Resentments Reawaken Britain's Mounting Distrust of Germany

In Britain, distrust of Europe goes hand-in-hand with distrust of Germany. Relations between the two countries have cooled following the furore caused by the latest EU summit, and British euroskeptics are once again resorting to old stereotypes.

By Marco Evers

British Prime Minister David Cameron had only been in office for seven weeks when he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel decided to watch a football match together to get to know each other better.

It was on June 27, 2010, and it was the World Cup quarter final in South Africa. It was also a match between two classic rivals: Germany and England. Thomas Müller scored a goal in the 67th minute, bringing the score to 3:1 -- to the consternation of British fans and the delight of the Germans.

In Toronto, where the two leaders were attending the G-20 summit, a beaming Merkel leaned over to Cameron and said, with typical German anti-triumphalism but a lack of linguistic finesse: "I really am terribly sorry."

When the Germans scored another goal three minutes later, Merkel said she was "sorry" again. As Cameron later said, half-jokingly, the shared experience was "a form of punishment I wouldn't wish on anyone." Nevertheless, he added, Mrs. Merkel "is one of the politest people I have ever met."

After that, Merkel and Cameron made a concerted effort to get along with each other. A little more than a year ago, Cameron reached into his bag of tricks once again. He invited the chancellor to Chequers, the magnificent country residence of Britain's prime ministers, where he and Merkel watched her favorite crime series, "Midsomer Murders," which led to another, urgently needed upturn in German-British relations. Merkel had, in fact, never really forgiven Cameron for having led his Conservatives out of the European People's Party, a conservative group in the European Parliament.

For a while, the charming Cameron was far up on Merkel's list of favorite European colleagues -- until, with his lone veto against EU-wide treaties to resolve the debt crisis, he catapulted himself back to the bottom.

The English Channel has suddenly become wider, deeper and foggier once again. The London-based Daily Telegraph newspaper has warned its readers against what it calls Berlin's blatant effort to dominate Europe and already sees "a new era of Anglo-German antagonism" on the horizon -- again characterized by two leaders who are bound together in their sincere dislike for each other, like past leaders of the two countries: Helmut Kohl and Margaret Thatcher, or Gerhard Schröder and Tony Blair. Reverend Peter Mullen, the Anglican chaplain to the London Stock Exchange, where he is not popular for his crude views, goes even further. According to Mullen, Germans tried to achieve hegemony in Europe by military force in 1870, 1914 and 1939, and now Merkel is trying to do the same with the weapons of the financial system.

'Welcome to the Fourth Reich'

Distrust of the European Union goes hand-in-hand with distrust of Germany, especially among "euroskeptics," the current euphemism for the many haters of the EU in Britain. The headline "Welcome to the Fourth Reich" in the high-circulation Daily Mail summarized the German-French plans to rescue the monetary union. In another story, the paper wrote: "What we are witnessing is the economic colonisation of Europe by stealth by the Germans."

Of course, many Britons -- and even some Englishmen, among whom the resentment is the most widespread -- know that such talk is nonsense. But surprisingly many do not. Whenever someone on in Britain utters the word "Germany," it doesn't take long, a matter of milliseconds, in fact -- even in many well-informed circles in politics, journalism or the world of comedy -- before someone says: "Hitler."

It's been this way for decades. Nazis are practically an obsession in Britain, and associating Germans with them is such a strong reflex that it stifles almost all interest in the real Germany of today. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, a British education authority, found that the teaching of history suffers from excessive "Hitlerization." For British schoolchildren, Germany came into the world as a freak in 1933 and, thanks to then Prime Minister Winston Churchill, died a well-deserved death in 1945.

The anti-German rhetoric was particularly strong after German reunification, which then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, nicknamed "the Iron Lady," sought to prevent. Even the levelheaded Economist warned against what it believed to be the threat of a German nuclear bomb. In 1990, Thatcher invited leading British historians to a conference at Chequers to analyze the dangerous German national character. According to the minutes of the meeting, some of the supposed German character traits discussed there included "aggressiveness, egotism, an inferiority complex and sentimentality."

2006 World Cup Brought Respite

Some things have changed for the better recently. The football World Cup in Germany had more of an impact on the British view of Germany than 60 years of postwar history. In the summer of 2006, about 100,000 Britons traveled to a country that was largely unknown to them, but no matter where they looked, they could see no goose-stepping policemen in leather coats or German supermen. Instead, they encountered fantastic weather, peaceful fan zones and hedonistic partying Germans who bore no similarity to the "Krauts" described in the British media.

Even the notorious English tabloid press managed to adopt a more conciliatory tone. In the past, the British tabloids would announce German-English matches with headlines like "Achtung! Surrender" (Daily Mirror) or "Let's Blitz Fritz" (Sun). But with the German-hosted 2006 World Cup even the Sun dropped its virulently anti-German tone when it wrote: "England fans love the Germans."

