in case you haven’t seen it yet, “The Last King” (16) Norwegian with English subtitles was a great flick.

  4. S

    Unshaven? Wth was that in his ear? Touchy feely feedback sessions? Is this the calibre of the folks bearing arms in my name, on my dollar? Forget it. I can’t rely on them. My dad grew up under occupation by the Wehrmacht and had close dealings with the early Bundeswehr, and even then he and his contacts deplored the state of German arms (on a professional level, disregarding the political crap under whatever bunch of scum hold the reins). In Berchtesgaden I saw the Gebirgsjäger gadding about and wasn’t too impressed either; ok for a hiking club, but fearsome killers you’d hire to face other warriors? No.

    Rank insignia test on day twelve? We had to memorise the key leadership holder’s names and the basics of the unit history in the first week. God help you if you hadn’t learned the hierarchical badges by then…..they always introduced themselves. The Bund is apparently trying to become a modern professional force; that means volunteers, with a rather cushy existence before them. You’d think the recruiters would screen for those with initiative and interest, and that the prospects would show some.

    Here is part one of a 1988 ABC docu about female recruits at dread franchise of Hell, 1 RTB Kapooka. For us it was somewhat comical to watch from Elysium in the ACT , though our little exalted franchise had by then a 25% quota of females imposed….one learns when to laugh, when to shut up, and when to get out. The BW farce just got worse, and I’ve tried so hard to ignore it. And yet, I’d bet on any of the ladies from Kapooka against the modern German soldier any day….

    The lady drillies are an order of magnitude scarier than the males….


    Me and around 20 people from work did the challenge a couple of months ago. Mostly civilians, a few ex-servicemen like me and a couple of women. It was a good thing to do.

    I’m in my mid 50’s and it was no sweat because pushups are a part of my regular workout routine. Nobody else in the group had any trouble either. If young recruits struggle with it they really need to start working on their fitness.

  6. Tobse

    With the abolishment of the Wehrpflicht (draft) in 2011, actual out-of-area deployments to places like Afghanistan, outdated equipment etc., the Bundeswehr is desperately struggling to fill its ranks, even with all the reductions in manpower and recruitment standards. Those wo can discern German accents may note that you hear a lot of Sächsisch in that series, as a disproportionate number of recruits come from former east Germany, mainly due to higher unemployment rates there.

    1. Hognose Post author

      In the first episode, they make a point of showing a number of recruits from Bavaria and Baden-Wurttemburg catching the train to basic. But the base itself is a former East German installation on the Baltic.

      I struggle with accents, now; used to have a handle on them when I lived there, but that was 30+ years ago and we only heard the Ossis while doing SIGINT!

      1. Boat Guy

        If you’re struggling with accents then the Schwabische and Bayerische recruits speech will probably hurt your head.

        1. obdo

          which is why south german recruits always became panzergrenadiers.

          bavarian, suebians, badeners and palatines are able to understand orders in prussian high german alright, but no-one could comprehend their replies.

          1. Pathfinder

            LOL. I am married to a Schwab.

            Bavarians talk like they have a mouthful of marbles.

            My wife says that she always had a hard time understanding them.

  7. staghounds

    Free excellent advice for anyone raising a young child- get it into a situation where it’s immersed in a foreign language by being alone with native speakers. Mandarin day care, Spanish kindergarten, Hindustani grade school, whatever.

    They are absolute sponges for language. If you do this before the child is seven or so, he’ll be fluent in a year and you don’t have to teach him a thing. It’s free, and a priceless gift.

  8. Wysiwyg Mtwzzyzx

    Am I the only one who’s skeptical of the ’22 a day’ number?

    US Suicides in 2013- 13 per 100,000

    population of 330,000,000, so that’s 3300 x 13 = 42,900 annually

    22/day x 365 = 8,030 annually

    53 out of every 1,000 suicides in the US are vets?

    Let’s see, 7% of the population are vets.

    330,000,000 * .07 = 23,100,000 vets more or less.

    I think that works out to almost 35 per 100,000- more than double the civilian population. Seems unlikely. So, am I missing something, or did I make a math error?

  9. Keith

    I had two years of German in college 1985-86 or so. When I went to Germany for a week in 2002 enough came back that I could talk to older folks who learned English back when they taught English in school when it was West Germany. Now a days all I can remember is to think ‘drive faster! move! move!’ at people who insist on not doing the speed limit when road conditions allow it.