The official blog of The Social Democratic Party.

How Germany turned nasty against Brexit Britain

The type of wholesale attack on another culture launched by the German media would be unacceptable in today’s UK.

By: Camilla Wolff

Last week, Prince Charles addressed the German Parliament: Angela Merkel’s home from home, the locus of power in the European Union and increasingly beyond.

The occasion was Volkstrauertag, the Day of National Mourning, commemorating the victims of war, a reminder of the devastating loss and destruction wrought upon all those unfortunate enough to experience it. The subtext to the Royal visit, however, was another: it was a call to cease fire.

I would like to think anyone who lived in Germany at the height of Brexit hysteria would have noticed the rampant hostility towards the UK from the German media and political class.

But this was not the case.

German friends hadn’t noticed anything while members of the British Europhile brigade thought that it was just me being over-sensitive, or, more speciously, that we had it coming to us.

By this time, I had been living in Germany for fifteen years, married to a German. We had a child in school, a nice house, an established life.

The change in the weather first struck me in February 2016 (so a few months before the referendum), whilst accidentally tuning into a dire comedy programme, Die Heute Show, hosted by Oliver Welke: one of the most obnoxious characters on German television.

I remember feeling slightly nauseous as the show segued into a section on how British women all look like men, a lecture on the gruesomeness of the British staple diet – fish and chips, etc. When my incensed husband challenged the show’s editors about the content, an unrepentant editor told him that, as a Brit, I would fully appreciate satire (so button it and suck it up).

Welke’s later offerings (six years’ worth) included:

  • “Planet of the Island Apes”, with the British personified through the medium of a tea-drinking, bowler hat-clad gorilla;
  • the Manneken Pis fountain in Brussels urinating on the Union Jack, telling us to “Manneken piss off”;
  • the image of a mist-shrouded Big Ben, with the exhortation that we should “fog off”; and
  • an obese, topless,  football fan with man-boobs and the Three Lions tattooed on his chest symbolising British indecisiveness and degeneracy.

 

After Leave won and Trump was elected, the two events were conflated by the Europhile forces which dominate Germany and the rancour became stratospheric.

The media seized on any and every story which could demonstrate what a backward, navel-gazing bunch of racists we were, that our entire economy was built on Empire and dirty Russian money, that we were going to sink without trace beneath the North Sea on leaving Mother EU and how everyone, but everyone, now regretted the referendum result.

The wording of live interviews was mistranslated to subtly alter meaning, information was selectively applied and hand-picked Britterati talk-show guests appeared, always with the correct attitudes that suited the media narrative  . . . anything to discredit Britain.

The messaging worked.

Attitudes shifted. I started to become subjected to endless interrogations about Brexit, basically as an excuse to lecture me on how nationalist and xenophobic the British were (a theme that had already reached fever-pitch when we refused to accept whatever terms Merkel was dictating during the 2015 migrant crisis).

I sat through countless meetings of the Berlin International Women’s Club which descended into UK-trashing, where I was required to recant my pro-Brexit heresy. However, I wasn’t alone. The Russians and Americans got it in the neck too, regardless of their politics.

Dinner parties and family gatherings (which I eventually refused to go to) became a trial. I remember in one instance sitting silently through an extended conversation on how laughable the British were (including their tendency to dress small boys in short trousers!!! Guffaw!) in which the interlocutors were sublimely unaware of my presence until I reminded them.

Then there was the time in the posh deli, where, on hearing my husband and I speaking English, the guy serving other customers adopted a faux Brit-speaking-awful-German accent, reminiscent of Basil Fawlty circa-1975, unaware my husband was German and that I understood every word he was saying.

It was relentless. I felt like the German public was basically being groomed. The parallels to propaganda tactics used in much darker times – repeated denunciation and cultural dehumanisation – I found shocking. Even more so: the fact that none of it was questioned.

The tipping point, however, came with the bullying my daughter started to experience at school. Constant jibes and ridicule by classmates, usually involving every conceivable negative stereotype about the UK, the increasing exclusion, the complicity of teachers, and my distress at it all (in addition to what is actually a pretty dire education system) eventually became too much for her.

We decided to leave Germany.

We moved back to the UK in summer 2019, and I have not regretted it for a second. The type of wholesale attack on another culture by the public media which I witnessed in Germany would be unequivocally condemned in today’s UK – just ask Nigel Farage – especially in the 2020s climate of paper-thin skin on all things pertaining to ethnicity.

We have moved far beyond the tabloid thuggery of ‘80s and ‘90s Kraut-baiting, thank God.

Sadly, this is not the case in Germany.