Last year, the journalist Peter Watson came out with a much-noticed work of almost 1,000 pages with the title, provocative in the UK, "The German Genius." Watson was tired of the fact that the view of Germans among his fellow Englishmen began with Hitler and ended, at best, with Göring, Himmler and Rommel, the "Desert Fox." In his tome, Watson also writes about Kant, Goethe, Mozart, Wagner, Nietzsche, Freud, Einstein and Planck, and a wonderful German quality called "Bildung," "education."

In London, exhibitions by German painters like Sigmar Polke or Gerhard Richter (currently at the Tate Modern) attract tens of thousands of viewers. German-style Christmas markets, complete with "Gluewine" (an Anglicized spelling of the German word Glühwein, or mulled wine) and bratwurst, are popping up everywhere. German kitchens, washing machines and, of course, cars are popular, as are the Lidl and Aldi discount supermarket chains. The German economy as a whole, and achievements as the short-time working system known as Kurzarbeit and the dual education system, are widely admired.

Indifference Bordering on Hostility

For the British, the fact that the Germans, with their renowned engineering prowess, still produce goods and sell them around the world is a wistful reminder of their own days as major exporters during the Victorian age. While today's financial industry may be profitable for the British nation, unlike the now-faltering British industrial sector, it is not suited to generating a sense of national identification or even pride.

The Indians bought Jaguar a few years ago, Rolls-Royce is now part of BMW, Volkswagen owns Bentley, and once-proud brands like Triumph, Austin and Vickers no longer exist. Even the colorful candies known as "Smarties" haven't been produced in York, where they were invented, for the last five years. All European production has now been moved to Germany.

But outside the big cities, especially in conservative areas, there is a growing mood of indifference, if not hostility, toward Germany, as evidenced by the example of Bishop's Stortford, an affluent bedroom community of 35,000 people near London Stansted Airport.

At the end of November, John Wyllie, the Conservative mayor, wrote letters to officials in his town's twin cities, the German town of Friedberg, near Frankfurt, and the French town of Villiers-sur-Marne, near Paris. Without giving any reasons, he terminated the partnership effective Sept. 28, 2012, putting an abrupt end to an unclouded relationship of more than 46 years.

Officials in the German and French twin towns are dumbfounded at the decision taken by their British twin town, whose council has been dominated by Conservatives since a local election in May.

'Some Kind of Monster'

Tories, says Mike Wood, the only local council member from the Europe-friendly Liberal Democrats, are "usually normal people. But whenever you mention Europe they turn into some kind of monster."

So a new ice age has set in for the time being. Many Britons have noticed that "suddenly German is being spoken in Europe," following the undiplomatic words of Volker Kauder, the parliamentary floor leader of Germany's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU). They've also noticed that there are Germans who already anticipate " Britain's departure from the EU," as SPD parliamentary leader Frank-Walter Steinmeier said. And Merkel's statement that "no country, no financial center and no financial product can be unsupervised from now on" was certainly understood in London just the way it was meant.

Even before the Brussels summit, politicians in Berlin knew that there would be no compromise with the Tory government in London. When Cameron visited Berlin in mid-November, he told his German counterpart that as much firepower as possible had to be used to combat the euro crisis.

