Ministry of Silly Walks.

I don’t think Joschka Fischer, the German Foreign Minister, was entirely mistaken when he mentioned in a BBC radio interview (2:35 min real audio) on Wednesday that “[i]f you want to learn how the traditional Prussian goose-step works, you have to watch British TV, because in Germany, in the younger generation – even in my generation – nobody knows how to perform it.” Well, it’s certainly possible to learn it without the help of British tv, but Fawlty Tower re-runs help a lot.

Stereotypical portrayals of Germany and Germans in the British media as well as a reductionist A-level history curriculum have repeatedly, and not entirely without reason, received some attention over the last years, yet only the Queen’s impending state visit to Germany led to the issue being raised on ministerial level.

And I for one have the feeling it should not have been raised on this level now either. So I would like point out (once again), that despite occasional sunny headlines, Britain – and certainly London – is home to a vibrant and growing German expatriate community, including one of Germany’s most popular singers, Herbert Gr?nemeyer, that is not usually bullied by Bomber Harris in the line to get into the Electric Showroom.

So, while I’m not exactly sure about the statement by British officials that British interest in Germany appears to be growing, I certainly second their point that Germany is also partly to blame for its image abroad. According to The Guardian, they asked – “When did you last see an advert for Germany in a London tube station?”. And they have a point.

There have been attempts by the German ambassador to the UK to improve the public awareness of Germany, but by and large, I’d say that the problem lies as much on this side of the channel as on the other. It’s old dating advice, but it’s still true – if you don’t like yourself, how can you expect someone else to like you?

Right. You cannot. And you should not. But, apparently, those in charge politically have now understood this and are attempting to increase Anglo-German youth-exchanges – always a great way to- quite literally – introduce love into international relations…

As this is a topic that came up before, I have written about it before. So should you be interested in a longer explanation of why I think that Kraut-Bashing is *so* pass? even in the UK, click here. If you are more interested in a satirical presentation of German stereotypes about the British, click here (Dietmar Wischmeyer, 1.3Mbyte, streaming mp3)

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Germany and tagged , by Tobias Schwarz. Bookmark the permalink.

About Tobias Schwarz

German, turned 30 a while ago, balding slowly, hopefully with grace. A carnival junkie, who, after studies in business and politics in Mannheim, Paris, and London, is currently living in his hometown of Mainz, Germany, again. Became New Labourite during a research job at the House of Commons, but difficult to place in German party-political terms. Liberal in the true sense of the term.

His political writing is mostly on A Fistful of Euros and on facebook these days. Occasional Twitter user and songwriter. His personal blog is almost a diary. Even more links at

8 thoughts on “Ministry of Silly Walks.

  1. I know this is not what you mean, but aren’t there people in the former GDR who can goose-step? Admittedly it was in 1967 that I was nearly mown down with a friend outside the history museum because we failed to see a block of soldiers bearing down on us like a machine. They must have gone on doing that for some years, though. They would certainly be Joschka Fischer’s generation.

  2. I don’t know, is the German press really that much different? Are German views of the UK that much different?

    I don’t read much German news now, a little bit of Spiegel Online and the print copy of Die Zeit I get every week (unless Royal Mail loses it again).

    Die Zeit is not too bad, but at least what I notice in Spiegel Online is full of stereotypes as well:

    Prince Charles and his sons, British/English eccentrics, tea and a bit about football (English mainly, unless Rangers wins something, which hasn’t been often the last few years). Frequently they mix up England and the UK, they often write England when they mean the UK. May be not as blunt as some of the English (yes, I deliberately write English here) press, but in a more subtle way.

    How many Germans know much of the UK apart from London? There are probably more German tourists visiting London (and also the UK) than the other way around, but I still feel their knowledge about the UK isn’t really that much better than that of most Brits about Germany.

    Every time I mention to someone that I live in England / the UK I get asked lots of questions about London. I’ve been to London may be 5-6 times in my life, I don’t have a clue about most places there. Yet almost everyone automatically seems to assume I live in London (I live in Swindon, an hour away from London. And I can’t be bothered to visit London).

    But if you want to read how cool Germany is try The Independent: The just declared Berlin to be the “coolest city” (or something like that) in last weekends supplement about “cool cities, beaches and places” (or whatever it was called. I don’t have it any more and it’s not available online)

  3. Frequently [writers for Der Spiegel] mix up England and the UK, they often write England when they mean the UK.

    Are you sure they’re not English themselves, then? I’ve often heard English people do this. Oddly enough, other British people rarely make the same mistake…

    BTW, one thing Germans invariably do get wrong is calling the country Grossbritannien (‘Great Britain’). That’s not a country; it’s an island. Spare a thought, Germans, for the poor wee Ulsterman!

  4. Are you sure they?re not English themselves, then?

    Don’t know, Der Spiegel usually doesn’t say who wrote what (with a few exceptions). Some of it might be just press releases from AP translated into to German, then they might be written by English journalist. But the glee and style in most of the reports make me think they are written by a German.

  5. Yes, but Spiegel writes that way about everybody. Or at least they did the last time I checked; I got tired of hearing how awful everything was everywhere all the time and changed my reading habits.

    And while all countries are bad in Spiegel-world, some are clearly worse than others: blackouts in the northeast US resulted in a cover story, many many pages, photos, etc etc etc ad nause-you-know-what. Just weeks later blackouts that laid Italy lame from end to end got something like a quarter page. Feh.

  6. Just as an aside:
    I taught in a German university last year, in a department called “Amerikanistik.” There was a separate yet affiliated department called “Anglistik.” Students who wanted to learn English had to choose very early whether they were going to learn US English or UK English: their phonetics tests required a standardized accent for either the one or the other. Most of the students had made their choices before reaching the university level; in high school, many German students go on language-exchanges.

    I noticed in my and other instructors’ classes a general break-down: Amerikanistik classes were supposed to be focussed on cultural studies, while Anglistik classes were more into formalism. Also, the consensus among the Amerikanistik instructors (Americans, Canadians, and Germans) was that the cross-registered Anglistik students tended to be snottier.

    Among the German students I knew who had studied in the UK, most knew and loved London, yes, but the home-stays they had done ranged all over England. They tended not to go so much to Ireland or Scotland (although the university maintained an exchange with Glascow).

    I suspect there are many reasons for the unawareness of germany in the UK, but here are two I can come up with. 1) German universities have a lot of problems and find it difficult to lure students from the UK. 2) Many (and perhaps most?) German intellectuals are ardently post-national, thus not inclined to make a case for their country.

    That’s all I know…

  7. Heck, if I were king here (or Prince Regent, a title the Bavarians seem to prefer), I would teach everyone learning English here UK pronunciation. It’s as correct as anything else, and it will translate to perceived higher intelligence and social status if they decide to visit North America.

    On the other hand, I can imagine teaching Australian pronunciation, thus boosting global perceptions of fun-loving Germans (admittedly, from a low level). Even better, fiddle with the texts taught. “Die Lage is sehr ernst” would translate as “No worries, mate” …

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