Germany tries to lift spirits with 'feelgood' campaign

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The Independent Online

Twenty-five of the country's leading media and publishing companies kicked off the project yesterday with a series of newspaper, television and cinema advertisements informing the Germans that they are really not as bad as they apparently think they are.

Entitled "You are Germany", the campaign took up two pages in Monday's national newspapers with a moody colour photograph of the German Olympic skating champion Claudia Pechstein tearing across an icebound lake "There is no name that you can't cheer about" said the accompanying slogan.

Katarina Witt, another Olympic skating champion, told Germans in a television advertisement: "Don't ask what others can do for you. You are the others. You are Germany!"

Opening the campaign, Brend Kudrun of Germany's Gruner + Jahr publishing house declared: "Germany talks itself down. We want to provide an impulse that will bring about more self-confidence and motivation. Every individual is encouraged to pull the country out of its crisis."

The campaign's backers, who include the country's two main national television channels and the Bertelsmann publishing group, claimed the project would reach a sixth of Germany's 82 million citizens by the time it ends in January next year. They said the €30m quoted as the cost of the campaign was merely an indication of its worth, because all those involved, including the celebrities, had agreed to forgo any fee.

The campaign follows decades of soul-searching in Germany about what is widely perceived as an inherent national pessimism coined in phrases such as "German angst" and the "German disease". A survey this year found only 21 per cent of Germans were happy with their lives.

First reactions to "You are Germany" were characteristically negative.

"Admittedly, we Germans like moaning and we always look for the hair in the soup," said Peter Steinke, of the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper. But he squarely blamed the country's business leaders and politicians for the pessimistic national mood. "They kept saying we are living above our means, we have to tighten our belts, we can't compete, we are at the bottom of the pile," he said.

"It's like the boss who tells his employee he is too expensive and will probably be fired and then wonders why he isn't motivated."

The "You are Germany" campaign was scheduled to begin in June, but was postponed because of the general election. Although its promoters could not have forecast the inconclusive result, the campaign's timing could hardly have been more appropriate.

Yesterday, Angela Merkel, the German conservative leader and her rival, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, remained deadlocked over which of the two should become the country's next chancellor. With each demanding that their opponent back down, the issue threatened to block initial talks between their respective parties on forming a grand coalition government. But then neither had yet been persuaded by Katarina Witt's stirring exhortation: "Don't ask what others can do for you. You are the others. You are Germany!"