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Anglo-German Exchange
January/February 2015

Ready stereotypes: Gone are the days of headlines like "Achtung, surrender!"

It seems Germany has finally shed the last trappings of the oddly sheltered life it had led until the Berlin Wall fell 25 years ago, one part GDR, one part FRG. The country had long lost its feeling of a divided nation, between a capitalist and a Communist tradition, and made room for a new type of attitude, less provincial, more confident, and probably more liberal.

Gone are the days of ready stereotypes, when the Mirror under Piers Morgan could carry headlines along the lines of "Achtung, surrender!" in 1996. The jokes so brilliantly touched upon Germany's idiosyncratic guilt complex in its manifold guises, even if they didn't mention the war: Germans wear freakish sandals, and socks with them; sheep-like, they wait for the green man to appear before crossing the street, even if there's no traffic; and when they laugh, it's at someone else's expense — such were the stereotypes. (And as a somewhat reluctant German, I can assure you that they are all true!)

Just how much Germany has changed is, however, nowhere more visible than in the eyes of its most reluctant ally, Britain.

As someone who has lived in both countries, I have been struck by how the image of Germany and the Germans has changed in Britain over the last year; judging by the welter of exhibitions, BBC series and commemorative events, Germany is suddenly as chic as France, perhaps even more so. It was Angela Merkel who got treated to a full state visit, including tea with the Queen, when she visited London last spring; François Hollande had to make do with a pub lunch. The Germans have never been more popular, it seems, even though the European Union has never been more unpopular. In a poll of people in 20 countries about the most popular country, Germany came top, beating the US and UK into second and third place respectively. Another poll suggests that 59 per cent of Britons have a positive opinion of Germany — including half the supporters of UKIP (whose leader, Nigel Farage, has a German wife). What has changed?

Angela Merkel has been running Europe — very efficiently — and is expected to carry on for another few years. She also acts as the EU's foreign minister-cum-president in her dealings with Russia, where she is seen as the only leader bold enough and close enough to East-European sensibilities to negotiate with Vladimir Putin. (She also speaks Russian.)

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