Relax and mention the war — World Cup advice to Germans
BERLIN: Germans are being encouraged to loosen up and even discuss World War II in a bid to change their image when a million foreign visitors pour into the country for the football World Cup finals which kick off next week. The biggest country in the European Union is today an overwhelmingly peaceful land which agonizes even before committing troops to a peacekeeping mission abroad. Yet the image of Germany in many countries seems barely to have changed more than 60 years since the fall of Adolf Hitler’s regime.
Dutch fans are planning to wear replica Nazi helmets in their country’s orange at World Cup matches, while England supporters have been urged by the British government not to resort to songs which make reference to the war, such as the “Dambusters” theme, from a film about the Allies’ bouncing bomb. Even Ecuador has got in on the act. Its football association issued a poster for the World Cup showing a mocked-up picture of its players running through a war-scarred Berlin, dodging parachutes and tanks. In the background, the word ‘Invasion’ is emblazoned across the horizon. Confronted by such reminders of their country’s most shameful chapter, how are Germans to react during the June 9-July 9 sporting spectacular?
The online version of the normally strait-laced Der Spiegel magazine this month dared to offer light-hearted tips on how to handle awkward questions. “Don’t fall silent about it, but we don’t have to talk about it constantly either. As enlightened patriots, we are looking to the future,” Der Spiegel advised. If asked about Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels, “answer calmly, but firmly, ‘He is dead... And so is Hitler.” With that out of the way, the host nation can get down to giving its visitors a traditional German welcome. But will it?
“We are unfortunately not perceived as a particularly friendly people. We have to improve on that,” admitted Franz Beckenbauer, the head of the World Cup organising committee. The official World Cup slogan, “A Time to Make Friends”, urges a new start. But a spate of apparently racist attacks in the weeks before the World Cup have threatened to cast a shadow over the host nation’s efforts to prove it is a tolerant country, although Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said everything was being done to guarantee the safety of foreign fans.
Sebastian Turner, of the Berlin-based communications agency Scholz and Friends, said the World Cup was a fantastic opportunity to present Germany in a new light. “The World Cup can help rejuvenate a country’s image. The visiting media are the key. But the way Germans get on with their guests will shape the opinion of the media,” Turner told AFP. To coincide with the tournament, Scholz and Friends developed “Land of Ideas”, a campaign of events and publicity designed to “reflect the innovative products that are ‘Made in Germany’, but also the idea that Germany is a land of thinkers and poets”, as Turner put it.
He said Germans would be able to tell if foreign fans were having a joke at their expense, or trying to provoke them. “The question is, what is the intention, and what kind of symbol is intended. “When Prince Harry wore the Nazi uniform at a fancy dress party, he was not being outrageous, he just had bad taste. “Germans know that there is bad taste and there is outrageous nonsense. And we happen to have bad taste too sometimes.” And does he think the World Cup will generate the hoped-for return tourist visitors? “Its key function is that it can make Germany rise into what we call the ‘relevant set’. If the country is compelling and attractive, then when it comes to choosing holidays you might say ‘Hey honey, why don’t we go to Germany this year?’.
While World Cup visitors are likely to find a warm welcome, another stereotype, of German arrogance, may be harder to shake off. Giant billboard posters sponsored by drinks giant Coca-Cola have gone on show around Berlin, where the final will be played. They read: “Bern 1954, Munich 1974, Rome 1990” – the years and locations of Germany’s three World Cup wins. Then the poster adds: “2006 here”. afp