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Don't mention the stereotypes

How simple the world must have seemed back in 1994, when the leaders of Germany and Britain embraced each other, and commissioned a book that would lay to rest the ghosts of the past. Never again would national stereotypes get in the way of reconciliation, they vowed.

Three years on, after crises over beef, football and suspected pan-European ambitions, the two countries' taxpayers were finally rewarded yesterday. You can get your copy of Thomas Kielinger's Crossroads and Roundabouts from the German embassy, or wait until the joint publishers, the Foreign Office and the German government's press office, find a distributor.

Alas, as the title itself betrays, the chequered history of Anglo-German relations cannot be told without resorting stereotypes. The disciplined Germans, it seems, love the rigid rule that traffic lights impose on a road intersection. The anarchic British, on the other hand, prefer the free-for-all of a roundabout.

So much can be deduced from this, and so much is. The uninitiated reader learns that great men centuries ago had remarked on German propensity for obedience, in contrast with British free spirit.

Mr Kielinger tries hard to find common veins in the two nations' genetic make-up and cultural traditions. Victoria and Albert were Germans, we are informed; Marx and Engels had spent many years of their lives in Britain, and the Beatles matured into a successful pop group in Hamburg's clubland.

So what? - the reader may ask. The author concedes that "the British have a problem with Europe, and part of this problem is Germany". In this context, where the Beatles spent the winter of '60-61 is largely irrelevant.