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3. The watershed of 2006

Visit the British-German Association homepageThe apparent hostility of Britons towards Germany is only half of the story. "In general," commented Elke Berger of the Deutsch-Britische Gesellschaft, "relations between our two countries have never been so good." The Deutsch-Britische Gesellschaft has been working to bring forward German-British relations in all areas of public and cultural interest since 1949 and has branches throughout Germany. The German-British Forum is one of many organisations that bring together practical and independent people whose aim is to enhance cooperation at all levels between the two countries. The British-German Association, whose aim is to strengthen understanding and friendship between the peoples of Britain and Germany, celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 2001. In 2006, 96,245 British citizens were living in Germany. And town-twinning between the two countries is stronger than ever.

Trade relations between the two countries have also been strong for decades: Germany is the UK's second largest global market and its largest European export market. In 2006, exports of goods and services from the UK to Germany were worth 42 billion and imports from Germany to the UK were worth 65 billion. Almost 1,000 British companies, including virtually all of the major UK multinationals, have subsidiaries in the country. Both the German-British Chamber of Industry and Commerce, a business to business organisation based in London which has approximately 700 British and German member firms, and the Anglo-German Foundation for the Study of Industrial Society have played an important part in encouraging trade links between the two countries.

But it was Germany's hosting of the 2006 football World Cup that has done the most to change British opinions of Germany. Ahead of the competition, fears were rife that the event would be manipulated by British tabloid editors to reproduce the outdated stereotypes that we have already examined. As Martin Kettle wrote in The Guardian on 3 June 2006:

The World Cup fills me with dread. I want to look, but also to look away. Not because I don't like football. I do. Not because I'm fussed about the St George flag. I'm all for it. Nor am I in any liberal confusion about wanting England to win. I want that too. [...] No. For me the problem about this World Cup is that it is taking place in Germany. As a consequence, in spite of the noble efforts to prevent it, we face a month of waiting for the inevitable moment when the terraces or the press proudly vomit a surfeit of war-obsessed, Nazi-fixated anti-German excess on to our national living-room carpet. 

But nothing of the sort happened. Quite the contrary. Instead, thousands of British fans went over to Germany, many for the first time, and discovered a modern relaxed country at ease with itself that was far different from the clichés to which they had been exposed. As Donald McRae reported for The Guardian, this was the first World Cup in history where fans without tickets were welcomed, not demonised, and supporters from all nations gathered together in front of giant screens in all major German towns and cities to enjoy the festivities. The BBC television studio for the tournament was positioned right in front of the Fanmeile in Berlin, a huge public viewing area stretching out from the Brandenburg Gate. Their pictures broadcast to the British people a relaxed party atmosphere that the film director Sönke Wortmann would later call: "Deutschland: Ein Sommermärchen" (German, a summer fairy-tale).

Previously inhibited by their nation's history from making any gestures of nationalism, the Germans reappropriated their national flag as a symbol of inclusiveness and as a celebration of their party for all nations. The tournament was marked by the black, red and gold German flag being flown from buildings and cars, and daubed on fans' faces, in a spirit of friendliness that broke down barriers in a way that decades of political diplomacy could never have achieved. A survey by Allensbach showed that 58% of Germans felt that the display of national symbols was now acceptable, with 68% of Germans under the age of 30 being in favour of flying the flag. An article in The Times compared the mood in Germany to Britain after the death of Princess Diana in the summer of 1997. "It was then that the British learned to cry in public. Now the Germans are learning to like themselves."

And other nationalities were learning to like the Germans too. Among the two million fans who visited Germany during the 2006 tournament were 315,000 England fans, who were all encountering a country that was radically different from the atavistic clichés to which they had previously - this Germany was modern, relaxed and at ease with itself. On the BBC Online website, English fans such as Roger Franklin were full of praise for the new Germany: "The Germans have already won, regardless of how far the team goes. I think that this tournament will be a turning-point in the British-German relationship."

Jürgen Krönig, a British-based journalist for the German periodical Die Zeit who had despaired in 1999 of British attitudes to the "Krauts", expressed himself astonished by the change in attitude of the British press and even his paperboy towards Germany and its team.

