Should the Queen say sorry to the Germans for bombings?
By Roger Boyes
The royal visit to Berlin next week has been complicated by one newspaper's campaign
GERMANYâS biggest-selling newspaper yesterday kicked off a politically embarrassing campaign to persuade the Queen to apologise for British wartime bombing before next weekâs state visit to Berlin.
The provocative front page by Bild, which often spearheads national debates, could not have come at a more critical time. The Queenâs visit, which begins on Tuesday, is supposed to usher in a new era of the Anglo-German relationship, less fettered by obsessions with the Second World War and Adolf Hitler. Instead her tour is rapidly becoming entangled with emotional questions about German victimhood: Germany, it seems, wants its wartime suffering to be acknowledged.
The Queen, however, has no intention of saying sorry. She is likely, British officials say, to express sadness at the loss of civilian life during the bombing raids but stop short of an apology. âWatch for her gestures rather than her words,â an official said yesterday. The Queen will play host to a concert at the Berlin Philharmonic intended to raise money for the final restoration of the Dresden Frauenkirche, destroyed in an Allied attack in February 1945.
The question âWill the Queen apologise?â was plastered over the front page of Bild, which has a readership of more than nine million. A photograph of British aircraft dropping bombs and a rather grim-looking Queen drove home the message. So far no German editorials or politicians have called for an outright apology. Bildâs tactic, a newspaper insider says, is âto generate a big readership response so that it can present itself as the voice of an aggrieved nation just before the Queen arrivesâ.
In fact there seems to be no pent-up demand for British repentance. A cross-section of Germans questioned by The Times at the Brandenburg Gate yesterday showed a singular fair-mindedness.
The Queen is not expected to go beyond the carefully weighed words of Sir Peter Torry, the British Ambassador to Germany, who in an important address to victims of the Brunswick bombing raids spoke of the âmadness of warâ and the âbleak and terrifying momentâ when the city was hit. He expressed remorse on behalf of the British â but reminded the congregation in Brunswick Cathedral that Germany had begun the bombing campaign against Britain. The suffering was not one-sided.
The friction between Britain and Germany is actually at a different level. Joschka Fischer, the Foreign Minister, complained in London recently that Germans have to come to Britain to learn how to goose-step â the militaristic high-kicking march is banned in Germany (as are swastikas and Nazi regalia) but can often be seen in British television comedies and in supposedly jocular press coverage. Schoolchildren complain that they are greeted with âHeil Hitlerâ salutes when they visit England.
The German concern is that a morbid fascination with the war in Britain will distort the views of the young generation and destroy all curiosity about modern Germany. The latest British Council survey shows that more than 60 per cent of young Germans have personal experience of Britain through contacts or visits but more than 50 per cent of Britons say that they have no personal relationship with Germany.
British teachers have recently been flown to Germany, in a largely symbolic act financed by the German Government, to encourage a broader approach to German history. Other moves are under way but, in the official German view, the good work is being unravelled by distorted media coverage.
The British Government at least acknowledges that Germans are not being treated entirely fairly. The 60th wartime anniversaries between now and May are thus seen as an opportunity to reach a form of moral closure. The anniversary of the Dresden bombing next February will in particular give the British a chance to acknowledge German suffering.
The problem is that the new British government willingness to address German complaints â Thatcher-era diplomats and politicians merely shrugged them off â coincides with a confusion in Germany about its own status. The British Council survey found that even more Germans disliked their own country than disliked Britain. The Germans are now agreed that they have a right to mourn their wartime dead but are unsure about the next step. Chancellor Schr Ã¶der, by publicly visiting his fatherâs wartime grave in Romania, has shown that war signifies private grief for millions of Germans. But how far that grief should shape a new German patriotism is still open for debate.