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“Hard-working, punctual, reliable, educated, ambitious, well-travelled, arrogant, cool, humourless.” – Do you recognise yourself? Yes? No? Partly? Descriptions such as these make up the stereotypical view of Germans. A study reported in The European newspaper ten years ago asked people in different countries for their views of each other. Germans got the highest scores in the categories “successful”, “ambitious”, “aggressive” and “arrogant”, and came second to Japan in the category “hardworking”. Germany scored badly in the areas “stylish” and “humorous”.
Evidence that Germany’s image has changed little could be seen during last year’s soccer world cup. The German team was commonly described in newspapers abroad as having the typical “teutonic” virtues – efficient, disciplined, industrious – rather than the creativity of teams such as Brazil.
Ironically, Germany’s performance in the final against Brazil did something to change this picture. Here at last, the team showed passion and spontaneity. Above all, as a result of goalkeeper Oliver Kahn’s tragic mistake, they showed that they were human.
That mistake – following Kahn’s almost superhuman performance in the previous games – probably did more to improve Germany’s image abroad than years of diplomatic and cultural charm offensive. A sports reporter for The Times in England, a newspaper not noted for being a big fan of Germany, even said of the team: “Come on, you’ve got to love them.”