Beer, Sauerkraut and Colonel Klink | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 22.05.2002
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Beer, Sauerkraut and Colonel Klink

In the eyes of many Americans, Germans are still seen as beer-swilling, sauerkraut-noshing Teutons or the evil and baffoonish protaganists of World War II flicks.


When Americans think of Germany, they often evoke old German cliches like Lederhosen and Oktoberfest.

Despite John F. Kennedy's famous assertion, "Ich bin ein Berliner," Americans aren't exactly perceived as "up to date" in their perceptions of modern Germany. Nevertheless, most Americans like Germans, and even the thousands of protesters turning out across the country to demonstrate against U.S. President George W. Bush's official state visit will do little to change that fact.

"Fast cars and beer."

Auto, BMW, 7er Reihe

Fast car

"Good food, good beer, I have no problem with it." "I think they're one of our best friends in the world."

"I love Germany and I love Germans."

These are the kinds of spontaneous answers that come to mind when Americans are asked on the street in Washington for their view of Germany.

But not every American shares such unconditional love for the country's post-war, transatlantic pal. Many Americans still cling to an image of Germany that is warped by cliches of the past.

"American television has a fondness for showing war films in which Germans are depicted as evil, dumb or both," says Wolfgang Ischinger, Germany's ambassador to the U.S. "And in American schools, when Germany is even a theme, the period of National Socialism and the Holocaust dominates."

Ischinger, it appears, has been catching up on his "Hogan's Heros," a still-popular 1960s television series that poked fun at the Nazis.

The German government and many German organizations - from the Goethe Institute to Deutsche Welle - have sought for years to refurbish the country's image in the U.S. But those efforts haven't always been successful, as the stereotype-ridden responses of some American youths show.

"The Holocaust and things like that."

"Germany was our enemy in World War II."

Deutsches Essen: Sauerkraut mit Würstchen, Knödeln und Fleisch

Sauerkraut and sausage

" Sauerkraut."

"Germans think they have an immigration problem."

"Germans? I guess they're okay."

Robert Gerald Livingston of the German Historical Institute in Washington, D.C., says that Germans follow Brits in Canadians in terms of their popularity among Americans. He says historical security partnership between Germany and the U.S. during the Cold War contributed to its favored status in overall American sentiment.

More recently, the absolute solidarity Germany has shown in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks – through participating in the war against terror and massive demonstrations in support of victims – have generated additional support for Germany in America.

Die Berliner Mauer

The Wall

"During the Cold War, we had the same view of the Soviet Union," Livingston says. "For that reason, solidarity was, of course, the order of the day. But now we're farther apart because the threat from the east has disappeared. Despite that we are still used to getting Germany's unlimited solidarity," he says.

In the U.S., people stress the fact that the transatlantic relationship is still strong. The values the countries share provide an extraordinarily sound foundation, despite trade disputes and differences of political opinion, Livingston says.

But one area where Americans feel the Germans could improve is in the area of defense. "In the Bush administration, the things that count the most are military contibutions," Livingston says. "In that respect, neither the Germans nor the Europeans – with the exception of Britain – have much to offer."

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