Where do positive views of Germany come from? | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 26.05.2013
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Where do positive views of Germany come from?

After a BBC study ranked Germany the world's most popular country, many in Germany are scratching their heads wondering how it happened. But Germans often don't see themselves the way non-Germans do.

They wear socks with sandals. Even at night, when there's no traffic, they stop and wait for the signal to turn green before crossing the street, and when they finally laugh it's at someone else's misfortune.

The list of stereotypes about Germans is long. But, in addition to these harmless clichés, Germany has been battling long-entrenched political resentments since the beginning of the euro crisis. Foreign newspapers show German Chancellor Angela Merkel with a Hitler-mustache, or with a Prussian spiked helmet to express their discontent with Merkel's austerity measures.

The image of the Federal Republic of Germany, however, is better than one might expect, according to a study by the British media icon, BBC. Approximately 26,000 people in 25 countries worldwide were asked their opinion about the EU and 16 countries. The result: 59 percent of respondents rated Germany's influence as "mainly positive." With this Germany placed top in the study, followed by Canada and Great Britain. Iran and Pakistan tied for last place in the study.

Stability in the euro crisis

A garden gnome in a German's garden near Mainz Photo: Fredrik von Erichsen/dpa +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

What Germans see isn't always what foreigners notice

But why did Germany rate so well? We can only speculate, said Sam Mountford, director of GlobeScan,  the research institute commissioned to conduct the study.

"What we can say is that countries that did well in the study are prosperous, stable and democratic,” he told DW, adding that earlier studies had shown Germany's strong economy played a major role in the country's high rating.

Germany is especially popular in Europe. Of those surveyed, some 81 percent of French and 78 percent of Britons surveyed rated Germany positively. Only crisis-stricken Greece gave Germany bad marks. In India and Pakistan, Germany's reputation was also seen as moderate.

Germans took particular notice of the high ratings from England. Even decades after World War II, Germany has had a rather dubious reputation in the UK, but that could be changing, according to the BBC study.

At the beginning of this year, the British daily, The Sun, listed 10 reasons why you should love Germany. In addition to supermodels Claudia Schiffer and Heidi Klum, the tabloid also listed car brands, such as Audi, VW and Mercedes, Oktoberfest and multiple Wimbledon tennis champion Boris Becker. But for Mountford, improvements in Germany's image abroad can be attributed to the country's strong economy.

"The British see the stability that Germany can offer the eurozone," he said. "And that is also in Great Britain's interest."

Big events give a big boost to Germany

Jürgen Block, Photo: Bundesvereinigung City- und Stadtmarketing Deutschland e.V (BCSD).

Germans learning to like themselves helps their image abroad, Block said

For Jürgen Block, head of the National Association of City and Town Marketing (BCSD), Germany's positive results were based on emotional factors.

"The fact that Germany has become popular, is simply due to the fact that we hold major events - be it EXPO 2000 in Hannover, the men's soccer World Cup in 2006 or the women's FIFA World Cup in 2011," he said. "We have had the opportunity to present ourselves positively over a long period of time."

Berlin and its countless bars and clubs is popular among young Americans, Europeans and Israelis, the study showed. Other people, however, said they appreciated Germany's more traditional side with Christmas markets in Dresden and Nuremberg featuring in the positive opinion many had of the country.

More tourists are also coming to Germany. The number of nights foreign guests spend in the country increased for the third year in a row to nearly 70 million in 2012.

Germany starts to like itself

A stall at the Bonn Christmas market Photo: DW/Per Henriksen 27.11.2012.

Christmas markets - and bars and clubs - contribute to Germany's positive image

"The good image is certainly marked by the fact that we no longer have such a cramped relationship to our own country and our own society," Block said. "People who like themselves are also liked by others."

But not all Germans are finding it easy to like themselves. A study by the University of Cologne showed Germans to be particularly critical of themselves and that while many are proud of their regional heritage they have a difficult time being proud of their German identity. Many in the study agreed with the statement, "Foreigners have many positive characteristics that we Germans don't have."

But Germans' impressions of themselves do not match with other people's views of them, according to Eric T. Hansen, who wrote a humorous look at "Planet Germany."

"Germans do not know who they are," he wrote in his 2007 book. "When they look at themselves they see a small, provincial group of people who get pushed around by others. I see a concentration of economic might respected around the world."

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