4. How does Germany view Britain?
The first thing that we would discover on visiting Germany is that the British media's fraught relationship with Germany is by no means reciprocated either by the German media or by the Germans themselves. Germans from an older generation are grateful for British aid in rebuilding their country after the Second World War, with Berliners in particular well aware of the role played by the Royal Air Force in the Berlin Airlift. British common sense and politeness have traditionally been held in high esteem in the Federal Republic along with the historical development of British democratic institutions. The way in which Britain has embraced its ethnic diversity also comes in for frequent praise in the German media.
Speaking at the annual Königswinter conference on British-German relations in May 2005, Germany's federal president Horst Köhler argued that relations between Britain and Germany were "not balanced":
|German president Horst Köhler's views on the Anglo-German imbalance
||Germans have a bigger affinity to Britain than the other way round. I fear that German stereotypes in Britain are largely negative. Britain should take a more open view of Germany.
The imbalance in the Anglo-German relationship is expressed most starkly linguistically. A survey published by the British Council in 2004 revealed that whereas 97% of young Germans could speak English, a mere 22% of young Britons could speak a word of German. These figures are a little deceptive however. Whereas in the 1960s and 1970s English courses in schools were primarily based on British culture, German teenagers currently learn much more about the United States. Veit Wagner, an English teacher in Bavaria told BBC News Online in 2001: "Most of my students know hardly anything about the UK, and wouldn't want to go there for a visit".
It is certainly true that a more critical attitude to certain aspects of British society has developed in recent times, fuelled by headlines in the German press about BSE, British euroscepticism and the anti-German antics of the British tabloid press. In May 2001 a lengthy article in the German periodical Stern entitled The English Patient created uproar on both sides of the channel by strongly criticising Britain for being a country in "deep crisis" with crumbling health and social security networks and high levels of illiteracy and xenophobia. Many Germans condemned the sensationalist tone of the Stern report and appreciated that their own country would soon be confronted with similar problems with publication. Yet even self-avowed anglophiles seemed to find some substance in the magazine's criticism of Britain's ailing public services. Corinna Reuper, a London-based lawyer originally from Hanover spoke of her "love-hate relationship" with Britain: "London is unbelievably dirty and travelling through the city is horrible. But on the other hand it works!"
British euroscepticism and anti-German headlines in the British press have inevitably had an impact too. After The Sun printed unflattering pictures of German chancellor Angela Merkel's posterior as she got changed while on holiday in Italy, the German tabloid Bild asked its readers "Where does the hate come from?"
Yet exasperation with the British media is not carried over to Britain itself. 3.3 million German tourists visited Britain in 2005, which amounted to 11.1% of the total number of tourists to Britain. Only the United States and France accounted for more tourists to the country. Ten times more German students visit Britain on exchange trips than Britons travelling in the opposite direction. From the Beatles via Britpop to the current day, generations of Germans have grown up listening to British pop music and have developed their English language skills by trying to unravel song lyrics. "Unbelievably dirty" or not, cities such as London, Liverpool and Manchester remain meccas for anglophile music fans.
In 243,554 people living in England and Wales had been born in Germany. These include such high profile figures as the academic Lord Dahrendorf, and footballers such as Jens Lehmann, but also British citizens born on army bases in Germany. Around 2,500 German academics work in British universities, which is more than any other international grouping. There are also approximately 12,000 German students currently studying at British universities, attracted by the smaller tutorial sizes and the greater accessibility of lecturers in the UK. "I had intensive discussions with my tutor. But the other professors could also be approached by any new student", said Curt Schmitt, who came over from Germany to study History at the London School of Economics. Canan Gündüz who left Cologne to study at University College London, was equally enthusiastic about British academic life: "You get treated as an individual here". Michael Naumann, the former German minister of culture, said in 2006 that he regarded the years that he spent at Queen's Colege, Oxford, as the happiest time of his life: "I enjoyed the absence of the bureaucracy and a generally highly cultured tone of political discussion, much more tolerant of other people's views than over here in Germany."
And the positive effects of the World Cup in 2006 cut both ways. Although 315,000 English fans descended on Germany, only 600 supporters were detained for drunken behaviour during the football competition. While instances of boorish and anti-social behaviour from British supporters were sadly still in evidence, the English willingness to participate peacefully in the global party went a long way to removing their reputation for football hooliganism. "They proved themselves right, they are the world champions of partying", Gerd Graus, spokesman for the German World Cup organising committee said of the English fans in July 2006. "They created a great atmosphere, they have a fan culture unique in the world. Of course, among so many thousands of people there are bound to be a few arrests, but statistically speaking, the numbers of arrests are irrelevant. We all know what has happened in the past, but now we congratulate them."
Part 5: Who are the Germans?
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