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German writer COUNT ALEXANDER VON SCHOENBURG says England vs Germany is a sporting rivalry to savour

On Tuesday, England take on Germany in the first knock-out round of the European football championships.

You might think that I, as a German, would already be booking my ticket for the quarter-final.

After all, even your very own striker-turned-commentator Gary Lineker once said: ‘Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball around for 90 minutes, and then the Germans always win.’

But, as every German knows, our current team are a mere shadow of the great champions of the past. In fact, the one aspect of the upcoming contest that gives me hope is that it is a clash that carries more baggage than a Hollywood celebrity at LA airport.

And I am sure that England’s supporters will make us sausage-eaters only too aware of it, with their customary renditions of ‘Two world wars and one world cup, England, England.’

Don’t mention the war? Fat chance!

: COUNT ALEXANDER VON SCHOENBURG: On Tuesday, England take on Germany in the first knock-out round of the European football championships. You might think that I, as a German, would already be booking my ticket for the quarter-final. Pictured: World Cup Final, 1966

As a student in England, I vividly recall watching that episode of Fawlty Towers in which Basil, after warning his Spanish waiter Manuel on no account to mention the war in the hearing of a group of German guests, ends up goose-stepping around the hotel dining-room.

As this is an age in which everyone seems to enjoy getting offended all the time, I should point out that I never understood this episode to be an attack on Germans, but a brilliant satire on the British obsession with its twin victories in the first half of the 20th century.

You Brits just can’t put it out of your minds.

Take Euro 96. Two days before us krauts were due to take on England in the semi-finals a British tabloid newspaper ran a front page with the headline, ‘ACHTUNG! SURRENDER! For you Fritz, ze Euro 96 Championship is over’.

Unfortunately for you guys, we reversed the 1945 result by winning on penalties, thus implanting in every England player a deep-seated psychosis about taking spot kicks in international competitions that persists to this day.

And nowhere is this more present than in the noggin of your manager Gareth Southgate. Yes, the very man who missed his penalty, gifting us the match and allowing us to march on to victory in the final.

Many Britons like to think that the passion aroused by every footballing confrontation highlights not only historic strife but also vast differences between the two nations.

Britain is supposed to love freedom, Germany discipline. ‘Where would we be if we had too many rules?’ asks the comic Pub Landlord played by Al Murray. ‘Germany,’ he answers.

Pictured: World cup semi-final, 1990, Turin, Italy England 1 v West, Germany 1. England's Chris Waddle is consoled by West German captain Lothar Matthaeus after his miss in the penalty shoot-out. ALEXANDER VON SCHOENBURG: As every German knows, our current team are a mere shadow of the great champions of the past

Germans apparently value diligence more than Britons, which is why we are first to the sun loungers at holiday resorts.

In Britain a sense of humour is a prime virtue, unlike — allegedly — in Germany.

As the old joke goes, ‘In Heaven the Englishman is responsible for the jokes, the Italian for food and the German for order. In Hell, the Englishman is in charge of the food, the Italian order and the German the jokes.’

That national trait of my homeland could be said to be embodied in our long-serving, outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has elevated dullness into a principle of governance.

Gareth Southgate holds his head after missing his penalty during England's defeat by Germany after a penalty shootout in the 1996 European Football Championships at Wembley Stadium

Yesterday, she gave her farewell speech to the Bundestag and it was a monochrome performance of wilful, almost spectacular tedium. The contrast with your Prime Minister Boris Johnson could hardly be greater. It is all but impossible to imagine a figure like Boris ever rising to the top in German politics.

Yet when we Germans, with our enthusiasm for cool technocrats, mock him as a bumbling clown, we are secretly envious of his technicolour theatricality.

For the truth is that, despite our differences, our two nations actually have in a great deal in common. I have observed this having spent a great deal of time in both England and Germany, and believe it may be the real explanation for the fervour of our clashes.

Precisely because we are so close, we simultaneously hold feelings of love and hate for each other, like siblings who share genes.

After all, many British and German citizens originally hailed from the same stock. Today, those affinities can be found in features as various as a fondness for beer — beer halls in Bavaria are remarkably similar to British pubs — parallels in our two languages, and even links in architectural styles. On visits to Dorset, I was always struck at how the local rural cottages there were very like those in north-west Germany.

And nobody needs reminding of how close your Royal Family’s connections to Germany are. George I hailed from the city of Brunswick in Lower Saxony, arrived in England with his own Hanoverian beer because he did not like your lager, and hardly spoke English.

Indeed, the creation of the position of Prime Minister owes much to the fact that he needed someone to deal with all his ministers, as he struggled to converse with them.

COUNT ALEXANDER VON SCHOENBURG: As every German knows, our current team are a mere shadow of the great champions of the past. In fact, the one aspect of the upcoming contest that gives me hope is that it is a clash that carries more baggage than a Hollywood celebrity at LA airport. Pictured: Paul Gascoigne consoles his England team-mate Gareth Southgate, 1996

Our own much derided Kaiser Wilhelm — who took us into World War I — was a grandchild of Queen Victoria, whose husband, Albert Saxe-Coburg, again, was a German Prince. And while you may consider us boring, you Brits quietly admire much about us. You have always had great faith in Germany’s high-tech mastery, as exhibited by the way the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ — the Audi advertising slogan ‘Progress through technology’ — has become part of the British lexicon.

Equally, the BBC series about German history by the distinguished academic and museum curator Neil McGregor, called Memories Of Nation, was enormously popular.

In fact, British academics such as Mr McGregor are far more reverential about the noble aspects of Prussian culture than most Germans writers are, partly because our academics tend to focus on the militaristic side of ‘Prussianism’.

Stuart Pearce of England is consoled after England loose out to Germany again in a penalty shoot out during the European soccer championships semi final match between England and Germany at Wembley Stadium, 1996

Talk of hostility is overdone, too. For centuries, Germans have happily made their homes in Britain, from the composer Joseph Haydn to the political philosopher Karl Marx. Tennis legend Boris Becker is treated with far more respect in London than in Germany, where his erratic personal life and financial troubles are the subject of derision.

But my favourite icon of this special bond between England and Germany is Bert Trautmann, the German paratrooper who fought for the Reich in WorldWar II, before becoming an English footballing hero through his brilliant exploits for Manchester City — especially in his majestic display of courage in the 1956 FA Cup Final, when he played on with a broken neck.

The horror of Hitler’s tyranny means we see nationalism as a danger and a source of shame. That helps to explain why attitudes towards the European Union are so different.

In Britain, as shown by the majority vote for Brexit, the EU is seen as a threat to national rights, liberty and sovereignty.

But in Germany, constraints on nationhood are welcomed as a means of preserving peace and boosting prosperity.

The fact that the EU promotes international co-operation above domestic freedom is viewed as an asset rather than a flaw.

This idea of melting into one happy supranational, European family, where it no longer matters whether you are German or French or whatever, lies at the core of the European project.

One of the few occasions we Germans allow ourselves a moment of patriotic enthusiasm is in the football stadium.

So England supporters should not be led to think that, on the pitch, national pride has been diluted to any extent.

My country’s side will be fighting all the way. Gareth Southgate may have more misery in store. 

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