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Tuesday, October 12, 1999 Published at 17:33 GMT 18:33 UK

UK Politics

German ambassador decries UK 'ignorance'

There is more to Germany than this kind of thing

The departing German ambassador in London has left his post with an appeal to the UK to understand that there is more to Germany than World War II.

Mr Gebhart von Moltke accused the British of "profound ignorance" about modern Germany and suggested that history teaching in UK schools appeared to end with the defeat of Hitler.

As he left to take up the post of German ambassador to Nato, Mr von Moltke said he had tried to present Germany to the British people as a partner, ally and friend.

[ image: Gebhart von Moltke has urged people in the UK to accept the reality of modern Germany]
Gebhart von Moltke has urged people in the UK to accept the reality of modern Germany
But he lamented: "One has the impression sometimes that the teaching of history in this country stops at 1945."

And he wrote in a farewell article for the German-British Chamber of Industry and Commerce: "I regret and am deeply concerned by the lack of interest and curiosity I detect amongst young British people, not only with regard to learning German but also with travelling to Germany."

Increase in German study

Education experts were bemused by the ambassador's appeal on Tuesday, pointing out that many English schoolchildren have a rich diet of German language and culture.

Entries for GCSE German - which includes "cultural awareness" - have been on the increase.

And teenagers study the history of Germany right up to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Mr Moltke's comments also surprised a fellow countryman living and working in the UK, Dr Hans Bauer, deputy director in London of the Goethe Institute, which organises cultural exchanges and language teaching.

Dr Bauer said he considered Mr Moltke's views "a little sweeping".

It was true, he said, that 10 times more German students visited the UK on exchange visits than British students travelling the other way.

'Ask a German where they go on holiday'

But even the Germans did not find Germany very interesting as a tourist destination, he said.

"Ask a German where they go on holiday and five out of 10 times he will say Italy or Spain," Mr Bauer said.

And while acknowledging that the Goethe Institute "preached to the converted" in its language and cultural courses, he found strong interest in his country amongst British youngsters.

"There is considerable interest particularly in Berlin since the fall of the Wall," he said.

During his two-year stay in the UK Mr von Moltke is said to have adopted a somewhat "fatalistic" attitude to German-bashing articles in the British press.

But he took exception to a "highly irresponsible" article by The Sunday Times's critic A A Gill, which said of his countrymen: "Admit it, we all hate them."

In his own article, Mr von Moltke said: "We need to encourage language training and travelling if we want to further deepen the ties between our societies with the aim of building a prosperous, safe and happy future for Britons and Germans alike in the wider context of the European Union."

Eurosceptic suspicion

Reaction to the article from Conservative Eurosceptic MP Bill Cash, who said he considered suspicion of German political intentions entirely justified, would probably have confirmed Mr von Moltke in his views.

"We have to look at the reality of the present day," Mr Cash said.

"There are continuing problems which emerge from Germany, including their attitude to British beef and their attitude towards political union and their insistence that they must have their way with a single European currency."

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