Germans wonder why everyone is so beastly: On the third anniversary of unification, the nation is beset by a widespread sense of being unloved, Steve Crawshaw writes from Bonn

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The Independent Online
TO PUT it mildly, you cannot imagine it happening at the Sun. Germany's top-selling daily, Bild (bare breasts, scandals, and no- nonsense right-wing politics), has been in anguished mood. A banner headline last week asked: 'Why are we Germans so unloved?' Days later, Bild ran another front-page story: 'Why foreigners don't like us'. Germany is suffering angst and has wallowed in its perceived unpopularityin recent days.

On the third anniversary of German unity, Die Woche published a selection of foreign views, summed up in the headline: 'Respect, yes; sympathy, hardly.'

Television news joined in with a report last week on foreign dislike of Germans.

Britons, when faced with the possibility that they are not universally loved, tend to ignore the foreigners' obvious bad taste, or else declare verbal war. In the words of the Sun: 'Hop off, you Frogs]', and 'Up yours, Delors]' In Germany, however, the views of the rest of the world are examined with obsessive concern.

The reason for the most recent stories was the Olympic no-vote on Berlin. But the worries, about what could be called the 'What They Might Think' factor, are constant. Books on Germany by foreigners, especially when critical, are devoured, and analysed line by line.

The most important foreign-policy dispute in Germany is over participation in United Nations military operations. Elsewhere, the arguments are over what is morally right or politically wise (or both). In Germany, however, both sides base their arguments on WTMT. The government says that Germany's allies will think less of Germany if it fails to shoulder its international responsibilities; the Social Democratic opposition, by contrast, worries that sending German troops abroad might ring alarm bells around the world.

Germany's identity problems are partly the result of its political coming of age. For 40 years, West Germany could enjoy its position as an affluent country which, because of its history, was not allowed (and did not need) a foreign policy. Now, that comfortable cop- out is no longer possible. But the what-they-might-think factor continues to play an important role.

Even the continuing tussles over Bonn and Berlin, the proposed new seat of government, is partly to do with WTMT. Some anti-Berliners argue that if the German government moves back to Hitler's capital, foreigners might be worried. Even the most radical critics within Germany do not equate Berlin with fascism; that would be too obviously absurd. But they suggest that some foreigners believe Berlin equals historical fascism - and that, in terms of German politics, can be just as important.

Meanwhile, many Germans are worried and dismayed that Britons, in particular, still see all Germans as potentially jackbooted. The 'Sieg heil]' and 'Raus] you Schweinhund]' comic-strip version of reality (comic strips that are still published in Britain today) is seen as a reflection of the way Britons see Germany as it moves into the 21st century. German diplomats recently surveyed the history shelves in London bookshops. Their unsurprising conclusion: for many British schoolchildren, German history stops in 1945. The Germany of recent decades - peaceful, prosperous, and democraEtic - is scarcely to be seen. The worries at home are mixed wiTHER write errorth defiance. Bild's round-up of German opinion included a not untypical sentiment: 'They curse us - but they don't mind taking our holiday money.' Equally, worries about foreign perceptions continue to be real. One man told Bild: 'The Germans are arrogant . . . We want to use our money to show our power.' A young woman said: 'We shouldn't be surprised at the hatred, when we think of Solingen and Molln (where Turks were burnt to death in their homes).'

A veteran actress concluded that it was easy for reality to be skewed: 'Unfortunately, I am not surprised that Germans are unpopular after all the attacks on asylum-seekers. But it is dramatic that a minority can give us such a bad reputation.'

(Photograph omitted)