Krauts in Limey Land: Germans Go Eurotrash in London

By Natalie Tenberg

Is there such a thing as trying too hard to integrate when living in a foreign country? For Germans in London eager to leave behind their national identity, the answer could be yes. The insular community looks more British than the Brits and have found their Euro-treasure in going Euro-trash.

Does he look British to you? He's got the big chav accessory: a Burberry taxi!
DPA

Does he look British to you? He's got the big chav accessory: a Burberry taxi!

Crossing Sloane Square in central London, you have to practically fight your way through the crowds of Barbour-clad, loafer-wearing clones. Tweed is in abundance and the place is awash with cord. But don't be fooled by this mirage of upper-class Britishness: You're more likely to meet a stuffy, upper-class Brit on Memory Lane than you are on the Kings Road. Just spend ten minutes in the shirt-shop Thomas Pink and the accents you hear are more likely to come from Stuttgart than Sandringham.

It's nothing new, of course, to say that London is a mix of all kinds of different cultures and societies. From the Brazilian serving morning coffee in Starbucks to the Australian pulling the evening pint down at the pub, there is no nationality not represented in the hotchpotch of London life. More than 300 languages are spoken in the city and 26 percent of its population was born outside the UK. And according to the Guardian newspaper, the city contains over 50 different ethnic communities of more than 10,000 members, with some groups standing out more than others. The German contingent isn't one of them.

Germans keep a low profile

In contrast to many other nationalities, the 70,000 Germans living in Britain keep a low profile: They do not dominate the high-street with schnitzel restaurants or corner sausage shops. Instead, finances permitting, many of the young professionals in their twenties and thirties opt to live in the wealthier parts of London such as Chelsea, Kensington and Richmond. And although they do their utmost to blend in, that's exactly what makes them stand out: Very few Britons actually run around in Barbour jackets. If you really want to blend in, it's better to wear no jacket at all.

And the reason for the influx from Germany? Money. If you're into cash, and you want to make it big on the financial markets, you'll most likely -- sooner or later --end up in London, the financial capital of Europe. In fact, an estimated 600,000 people work in the city's banking sector -- more than live in the entire city of Frankfurt, Germany's rather soulless attempt at a financial center. For people working in finance the career perspectives are better in London than anywhere else in Europe and the salaries, on average, far higher.

"If you want to make money, you cannot stay in Germany," says a German banker in his thirties who works for the London branch of a Swiss bank. "I have no plans of returning to Germany as long as I cannot see that I'll have the same lifestyle and income as I have in London."

He's out on a Saturday night at the Anglesea Arms in Chelsea with a large group of people, half of which are German professionals too. "And yes, there are many Germans here who stick together," he adds but claims that he is not of that sort. "I'm more Eurotrash," he explains and seems quite content with this label. Oddly, his English friend is wearing a typically Bavarian jacket while all the Germans look as if they had ransacked Hugh Grant's wardrobe: blazers and shirts, not the hippest of all London clothing.

German eagerness and British indifference

Western Europeans make up half of the foreign workers in the UK, and as a result many feel surrounded by their compatriots in London. Although many nationalities tend to stick together when abroad, Germans like to give the impression that they would rather steer clear of their fellow countrymen. Indeed, they're not the crowd you'd want to be part of given their less-than-flattering reputation among Brits: a nation of Nazis, beer swilling bumpkins, women with hairy armpits. In short, there's little reason to embrace a national identity if you're a "Kraut." For Germans, however, being European means idealism, progress and the emerging freedom to live in 25 different countries. And for them, it's an image sweet enough to mask the rotting smell of Eurotrash.

They don't work in a bank, but these two Brits have taken care of themselves financially. The Beckhams at Madame Tussaud's.
REUTERS

They don't work in a bank, but these two Brits have taken care of themselves financially. The Beckhams at Madame Tussaud's.

Londoners, on the other hand, are so used to people coming and going that even if they met someone from Micronesia it's no real news to them. A normal German, by these standards, is by no means a novelty. "You are German, how humdrum," is the more common attitude. The Germans return this indifference by emulating the British style -- and failing miserably by concentrating too hard on an elite minority. They are fascinated by the British culture, but focus their attentions almost entirely on the posh part of it. London's cultural mix? How boring.

The German-turned-Eurotrash enclave does not go down so well with all Londoners. The self-righteous cosmopolitism earns sneers from Britons, who still see Germans as people who get up early at holiday resorts just to reserve sun beds. For others, it's the undeniable Yuppie-factor that puts them off. "They have a certain kind of snobbishness," says a 27-year-old PR-executive from Wimbledon. "Why do people who come to London frown upon us if we live out of Zone One on the tube map? The truth is, many Londoners simply cannot afford to live there."

Not all Germans are snobs, or even live in Chelsea for that matter. But the ones who do live in SW 3 are part of a very narrowly defined set. To them, London is a haven in which they can pursue their careers and have a good social life as well. Euro-ness is what brings them together.

Despite its pan-European connotation, the Eurotrash-scene it's a closely-knit society of people who are likely to run into each other on a regular basis -- at places like the remarkably nondescript "Eclipse" bar on Walton Street on a Saturday night. Such places provide a sense of security when living in a city as big as London and creates an identity, which transcends nationality without having to ditch it altogether. Britain's Eurotrash becomes Germany's Eurotreasure.

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