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- Arts + Ents
Tuesday 25 June 1996
Made in Germany
From soccer to beef, a tide of anti-German sentiment is sweeping the country. David Walker reminds us of our shared heritage and how much we owe to Teutonic creativity
And for an encore they sing the ultra-patriotic "I vow to thee my country" with music by Gustav Holst, child of the late 19th- century German musical tradition to which that most English of composers, Edward Elgar, squarely belongs.
It isn't a question of not mentioning the war. It's a matter of not forgetting the depth and penetration of our two peoples, their thinking and their creativity over the centuries. Give or take a conflict or two - in most of which we have been on the same side.
We share a parent language. We too have strong verbs. They have borrowed massively from English, true, but we still rely on them for Weltschmerz and Zeitgeist. We call the days of the week by the same gods, except Wednesday. The Kaiser called on the same God to punish England, which gave the First if not the Second World War aspects of a civil strife.
Our royal family are Battenbergs and they would not have the throne if Brunswickers had not repulsed the Stuart insurgents at Culloden. And what would a Battenberg cake taste like without marzipan originated in Lubeck, served for preference on Dresden china.
Great slices of our intellectual and cultural life are shared from Luther to Kant to von Karajan. No Germans, no Wigmore Hall. No German (in the shape of the chemist Albert Niemann, who first synthesised cocaine), no Irvine Welsh.
The Franco-Prussian war marked a break, a century of political and diplomatic tension and rivalry, streaked with cultural suspicion. Despite the fall ing out between the states at the turn of the 20th century, exchanges continued. No Gottlieb Daimler, no William Nuffield. No Max Weber, no sociology. And the other way round: no Ernest Bevin, no Mitbestimmung - the great post-war understanding between German unions and the bosses which still, just about, lasts.
The Germans often represent our better selves. Their seriousness, their precision engineering - Vorsprung durch Technik - and their scholarship take what we also do and concentrate it, apply rigour. Without German influences British 20th-century archaeology and theology are inconceivable, let alone physics and chemistry. And vice versa. Across the sciences and technologies Germany has learnt from Britain. Since they were first awarded in 1901, British and German physicists and chemists have won virtually the same numbers of Nobel prizes.
The movement of ideas and people between the two countries has latterly been mediated through the United States. The history of ideas is marked by the greatest of disjunctions - the expulsion of so many leaders of German science and letters because they were Jewish. The lines become difficult to trace: were Herbert Marcuse or Hannah Arendt American or German?
But the pattern of mutual Anglo-German influence remains. Here is a map (Germans have always been great cartographers, the British geographers).
Our Protestant religion was given to us by Martin Luther. The beginnings of the decline of Christianity in Britain can be traced directly to David Strauss, whose Life of Christ was deeply subversive of belief in early Victorian England. Latterly, English theologians have acknowledged their debts to such as Karl Barth and Rudolf Bultmann.
Brighton beach would be breast-free had not the Germans pioneered innocent exposure of private parts to the sunshine. Ditto environmentalism. Tree- hugging is a German invention.
DOGS AND SPORTS
The Germans gave us dachshunds (and rotweillers; and false teeth). And mountain-climbing as sport. And hawking (introduced to western Europe by Emperor Frederick II). And, thanks to Johan Denner, the clarinet.
ART AND CULTURE
High culture is shot through with German influences. The Pre-Raphaelites were influenced by German Romanticism in the works of Winckelmann and Caspar David Friedrich. Modernism has significant German components, notably George Grosz and the Expressionists grouped as Die Brucke. Modern British architecture is inconceivable without the Bauhaus; painting without the German expressionists; theatre without Brecht. Where would media studies in modern British universities be without Siegfried Krakauer, who made film the subject of theoretical deliberation before (the great parenthesis of German 20th- century history) he was forced to emigrate. Low culture borrowings from the Germans have lately been few, it must be admitted. Kraftwerk weren't long in the charts.
The very idea of technology - the systematic study of technical procedure - was invented by a 19th-century German, Johann Beckmann. In mining, chemicals, pharmaceuticals to rocketry, Germans have innovated and exported. No Gutenberg printing press , no books and no 90 point anti-German headlines in English newspapers. No Werner von Braun, no Sky satellite.
