Miles Kington: The real reason why Brits don't go to Germany

The language, the food, the beer, the lifestyle - what's the point of going somewhere so like home?
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On my way back from Berlin a week ago I bought a big special edition of Der Spiegel magazine called simply "The Germans", subtitled "Sixty Years After the War". All in English. Excellent stuff it was too, especially a hard-hitting piece by their London correspondent Mattias Matussek on "How the British See the Germans".

On my way back from Berlin a week ago I bought a big special edition of Der Spiegel magazine called simply "The Germans", subtitled "Sixty Years After the War". All in English. Excellent stuff it was too, especially a hard-hitting piece by their London correspondent Mattias Matussek on "How the British See the Germans".

Mattias is brother to the German Ambassador, Thomas, who was quoted widely at the weekend as saying that it is about time the British grew out of their fixation with the war and stopped thinking of the Germans as Nazis, and Mattias says exactly the same thing, except less diplomatically.

Indeed, he says that thanks to our current boom we are now showing symptoms of Teutonic behaviour ourselves. "With their daily diet of car and homebuyer shows on the telly and the entire gamut of Better Cooking, Better Living, Better Shopping programmes, the Brits - after long years of frugality - are now imitating the inane German Mercedes drivers and hung-over boozers of caricaturist infamy from the reconstruction years. And loudmouthed Brits have long since gotten the upper hand in the battle of the beach chairs on the Algarve ..."

The indictment, briefly, is that we tend to be ignorant, especially of history, too loud, usually drunk and trapped in ancient stereotypes about the Germans.

I don't think you can argue with that.

What both Matussek brothers also say is that we British seldom go to Germany and therefore don't know the place and the people, and we don't learn the language, so we don't know the culture.

You can't argue with that either.

There is quite a good reason why we don't go to Germany, of course, and it was first explained to me by the man who taught me German at school, Mr Hayward. God, he said, had played a practical joke on the English by putting us 20 miles away from the French, a race so very different from us that we immediately adopted a love/hate relationship with them. But whether we loved or hated them, we found them very different and eternally fascinating.

You then move along the coast of mainland Europe, and you come to Germany. The Germans, said Hayward, are much more like us. The language, the cooking, the beer, the lifestyle are all much more like ours than the French. And because they are like us, we find them boring. So we don't go there on holiday. What's the point of going somewhere like home?

In fact, my father was very pro-German (and found France and the French rather tiresome) so he took us to Germany on holiday quite often, and sehr gemütlich it was too, but I hadn't been to Germany for years till I went to Berlin a fortnight ago with Julia Adamson, a BBC Radio 4 producer, to investigate some amazing sound archives.

Very soon after Edison had started manufacturing recording equipment - when records first began, you might say - German linguists and musicologists started going round the world on field expeditions to record rare dialects and musics. This became pretty difficult in 1914, so they turned their attention to the German prisoner of war camps, which housed people from all over the world, from Senegal to Scotland, and industriously spent the whole war recording everything from Northumberland accents to Jewish fiddlers. And it all still exists.

Julia and I could never quite make up our minds if this extraordinary project was due to the thoroughness and efficiency of the Germans, and if we thought so, whether we could say so. Can you utter a flattering national stereotype? Would any other nation have documented its prisoner of war population like that? Are the Americans recording Afghan folk songs in Guantanamo Bay?

I somehow doubt it. But you can hear for yourself at 11am tomorrow morning when the programme goes out.

I see, by the way, that Julia has changed sex in The Radio Times, where the producer is now identified as Julian Adamson.

Sheer inefficiency. Wouldn't happen in Germany.

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