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Culture

When in Rome Do as the Germans Do

Schröder may have cancelled his annual Italian vacation, but 10 million Germans visit Italy each year. DW-World takes a look at the German love affair with the Mediterranean boot.

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Millions of Germans flock to Italy each year including many high-profile politicians.

"O, how happy I feel in Rome!," Goethe wrote in a poem inspired by his travels through Italy in the late 1700s.

Germany's most famous philosopher, poet and novelist probably had no idea what kind of trend he started when, in his own words, he swapped Germany's dull sky for Italy's gay one. Today, Italy ranks as one of the top holiday destinations for Germans, second only to Spain. Every year some 10 million Germans pack their swimming trunks and head over the Alps into Italy on their summer vacation.

Something for everyone

After Goethe set the -- albeit high brow -- trend for Italian travel, Germany's haute bourgeoisie followed suit in the 19th century. With their infamous ‘Baedeker" books firmly in tow, the posh and well-heeled vacationers travelled through Italy as part of the standard Grand Tour around Europe. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the love affair with the Mediterranean flair really spread north to Germany for all to enjoy.

"After World War II, when money was tight and air travel still expensive, Italy was the obvious choice for people [in Germany], especially if they could afford a car," Robin Zimmermann, spokesperson for German tour operator TUI, told Deutsche Welle. "It was easy for them to pack up and drive over the Alps to the Italian Riviera to go on holiday."

TUI, Europe's largest tour operator, books more Italian holidays for Germans than any other group and says that the country has everything a tourist could want, from skiing in the Dolomite mountains, wind surfing on Lake Garda, to Roman ruins in the capital, and of course, plenty of sun.

"Italy has so many different sides," Zimmermann, said explaining Italy's draw for so many Germans. "There are beaches, wonderful countryside, culture, great food and amazing culture. There is something there for everyone."

Tuscan Fraction - Et in Arcadia Ego

Surprisingly, it's Germany's politicians who are at the forefront of the love affair with Italy. Like his British counterpart, Tony Blair, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has spent his annual holiday in the northern Italian region of Tuscany for a number of years.

Other top German politicians join Schröder in the famed "Tuscan Fraction". The term, coined at the end of the Kohl era in the late 1980s, singled out German politicians with left-wing sympathies and a penchant for spaghetti, Chianti and warm summer evenings al fresco.

The clique includes Interior Minister Otto Schily, who speaks fluent Italian and has enjoyed a long friendship with former Italian communist trade unionist and restaurateur Gianni Brunelli, as well as Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. The popular foreign minister, who is said to have been introduced to the region by Schily, has a well-documented love for Tuscany's landscape and gastronomy. In his book, Mein Langer Lauf zu Mich Selbst ("My Long Run to Myself"), the 55-year-old waxed lyrical about the rolling Tuscan hills south of Siena and the region's "wonderful" Pecorino cheese.

The exclusive group of Teutonic Tuscan holiday makers also includes failed chancellor candidate Oskar Lafontaine from the Social Democrats, President of the German Parliament Wolfgang Thierse and Schleswig-Holstein State Premier Heide Simonis, who has a villa near Pisa.

Damage done?

Whether or not the intense infatuation with the country can withstand recent comments made by Italy's Deputy Tourism Minister Stefani Stefano is still to be seen. However, Stefano’s remarks referring to Germans as "stereotyped blondes with a hyper nationalist pride" who overpopulate the country’s beaches certainly couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time as half the country gets ready to go on summer holiday.

The Tuscan Fraction, for its part, will have to decide just how seriously it wants to take Italy’s anti-German comments by boycotting their favorite vacation destination. The first inklings of German resentiment may already be in the works. On Wednesday evening Chancellor Gerhard Schröder announced he would not be taking his annual holiday in Rimini in the province of Emilia Romagna, but would spend it in his home town of Hanover.

The German media was divided over what Schröder should do. The Süddeutsche Zeitung from Munich offered eight reasons why Schröder should still take his holiday in Rimini, among them: "because if we don't we'll think Italian food we get in Germany is the same as the real thing," and "because we need Italy's women."

Hot-headed mass circulation tabloid Bild went to the other extreme, however. "Schröder, take your holiday in Germany!" it screamed, juxtaposing photos of German tourist spots in Bavaria and picture postcards of the famed Baltic Coast with a crowded beach scene in Rimini. It also took the hysteria one step further, citing a current "highly contagious" measles epidemic in Italy.

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