In the swinging 70s, the long-locked “German Hair Force” was a major source of embarrassment for the country’s military leaders. Forty years later, the German Armed Forces are once again struggling with image issues, this time related to tattoos and pierc
BERLIN – In 1971, then Defense Minister Helmut Schmidt declared a war on "mop tops," issuing his ill-fated "hairnet decree" as a way to convince German soldiers to stop growing their hair modishly long. Schmidt assumed soldiers would voluntarily have their hair cut shorter rather than wear a wimpy net.
He thought wrong. Soon the whole world was making fun of the "German Hair Force." Worse still, military doctors reported an upswing in "oily sticky hair and dirty bed linen," and even parasites, because soldiers' manes weren't getting enough air under the helmets and weren't combed often enough.
A year later, Schmidt reversed the decree. Henceforth, soldiers' hair could not be long enough to touch either their shirt collar or their uniform when their head was in an upright position. Nor was hair permitted to cover either eyes or ears.
The rule still applies today. Regulations state that "modish haircuts are allowed as long as they are not out of the ordinary either in color, cut or shape." Punk doos, Mohawks, pony tails and braids are not allowed. Soldiers can wear long sideburns and beards only when on leave.
Toward a ban on body art
These days, however, an even more pressing concern for Germany's top brass are the tattoos and piercings that are popping up on the arms, in the ears – and elsewhere – of their young troops. Already they are a growing source of conflict between soldiers and their superiors. What happens, for example, when a nose ring is judged to be too large because it could catch on a rifle?
So far, the words "tattoo" or "piercings' have yet to appear in any regulations. Germany's current minister of defense, Thomas de Maizière, is hoping to change that. He recently ordered a re-write of the Joint Service Regulations. The new "Dress Code and Outward Appearance of Male and Female Soldiers in the German Federal Armed Forces' will be issued in the summer of 2013. More specific rules relating to visible body ornamentation are likely to appear even sooner.
Read the full story in German by Simone Meyer
Photo - Bundeswehr/Stollberg