So, despite Prince Charles’ admirable attempts at bridge-building, the German media’s conciliatory tone, or all the diplomatic sweet-talk, I fear irreparable damage has been done to German relations with Britain, particularly amongst the young.

We can only pray it does not take another generation to heal the wounds.

Have your say...

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

*

All Comments (37)

  • If more evidence was needed, that leaving the EU was the right decision, this is it.

    Joseph Goebbels would be so proud, how on message all the Germans are, and in-step.

    And they’re planning a European Army?

    • Hi Robert,

      Thanks for your comment.

      I would like to be clear, though, that it is the German media and political establishment who were engaging in the behaviour I have described above, not the general public per se.

      Many ordinary Germans are extremely worried about the media and the direction the country is going in.

    • Yet again, the case for leaving is made by a xenophobic ignoramus whose idea of Germany is Goebbels and goose stepping. Pathetic. You make the case for the German comics right there.

  • So after ELECTED UK politicians called our EU the 4th Reich, Soviet Gulag, a gravy train, corrupt and dictated by Germany, I feel really sorry that you feel that way.

    Or to use a German term: Wer austeilt muss auch einstecken können.

    Unfortunately Brits tent to turn into Snowflakes because of a German satire show a minute after they called out the EU for a regulation that required smoked fish to be ice cooled.

    Thank to God we got rid of the UK.

    Greeting from Germany.

    • Oh please. The level of bigotry we get from you would be completely unacceptable if it was reversed. Because the English media elites and cultural establishments despise their own country, particularly the working class, while fawning over continental Europe. They always have They encourage the abuse and hatred, they encourage you to see us as disgusting, and it started long before brexit. I’m so tired of the double standard where we are completely fair game for whatever abuse you want to throw at us while we’re called vile racists for much, much less. I’m so tired of Germany being treated as some kind of flawless liberal paradise with the right to lecture the rest of the world, as if the AFD don’t have 90 seats in the Bundestag. You’re bigots. But you indulge in it because we’re an acceptable target and we are so. f***ing. SICK of it.

      • Most Germans know deep down that their culture has a sense-of-humour bypass. They admire and envy the easy way the English have with satire, including self-satire. On the other hand a heavy-handed bullying kind of humour comes quite naturally to them. I’m not talking about individuals here but the culture at large, the culture that regards the likes of ‘Oliver Welke’ as the height of sophistication. I shudder . . .

    • The Germans have no right to be smug about anything given the carnage that country has misery inflicted on Europe over the last 100 years keep on Marching Fritz schnell schnell

  • Didn’t someone once say the Germans are “either at your feet or at your throat”? But I suspect that applies to the German establishment rather than the ordinary German. As a retired taxi-driver who worked at an airport I found them the most polite and friendly of passengers – I hope that hasn’t changed!

  • The US is another acceptable target for their bigotry. A couple of years ago, one of Der Spiegel’s journalists published completely fabricated stories about a small town in America, playing to all the stereotypes about backward ignorant uncultured rednecks. He was forced to retract in the end, but this is how people in Germany are determined to see Americans in order to puff themselves up. It’d be considered bigoted xenophobia if it was reversed, but they’re fair game for it and so are we.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2019/01/der-spiegal-fabrication-scandal-global/579889/

    Honestly, while we aren’t perfect I think the anglosphere is less bigoted than much of continental Europe. Germans and Dutch in particular pass off their rudeness and stereotyping as blunt honesty and call you oversensitive if you complain, but they can’t take a fraction of what they dish out. The British cultural establishment has a deep cultural cringe towards the continent and loathes its own working class, particularly the English, so they encourage the negative stereotyping. But of course they’d be screaming xenophobe at us for much less.

  • You’ve shattered my, now obvious, rose tinted illusions about the Germans. Really good read, Camilla, and very sorry to hear of you and your family’s trials. Welcome back to the UK, and your joining us is a boost for the SDP. Your post referendum experiences highlight why, this was the correct decision for the UK, accepting what may be short term economic impacts.

  • The EU has always been for the benefit of Germany and France, i just hope our pathetic leaders get tough with German exporters to show what a valuable customer we are.

  • So sorry to read your article. I lived and worked in Germany during the 80s and 90s and have fond memories except for the curtain twitching mentality that persisted. E.G. a friend in the village recruited some people to help him paint his house and was immediately reported to the Kreishandwerkerschaft. I’m afraid there is still a pronounced heard instinct. I recall that suddenly posters appeared in shops printed with a union jack and a cow with the message that British beef will kill you. This was months before any BSE was reported. I enjoy my annual visits and meeting old friends, but not to live again.

    Never heard of Oliver Welke, but obviously not very bright to try and emulate Diether Krebs 80’s SketchUp Fish & Chips sketch in which, from memory, the fish turned into a shoe sole. It was hysterically funny. Mind you, any nation that can invent Curry Wurst does not have too much to crow about.

