Wilkommen, Herr Kane, says journalist ALEXANDER VON SCHOENBURG
Wilkommen, Herr Kane! We Germans LOVE and envy you Brits more than you’ll ever know – and Harry will make our bonds grow even stronger, says journalist ALEXANDER VON SCHOENBURG
This is a truly historic moment. Not since the Beatles (who started their career with a residency at the Indra Club in Hamburg) has anyone from the British Isles created such a buzz in Germany.
Or, perhaps, we should no longer call him Harry Kane but Harald Kane now that England’s football captain has left his native land to play for Germany’s biggest team, Bayern Munich.
Don’t mention the war? It is always hard to avoid doing so when discussing Anglo-German affairs.
As Basil Fawlty proved, you Brits seem unable to put it out of your minds.
Yet with the symbolism of Harry Kane’s embrace of the German people, I hope that at last you will be able to.
Harry Kane of FC Bayern Muenchen during the unveiling of his signing on Saturday
World War II. The 1966 World Cup Final win against West Germany. Britain joining the EEC in 1973. Britain voting to leave the EU in 2016.
Now Kane moving to Munich where in 1938, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain met Nazi leaders and returned home to promise the British nation there would be ‘peace for our time’. Our two histories are intimately interwoven.
As a student in England, I vividly recall watching that Fawlty Towers episode in which Basil warns his staff ‘Don’t mention the war’ to his hotel’s German guests but keeps doing so himself and ends up goose-stepping around the dining room.
Even now, as a writer, I still don’t see John Cleese’s creation as an attack on Germans but a brilliant satire on the British obsession with your twin victories in the first half of the 20th Century.
Now though, you have lost your prodigal son. It’s Bayern Munich 1 Tottenham Hotspur 0.
Every step of Kane’s arrival in Germany on Friday was reported as if it was a papal visit – or even the reincarnation of Elvis Presley. My countryfolk are celebrating the appearance of England’s football captain like a moon landing.
This pivotal moment in Anglo-German affairs means that old rivalries – from beach towel tussles to Brexit – can be put aside and we can cherish what I believe is the world’s most intriguing love-hate relationship.
My own story mirrors that story. My first love was an English rose (of German-Jewish descent). My best friend is a Londoner (an Arsenal supporter, I am sorry to say). I went to school and studied in Britain.
My heart jumps joyfully every time I put my foot on your shores. Yet I never try to hide my Germanness when I visit, feeling like the living proof of the affinity of both our cultures.
As a saxon too, aren’t I quintessentially English? We were taught in school that the lands around what was once known as ‘Englalonde’ were originally inhabited by various Germanic tribes.
This was not the result of an invasion! It had been to fend off the Celts and Picts. So, in essence, just as the German tribe of the Franks, who moved west across the Rhine, became the French, the German tribes who came across the Channel became the English.
Why though, if we are that closely related, do our two nations squabble so much?
I believe it is because we are too closely related and hence too similar. Just as most of us are irritated when hearing our own recorded voice, we see our own flaws in those who are closest.
Kane arrives at the airport on Saturday ahead of his move to Bayern
The annual summer War of the Beach Towels between Krauts and Brits –one of the most traditional Anglo-German clichés – is a case in point.
We are so similar that we do exactly the same things (including ending up with embarrassing sunburns) and then deride each other for it. Also the closer you are, the more you are prone to envy.
When Kaiser Wilhelm, Germany’s last monarch, ambitiously started building up his navy and founded colonies in far-flung corners of the world, he was driven by envy.
He aspired to be on eye level with the British Empire. He wanted Germany to be more like Britain.
He adored his grandmother Queen Victoria and loved wearing his British Army uniform (he held the honorary position of Colonel-in-Chief of 1st The Royal Dragoons).
The First World War gave Britain the opportunity to put Germany back in its place. When Germany rose again under Hitler, the feeling of abhorrence was anything but unanimous.
For there were many prominent figures in the British Establishment – including royals –who sympathised with Germany in the early years of the Third Reich.
But: Shh! This is not something to dwell at a time when King Harry pulls on his Bayern Munich shirt for the first time.
Instead, let’s celebrate together by raising one of Munich’s famous Oktoberfest litre glasses of lager.
Few now remember those anti-German politicians such as Margaret Thatcher’s Minister Nicholas Ridley who described Europe’s proposed Economic and Monetary Union as ‘a German racket designed to take over the whole of Europe’, adding that Britain giving up sovereignty to the EU would be as bad as giving it up to Hitler.
Mrs Thatcher said in 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell: ‘We beat the Germans twice and now they’re back.’ She remained a bitter opponent of German reunification.
Ralf Dahrendorf, the German philosopher who taught at Oxford, once told me that he understood Mrs Thatcher’s fears.
He explained that Germany was so keen about building an ever more united Europe because it was afraid of its own power and wanted to be tied down in a supranational structure such as the EU.
Dahrendorf was one of the few who understood the Germans and English.
Today most Germans cannot comprehend Brexit – why a nation fiercely defends what they simply regard as abstract notions such as sovereignty.
Harry Kane and his wife Kate during the unveiling of his £100m signing at Bayern
Just like Angela Merkel hating Boris Johnson. He was too flamboyant for her taste. But there was also a whiff of envy.
Listening to our Chancellor Olaf Scholz is about as inspiring as having someone read out the user manual of a Miele appliance. We envy you Brits for the sense of entertainment that engulfs even your politics.
Watching the late Queen’s funeral made me shiver in respect. It reminded me of the old anti-republican witticism: ‘There are no fairy tales about presidents.’ Above all, we envy you Brits for your love of your tradition, history and culture.
For obvious reasons, we Krauts have difficulties embracing large parts of our history and heritage, so we love you Brits and your way of celebrating the pride you have for your nation – because we do not dare to love ourselves.
Now, though, we can both share Kane of Munich and England.
I understand why Spurs fans are in despair. But there are good reasons to cheer Bayern as both clubs have a proud Jewish heritage.
Bayern was founded by mainly Jewish football fans. One of the first chairmen was Jewish businessman Kurt Landauer who rebuilt the club from ruins after being in the Dachau death camp before escaping to Switzerland.
My favourite Fawlty Towers character is the Major, a slightly deluded, friendly gentleman. But his saying about Germans – ‘Bunch of Krauts. That’s what they are, all of ’em. Bad eggs!’ – is not true.
Nazi camp survivor Kurt Landauer was no bad egg. And the fact Harry Kane and his wife Kate are due their fourth child, who will be a ‘Munchner kindl’ (as children of the city are known), will help seal this New Special Relationship.
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