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Thursday, 24 May, 2001, 14:47 GMT 15:47 UK
Row over 'crisis-hit' Britain article
London tube station
UK travellers are "tortured, abused and humiliated"
Britain has been branded a country in "deep crisis" by a leading German publication, which describes it as a country blighted by ill health, poor education and an incompetent government.

The 12-page article in current affairs magazine Stern, which sells around one million copies a week, paints a damning portrait of modern Britain under the title of The English Patient.

But an academic in German studies at a British university said the article reflects the "dismissive attitude of a nation with an axe to grind."

The editorial begins with a grim picture of Stepney Green in London's East End, where it says "tuberculosis is raging" in living quarters where up to 10 people are living in one room.

The magazine goes on to say: "One in five adults in the land of William Shakespeare and Harry Potter is practically illiterate."

Dr Peter Barker, a lecturer in the German department at Reading University said Germany was in fact trying to deal with similar problems as those detailed in the article.

Bureaucracy

The German infrastructure - underpinned by a large and well-trained skills base - was in better shape than Britain's, but it was also dogged by greater bureaucracy, said Dr Barker.

Its education system is strong but its health system is expensive, he said.

Germany also has large pockets of unemployment in its eastern region as it struggles to cope with the problems of unification, Dr Barker added.

Tony Blair's government is the target of much of the criticism in Stern article, particularly for what the magazine sees as the failure to handle the foot-and-mouth crisis.

"All over the country stinking great fires produce more dioxins and other cancer-causing toxins than all the dirt-spreading companies of British industry," the article says.

Foot-and-mouth carcasses
Britain is like one big funeral pyre, according to Stern
Britain is like one big funeral pyre, according to Stern.

"Many Germans feel disappointed with the Tony Blair government because he has not been able to steer Britain towards Europe," said Dr Barker.

"Blair had been saying he would put Britain at the heart of Europe and he has not been able to do that. They are suspicious."

Britain's transport system does not fare much better.

Travelling on public transport is an experience akin to sado-masochistic sex, with the passenger left feeling "tortured, abused and humiliated", according to correspondent Bernd Dorler.

He also describes the Millennium Dome as "a symbol for the extent of the failure".

But Dr Barker says the article overlooks the similar problems which struck Germany's own doomed Millennium project.

'Innumerable disasters'

It set up its own German Expo in Hanover which had been earmarked as a showcase for the world but it received "fewer visitors than expected and lost money".

The piece goes on to say Germans might expect British voters to punish the prime minister in the coming general election for the "innumerable disasters and failings of the government" - were it not for the "wretched condition" of the Conservative opposition.

The Tories are blamed by the writer for stoking the fires of racism and xenophobia, which he says are "smouldering like the funeral pyres of foot-and-mouth".


Stern puts forward a rather more extreme version of a view that we have already seen elsewhere

Johanna Liddle
Johanna Liddle from the German-British Forum - which promotes relations between the two countries - says that while Stern is often known to take a "sensationalist" angle, many of the issues it raises in the article cannot be denied.

"Stern puts forward a rather more extreme version of a view that we have already seen elsewhere.

"The tourism industries in America and Japan have already reacted in a strong way to things such as foot-and-mouth.

"But I think it also says more about the British that we've singled out a German article, when there have probably been hundreds of articles written in other countries on the same topic."

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24 May 01 | Europe
The German view of Britain
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