  • It reminds me of Margaret Thatcher’s remark whe she was PM along the lines of “I sometimes wonder whether Germany is seeking to anchor themselves into Europe or Europe into Germany”. Brexit is a tricky issue for Germany as however much some people say that the UK is irrelevant, we are a top 3 player as far as economics is concerned. However, we need to always remind ourselves that the EU is not Europe and that while the German political elites may despise the UK because if Brexit, the people of Germany are our friends. The best international collaboration, partnership and bonds are forged between freedom loving people not supranational organisations.

  • Completely agree with this article we travel through Germany stopping at hotels watching german news programms and definitely there is propaganda against UK, tv news programmes here would not do the same thing to Germany. We have german friends in Sweden and talk to many more and we think germans are are ok bunch of people ,yeah most of them are disappointed we are leaving EU but some envy us leaving . We think maybe germans think because we are leaving EU that Brits don’t like them or other Europeans which is not true but at the same time from what we have seen in Scandinavia and Germany it wads the right decision to get out of the EU

  • I think we should all be very worried about the propaganda that you have outlined . Combine that with the general feeling here now that, even after years of “negotiations”. the Germans allow Barnier to say this week that the EU is prepared to grant, yes grant. the UK 15-18% of the fish caught in British sovereign waters post 2020.

    It is generally perceived here that Barnier is the ultimate puppet of German interests, whilst appearing to promote French ones. That said, I know of nobody here who yet blames the German people… in the EU Germany pays, so Germany says. However, that could well change rapidly if the Germans don’t stamp on Barnier’s posturing and start dealing as a co-operating friend, and not as a bullying enemy.

    Time to change the tone, or get rid of Barnier.

  • As a German in the UK I can promise you I’ve gotten my fair share of bullying from British people here too, and it absolutely increased in 2015/2016. I totally get that it sucks being made fun of for your nationality, and people should not be doing shitty accents around you (again, I get it, people do both bad impressions of German accents in English, and of German around me)
    Please do call out people being xenophobic, just don’t pretend like people in the UK are above it, I still get to hear hitler jokes directed at me every other month …

  • A bit of a weird article given what one reads in the majority of the British press every morning (not I hasten to add, the serious press, the FT and the Economist). One rarely reads anything in the German, French or Italian press about Brexit, but the din from UK makes one deaf as they blame everyone and their mothers for looking askance.
    I admit, though I cannot understand, that it must be difficult to live as a guest on a continent which has been rejected by people who voted and supported Brexit. To me and manny Brits like me, this was a betrayal of our friends and neighbours. The reasons are legion but few to me have anything to do with generosity and openness. One can only recommend that the unhappy go home.
    By the way I find the serious German press pretty good in Germany. They are forthright and don’t indulge in the sort of exnophobia that one finds in the likes of the Mail or the Telegraph or the other trashy papers published in Blighty.

    • Accepting and voting for democracy is an acceptance of democracy not a rejection of anything or anyone (except anti democrats). I recall that when the decision was taken to ditch the DM for the Euro folk were told they were too dumb to understand (not however too dumb to elect people who claimed to know. Ignoring the referenda in France and Holland against the constitution (reintroduced as Lisbon) plus bullying Ireland convinced me that the democratic deficit in the EU was to large to ensure its survival. As you say, reasons are legion, but the democratic right to decide one’s own future covers it.

      I have had the good fortune to live and work in Nigeria, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Luxembourg, Belgium and Germany. I paid taxes and had private health cover. Sadly the only place I had any problems was Germany. A dentist refusing to treat me until I counted notes into his hand (He claimed foreigners never paid – I lived there and had a residence permit) Worse, admitted to hospital with double pneumonia I was kept on a trolley in the corridor, in a semi coma, until they had satisfied themselves that my insurance was adequate.

      If you feel that democracy has betrayed you then you will enjoy the EU and I hope will be granted citizenship in one of its states. Certainly those unhappy with democracy should leave if they are in the UK or apply for another passport if abroad. Frankly we do not need them.

      I like Germany and my friends there. I recall an old lady telling me that a cat and dog can share a hearth provided their tails are not tied together. Wise words and apposite to the EU’s Imperial Dream

      • Unbelievable! There are still remain voters who think people like me hate Europeans. We don’t. We just hate the EU, and the posturing of the likes of Von De Leyen or Bernier only go to prove we were correct & the 48% were mistaken.

