Germany is starting a series of campaigns to improve the country's image abroad, seeking to replace the dogged stereotypes of Nazis and sunbed stealing tourists with a more relaxed, hip and even erotic portrayal of its people and language.
By Clare Murphy
BBC News Online
Adding insult to the injury caused by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who last week compared a German politician to a Nazi prison campguard, a junior Italian minister has described Germans as "uniform supernationalistic blonds" who "loudly invade" Italy's beaches each summer.
The remarks by both Mr Berlusconi and his employee, Stefano Stefani, have met widespread contempt.
But they have hit a particular nerve among some Germans, coming as they do just as the country is trying to shake-off perceptions which they feel have little or nothing to do with the reality of 21st-Century Germany.
It's images of half-naked, lithe youngsters dancing at Berlin's annual techno dance festival, the Love Parade, along with celebrities such as the supermodel Claudia Schiffer and sporting heroes like footballer Juergen Klinsmann and former tennis player Boris Becker, which German cultural officials want to draw attention to.
Last week, the Goethe Institute in London held a brainstorming session with corporate and cultural representatives in the hope of coming up with a new "brand" for Germany.
It is hoped popular German celebrities will draw attention away from the past
"We discovered that it would be too hard to change Germany's brand, as many of the images associated with the country are too deep-set," said the conference's chair, Ulrich Sacker.
"But we did decide that we've got to start emphasising current aspects of German life which are ignored - the hedonism for example of the Love Parade, the fact that we have short working days, that we take the longest holidays in Europe."
The problem of perception is seen as particularly bad in Britain, where television schedules are packed with documentaries about the Nazis and the Holocaust - topics which also form the staple of the history curriculum in British schools.
These stereotypes had an impact on tourism, export, industry, as well as inward investment, the German ambassador to London suggested.
"We also have big problems with perception here," says Barbara Malchow of the Goethe Institute in Paris.
"The Nazi past doesn't play such a big role among French impressions of Germans as it does in Britain - although it is an issue. The key problem we're finding is that there just isn't that much interest in Germany or learning German."
The campaign being launched in France is designed to encourage young French people to think of Germany as sexy.
Under the suggestive motto: "There is so much we can do together," the advertising portrays the French and Germans as intertwined at many levels.
"It shows the practical side of our relationship, but also the prospect of more exotic and erotic aspects," says Ms Malchow.
The French branch of the Goethe Institute is also hoping to draft in Schiffer, Klinsmann and Becker to help out.
Next year, other campaigns will be rolled out in Eastern Europe, where it is freely admitted that memories of the past die hard.
"Poland's going to be a difficult one," one cultural official concedes. "We're going to have to work out whether the funny and sexy attitude of these other campaigns is appropriate there."
Last week, Germany got rid of the Luftwaffe logo from aircraft used by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and other top government officials.
The Luftwaffe reduced cities like Warsaw to rubble during World War II, and the continuing presence of the logo on aircraft is thought to have raised more than a few eyebrows on trips to the east.
But some German brand experts wonder if their country is taking its image a little too seriously.
"The obsession with how other countries view us seems to have much more to do with how we see ourselves than anything else," says Andreas Schneider, of BBN advertising, which markets German products abroad.
"The bad economic conditions mean we've got a bit of a self-confidence problem at the moment - and maybe that's why we've got so upset about these ridiculous comments by the Italians. They don't deserve the attention they are getting."
Mr Schneider also warned against throwing the baby out with the bathwater, noting that many German stereotypes - such as the hard working and ruthlessly efficient employee which the Goethe Institute hinted at ditching - worked to the country's advantage - even if they no longer match the reality.
"Italians for example have to contend with all sorts of stereotypes about being unreliable, lazy even, completely the opposite impression which people hold of Germany," he said.
"And certainly if you were a company, it's not hard to say which stereotype you'd prefer to be lumbered with. Is it?"