2. About Stereotypes
3. What stereotypes are derived from
3.1. The concept of a ‘national character’
3.2. A survey of the history of Anglo-German relations with a focus on the parallel development of different stereotypes
3.3. British images of Germany during the Second WorldWar
4. The mediation of stereotypes
4.1. Stereotypes in literature
4.2. Sterotypes in the press
4.3. Stereotypes and education
5. Effects of stereotypes on bilateral relations and British Europhobia
The British perception of Germany and the Germans and vice versa is affected by numerous different stereotypes, prejudices and images of the other country. The practice of attributing certain characteristics to a country and its population is not a particular Anglo-German thing as the following comment suggests:
Whether consciously, or as a result of intellectual reflection or plain intuition, every individual, just like every group, invokes certain connotations in terms of character and characteristic behavioural norms whenever another nation, its population and society are under discussion (Brechtken 13).
This paper will consider Anglo-German perceptions in particular.
After considering the phenomena of stereotypes and images in general, it will be looked at what stereotypes actually are derived from and why people use stereotypes. This section will also examine the validity of stereotypes in German-British relations, i.e. whether they change or remain stable in the course of time. Dealing with these points the concept of a ‘national character’ as well as the history of Anglo-German relations and British images of Germany during the Second World War will be considered. Furthermore the way how stereotypes are conveyed and ‘stored’ will be of relevance. With regard to this aspect the role of literature, the media and education will be taken into account.
In general the focus will be on the British perception of Germany and the Germans though at some points it will be useful to consider the German perception of Britain and the British as well.
Moreover this paper tries to give an idea of the effects of stereotypes on AngloGerman relations in society and politics. Within this paragraph British Europhobia will be dealt with, too.
Finally it should be emphasized that talking about stereotypes one always deals with generalizations since there will aways be people acting against the ‘mainstream’ and not holding the view of the majority. But working on stereotypess it makes sense to look at the general atmosphere in a country and besides it can be assumed that “[...] even those who claim that they never use stereotypes will still know the ones which are dominant in their group” (O`Sullivan 34).
2. About stereotypes
A particualar image of a country and its nation is based on certain prejudices and stereotypes. The concept of ‘stereotype’ was introduced by Walter Lippman. He states that stereotyping is a logical and normal means for putting all incoming information into a certain order:
“For the most part we do not first see and then define, we define first and then see. [...] There is economy in this for the attempt to see all things freshly and in detail [...] is exhausting [...]. Instead we notice a trait which marks a well known type, and fill in the rest of the picture by means of the stereotypes we carry about our heads” (Lippmann 54 ff.).
This short explanation is very important since it neutralizes the concept as it defines stereotyping as normal, not necessarily negative and as something we all do everyday and mostly without realizing it. One problem of sterotypes is their potential for generalizations and simplifications. They do not always correspond to reality but people tend to take them as the reality of the other country and therefore possibly get a wrong impression of the country and its nation. As a result people get prejudiced and are likely to develop a certain aversion to a country they may never have been to. With regard to images of nations and countries it is important to know that perception of the other and the foreign never happens without perception of the self and the own (cf. Niedhart 84) and therefore very often stereotypes tell more about the nation applying them than about the stereotyped nation.
An ‘image’ is defined as a picture of reality which is judged subjectively and processed socially and culturally (cf. Blaicher 5). The own interests serve as most important filter when sorting out the information about another country (cf. Niedhart 84). Images contain elements that can be proved empirically but reality is also reduced and distorted according to certain needs and interests (cf. Niedhart 83). Historical experience plays an important role in the process of stereotyping although psychological insights and concepts are often far behind reality (cf. Niedhart 82). People use old stereotypes, prejudices and closed views of the world to classify new incoming information about the other country but the political and social situation may have changed considerably in the meantime. Therefore sterotypes always fail to reflect the complexity of reality.
3. What stereotypes are derived from
3.1. The concept of a ‘national character’
Since people began to travel and developed trade relations they got into contact with people of other countries and found them as representatives of different nations. Every nation has its own traditions, customs, and ways of living and behaving. In certain situations of communication irritations can be evoked because specifically national ways of behaving in a particular situation may not correspond to each other and each participant feels strange about the other person. Since a person of a certain nationality is often assumed to represent the whole nation a single case can be seen as typical of a specific nation. Wondering what such differences among nations may be based on one looked for criteria which might affect a people`s character since one took the concept of a ‘national character’ to explain why different nations behave differently (cf. Poortinga/Girndt 123).
Already in the 18th century extern factors like climate and geographical position were assumed to be responsible for national differences in behaviour. According to this view people thought that the moderate climate in the middle east of Western Europe was the decisive precondition for a high level of civilisation whereas the extreme climate in the tropical regions for example was thought to prevent the peoples living there from developing such ‘high cultivation’ (cf. ibid).
Another criterion referred to is language. People thought that a nation`s character is reflected in its mother tongue (cf. ibid). Accordingly the German language for example is said to perfectly reflect the militaristic, serious and precise character of the German nation whereas elegance, softness and a cultivated savoir-vivre may be attributed to French. This point is still raised today but it is only based on the fact that we project the nature and structure of a language onto the people speaking this language but this assumption is not a scientific explanation.
Although the concept of a national character cannot be upheld scientifically it is worth being considered in this context since many authors attribute a strong belief in a German national character to the British. Vera and Ansgar Nünning refer to this phenomenon talking about the “Unausrottbarkeit des britischen Glaubens in einen deutschen <Nationalcharakter>” (Nünning 107). There are political initiatives such as several memoranda instructed by Churchill`s war cabinet proving this true (cf. ibid).
