My memories of growing up in the 1970’s were based on two things, one that the whole period was in black and white, or more correctly a kind of sepia grey. The second thing about the decade was that it seemed to me as if the Second World War had only just finished and not the decade starting 25 years after it ended. The war was on the television, in films, the comics which were bought for boys were either about football or the Second World War, jokes were about the war and a lot of conversations between adults seemed to have something to do with the war. It was everywhere. But at the same time there wasn’t a strong antipathy to the German people. If anything there was a jealousy of the ‘German Economic Miracle‘ (Wirtschaftswunder and here is a wonderful virtual museum of it I found via Susan) that meant the country was shiny, new and exciting. Their football team hadn’t yet beaten the English team many times in qualifying matches for the World Cup Final for it to be an issue. In fact the quarter-finals of the 1970 World Cup was when the run began.
So in 1974 when I started secondary school and had a choice of learning either German or French there was no choice. My Junior school had been thought to be dangerously radical in teaching a language to children under secondary school age. Well it was only in the last year and the teaching was done by the wife of a drinking mate of the head teacher, I don’t know if she was qualified. I didn’t get on with the French language or the teacher. We had swimming directly after our language lesson and if you were naughty in French you missed swimming. At the time I just loved swimming and it should have been enough of an encouragement for me to buckle down and learn the language but no, for the last year my memory is of not swimming at all. So the choice was easy, German. Apart from the first six months when there was a new teacher who we drove out of the school, I buckled down and learnt German and enjoyed it, as much as a person normally enjoys learning a language at school. I made two visits to Germany with the school on an exchange with a German students from Osnabrück(wiki) and enjoyed them then visited a friend who had been in Germany with the army and had left the army but remained in Germany who lived near Köln. I visited several times for work and now live in a place that was German for long parts of its history, not always voluntarily and is just twenty minutes on my bike form the German border.
None of the above really explains why I have been a Germanophile all my life but I have. At home we’ve talked about my wife’s celtic origins and I have been described having the look of a stereotypical Anglo-Saxon yeoman. I had thought my family’s origins in Lancashire would mean we are more likely to be of viking descent but two things have changed that. Earlier this year I discovered that my maternal grandfather’s family moved to Lancashire in the early nineteenth century from Suffolk. Now this article in Spiegel, where the graphic on the left comes from, shows that the English people are more German than had previously been thought. As a fully paid up Germanophile I’m quite happy with that thought but I don’t think my liking for things German comes from my genes, so that doesn’t give an explanation either.
It looks like the question, why am I a Germanophile, is going to have to be treated the same way as I treated the Descartian systematic doubt of existence, what is there that can be proved to exist? The response was less than Descartes himself famously said, I think therefore I am. Mine was that there is something that thinks therefore some thinking thing exists. But in response to the depressing doubt that questioning the existence of anything creates if you spend too long thinking about it – and I spent four years is an appropriately German response from Nietzsche, of yeah saying:
“But say, my brothers, what can the child do that even the lion could not do? Why must the preying lion still become a child? The child is innocence and forgetting, a new beginning, a game, a self-propelled wheel, a first movement, a sacred “Yes.” For the game of creation, my brothers, a sacred “Yes” is needed: the spirit now wills his own will, and he who had been lost to the world now conquers the world.” from Nietzsche’s Thus spoke Zarathustra, part I, Walter Kaufmann transl.
I don’t know why I’m a Germanophile, I am a Germanophile.