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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 July, 2004, 02:24 GMT 03:24 UK
'Very few want British to go'
By Chris Summers
BBC News Online in Hannover

Most Germans celebrated when the last soldiers from the old Soviet Union left in 1994 but a decade on is there any demand for British troops to follow them?

Beating the retreat
A British Army band beats the retreat in Hannover
It was a surreal moment.

A British Army band was beating the retreat in full uniform in the car park of a German insurance company.

The occasion was the Queen's birthday reception, hosted by the Honorary British Consul in Lower Saxony, Wilhelm Zeller.

Mr Zeller's day job is chairman of Hannover Re, the fourth largest reinsurance company in the world and one of the city's major employers.

In a speech, in German, to the assembled dignitaries, Mr Zeller said Anglo-German relations were strong and deep and he hoped that would continue.

He raised a toast: "Long live the Queen," before the band played the British and German national anthems.

Major General Sir Peter Wall and Wilhelm Zeller
Major General Sir Peter Wall shakes hands with the Honorary British Consul Wilhelm Zeller
Mr Zeller's warm words were echoed by a former Mayor of Hannover, Dr Herbert Schmalstieg CBE, who represents the ruling Social Democrats of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who himself comes from Hannover.

Dr Schmalstieg said Hannover had historic connections with Britain. The city's royal family - the Hanoverians - were kings of Britain from 1714 to 1837 - and the city was the first in Germany to twin with a British counterpart, Bristol, after World War II.

Dr Schmalstieg said he was only a year old when British troops arrived in the city in 1945.

'British brought democracy'

"I feel that the British started a new era of democracy in our city after the Nazi dictatorship, so it's good to have a connection with the British Army," he said.

During the Cold War Hannover was only 95 km from the Iron Curtain - the border with communist East Germany - but Dr Schmalstieg said: "Then we were on the fringes of western Europe. Now we are at the centre of the new and bigger Europe."

He said the question of whether British and American troops should go home was simply "not an issue".

That is not to say Germans do not agree with everything Britain does.

"We could not understand why (President George) Bush and (Prime Minister Tony) Blair started this war in Iraq. Most Germans did not want a war in Iraq, but then I think most Britons didn't want it either," said Dr Schmalstieg.

Another source of friction, the noise from low-flying jets, has disappeared with the closure of the last RAF base in Germany, RAF Bruggen, in 2001.

'Time to go'

But while the presence of British and American troops is not a hot topic of German politics there are some voices of dissent.

The former (East German) communist Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) wants all foreign troops to leave German soil and its calls have grown louder since the war in Iraq began last year.

We believe there is no need for any British or American troops to stay here and we think they should withdraw as soon as possible
Helmut Ettinger
PDS spokesman
PDS spokesman Helmut Ettinger told BBC News Online they were grateful to the allies for liberating Germany from Hitler's tyranny but he added: "The post-war period has gone long ago. The Cold War has ended and Germany is completely able to defend itself by its own means.

"We believe there is no need for any British or American troops to stay here and we think they should withdraw as soon as possible."

Mr Ettinger said: "We are against sending troops into foreign countries, such as Iraq, and believe international conflicts should be solved by politics and diplomacy."

But Rainer Hirsch, a correspondent with the German TV station ZDF, said there was no hostility towards British troops even last year at the height of the protests against the war in Iraq.

He travelled to Iraq with the 7th Armoured Brigade (The Desert Rats) last year and he praised their professionalism.

Dr Schmalstieg
I feel that the British started a new era of democracy in our city after the Nazi dictatorship, so it's good to have a connection with the British Army
Dr Herbert Schmalstieg
Former Mayor of Hannover
"I saw the British troops being very sensitive to Arab and Muslim sensibilities, even when things got worse as Iraqis got nervous and frustrated with the lack of change," he said.

He said: "The German people feel that the British are doing a much smoother job and they are respected a lot more than the Americans."

British Forces Germany press officer Mike Whitehurst said: "There were no demonstrations outside British bases in Germany even though the British and German governments were completely at odds politically.

"The Anglo-German community were saying they wanted their troops back safely."

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