  • I have been living in Germany for just over 18 years now and long gave up counting all the negative statements and stereotyping in the media about the UK and mainly the English. As a German journalist, you are patently not allowed to complete a report without mentioning something negative about rain, the food or beer. This never-ending style of biased reporting has, following the Brexit vote, increased in the last few years leading to a very widespread negative feeling amongst the public towards any Brit they meet. This comes to the forefront when meeting somebody here for the first time as it is only a matter of a very short period of time before they, without any prompting, simply state such stupid things as “well, what do you eat when you are England as you can’t eat the food?” and “are you not glad to living here away from all that rain?”. And when I point out that it actually rains less in London than in any Germany city in the west of the country they look at you as if you had come from the moon. One could go on and on but the best is just to “try” and ignore such ignorance and mix with those who are more enlightened

  • I am half-Brit (father) and half-German (mother), and this has never done me any favours (only child of a bad marriage, not British enough to be a Brit, but not “German enough” either. I think the words which precisely sum the Germans up are”narcissism”,”bullying” and “brutal”.

    There’s something of Old Father Cronus (the female version) about German mothers where their attitude towards children, and particularly daughters, is concerned. Thankfully my mother is no longer around to cause trouble. A friend of a friend was not so lucky, and jumped off a balcony, having been driven by her German mother’s treatment of her to commit suicide; she wasn’t killed, but ended up paralysed and having to be looked after by her demon of a mother.

    My mother was a liar and cheat and prone to dodgy dealings all her life. I now have to fight her family over her will, but dealing with that is a piece of cake compared to dealing with her.

    Germans will gleefully throw you under the bus, whether you’re family or no, and especially where there’s money to be had, you can be assured they will never be far behind.

    They have an emptiness to their soul; good luck in trying to describe whatever feelings you have to them, because they wouldn’t understand what that was – with the following exceptions: 1) Boring Work Robot, 2) Grumpy/ Rude (default), or 3) Angry. Don’t waste your time trying to make them happy, because you will find yourself very soon up **** creek without a paddle. The only humour they know is Schadenfreude. …No, Germans are not my favourite people right now.

  • My Brit father married my German mother, and suffice to say it didn’t work out. Thankfully my mother is no longer around to cause trouble, but after my experience of her and her side of the family, I figure I am well enough versed in the typical German personality to describe it as the following: narcissistic; brutal; cruel; by default, grumpy; by an overwhelming default, angry; humour nonexistent, with the exception of Schadenfreude; cheats; liars; blinkered. Wherever there’s money to be had, they’re never far away, and it wouldn’t matter whether you were their child or other relative, or in some great need or trouble – they would throw you under the bus in a twinkling. No, Germans are not my favourite people right now.

    • I can relate but with the Filipino’s I was never Asian enough to be Filipino nor was I English enough to be counted as an English woman… However… My image of Germany was kinda ruined after a rude encounter in the airport so not my favourite people either… However, I’m trying to prove myself wrong with that… Reading this probably isn’t helping…

  • Your article both impressed and saddened me, the bravery of you and your family lifted my spirits for the future of mankind but the spectacle of intelligent people in both our countries, resorting to “natzi” style abuse against people with whom they disagree, makes me almost despair for the human race. Lets hope that one day even the elitist’s will come to realise that democracy is the only civilised form of government for the people of all nations.

  • Hi Camilla,

    Great article and nice to see the view of another German-English translator like myself (though I don’t have your undoubtedly greater experience).

    I’ve never lived in Germany and, like most people my age (32) or younger, have been raised on a diet that the country can do no wrong. Despite knowing better than this (knowledge which, unfortunately, seems to be more and more the preserve of German-speakers), the overwhelming opinion you find in many circles is that Germany and its actions are infallible.

    One thing I was attracted to in your article was your comment about the German education system. Could you expand on what you mean and why you think it? Please feel free to refer to me any articles or studies, in German as well as English, because I really would be fascinated to read more about it.

  • wow. I have lived in the UK as a German citizen. The relentlessness of anti EU and anti German media coverage/press hysteria and man in the street comments are really really depressing. Tabloid thuggery – a daily experience this side of the channel, and no change now. It is for ever the EU’s fault. It gets one down.
    Greetings

  • Thankyou for your article. I’m sorry you went through this, even as a Brit speaking.
    I’m surprised at the Germans, I thought they were better than that, given recent history. I’ve never heard of them belittling the Brits.
    I never really bother what other nations say, Britain had many issues and is often ridiculed, but we’re a far greater society in general than many, and we have history that proves it, unlike many.

  • Sad to read this article. Having lived in Germany for a short time, I found them (Germans) to be very accepting of foreigners. If this article is in anyway true, & I’ve no reason to doubt it is, then the German public must wake up to the fact of their manipulation. The last time they allowed themselves to be manipulated into hate ended in bloody tragic disaster.

Family, Community, Nation.