Much of the canon of Western music is German, from Buxtehude to the Bach family - a ready symbol of that magnificent outpouring of courtly music in the 18th-century when so much else in Germany was stagnant. The classical idiom is given its origin, continuation and limits by Beethoven, Richard Strauss and Hans Werner Henze. And where would opera find itself without Richard Wagner? The technology and forms of music are Germanic: from individual instruments including the accordion to the shape and tone of the symphony orchestra.
PHILOSOPHY AND EDUCATION
Germans invented the idea of Enlightenment - Aufklarung. Immanuel Kant is, to this day, the godfather of pro- and anti- Enlightenment philosophy. Where would the English Euro-sceptics be without their borrowings from JG Herder. Friedrich Nietschze, a German philosopher more cited than read, has been influential in at least one respect: like Wagner he has supplied generation after generation of students with the model, romantic thinker whose thought is so extreme he goes mad thinking it.
The Prussian theorist von Clausewitz is still taught at Sandhurst, so are the battle plans of von Schlieffen. He partook of a long German tradition beginning in the 16th century with Konrad Kyeser's treatise on war Bellifortis.
Without Karl Ernst von Baer we would have taken much longer to understand the development of the human egg. Without Sigmund Freud - his thought world entirely German - we might not be any less in the dark about sex but conversational lapses would be a lot less fun.
Germany gave us prototypical motorways in Hitler's Autobahn. Without VW Beetles, what would Sixties hippies have done?
Konrad Adenauer and his circle invented the "social market economy". This was taken up variously by Keith Joseph then David Owen and now languishes. Lady Thatcher was as we all know an avowed opponent of German "domination". She still bent her knee before the Freiburg professor Freidrich von Hayek, whose theoriSing about the economy and the law is teutonic to a T.
PHYSICS, CHEMISTRY AND MEDICINE
The list of accomplished German scientists and doctors is long. Gerhard Domagk is credited with inventing the sulpha drugs, used in fighting bacterial infection and most historians of science would rank Robert Koch with Louis Pasteur for his work on bacteria. Wilhelm Roentgen invented X-rays. Headache sufferers have to thank the Bayer Company for producing the first aspirin. And that list does not even include Ernst Mach or Albert Einstein, Austrian and Swiss respectively by nationality, but thoroughly German in their scheme of reference.
In the early 17th century John Napier describes a primitive calculator; Wilhelm Schickard makes one. Early in the 19th century Johann Boettger finds out how to make true porcelain; a generation later Josiah Wedgwood makes a fortune.
Paul Julius von Reuter makes it big in London in the 1850s; a century and a half later shares in his company make some of the most rabid anti- German newspapers very rich.
Victorian culture and values were heavily German. Prince Albert not only introduced the Christmas tree but offered a model of how the state could inspire art, design and industrial progress. Bismarck took it up; Gladstone chopped trees.
Frederick Engels passed without fuss between his father's textile plants in the Rhineland and in Manchester. There's something else Germany gave us: Marxism. And the systematic collection of fairy and folk tales, thanks to the Brothers Grimm.
Systematic is the word. Nineteenth century Germany was the place for encyclopedia, museums, organised collections of data and Alexander von Humboldt's grand plan for what a university should be. The two cultures in the two countries marched in step, an Ohm for a Faraday, a Liebig for a James Clerk Maxwell. Henry Bessemer pioneers a cheap way of making steel. Within a decade William and Friedrich Siemens pick up the challenge and their open hearth process goes on to replace his throughout the world.
Always that practical bent distinguishes German science. William Herschel is typical: to make the telescope through which he explored the heavens, he constructed his own state of the art foot-pedal lathe.
FAMILIES AND DYNASTIES
The family history intertwines. Dynastic politics cross-cut. Ich Dien, the Black Prince wrote on his escutcheon, not Je sers. A Parliament full of sturdy English landowners pressed James I and VI to intervene in the German Palatine. Their descendants, equally sturdy landowners, turned to Hanover for the succession to unlucky Anne Stuart. Hanoverian relatives on the throne of Prussia sent Marshal Blucher to save Wellington's bacon at Waterloo.
And so it goes...
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