For Germans living in Britain, sinister echoes of a bloodier conflict have emerged from the row over cattle.

"We shall fight them on the beaches," not just a war speech from Winston Churchill but also the Sun's advice for what we should shout at German tourists for banning our beef from Europe. It's not just the tabloids suggesting that we burn German flags; quality papers carry interviews with Sir James Goldsmith accusing Chancellor Helmut Kohl of turning the European Union into a new German empire, and British children consider Germany the most boring country in Europe and would rather visit Bosnia. Britain's back is against the wall and the number one enemy is Germany. Yet there are thousands of Germans who work here or have married British people. How are they faring in the beef war and how do they feel when they switch on the television or pick up a newspaper?

"In the local butchers, they were talking about the nasty Germans and our beef, but the butcher did apologise and said he didn't mean it personally. He was talking about the politicians," admits Thom Schulte, who moved to Britain 13 months ago.

"I'm glad they did not know I was German when I visited the South of England Agricultural Show. There were loads of signs saying `Back British Beef' and I suspected that if they had found out, I would have had the prize bulls set onto me!"

The jingoism can tap into something altogether more sinister. Sonia Mitzlaff is a 19-year-old au pair and was horrified because "one of my friends had a terrible experience on a bus, an old Englishman heard her speaking German and started repeatedly screaming `Heil Hitler!' The whole bus started looking at her and she was very embarrassed".

Meanwhile, the Commission for Racial Equality has been asked to look into the case of an East Yorkshire restaurant that was refusing to serve Germans in retaliation for the beef ban. They found that the Swiss Cottage restaurant was contravening the Race Relations Act.

Most Germans have not taken offence from beef war rhetoric. Christiane Reckers-Cliffe is married to an Englishman and has two children. "I feel sorry for John Major - not angry. It's his last anchor to hold onto power. He hopes he can get the public on his side by criticising Germany."

However, Thom Schulte feels that the British are fed a distorted picture about the European situation. "The knowledge of the average German about Britain is much greater than yours about our country, because your media brings so little foreign news and European in particular. Interest is centred on your own island and Commonwealth".

The beef ban has touched a nerve in Britain. It is impossible to believe that we would have been so incensed if the Germans had refused to import our cars. Dr Peter Collett, a psychologist from Oxford University, believes "the disproportionate anger has to do with food. They don't want what we eat, they find it distasteful. Beef is our national food - as far back as the sixteenth century foreigners were amazed by the amount we consumed, and thought it the reason for our aggression and eccentricity!

"In a way, we are what we eat and therefore the ban feels like a deep- seated rejection of us. The second primitive reason is that all societies are suspicious of outsiders, traditionally they are seen as a threat and disturb relations within the group".

Do we therefore have legitimate reasons to fear the emergence of a powerful reunited Germany? Ian Brinkley, senior economist at the TUC, says "there have always been large trading blocks, like the USA, but as more economies join the industrial world total trade rises and everybody gains."

However, he warns that Britain is falling behind. "We are making much lower investment than when we came out of the last recession in the Seventies and Eighties.

"Germany, France and the rest of Europe are investing a higher percentage of their national income in plant and machinery. The Germans, in particular, have invested in people. They have a strong youth training system, which explains why they have lower youth unemployment."

The British government believes that its technical case for lifting the beef ban is excellent and that it has a viable policy to eradicate CJD. The British are now eating beef again, but why have we failed to persuade German shoppers? German butchers are even displaying notices giving the name, address and telephone number of local farms, hoping that if their customers can inspect where their dinner comes from they are more likely to tuck in.

The key to understanding the difference between us and the Germans is that they have much more invested in conservation and where they live. "The English have a different lifestyle, you move all the time - buying and selling houses. Germans are more based where we are. We want to know our neighbours and stay there for the rest of our lives. Therefore we care for places and particularly about damage to the environment," explains Christiane.

Heidi Meier, who has lived in London for three years, adds: "It's not just beef. It was months after Chernobyl that I started drinking milk again. Unlike my neighbours I'm not giving any beef to my children.

"If the risk is unknown, Germans will not buy. English friends tease me about it but I want everything to be perfect, new and clean".

Euro 96's opening ceremony involved kitting out London school children in the national strips of the competing nations. One wonders if the youngsters in the German shirts understood why they were booed by the crowds. The language of today's football hooligans is still remarkably similar to Second World War propaganda, according to the military historian John Ellis, whose books include Sharp End - The Fighting Man and World War 2.

"Logistically and economically the Second World War represented our greatest ever mobilisation and it included propaganda that left an incredible residue," he says. "Although in 1940 army battle schools taught `hate' it was quickly dropped because it was found to be irrelevant - the troops were far more interested in survival techniques. So it was civilians who became the main propaganda targets and this is how it entered folk memory. Hell hath no fury like a non-combatant! Up to the early Sixties every boy's comic had war stories holding the Germans up to ridicule, showing them either as evil or cringing snivelling creatures. It's this drip, drip effect which still makes us think of them as krauts today."

Germans who live in Britain are amazed by the number of war memorials and only too aware that we have forgiven but not forgotten the past. Martin Muller, a German in his late thirties living in Britain, says: "I feel that I am being made responsible for something my parent's generation did.

"I find it even with educated people. My wife and I had dinner with a couple and, after a few drinks, the man finally admitted that he was uncomfortable. It was not rational but he couldn't help himself.

"I felt resentful, I could perhaps have understood if it had been my parents but why should I be blamed? Needless to say we have not met as a couple again."

Heidi Meier was surprised by how ashamed she felt watching Prisoner Cell Block H at the theatre. "It is a fun musical but one warder gets dressed up in military-style clothes and behind me someone shouted `Heil Hitler!' It was such a shock. In seconds I went from enjoying myself to feeling guilty."

The British are held in great affection by the Germans who have settled here. They enjoy our multi-cultural society and are surprised by how well all the different races live together. Thom Schulte used to help immigrant students in Germany. "I don't think you are as afraid of foreigners as the Germans are," he says. "It's always been in our history." Although they take tabloid jibes over beef and football rivalry with good humour, it's still better to take Basil Fawlty's advice and "don't mention the war."