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In amazon review of a psychology thriller film it reads

Auch deshalb: Spott über das La-La-La Land ist völlig verfehlt. In einem anderen Land rannten 80 Millionen Lackierte dem weltgrößten Anstreicher hinterher... da wäre etwas Bescheidenheit schon eher angepasst!

Which I imagine refers to Germans during Nazism. I would roughly translate as

To put the focus in America misses the point. In another country 80 million fools followed the biggest scammer of all times. Some humility would be more appropriate.

However, I don't think I'm catching the right meaning that the author intends to convey.

In particular, what is the figurative reference the author draws upon with Lackierte and Anstreicher? At least I didn't find any strict meaning that could fit well. Is this a common figurative reference in other contexts or is the author going a bit freely? How do you interpret this?

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  • Welcome to German.SE. For a good translation it depends on the reader of the english version: what kind of history and geography do they know? E.g. the "80 million" are only a reference for people that know that this was the entire population of said country. While "scammer" seems to be general enough - the audience might not know much about Hitler thus not understanding the reference at all. Sep 24 '20 at 6:17
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    Note that the number of 80 million is approximately correct if Ostmark (Austria) and Sudetenland are included.
    – user9551
    Sep 24 '20 at 10:20
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    @KoenigLear I think you might have fallen prey to a 'false friend'. Spott über das La-La-La-Land means 'derision at the La-La-La country'. Not to be confused with Den Spot auf das La-La-La-Land zu richten ... ('To put the spotlight on the La-La-La country ...'). Sep 25 '20 at 0:23
  • @amadeusamadeus Oh yes, very cautious. I didn't recognize this error in the translation. Sep 25 '20 at 20:48
  • @FadedGiant Also most of the "new German citizens" followed the Anstreicher.
    – Paul Frost
    Sep 26 '20 at 0:29
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You correctly translated it. In German it is a play on words. Basically "lackiert" means "painted" or "lacquered". But using it as an attribute of a person, it colloquially means somebody who was fooled or betrayed. The primary meaning of "Anstreicher" is "house painter", so it fits to "lackiert". But it is also associated to a certain type of politician who self-confidently and pompously makes promises and raises unrealizable expectations amongst his supporters. Although "Anstreicher" is a generic name, in your text "der weltgrößte Anstreicher" is nobody else than Hitler. See source 1. And especially have a look at Bert Brecht's Das Lied vom Anstreicher Hitler (in English The Song of the Housepainter Hitler) from 1933. See source 3 and source 4. Here is a quotation from source 3:

"Bemerkenswert in diesem Teil ist auch noch die Wortwahl in den letzten beiden Zeilen, wo die Rede vom anschmieren ist. Spätestens hier ist die Doppeldeutigkeit des Anstreichers, als Person die alles und alle anschmiert, sehr deutlich herauszulesen, was wieder zu den oben genannten Beispielen sehr gut passt.

Als Resümee bleibt einem der Eindruck, dass der Anstreicher Lug und Trug verbreitet und durch das anschmieren wie schon erwähnt alles und alle in die Irre führt."

1936/37 Brecht moreover wrote Der Anstreicher spricht von kommenden grossen Zeiten. For the short text see here.

Another occurrence of "Anstreicher" can be found in the trade union newspaper Der Steinarbeiter - Zeitschrift des Zentralverbands der Steinarbeiter Deutschlands für die freigewerkschaftlichen Aufgaben der Arbeitnehmer in der Steinindustrie und im Steinstraßenbau from February 11, 1933. Note that Hitler became Reichskanzler on January 30, 1933. Quotation from the poem Der "rrrevolutionäre" Unorganisierte:

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(Ick hatte ville von Hitler jehört / Und det uff den Anstreicher de janze Welt schwört.)

Some supplementary material concerning Hitler:

For the profession "Anstreicher" see here. Quotation:

"Die offizielle Berufsbezeichnung in Deutschland ist Maler und Lackierer. In Österreich umfasst das Berufsfeld zwei amtliche Lehrberufe, Maler und Anstreicher und Lackierer."

It is well-known that Hitler neither has done any apprenticeship nor practised any profession. Neverthless he was erroneously perceived in Germany and abroad as a Maler (painter), although not in the sense of an artist but of a craftsperson. Sometimes he was taken as a Dekorationsmaler (decorative painter) which comes closer to an artist than a house painter. See Frühe biografische Texte zu Hitler by Othmar Plöckinger.

And, by the way, the word "Anstreicher" sounds similarly as "Landstreicher" (= tramp). And just an additional association coming to my mind in the context of Nazi Germany: "Anstreicher" consists of the two parts "An" and "Streicher". In Nazi Germany Julius Streicher was the founder and publisher of the virulently antisemitic newspaper Der Stürmer, which became a central element of the Nazi propaganda machine. See source 2.

