Britain, ich liebe dich: How Germans love British traditions

Both Britain and Germany may have been arguing with each other recently on how to solve the EU's economic woes, but this hasn't stopped the Germans being a nation of Anglophiles.

From Last Night of the Proms to Blackadder and Faulty Towers, from fish & chips to polo, and from Jane Austen to Scottish Country Dancing, the Germans love British culture....

Britain, ich liebe dich

Their leaders may be at loggerheads with ours, but the Germans remain hardened anglophiles. John F Jungclaussen explains why his countryfolk love our traditions - even our sense of humour

By John F Jungclaussen
14 Dec 2008
The Telegraph

Angela Merkel leads a nation of Anglophiles
Photo: AP

Peer Steinbrück, the German finance minister, is not one to mince words. "No one has ever talked to me like that," remarked the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, after a particularly bruising clash of German directness and Gallic pride. Last week he did it again, deriding Gordon Brown's fiscal stimulus package for the UK economy as "crass Keynesianism".

This is more than a spat about different ideas on how much governments should borrow. It doesn't take a politics nerd to recognise that something isn't right when a German Social Democrat sides with David Cameron. And when a senior aide to Chancellor Angela Merkel takes the same line and declares that Britain's debt levels represent a "complete failure of Labour policy" – well, that is tantamount to a declaration of diplomatic war.

The Last Night of the Proms: The Germans love this uniquely British event

But despite this clash of personalities, Anglo-German relations are in rude health. In fact, it would be fair to say they have never been better. The Germans are a nation of hopeless anglophiles.

When I first came to London as a student in 1993, there was still a great deal of suspicion about the British among my fellow Germans. Images of the poverty-stricken and strike-ridden Britain of the Seventies prevailed, and Margaret Thatcher's there's-no-such-thing-as-society mantra offered little the Germans could relate to. Neither was there much sympathy for the Iron Lady's hostility towards reunification, then still a recent memory. Today, the state of affairs couldn't be more different. Since I started working as a foreign correspondent in 2001, the topics of my dispatches have ranged from the erosion at the grass roots of the Labour Party to the Literary Review's annual Bad Sex Award. What happens in Britain is guaranteed a curious readership.

There are, of course, some fundamental differences. The Germans are a frugal bunch and have always been critical of the excesses of Anglo-Saxon capitalism.

Unlike the British, they are also slow to adapt to social change; trade unions remain a powerful force, partly because the reforms would never win popular support in Germany. But Britain's ability to embrace change, its unusual political stability and lower-case liberalism remains at the heart of the German fascination.

This summer, I discovered that my fellow countrymen's fascination with the British can also enter the realm of the obsessive. For a Radio 4 documentary, I travelled around the fatherland to investigate the phenomenon of anglomania. For instance: every year at the end of August, thousands of Germans gather at the Polo Club in Hamburg to celebrate British Day. As well as such delicacies as baked potatoes and fish and chips, the Hamburgers delight in scones and afternoon tea while watching a scaled-down version of the Highland Games. If that isn't enough, in the evening, Hamburg is treated to an open-air version of the Last Night of the Proms. The polo field turns into something reminiscent of Glyndebourne, with hundreds of picnic tables dressed with silver candelabras and the audience singing Rule Britannia and God Save the Queen. Clearly, the Germans haven't forgotten that the descendants of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha are theirs, too.

I found more evidence of the German enthusiasm for Britain at a gymnasium in Frankfurt, where the members of one of 60 German Scottish Country Dance Clubs meet every Tuesday. Similarly, the quintessentially British author, Jane Austen, has her own appreciation society.

German television also offers numerous examples: Rosamunde Pilcher, the grand old lady of the romance novel, finds her most loyal audience in Germany. Public broadcaster ZDF has adapted 80 of her stories for the small screen, all shot on location in the West Country.

Another British export to Germany that is barely known here is Dinner For One, a comedy sketch in which Miss Sophie celebrates her 90th birthday in the company of her four dearest friends, all of whom are long dead and therefore represented by her butler, James, who gets progressively more drunk as he slips into the roles of each the deceased four to toast the birthday girl. This TV "classic" is, according to the Guinness Book of Records, the most frequently repeated programme ever. It has been in the German New Year's Eve schedule for 40 years.

Could anyone seriously maintain that the Germans don't have a sense of humour when half the population watches it – in English, of course – every year? In fact, academics have established that the difference between English and German humour lies in the peculiarities of the languages. English humour depends more on double-meanings, while the more rigorous structure of German means that its humour is based on ideas more than plays on words. Despite this, Germany's love of British comedy extends to Blackadder and Fawlty Towers, classics in which Germans were often the butt of the jokes.

"Hire you a horse? For ninepence? On Jewish New Year in the rain? A bare fortnight after the dreaded horse plague of old London Town? With the blacksmith's strike in its fifteenth week and the Dorset horse fetishists' fair tomorrow?"

There's a special place in German hearts for Monty Python's Flying Circus – not least because in 1972, John Cleese, Michael Palin and crew shot two 45-minute specials in Bavaria, entirely in German. Amid sketches involving The Merchant of Venice re-enacted by cows, and a philosophers' football match between Greeks and Germans ("There's the ball… and Nietzsche's there, with Kant moving up on the outside…"). Then came the pièce de résistance: the Lumberjack Song performed not by Canadian Mounties but by the Austrian Border Police.

There is, of course, one issue that has not yet gone away: the war. But there

can be little doubt that the Germans have done more to put their history in its place than the British. The problem with the Anglo-German exchange over the Nazi past has always been that both sides were referring to their own, very different memories. While the British talk about heroism on the battlefield and the home front and evoke the unifying spirit of the Blitz, the Germans talk about the Holocaust.

Yet, over the past two decades, Germany has moved on and turned a suffocating sense of guilt into a responsibility for all generations to remember the Nazi atrocities. In Britain, a complex debate about national identity continues, in an attempt to replace the Nazi era as the last moment when Britishness could be clearly defined.

But the war is no longer the great Anglo-German stumbling block that it once was. The Germans have taken to the Brits like no other nation and they claim British cultures and traditions as they please. Rule Britannia, please, we're German – but not you, Gordon.

John F Jungclaussen is London correspondent of Die Zeit. His Anglomania will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on January 2
of course they love us. everyone does. we're awesome
L Gilbert
No Party Affiliation
Weird but loveable. lol
Peter Munz
I think, we German dear at you Englishmen the calm, considered and fairness everyone opposite.
Grüße aus Deutschland
no new posts