Germany’s victory at the World Cup was interesting in the sense that most people in the UK reacted to it positively – a great sign of a thawing in attitudes towards Germany in the UK; a shift ongoing since Germany hosted the tournament in 2006.
Yet it also saw an increase in appalling mispronunciations of German words and general misunderstandings of the country itself in the media. One commentator suggested Germany’s anthem is still called “Deutschland über alles” (a phrase whose basic meaning is misunderstood anyway); there was a whole discussion about a “specific German word” to describe the process of taking a penalty in a shoot-out (in fact Nervenstärke merely means “strength of nerve”); and there was constant reference to Angela Merkel as “Head of State” (she is equivalent of Prime Minister, i.e. Head of Government; the President and Head of State, who was also in attendance at the final, is Joachim Gauck).
It would be helpful, first off, if we simply understood more about what is a highly influential country. For example, the Nazis actually replaced “Deutschland über alles” with their own anthem; many “specific German words” merely derive from the German tendency to put words together in writing; and Merkel’s and Gauck’s rise to prominence both involve astonishing scandals the latter of which, in particular, offers a particular challenge to German democracy (the removal of Christian Wulff, Gauck’s predecessor who was forced to resign for a number of minor alleged misdemeanours hinted at by certain elements in the media but all of which were then thrown out in court, was a fascinating disgrace challenging the whole concept of privacy and the free press).
Of course, it would be easier to understand the country if we spoke its language. Here, the disgrace lies firmly in the UK. Fewer students took German A-Level in the UK this year than took it at Higher Level in Ireland – in other words, more Irish students (in total, not proportionately) speak reasonable German than in the whole of England, Wales and Northern Ireland put together. This is scary; for a start, it makes Ireland a vastly more attractive trading partner for Europe’s largest economy.
We need to do more to understand Germany better; and not just for the sake of our football teams!