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Making Germany Cool for the Brits

The British on the whole have a negative view of the Germans. But all that could change if the Goethe Institute’s new publicity campaign goes as planned.


Learn German and you could look as good as Claudia...apparently

Okay, pop quiz: what’s the first thing that comes into your head when you hear the word “Germany”? If you’re British, the most popular answers may be Adolf Hitler, Nazis and penalty shoot-outs.

Given that many Britons have a negative view of Germany – wars, World Cups, towels on beach chairs, etc. – and have little interest in the language and culture, the Goethe Institute in London has launched a campaign aimed at promoting the learning of German and making the country’s image more attractive.

The Goethe Institute, which promotes Germany abroad, recently carried out a study in its London branch on the attitudes British people have towards Germany and their knowledge about the country and its culture. The result: there is a severe lack of interest in all things German.

History stops at Hitler

Reichstagssitzung mit Hitler

History stops here.

The research showed that Britons as a whole suffer from a particularly nasty case of skewed perception thanks to television schedules which tend to be packed with documentaries about the Nazis and the Holocaust - topics which also make up the majority of the history curriculum regarding Germany in British schools.

Armed with its new facts, figures and targets, the Goethe Institute is now fighting back with a publicity campaign which aims to fill mailboxes with postcards featuring Übermodel Claudia Schiffer under the slogan “learn German--and look good.” The campaign will target British students, teachers and cultural institutions.

"We're very often asked how we intend to change opinions that have been entrenched for generations," said Karl Pechatscheck, deputy director at the Goethe Institute in London in an interview with Deutsche Welle. "We say we have to start sometime. We have to start before future generations take up these ideas. With more information about Germany getting to the UK, the time is right now."

The new initiative is the first application of ideas formed when staff at the London branch held a brainstorming session in July with corporate and cultural representatives in the hope of coming up with a new "brand" for Germany.

"We discovered that it would be too hard to change Germany's brand, as many of the images associated with the country are too deep set," Ulrich Sacker, the chairperson of the session, told the marketers, advertising execs and branding professionals gathered at the conference.

Accentuate the positive

Love Parade 2001 in Berlin

Love Parade 2001 in Berlin.

“But we did decide that we've got to start emphasizing current aspects of German life which are ignored - the hedonism for example of the Love Parade, the fact that we have short working days, that we take the longest holidays in Europe.”

However, by targeting academics and institutions, the campaign could already be preaching to the more easily convertible. One might think aiming the program at the average person on the street would do more to change attitudes. Karl Pechatscheck has other ideas.

"The campaign is run by our language department," said Pechatscheck, head of the section. "By targeting schools and teachers, we can help pupils decide to learn German, not the German of Hitler but the German of the Love Parade with new ideas of what Germany is."

The project is reminiscent of the New Labour’s “Cool Britannia” campaign which sought to overturn widely held stereotypes of the British as uptight, bowler hat-wearing fuddy-duddies.

The campaigns coordinator’s insist a change of Germany’s image would do more than just restore the country’s long-suffering pride. Stereotypes of Germans held by the British have an impact on tourism, export, business, as well as on investment, according to the office of the German ambassador to London.

Agents for change

The campaign organizers also hope to start reversing some old war-time attitudes, still entrenched among older generations and even adopted by some younger ones. Klaus Krischok from the Goethe Institute told Time Europe Magazine: “There are streets in Germany where Nazis used to walk. These streets have changed a lot, so why not change your perception?”

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