Dutch resist the second German conquest their dislike of the Hun

Netherlands/ European unity fans old hostilities
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The Independent Online
ON THE Dutch side of Nieuwstraat, in the border town of Kerkrade, a pale shaven head with an earring pokes out of a window. Looking out for trade, Raymond Andriannsen stares hopefully at a group of youths loitering across the road on the German side, where the street is called Neustrasse.

The Germans seem to be getting a taste for traditional Dutch "fare", says Mr Andriannsen, who deals in soft drugs.And since the borders were abolished, business has picked up. "They are all welcome over here," he says. "No problem."

An older neighbour is not so convinced. Sure, the Dutch and Germans mingle more in the town nowadays, he says, peering at the newly landscaped traffic islands, where the barrier once was. "Matter of fact, I've just been shopping over in Germany myself. Got a taste for that spicy German meat," he says in a Dutch-American drawl.

But the problem is, the Dutchman says, the Germans are starting to take over on the Dutch side. "We are already wondering if Kerkrade is still in the Netherlands. They are teaching German in our schools now. The youths are singing German songs. This is like Little Germany. They are buying our houses and building on our land because it is cheaper," he says, pointing to a vacant plot on the Dutch side of the street where a German settlement is planned.

"We can't stop progress, I know that. And we Dutch are all for a united Europe - free movement, and all of that. Sure, they earn more money over there, and we can now go to Germany and get jobs there too. But the trouble is there aren't enough jobs to go around. If you put too many chickens in the coop and food gets short, there are those in there who will start to feel threatened."

The Dutch have been thinking hard of late about their relationship with the Germans. This small nation of 16 million wants a bright economic future, which close ties with Germany alone can bring about. But there are signs of growing uneasiness about the nature of the German embrace, as the Netherlands becomes increasingly dependent on the German economy.

More than 60 per cent of Dutch trade is with Germany. Every cucumber eaten in Germany is Dutch, and Germans are increasingly buying up Dutch companies. Yesterday Dutch motorways were jammed with German four-wheel drives heading for Easter breaks in the Dutch coastal towns of Zeeland, where German holiday homes outnumber the Dutch-owned ones.

It is no coincidence, perhaps, that the Dutch should be examining their sentiments towards their neighbour, as they mark the 50th anniversary of liberation from German occupation, with the main commemoration day on 5 May. It is hard to calculate how much the anniversary has stirred old resentment. Many Dutch say not at all. The new generation sees a new generation of Germans. But no Germans have been invited to Dutch services.

"Nobody has even seriously suggested it - it is still too soon," said Sante Brun, a journalist on the Limberg Dagblad. "You in Britain are able to laugh at the war, with TV programmes like 'Allo 'Allo. But we in Holland still cannot. There were too many atrocities. More than 120,000 Dutch Jews died."

On a political level, the anniversary has coincided with a particularly strained period in the Dutch-German relationship. Within the EU, the Germans and Dutch usually stand shoulder to shoulder. But since the Germans blocked the attempt by the Dutch former prime minister, Ruud Lubbers, to become president of the European Commission, friction has increased.

Last week a Dutch decision to buy new military helicopters from the US, rejecting a bid from a Franco-German consortium, was held to have been motivated by anti-German sentiment. The Germans want the new single currency to be called the mark, or the Euro-mark. The Dutch suggested the florin - a joke, perhaps, but also a statement by a proud little country which does not want to be entirely subsumed by the German giant. There are other signs that the Netherlands is beginning to resist the embrace. In Zeeland, new limits have been set on home ownership to prevent Germans buying up the area. And restrictions are being imposed to prevent the Dutch going to buy cheap German cars. Among ordinary people there is a confusion about relations with Germany. Particularly in the border areas, where recent abolition of all barriers and controls under the so-called Schengen agreement has instantly increased contact, the benefits of economic ties are evident. The bread is better in Germany, say the Dutch, and the petrol much cheaper. The coffee is better in the Netherlands, say the Germans - and the houses cheaper as well. Each takes the raisins off the other's cake. At the same time, however, the Dutch have not enjoyed watching uniformed German police exercise their right of "hot pursuit" - enforced under the Schengen agreement - and stepping on Dutch soil to make arrests.

There is resentment at the submissive role the Dutch are forced to play in trade relations. New courses are being offered to Dutch businessmen to teach them how to comply with Germany's more formal codes of behaviour. The Germans still hold stereotypical views of the Netherlands, the Dutch complain. "We are still all wooden clogs and tulips - that's how they see us and we have to play on it to sell our products. If they start to sense antagonism over here, our cucumbers will not taste as good," says journalist Brun.

Scratch the surface and anti-German sentiment spills out. "The best recycling is a German eating pork," is a current joke in nearby Limburg.

"If they come over here to spend their money they are welcome - if not they should go back home," said a teenage waiter.

"What's a real German? A loudmouth, a bully," said another youth in a pub. Such latent venom has erupted in violence at Dutch-German sporting clashes, particularly football, stirring fears that inflamed hatred could really damage trade relations. This hostility has even spilled over on the usually quiet streets of Kerkrade.

"They spit at us and take drugs," said a headline in the German magazine Der Spiegel. Some believe that the publicity given to the German far right has fuelled Dutch anti-German feeling, and commentators have found themselves reminding the public how isolated German fascism is today - and how generous Germany was during the recent floods.

Now sociologists have started to examine how German and Dutch youngsters can be brought together. Is enough German taught in Dutch schools? Should the children go picking mushrooms in the Black Forest together? A call for calm went out ahead of Wednesday's Ajax-Bayern Munich match in the European Champions' Cup.

Many educated Dutch insist most anti-German sentiment is "folklore". The 5 May anniversary will be a Dutch public holiday, but in the border areas, as many Dutch people will spend the day shopping in German superstores as will attend memorial services for their war dead.