Thursday, 30 May 2013

Ve hav vays of making you afraid

A German. Looking all militaristic. Invading London.
Just in case you’d missed it, last weekend saw the Champions’ League final take place at Wembley, between Borrussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich.

A first – two German teams facing each other in the final.

So what better opportunity to write about … well, ze Germans?

Over at the (Lunnon!) Evening Standard, Anne McElvoy took the opportunity to excel herself in her article on this difficult subject.

Ich bin ein Londoner: the Germans are coming – and a lot of them are already here” proclaimed the headline (the internet has a lot to answer for in terms of the apparently dying art of the headline).

“They’re invading us on Saturday”, read the standfirst, just in case you were in any doubt as to the tone.

“To put it bluntly,” said McElvoy, “today’s London attracts a lot of people whose forebears were once part of a much less charming offensive.”

“Today’s London”? The first rule of journalism should be to have a clue what you’re writing about.

In the case of the dreaded Krauts in our capital, there is a considerably longer history than she seems to imagine.

In Dalston, just up the road from where I live, stands the German Hospital, which opened its doors to local German people in 1863. Many of its patients worked in local manufacturing.

The German Hospital, Dalston.
The German Chapel was established in 1809 in a house near Mansion House, for local German Catholics. In 1862, the Methodist Zion Chapel in Whitechapel was taken on for this expanding congregation, and a mission developed alongside it.

That’s without mentioning the likes of old Charlie Marx, who is still with us, beneath his iconic Highgate grave.

And there were many, many more. Indeed, internment camps were built in both world wars to house many of the Germans who lived in the UK.

So it’s disingenuous at best to imply that Germans are only newly arrived in London – in a non-warlike manner.

But even taking McElvoy at face value, let’s see where she went with this line of commentary: “A current prominent member of the Germano-Londoner pack is Isabelle (Bella) Ribbentrop, head of corporate communication at Pictet and Cie, the private Swiss bank, who is married to a descendant of Hitler’s foreign minister.”

Wow. Just wow. I just bet she got hitched so she could brag about the history of hubby’s family, don’t you?

This is clutching at straws for the sake of being able to mention – y’know – the little Austrian with the funny moustache.

And never mind ‘sins of the fathers’ – we’re now into ‘sins of the spouse’s fathers’. And all this after McElvoy used the word “forebears” – which isn’t usually taken to mean ‘and those by marriage as well’.

But fret ye not – the best was still to come.

McElvoy, a self-described “lifelong Germanophile” explained: “English private education is one of the big draws – Germans have become the largest non-Asian group in Britain’s independent schools, not least because of the school uniforms.”

Sauerkraut, invading the kitchen.
So given that there is no comparable culture of school uniform wearing on the Continent, we now discover that well-to-do modern Hun are coming over here (nicking our jobs) and sending their kinder to schools that are chosen precisely because they wear uniforms.

Now why, Anne dear, would that be? Are you suggesting that they’re all really still closet Nazis/militarists? Because it’s difficult to see what else you could possibly be suggesting.

Actually, what McElvoy managed to illustrate is that things have progressed markedly. Nowadays, the things that were once said openly have to be couched in more subtle terms and hidden, indeed, beneath claims of being a Germanophile oneself.

Personally, my only fear about this latest ‘invasion’ was what on earth our visitors would make of the excuse for ‘beer’ that is on sale in so many London hostelries.

In the event, there were apparently only 13 football-related arrests across the entire city. The FA reported that nine arrests were for ticket touting, so it was a remarkably peaceful invasion.

Borussia Dortmund arrived, according to the Guardian, with a poster saying: ‘You were hoping for a final between two English teams. Or at least for a stadium full of hot Spanish chicks. Instead, you got the Krauts. Have fun.’

Gratuitous picture of the Reichstag.
And people still claim that Germans have no sense of humour?

Anyway, an exciting match was won by Bayern Munich – the Manchester City connection through ex-Blues defender Jerome Boateng was duly noted – and everything passed off okay.

So presumably we can all come out from behind our sofas now.

Not that the fußball has been the only reason to consider matters German in recent days.

Were it not clear that McElvoy had to work hard to disguise (at least a little) the rather obvious anti-German sentiments behind her piece, at almost exactly the same time, the annual Country Ratings Poll for the BBC World Service revealed that Germany was out in front.

Or, top hund, as one might put it.

And even the New Statesman had a piece from a correspondent saying that she found it no surprise, having herself loved the country since her teens – in part, as an act of rebellion against the anti-German rhetoric of her parents (an experience I am familiar with).

Perhaps we’re finally growing up after all?

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