Remark 1: As Carsten S. comments, the associations "Landstreicher" and "Julius Streicher" were presumably not intended. I agree with him. Nevertheless they exist and they give an additional negative Anstrich to the word in the context of Hitler.

Remark 2: In the phrase "rannten 80 Millionen Lackierte dem weltgrößten Anstreicher hinterher" the word "Anstreicher" refers of course to Hitler and to nobody else, but it is an interesting question whether it was created ad personam Hitler. Some sources say that it was used in the Weimar Republic as a negative designation for a certain type of politician. See

Kleine deutsche Literaturgeschichte: erzählt an 20 Gedichten by Hans-Georg Müller

Quote from p. 218:

"Die Ursache für diesen merkwürdigen Schimpfnamen [adressed to Hitler in Bert Brecht's Das Lied vom Anstreicher Hitler] ist einerseits in der politschen Tradition der Weimarer Republik zu suchen, wo "Anstreicher" eine gängige Bezeichnung für oberflächliche Politiker war."

Unfortunately the only evidence given by the author is Kästner's statement "Immer wieder kommen Staatsmänner mit großen Farbtöpfen des Weges und erklären, sie seien die neuen Baumeister. Und immer wieder sind es nur Anstreicher." But it seems that Kästner wrote this after WW2. An occurrence from 1925 is confirmed here (this source also dates Kästner's statement in the post-Nazi-era), and it seems that "Anstreicher" is attributed exclusively to Hitler so that it would not be a generic name. On the other hand, if the word should have no broader meaning than that of a synonym for Hitler, then it would be unnecessary to emphasize that the Anstreicher was the weltgrößte Anstreicher. Also in Brecht's poem we do only read (four times) the combination Anstreicher Hitler.

I think it needs an historian to clarify this point.

Hitler was aware of his derisive nickname. Quotation from one of his speeches (1933):

"Ich bin, meine Arbeiter, in der Zeit meines Kampfes um die Macht in Deutschland von denen, die selbst vorgaben, Arbeiterinteressen zu vertreten, oft angegriffen worden mit dem Hinweis auf meine Herkunft. Damals pflegte man zu sagen: Was will denn der ehemalige Bauarbeiter oder Anstreicher eigentlich?"

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The word "Anstreicher" is a pun on Hitler's intentions to become a famous painter. The German word for "painter", Maler, also denotes the non-artistic branch of painters, and can also mean "house-painter". The word Anstreicher ("lacquerer", literally: "someone who coats things (with color)") was a common derogative term to refer to Hitler amongst antifascists, most famously in the song "Das Lied vom Anstreicher Hitler" by Bertolt Brecht, which also makes use of the second meaning of lackieren - "to fool someone".

I read the whole phrase as a deliberate intertextual reference to the song of Brecht. Here, this pun is used in a metaphoric complex, where Hitler is the lacquerer and the Germans have been colorized by him; to me, the metaphor bears the (more or less) subtle notion that the vast majority of members of the German population have not been Nazis essentially, but merely have been "painted", i.e. affected in a rather "superficial" manner, by Nazism.

This is part of a greater conceptual metaphor of surface vs. essence which is a common metaphor in discussion about identity. The list of instances of this metaphor is long, and I just mention a few, because an in-depth analysis would be beyond the scope of your question: Another term in this semantic / metaphorical field which comes to my mind, is the parlance of rotlackierte Faschisten ("red-lacquered fascists") which is used to refer to communists, in order to highlight perceived parallels of communism and fascism, and also makes use of lackiert as a metaphor for "superficially coated", "pretending". Other examples of this metaphor in German are the verbs übertünchen ("to camouflage", literally "cover with whitewash") and vertuschen ("to cover up", literally: "to cover with tusche, china ink").

Besides this, jmdn. lackieren also has the meaning "to fool someone". Today this is most prominent in the term gelackmeiert ("fooled, tricked"); this meaning probably roots in the fact that a lacquered, shiny surface (in contrast to the underlying essence) is a self-suggesting metaphor for "pretending", "lying" and "fooling". So besides the idea that Germans have been superficially affected by Nazism, the metaphoric complex of Hitler as the lacquerer and the Germans as the ones being lacquered, also comes with associations that Germans have been fooled by Hitler. This idea is also present in the song of Brecht.

So, the metaphorical core, as it shines through the both associations denote a position in the question whether Nazism was "essential" to Germans, and of course have consequences when it comes to the question of guilt.

There is also another association with the word lackieren, which is weaker, because it does not fit into the metaphorical complex of Anstreicher Hitler: Lack saufen ("swig lacquer") is a phrase for "do something obviously stupid", "be crazy", especially used in the slang phrase Haben die etwa alle Lack gesoffen? ("Is everybody crazy?" literally: "Did they all swig lacquer?")

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