Pommes rot-weiß or bangers and mash?
My dream of coming to Britain developed early, and already began at school. The trips to our twin city Hastings were the start of a love affair – and it wasn’t only Katie who made my heart beat faster, it was her whole country. More trips to the promised land followed and, again, it wasn’t only the wild parties (and Emma this time) I loved but the British hospitality, people not taking themselves too seriously and the Brits’ dry humour.
Many of my old friends in Germany invoke the old clichés when talking about Britain (quite apart from the fact that almost no one gets the difference between England and Scotland and most people believe Scotland was a part of England – clearly a capital offence in Scotland); how could I live in a country where the food was inedible, the beer lukewarm and the weather simply horrible? The Brits were strange and even celebrated their weirdness. Rubbish, I say, and the wrong approach too. How refreshing are eccentrics who simply won’t go with the mainstream and of whom a higher proportion seems to live on these shores than anywhere else. “Inedible food” is increasingly rare in Glasgow; there are good Italian coffee shops around every corner, delis which sell fantastic international wines and award-winning restaurants. Nothing beats an honest real ale, and I have even seen die-hard German lager fans coming round to this idea. And you can always spend the summer somewhere else – “You don’t come to Scotland for a tan“ says my Scottish colleague Alan. What more is there to say?
For my part I am fascinated by the British concepts of fair play, tolerance and the idea of personal liberty and responsibility. To cross the street when the lights show red is no problem here - everyone has to judge for themselves if they want to run the risk. People here are surprised to learn that you are fined in Germany if you’re caught crossing the streets when the lights are red and there is consternation when I tell them about cyclists who in the middle of the night wait at deserted crossings until the lights turn green. The fear of red tape, of the state interfering with personal liberties, is widespread in Britain. That’s also why the idea of “Brussels” constantly passing new EU laws positively causes horror here.
I have rarely encountered bickering neighbours, the practice of snubbing people, or know-it-alls in general here. Nobody complains if we hang out our washing or mow the lawn on a Sunday, or put out the wheelie bin a day too early. Moaning, something the Germans seem to be very good at, is something I have rarely encountered here. If a German train is delayed for a few minutes or stands motionless in the plains of the Münsterland people are up in arms. In Britain passengers are much more relaxed - what can you do anyway? So they exchange the latest jokes or phone their folks back home to find out what’s happening on Eastenders while they wait. Nowhere else have I encountered so many relaxed and friendly people. Bus drivers say “good-bye” to their passengers, taxi drivers always welcome a friendly chat and people hold the door open for you as a matter of course – and not only when you are in a wheelchair or using crutches.
The Scots and Football
There is one exception to the rule, however, when all bonhomie is thrown overboard – and that’s football. In an ‘Old Firm’ game between Celtic and Rangers there is much more at stake than “just“ football. Fans from both sides only agree on one thing: they all support the Scottish national team. The way they play is notoriously mediocre – although they managed to produce some fine performances in their recent qualifying campaign for the Euro 2008 finals – but their fans don’t care. Home games are regularly sold out; when Scotland played away against France 20,000 fans travelled with the team to Paris, and the enthusiasm was unbelievable. Scottish fans drink like fish but excesses are rare. The German weekly Der Spiegel claimed recently Scottish football fans were the “friendliest drunken fans in the world”. Christoph Biermann even asked German fans to forget about their national allegiances and support Scotland in their crucial Euro 2008 qualifier against Georgia (which, unfortunately, they lost) as “today we are all Scots”.
As a German football fan, life is relatively easy in Glasgow. Depending on who I talk to I can always get off lightly. Rangers supporters value my detailed knowledge about Stefan Klos (ex-Borussia Dortmund) and Celtic fans appreciate that Paul Lambert’s career only really took off when he played for Dortmund. Scottish fans speak with admiration of the German team which won the 1974 world cup, and they marvel at players such as Beckenbauer and Müller. In particular we are on common ground when discussing our animosity towards England and the arrogance with which they claim at the beginning of every major tournament that this time they will surely go all the way – only to be sent home after the group stage. I find it almost impossible to watch competitive games between England and Germany in a pub in England – unless I claim to be Danish and celebrate German goals secretly. By contrast, how wonderful Glasgow’s pubs looked when Brazil beat England in the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup: everything was decked out in green and yellow.
There is one thing, however, for which the Scots will never forgive us: Berti Vogts. But even here the Scot shows remarkable decency: the delicate subject of Berti Vogts is covered up in silence. Fair enough, I say, and this goes down very well with my German friends, too.
Dr Anselm Heinrich is Lecturer in Theatre Studies at the University of Glasgow. Born in 1971 in Bühl in southern Germany and brought up in the Westphalian town of Schwerte he studied in Münster before embarking on a PhD at Hull. After that he worked first as a teaching assistant in Hull and then as a Research Associate at Lancaster before moving to Glasgow in 2006. He has published on various aspects of British and German history and his book on ‘Entertainment, Education, Propaganda. Regional Theatres in Germany and Britain Between 1918 and 1945’ appeared in 2007. He is also a translator and is currently translating Sarah Jane Dickenson’s play ‘Not Yet’ for the Goethe-Institut (as part of the project ‘After the Fall. Europe after 1989’). Anselm plays football (badly) and the drums (mediocre), but loves doing both.