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Culture

Living in America

If you relied only on the newspapers' view of German-American relations, you might think the countries were headed for divorce court. But for Germans, U.S. fashions, foods and pop culture are a part of everyday life.

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Even Germans have the occasional Big Mac attack!

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder promised "unlimited solidarity" with the United States. And officials here have been stressing that the president came to Berlin today as a "good friend."

But the shocked sympathy that dominated public opinion in the immediate aftermath of September 11 has since then given way to widespread resentment and skepticism at what many Germans see as America's unilateral handling of problems that affect the whole world – like global warming and nonproliferation of nuclear weapons.

Yet despite the occasional difference of opinion on politics or trade, most Germans maintain a positive view of Americans. Indeed, American culture has long been a part of the German way of life.

Germans don't need to cross the Atlantic to get a feeling for American pop culture. American music and fashions have been a part of German life for decades now.

"I love America because for me it's the land of independence, and I'd like to go there myself some day," says one young woman.

"Everything there is big, it's huge and lovely and great," says another.

"It's the land of a thousand possiblities, but at the same time it's very superficial - the people who live there. They have very little basic education," says one, critically.

"They get our Nymphenburg porcelain, we get their bubble gum," another man chimes in, sarcastically.

The coffee shop craze

The latest American craze to hit Germany is the coffee shop. A long-standing European tradition, the cafe has now been re-imported back from the US with an updated look.

"Five years ago no one even knew what a muffin was," says Uwe Nagel, who runs a coffee shop in Berlin. "And now all of a sudden everyone is speaking a completely different language. We've been completely Americanised."

Critical solidarity

But despite such "American-isation," and the groundswell of solidarity that followed September 11, many Germans are now beginning to distance themselves from Uncle Sam.

"After that initial shock, there was a growing sense of fear, once the American reaction to those events began," says political scientist Ekkehart Krippendorff, a professor at Berlin’s Free University. "Fear that this super-patriotism we then saw breaking out would lead the USA and its government to start settling other scores, without any internal or external inhibitions. In other words: Iraq," he says.

The new phrase here in Germany is therefore "critical solidarity," meaning sticking together but also being prepared to ask serious questions.

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