Both in the British Sunday newspapers and the electronic media you can perceive friendly astonishment about the "gentle, friendly patriotism" of the modern Germany - so many cheerful young people, answering questions in astonishingly good English in front of microphones and cameras, such a good atmosphere, such relaxed German policemen [...] 

It was helpful too that the German side played with an infectious effervescence that the English team were singularly lacking. After England's inevitable quarter-final exit on penalties, many of the travelling English fans stayed behind to party with the hosts, and even to adopt Germany as their side. The Daily Telegraph went so far as to urge its readers to "cheer for our old adversaries, the Germans", for the rest of the competition. Perhaps commentators shouldn't have been so surprised by the fans' attitude. After all, English comedian Frank Skinner had raised eyebrows in 2002 when he said that he would be supporting Germany and not Brazil in the 2002 World Cup final: "I was gutted when England went out", Skinner said "but Germany are Europeans so they're kind of the home team now," Skinner had said in June 2002.

Most notable of all was the positive way in which Germany was suddenly being depicted in the British media, often by the same publications who had done so much to perpetuate the tired stereotypes about the country that we have discussed earlier:

"Pro-Germans were a silent majority among the British public. Now we belong to a large majority." (Denis Macshane, Labour MP and former Europe minister)
"I just wonder if there is a serious assessment to be made of new Anglo-German relations, everything brilliantly organized, friendly people, good value hotels, free Metro etc... Very interesting how a World Cup has proved to be a catalyst for a new relationship and understanding." (Stuart Higgins, former editor of The Sun)
"Love is in the Herr - England fans love the Germans." (Headline in The Sun newspaper)
"A number of myths have had to be revised. The idea of the Germans as insular, humourless and not the kind of people you want a party: that one's gone forever. This has been one of the best parties of all time." (Alastair Campbell, former spin doctor for Tony Blair)
"For the majority of decent fans the World Cup was a watershed. I lost count of the England supporters who said they never expected the Germans and Germany to be so far removed from the traditional tabloid image." (Nicky Campbell, BBC television and Radio Five Live broadcaster)

And the goodwill towards Germany has continued long after the tournament ended. The number of online bookings for holidays in Germany has gone up by 25 per cent since the summer of 2006. In 2007, British tourists formed by far the largest group of overseas visitors to Berlin. The figure of 324,000 Britons was three times as high as the number of French tourists visiting the German capital.

It would have been nice to think that the European Championships, which took place in Austria and Switzerland in the summer of 2008, might also have helped to remove the clichés associated with two more German-speaking countries. If they are mentioned in the British press at all, then Austria is invariably referred to as the birthplace of Adolf Hitler and of the recently deceased right-wing politician Jörg Haider. Switzerland is frequently reduced to being the home of Heidi, faceless bankers ('the gnomes of Zurich') and the cuckoo-clock - although the latter is a German invention, no matter what Orson Welles may have said in his famous speech in the film The Third Man. But the failure of the British national sides to qualify for the tournament may sadly meant that not enough fans travelled to the Alpine countries in 2008 to act as the catalyst that would have been required to change the way in which Switzerland and Austria are perceived by the British media.

 Web Links 
The German-British Forum The German-British Forum brings together practical and independent people whose aim is to enhance cooperation at all levels between the two countries.
The British-German Association The British-German Association aims to strengthen understanding and friendship between the peoples of Britain and Germany. Its excellent website allows you to download a number of webcasts and interviews.
German-British Chamber of Industry and Commerce The German-British Chamber of Industry and Commerce in London, founded in 1971, is a business to business organisation of some 1,000 British and German member firms.
The Perception of Germany in the UK Media: A Case Study of World Cup 2006 Coverage Luke Harding analyses how the 2006 World Cup in Germany helped to break down anti-German stereotypes in the British press
World Cup 2006: Donald McRae Read an article from Donald McRae of The Guardian about the atmosphere in Germany before the 2006 World Cup
The worst thing about this World Cup is it's in Germany Martin Kettle's fears about anti-German hysteria in the press ahead of the 2006 World Cup prove to be ungrounded.
Why support Germany? BBC Online follows Frank Skinner's lead and gives us reasons why we should support Germany at football.


Weiter!Part 4: How does Germany view Britain?

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