Tuesday 12 December 2017

Subtle damage to 'wholesome' image Germans have of Ireland

Kate Katherina Ferguson

One German news website put it particularly nicely. David Drumm and John Bowe "giggled like pubescent boys as the latter sang the highly offensive 'Deutschland, Deutschland über alles'," N24 wrote, adding, "they seemed to be in their element".

If there was a hint of irony in much of the German reporting on the leaked Anglo tapes, its sole purpose was to underscore the shamelessness of the interchange and to make a connection between the tone of the conversation and the disastrous outcome for the bank.

"It's a scandal of European-wide dimension," wrote 'Manager Magazin', which said the tapes documented a "barely comprehensible level of arrogance, smugness and lack of respect" for those who rushed to the bank's aid as the gaping hole in its finances came to light.

"If the Irish Independent newspaper had not made the matter public, you probably wouldn't believe it," it wrote.

Other news outlets responded with similar incredulity. "The recordings are a horrifying testimony to the contempt which some banking bosses had for customers, regulators and politicians . . . even after the outbreak of the financial crisis," wrote the website of news magazine 'Der Spiegel'.

Although Ireland's finances are generally not the focus of much public discussion here in Germany, the media has responded particularly emotionally to the provocative tone of the conversation between Mr Drumm and Mr Bowe.

Germany's most-read tabloid, 'Bild', ran with the headline: "Deutschland über alles: broke Irish bankers scoff at German customers."

The 'Tagesspiegel' daily wrote ". . . Drumm can barely contain his laughter; so amused is he at how they've taken in German savers as well as the Irish Government".

Many online media outlets provided links to the Irish Independent clips, along with translations. Quite a few articles included a contrast between the image of the guffawing bankers mocking their benefactors and their institution's sorry end.

"Drumm giggled. But his laughing soon passed: in 2009, just a few months after the phone conversation, his bank was nationalised," wrote business daily 'Handelsblatt'.

For all the press reaction to the interchange, however, it would be naive to consider the tapes a major factor in any future economic dealings with Germany. The average German does not immediately associate Ireland with fiscal collapse, the way it does Spain, Portugal and Greece.

When I told my German neighbour that almost all of my friends had emigrated, she raised her eyebrow and said sympathetically, "Tatsäshlich?" – Is that so? – before telling me how much she enjoyed visiting Ireland and how beautiful it was.

My hairdresser reminded me recently that the Irish were renowned for emigrating, so she didn't consider my being in Germany all that strange.

In my experience, German sentiment towards Ireland at times borders on the implausibly benign. When I recently told an elderly man that I came from Ireland, he sighed wistfully and said, "Oh, it is a much more beautiful country than Germany".

Another lady I know said she had seen images of Ireland on television and had longed all her life to visit.

These tapes threaten, therefore, to cause a more subtle kind of damage. The ordinary German, who – often to my bewilderment – associates Ireland with a certain other-worldly kind of wholesomeness has experienced a shock – or perhaps a reality check.

Irish Independent

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