Affection for Britain brews in Germany
- 11 March 2013
- From the section Magazine
Constant debate about the direction of Europe may seem to pit state against state, but in Germany there appears to be some support for David Cameron's "obstinate" stance - and a sneaking regard for Britain in general.
I am currently trying to help German politics get a little calmer.
The office of one of the Green MPs in the Bundestag, you see, has made a collective decision to switch from coffee to tea.
The great British beverage is, they discover, much more soothing through the day and they had been getting a little hyper through overdosing on caffeine.
So when I was there the other day, I was relentlessly quizzed about brewing times - they seemed to want the correct answer to the very second - and which tea to use.
I was not much help, except to say, "Make sure it's a strong, black tea, probably Indian."
They had made a bad start, offering me a cup of insipid weak Darjeeling, which would have shamed a gnat. They had not made sure the water was boiling.
I was too tactful to say that they need not look to Britain for tea expertise. They could try a good German tea. There are many brands on the shelves here: Sir Winston, Lord Nelson, Windsor Castle, Queen's Club, Sir Edward, Mr Perkins, Mayfair, even Earl of Camden, which says it is a tea but is not actually a proper tea but more a kind of infusion of cherries or apple or, think of this - blood orange.
These German teas with aristocratic British names are not effete, fancy brands of expensive pretend tea involving fruits and herbs, but the tea the people drink. Lord Nelson, for example, is a staple of the Lidl supermarket chain. Sir Winston is a brand of a Hamburg tea importer which has been in business since 1882.
This adoption of posh British names shows that there is affection for Britain here.
Some Germans will tell you how they loved the irreverence of the Olympic opening ceremony in London and then whisper behind their hands that it would not have happened here.
Germans love Cornwall, courtesy of the romantic novels of Rosamunde Pilcher, set around Padstow and constantly dramatised for German television.
They follow the royal family - Baby Bauch (baby tummy) is now in the papers all the time. In a headline in Bild, the equivalent of the Sun, it is above the words: "England ist HAPPY".
Bild has also pleaded for Britain not to leave the European Union. Bitte geht nicht (please don't go) screamed the headline.
Then, defying the stricture not to mention the war - and defying the misconception that Germans do not have a sense of humour - it said that it loved what it called the home of mint sauce, despite the British habit of using the word "blitzkrieg" and calling them "krauts" and putting them on the front pages in helmets.
More seriously, the paper talked of the British sense of democracy and it said that Europe needed British obstinacy to counter the uniformity of the European Union.
And it states its admiration of businessmen like Sir Richard Branson.
It is well-known that German businessmen are born in black suits. Their hair is already neat. I imagine they never take their socks off, even in bed. So to Germans, Richard Branson is completely exotic, and all the better for that.
I often come across people who remain grateful to Britain for rescuing Germany from itself in the war, and people who are - yes, indeed - grateful to the BBC.
I took tea the correct British way (in a porcelain cup and saucer with milk) with a grand gentleman called Hans Christoph von Rohr. We sat, sunk into sofas, in his home near Dusseldorf and ruminated, cup following cup.
He told me that Britain, and the BBC, saved his life - though I think that is putting it too strongly.
His father, arrested by the Nazis during the war as an opponent of Hitler, somehow secretly heard on the BBC where the final demarcation between Soviet and Western forces would be - the line of what would become the Iron Curtain. And that information pushed the family to flee westwards from what would become the Soviet zone.
Von Rohr is passionate in his belief that, as he puts it, "The European problem is to keep all states together, especially Britain".
"The majority of the German people are on the British side," he adds.
But for how long, is the question we did not discuss. The tea had run out.
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