Germany Demands Apology From Queen For Wartime Air Raids

Roundup: Talking About History

Luke Harding, The Guardian (London), 02 Nov. 2004

Germany's biggest selling tabloid, Bild, yesterday called on the Queen to apologise for Britain's wartime destruction of German cities, ahead of her state visit to Germany today.

In a provocative double-page spread, the newspaper urged the Queen to utter a"few suitable words of regret" during her three-day trip for the thousands of German civilians killed during British air raids.

The tabloid's campaign has attracted no support from Germany's centre-left government but comes at a tricky moment in Anglo-German relations - and when the idea that Germans were also victims of the second world war is for the first time being more broadly debated.

Yesterday British officials said there was no prospect of the Queen apologising during her visit to Berlin, where she gives a speech this evening, and opens a major conference on climate change tomorrow. They pointed out that a concert hosted by the Queen tomorrow at the Berlin Philharmonic is dedicated to the restoration of the Frauenkirche, destroyed by allied attacks on Dresden in 1945.

"There has been no serious request for an apology, so the question doesn't arise," one British diplomat said yesterday. He added:"Of course the Queen is aware of the issues. She lived through the second world war. She regrets the suffering on both sides.'

Yesterday Bild, which sells nearly 4m copies a day, ran an essay by the revisionist German historian Jorg Friedrich in which he attacked Britain's destruction of Dresden as"senseless". The"massacre" of 50,000 German civilians during the devastating allied raids contributed nothing to the allies' victory over Hitler shortly afterwards, he wrote.

The paper ran photographs of German corpses laid out on Dresden streets and asked the question:"What have the British got against Germans?"

Although no serious German newspaper has followed Bild's lead, they have recently reflected on what might have gone wrong with the Anglo-German relationship. Officially, relations between Tony Blair and Germany's chancellor Gerhard Schroder are excellent, despite the war in Iraq. The problem is at a more informal level.

Last week Germany's foreign minister Joschka Fischer complained about the British media's portrayal of Germany as the"land of the Prussian goose-step" - pointing out that the popular image of Germany in Britain bore no relation to the modern reality.

Diplomats on both sides are alarmed that youth exchanges between both countries have recently fallen away. Fewer British students are learning German than ever before - only 6,000 studied the subject last year at A-level.

In her speech tonight the Queen - who apparently understands some German - is likely to stress the need for Britain and Germany to do more to improve contacts between young people. Her presence tomorrow, meanwhile, at an Anglo-German conference on climate change has led to speculation that the"Green Queen" has complained to Tony Blair about American's lead role in global warming.

While the Queen is not known for making public her private opinions, officials in Berlin yesterday pointed to the fact that her Bentley has been converted to run on gas, and that several energy-saving devices have been installed in the royal palaces.

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