Rolling, rainy pastures and butter: how Germans see Ireland Political Editor

 

Dominating views in an ‘Irish Times’ poll include images of cows, grass, and friendly people

THE MAJORITY of Germans view Ireland through green-tinted spectacles with images of beautiful countryside, farm animals and wet weather predominating, according to the findings of the poll conducted by The Irish Times in both countries.

What is striking is that while only a small proportion of Germans have visited Ireland, or plan to do so, a majority of them have a strong image of the country which many Irish people would regard as old-fashioned.

A whopping 60 per cent of Germans, when asked what came to mind when they thought of Ireland, came up with rustic images of a green and beautiful island, while another 17 per cent mentioned agriculture and farm animals.

Only 1 per cent of Germans mentioned good economic activity as coming to mind at the mention of Ireland, while the euro crisis, banking, insolvency and the ESM were mentioned by 3 per cent.

The dominating view of Ireland has undoubtedly been influenced by the huge success of the Kerrygold brand in Germany. Eleven per cent of Germans mentioned Kerrygold butter as the first thing that comes to mind about this country, and the packaging with its images of green grass and cows has obviously had a powerful influence. Pubs and alcohol came a poor second to the green island image, with 20 per cent citing something associated with this aspect of Ireland.

Interestingly, Irish whiskey featured a little more strongly than Guinness in the German perception of the country, reflecting the recent successful marketing of the product in world markets.

Tourism-related topics were cited by 13 per cent of Germans with friendly people and beautiful castles and villages being cited while just 3 per cent mentioned Dublin.

Irish music and dance featured, with 7 per cent citing them as things that come to mind in relation to Ireland.

There was no reference to the worldwide rock phenomenon of U2. That could mean they have had little impact in Germany or that Germans simply don’t associate them with this country.

Only a small minority of Germans, 9 per cent, say they have visited Ireland while just 11 per cent have ambitions to do so. Given that the German population is more than 80 million, this still amounts to a fair number of people, but it means a small proportion have first-hand knowledge of this country.

By contrast, 42 per cent of Irish people say they have visited Germany. This discrepancy looks odd, but there are a number of possible explanations.

Many Irish visitors to Germany are likely to have gone for short city breaks, on business or to soccer matches rather than full holidays. It is also likely that given its size and geographical location, many Irish people have simply passed through Germany on the way to somewhere else.

This is probably reflected in the fact that the number of people who have ambitions to visit Germany, at 16 per cent, is far lower than the numbers who have actually visited.

The poll indicates that the Irish view of Germany is probably much closer to reality than the German view of Ireland.

Asked what came to mind when they thought of Germany, efficiency and hard work came in top place, followed by the related images of a rich well-run country and economy.

Beer and festivals also figured high up the list with tourism coming in at a similar level in Irish perceptions.

Interestingly, 11 per cent of Irish people mentioned Angela Merkel as the first thing to come to mind when they thought of Germany. The poll didn’t establish what Irish people thought of the German chancellor, but she has clearly had a powerful impact on the perception of her country.

It was fascinating to note that just 7 per cent cited Hitler and the Nazis as coming to mind in the context of Germany. Given the volume of films, television programmes and books that still focus on the second World War period, it indicates Irish people

are more influenced by images of the current reality in Germany rather than the past.

Working-class Irish people were much more inclined to cite Hitler and the Nazis compared to middle-class people.

More relevant to current events, the same percentage cited dominating EU policy as the thing that came to mind with regard to Germany, and again this was much more evident in the responses of working-class voters.

Taken together with the political aspects of the poll which were published on Saturday, the evidence is that there is a fair degree of mutual trust and respect between the people of Ireland

and Germany in spite of the political and economic stresses that have been placed on the relationship because of the euro zone crisis.

Self-critical confessions of a practising German: page 14