Under the title “German Reactions to Defeat” they were distributed among members of the Foreign Office (cf. ibid). In March 1945, a further “study of the German mentality and its possible development in the future” (ibid) was finished and distributed among members of the British commission for controlling Germany. Those papers aimed at gaining an insight into the German national character and at the same time laid down the basis for the British post-war policy of re-education (cf. ibid).
A second and even more recent political initiative hoping for similar results is the “Chequers-Memorandum”. In March 1990 the then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher invited famous British and American scientists to Chequers, the country seat of British Prime Ministers. There she collected information about the German character (cf. Meier-Walser 578). Answering the question “Who are the Germans?” the experts pointed out that there were specific characteristics which can be found in the past and which were expected to reemerge in the future (cf. Nünning 111). Among typical traits of the German character fear, arrogance, aggressiveness, recklessness, complacency and an inferiority complex were listed and the typical German tendency towards extremes was emphasized (cf. Nünning 112). Those partly contradictory aspects again reflect the ambivalent and distorted British view of Germany.
The two examples above should have made clear that the Britsh still believe in a particular German character.
3. 2. A survey of the history of Anglo-German relations with a focus on the parallel development of different stereotypes
Anglo-German relations are ambivalent. The history of Anglo-German perception is one of mutual misunderstandings and misinterpretations reflecting both continuity and constant change. Although Germany is Britain`s most important trading partner now (cf. Mommsen 209) the way how the two countries perceive each other is not mainly characterized by love and peace but also by mistrust and anger although actually there used to be more reasons for a solid partnership than for open hostility.
Compared to other European societies Germany and the UK had relatively much in common and in many regards they developed in similar directions until the 60s of the 19th century (cf. Mommsen 184). Until the first half of the 19th century Britain regarded Germany as a geographical rather than as a political unit (cf. Birke 4). This Germany made up of many small principalities could hardly mean a threat to the British position. Consequently the image of a peaceful, rural Germany in whose small states architecture and the arts, particularily painting and music, blossomed was born (cf. ibid). The period of Romanticism consolidated this image and travellers` reports of picturesque castles, cathedrals and ruins supported this impression (cf. ibid). Generally spoken, in the field of cultural aspects the British image of Germany was dominated by positive associations and there was an almost uncritical admiration of everything that was German (cf. Clemens 23). The enthusiasm for German composers like Händel, Wagner, Beethoven and Brahms influenced English composers and so did German literature. Particularily since the literary epochs of the ‘Sturm und Drang’, the German Klassik and Romanticism the Germans were seen as ingenious (cf. ibid). Schillers “Die Räuber” made a deep impression and Goethes “Werther” soon became a bestseller in the UK (cf. ibid). Nevertheless people also felt that the Germans possessed something wild and secret and having read Goethe`s Faust the British got an idea of the demonic soul of the Germans (cf. Clemens 24). As British intellectuals considered Germany as a model in many regards, German liberals felt attracted by British political institutions and its economic as well as social modernity (cf. Birke 8). Considering these attitudes it becomes clear that until the second half of the 19th century the two countries influenced each other a lot and shared a positive view of the other.
Apart from those images the close relation with the Protestant Prussia under Frederick the Great before the 19th century meant a practical alliance particularily in defence of the French and so Germany was seen as a ‘natural ally’ (Clemens 25). This partnership found its climax at the victory over Napoleon at Waterloo (cf. Birke 5). But despite the common interests the Prussian militarism, the most important means for keeping the power in Germany, had always been observed with suspition and one was already afraid that Prussia could danger the European balance of powers (cf. Clemens 25). Finally the “[...] unification of Germany under Prussian leadership marked the start of the rivalry between Germany and Great Britain” (Birke 9). The founding of the Reich meant a significant turning point marking the breaking away from a mainly romanticised concept of Germany which was based on an uncritical admiration of German literature, music, philosophy and sciences (cf. Brechtken 15). 5
An authoritarian, militaristic society for which the name „Prussia“ became synonymous had emerged (cf. ibid). Apart from such impressions the bilateral relations on the political level remained normal (cf. Clemens 28). Many particularily Prussian achievements and reforms such as a highly effective administration, the reorganization of the military and Bismarck`s social system were seen very positively and even admired (cf. ibid).
In 1871 as regards to the economic situation Germany was far behind Britain but in 1900 it had reached the same level as the birthplace of the industrial revolution (cf. Birke 10). In addition to the militaristic, aggressive German policy the high potentials and economic dynamism of Germany became obvious and began to pose a threat to the hegemony of Great Britain (cf. Clemens 29).
The ambivalent image of Germany and the Germans showing the peaceful, artistic, dreamy and metaphysical writers and philosophers on the one hand and the image of the militaristic, obediant and brutal officers on the other hand resulted in the theory of ‘Two Germanies’ which dominated the British attitude towards Germany at the end of the 19th century and still means an integral part of the British image of today`s Germany (cf. Clemens 29). This theory reflects both respect and revulsion, admiration and fear of ‘Preußen-Deutschland’ (cf. Clemens 30) which on the one hand was a symbol of bureaucracy, militarism and a subject`s mentality and on the other hand stood for a nation of cultural values, a modern education system and writers like Lessing, Goethe and Kant.
In the run-up to the First World War negative attitudes grew among German people in particular. In 1915 the German economist Werner Sombart called the British “phantasielose, heuchlerische Krämergeister” (Clemens 31) who were contrasted with German heroism (cf. Mommsen 187). Subsequently the “[...]widespread pro-British resentment in Germany was replaced by strong anti-British feelings” (Birke 10). German Anglophobia reached its peak during the First World War and the British gradually integrated their aversion to the German authoritarian state into the image of the half-civilized barbarian (cf. Clemens 31). The war was their “Kreuzzug zur Rettung des Abendlandes vor den <Hunnen>” (ibid).
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