To which the chancellor responded coolly: "One shouldn't pretend to have power that one doesn't actually have."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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BillCA 12/19/2011
1. Britain's Mounting Distrust of Germany
Der Spiegel seems to be adopting the exaggeration style of some writers in some British newspapers. A pity, because it now means that I have to trust Der Spiegel as much as I trust those writers and newspapers, that is, not much. A broader look at the British press and public opinion would yield a much more diverse set of views. Many Brits see Angela's efforts to enforce the Stability Rules as necessary to protect the German people from being ripped off yet again. It would have been unnecessary had Kohl enforced those rules in the first place. The German people were lied to about their liability to pay the debts of profligate nations, just as the British were lied to about joining a European Economic Community that had other, unspoken supranational aims. Ultimately, the EU is in trouble because many of its proponents are congenital liars. I don't think that Brits in general hold the Germans responsible for that. Cheers, Bill
stoffel45 12/19/2011
2. Britain´s mistrust of Germany
I am an almost daily writer to the Daily Telegraph. I would describe myself as Pro-Europe but anti-EU. Regarding Germany - I spend quite a lot of time commenting that the German people do not want to "dominate" Europe or anywhere for that matter. I do believe that Germany, of all the combatants of World War 2 have paid heavily and indeed continue to pay. But - I do not want Germany to dominate the EU. Not because it is Germany - I do not want any country to dominate the EU. So what do I believe is the problem. The people of the countries of the region known as Europe, neither particularly like and certainly do not trust one another. They have been at war with one another for at least 2,000 years and if Germany achieved anything - the last war sickened us all. To claim that the region has had peace for the past 67 years is ridiculous - credit is only due to NATO and no other - certainly not the ultra-corrupt EU Commission. The whole history of the EU since inception has been a French driven organisation, geared to benefit France in the first instance and Germany second. It is not Germany´s fault that France "dropped the ball" because her economy is mismanaged. This French fault left a vacuum - and wisely or unwisely, into this gap stepped Angela Merkel. Note Angela Merkel - not Germany. The rather disgusting and anti-democratic treatment of Greece and Italy´s governments dismayed many including me. The EU IS undeniably - anti-democratic. The treatment of its peoples in Referenda is nothing short of political gangsterism reminiscent of the Nazis. No there were no Germans involved in these disgraceful episodes - they were French controlled. But Germany benefitted and stood by and did nothing. The euro is dying. If it suited Germany to have an over strong Deutschmark today that decision would be taken in an augenblick - regardless of the effect on the E.U. Desperately trying to rally and waste billions,by now trillions of taxpayers´ money to rescue a failed - and it IS failed euro- every German knows it will not be with us next Christmas - is a disgrace. So I ask you to stop beating your "Nazi-victims´ drums" - they are only beaten by the lower end of society in England - and something your article, perhaps innocently ignores,in just about ever other EU country. The countries in the so called EU do not trust one another, none of them trust Germany - and yes because of its history of militarism - instead of the real threat - the natural default of corrupt politicians of any country - the desperate hunger for power. But the same countries trust France even less, with good cause, the French government is not nearly so open. Can you imagine how Germans would feel if it were say, Berlusconi - who had picked up the dropped ball and was now the driving power in the EU. 4th Reich, Deutschland uber alles- is a natural mis-labelling. Solution is easy - just revert to the original Common Market, good neighbours, good exchanges with no "Power Grabs" by any one. 12/19/2011
3. Do Brits distrust the Germans
I spent 5 years living and working in Germany in the '80s and always found the people friendly and helpful. Brits don't understand Germany : we have an obsession with France : over 500,000 of us own holiday homes there but we have far more in common with Germany than with France, it's just that most Brits have never visited the country. Who's fault is that ? Well, perhaps the German tourist Office should take at least part of the blame. Looking at events in the Eurozone from the safety of the UK we are alarmed and shocked at the way Merkel and that awful little Frenchman are subverted democracy in order to try and prop up the Euro : We can recognise a a failed currency when we see one, as can the markets : why can't Merkozy ? Angela knows that if she gave the green light for the unlimited issuance of Eurobonds she would have no chance of winning the next election, yet the massive transfer of funds from North to South is the only way the currency can possibly be saved. This will saddle Germany with a massive fiscal drag on her economy which will render her uncompetitive and damage growth for decades. And to what effect ? The problem countries will not change so are the German people willingly prepared to pay massive taxes just to prop up Greek and Italian lifestyles for decades to come ? Of course not but without a single major party in Germany willing to put the alternative case, where does that leave the people ? Frustrated and ill at ease. So, instead of decisive action to end the problem, Merkozy and co. fiddle around the periphery wasting time on quick fix schemes that are doomed to fail. Sooner or later, democracy is going to catch up with the EU and the faceless officials in Brussels will find that they can't always get the people to vote the "right" way, even at the second or third attempt to ask. Where will that leave the EU ? Hopefully, in the end, as a single market with everything else left to the ELECTED politicians of individual member states to decide. If this happens, I promise you that Great Britain will be one of the more enthusiastic and loyal members. David Cameron could not get a revised treaty through the British parliament even if he wanted to without very substantial concessions yet what he asked for was relatively modest. Could Merkel do any better if she were properly accountable for the actions of her government is trying to prop up the currency ? I doubt it.
johann84 12/19/2011
Currently the English are suffering from inferiority complex. This will go farther as Scotland will declare its independence thus isolating England and depriving it from its resources. If financial transactions made in Euro will be required to be done from an EZone country England will sink permanently. Due to the nationalistic rhetoric they just realized not so long ago that they lost their power and influence. In fact they lost it in 1941. Daily Mail was aimed at the newly literate lower-middle class in the late XIX century. It didn't change much since. Don't have high expectations. I think that Germany is according too much importance what the English say. Of course, we should be polite but also we should look toward the future to solve the Ezone crisis cooperating with our European partners .
colinuk 12/19/2011
5. colmair
Of course there is a distrust of Germany, who seemed until this week to shackle themselves to the extreme ambitions of Sarkosy, who has a strategy of pulling us all into a federalist United States of europe. The Euro experiment has failed yet these leaders think we can all be bullied into giving our sovereign wealth to basket case countries that have no intention of controlling their profligate expenditure. This is not about Europe. It is about the corrupt EU!
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