First we were world champions in soccer, now we're also No. 1 when it comes to image. Germany has the best brand perception, a study found. But that comes with responsibilities, say DW's Volker Wagener and Felix Steiner.
We're flattered, really. We, Germany and the Germans, are the most popular, worldwide. That's what the Nation Brands Index says. The market research institute GfK surveyed more than 20,000 people from 20 countries - at least those that are online. And the verdict is unanimous: Germany? Great! The world loves us.
For the baby-boomer generation of 50 to 55-year-olds, it's still something that requires getting used to. After all, as today's middle generation, we grew up with a sizeable portion of self-hatred. The unspeakable acts of our grandfathers weighed heavily on us; we couldn't stand ourselves. So we looked with admiration at the patriotic French, the somewhat different Brits. We couldn't explain it back then, but they both seemed like normal countries to us.
We weren't normal. A divided country with a terrible past and a severely damaged identity. For decades, hard work, reliability, punctuality, and order were among Germany's virtues. In the best case, these things made us valued, but not loved! Put simply, we had an inferiority complex. Learning that we are now a country that others look up to shows just how much things have changed.
How we became what we are
How can this transformation be explained? Many facets have come together. The most banal is the passing of time: The generation of German aggressors from the World War era and National Socialism has now more or less died out. As have their victims who suffered from the occupations and persecution. Today, no foreigners ask a German: "What did you do back then?" That makes meeting people easier, less self-conscious.
In addition, we've worked intensively on facing up to our past. There have been many grand gestures, starting with Willy Brandt's genuflection in Warsaw to Helmut Kohl's handshake with Francois Mitterand at the cemetery in Verdun.
Work with, not against, your neighbors!
Mainly though, Germany has behaved reliably for 65 years. That which was forcefully brought about through the division of the country into two blocs for over 40 years has been systematically continued after the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification. We don't define our interests in opposition to others and we don't act unilaterally. Germany only works with Europe, not against Europe. And because this course has secured us a level of prosperity that in the past would have seemed unimaginable, there's no one with any degree of credibility who wants to pursue a different kind of politics.
All of this has made us more relaxed, more laid back. That first became visible during the soccer World Cup hosted here in 2006, and again this past weekend during the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. We felt we could celebrate ourselves without fear of being labeled megalomaniacs.
Expectations of Germany
No, no one need worry that we Germans will let the survey results go to our heads. Quite the opposite, in fact. We still struggle with the responsibility that has automatically grown along with our economic and political might. The fear that, in making a clear decision, we're immediately tagged as "the ugly Germans" is still a tangible one in politics.
Caricatures in foreign newspapers showing German politicians in Nazi uniforms still hurt and result in critical questions: "Did we do something wrong?" Actually, former Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski indirectly paid us a wonderful compliment three years ago when he said that he fears German power less than German inactivity. And that's coming from a Pole! That's something we can be a little bit proud of. More so than the result of this latest survey.