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Thread: From the Times

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2003

    Default From the Times

    Achtung! Beware of Tommies with relish for German jokes
    From Simon Barnes in Munich

    Our correspondent finds himself unable to resist looking on the funny side

    I HAD picked up my accreditation at Munich stadium and was returning to the railway station when I passed through a gate 100 yards in a direct line to the exit. A fierce young woman materialised before me.
    “Stop. You do not pass.”


    “This is not way out.”

    I pointed. “That’s the exit. Where else should I go?” A pause, a quick look around. Then, wonder of wonders, a pretty smile, a quick inclination of the head. “Go, ja?” I smiled, thanked, went. Don’t think too badly of her. She voz only disobeying orders.

    I apologise for that joke. Even when Germans defy their national stereotype, the English can find a joke about German national stereotypes. So perhaps we had better try to get all the German jokes out of our system before the action begins at the World Cup finals. Before we become too much of a laughing stock ourselves.

    It was dismaying, at the England friendly in Manchester last weekend, to see supporters wearing plastic First World War Tommy Atkins helmets. I wonder how many will be worn over here in the next fortnight or so. The Germans are less inclined than the English to find rib-tickling mirth in world war. Honest, Fritz, it’s a postmodern helmet, it’s an ironical helmet. Vot? You make yolk about that? The red-tops can always be relied upon to record the public mood. In 1996, the Daily Mirror had a mock-up of Stuart Pearce in a Tommy helmet under the (front-page) headline “Achtung! Surrender!” This week, The Sun had a picture of the stadium in Berlin, site of the final, bagged by an English towel.

    I am in no position to get snooty. A few years ago, the German newspapers were full of a story about how The Times said that Michael Schumacher was like a Gestapo agent. There was much anger about this. Typical of the English! Will they never grow up? Will they never forget? Regular readers may recall that the Gestapo agent in question was Herr Flick from ’Allo ’Allo, my point being that Schumacher is, for the English, a pantomime villain. Imagine my efforts to explain this to a German journalist: “It’s a comedy about the French Resistance . . .” I had her baffled long before I got to the Fallen Madonna wiz zee big boobies.

    There is a strange frontier between the English and the Germans and it is guarded for ever by jokes. Only when you arrive in Germany do the barriers dissolve. Even so, when the phone rings and I am talking to England, I find the jokes returning. On Wednesday, Germany play Poland in Dortmund. How many English people will resist jokes about Poland invading Germany? The most famous German joke of all time was made by Basil Fawlty. Of course, this was not really a joke about the Germans, it was a joke about the English inability to resist German jokes. It was a joke that deliberately made the English, as represented by Basil, look ridiculous. But it works because it is also a great German joke: the best bad Hitler impersonation ever.

    How we laugh at Hitler, eh? Better than voting for him, I suppose. Laughter has always been the English defence against political extremism. But over the next four weeks, it is not extremism that we have to worry about, it’s getting on with the Germans. It’s about making a breach in the Berlin Wall of jokes.

    In Germany, especially if you travel alone, you meet German people as human beings and treasure the small moments of human contact: a smile, a politeness, the nice person who puts you on the right train, the waitress who brings a small joke with your beer. And in Bavaria — laid-back, Catholic and beery — you find the Germans least likely to conform to stereotype. It’s a good place to start.

    The long footballing relationship between England and Germany has only added to the problems. As I was being searched at the stadium, I saw myself being asked why I had two mobile phones. “This one’s German, this one’s English. This one’s two, this one’s four.” Just as well it didn’t happen. (“But it voz never a goal.”) Football has certainly given us something to talk about, but it has, alas, only added more fortifications to the wall of jokes.

    The fact that the Germans always beat England on penalties (actually they’ve done it only twice) is seen as sinister, as if being good at penalties were vindictive, brutal, underhand, not in keeping with a cheerful, English, wizard-prang approach to life and sport. Losing on penalties to Germany is too close to the bone; only jokes can keep the pain at bay.

    There is, however, one area of German life that jokes can never penetrate. The German-speaking composers have given us the best music that ever was and my iPod is full of German dispatches from heaven.

    Armed with such stuff, I venture on in my four-week pilgrimage, my agenda set not by jokes, but by the eternal tunes that sing forever in my head. If this music came from here, then here must be a land of wonders. If only we could see it, if only we could be set free from our jokes . . .

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2003

    Default Re: From the Times

    "don't mention the war"!

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jun 2002
    Tesla in Space

    Default Re: From the Times

    I heard on R4 this evening, that on learning that Right Said Fred were playing at the opening ceremony, The Sun, in their usual understated way immediately came up with Reich Said Fred


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