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Germany intervenes in the World War 1 debate: commemorate the dead, not the battles

German schoolchildren, unlike their British counterparts, will not be sent to visit battlefields and cemeteries, but will join collaboratory projects, such as an international gathering of children, to discuss the conflict.

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Two young German soldiers, one dead, one wounded

Germany has intervened in the debate over how to mark the centenary of the First World War, with a call for Britain not to make its commemorations too celebratory.

The country's special envoy for the centenary of the conflict, Andreas Meitzner, requested a series of meetings in London earlier this month with his British counterpart, Andrew Murrison, as well as senior officials from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, to hear about the UK's plans and outline Germany's position.

There are understood to be some official German concerns that the way Britain marks the centenary could cool relations between the two countries, against a backdrop of possible negotiations over the future of the EU and the UK's membership of it.

Norman Walter, from the country's London embassy, said that a "less declamatory tone", which did not dwell on issues such as who was responsible for the conflict, "would be easier". He also suggested that commemorations should include a focus on the achievements of the European Union in helping to bring peace to the continent.

The tone of Britain's commemorations has been the subject of debate, with historians accusing the Government of concentrating too much on the carnage of the conflict and depicting it as accidental and futile out of a desire to avoid upsetting the Germans by appearing triumphalist.

The critics argue that the war was a just, necessary fight for survival against a Germany bent on European domination and, as such, its centenary should see greater attention paid to Britain's achievements.

Mr Walter, head of press at the embassy, suggested such a theme for events would make it harder for Germany to be involved and that commemorations should instead focus on the shared loss of the combatant nations. He said that Germany would look to be involved in the events of other countries, rather than organise their own.

"For us, it is about remembrance and reconciliation, and trying to learn lessons. We would love to join as many as possible. We would prefer not to have any celebrations, having lost. What unites is that we lost millions of people. We can't tell you how you should celebrate, but our feeling is that issues about who was guilty and all that should be left more or less to historians and shouldn't feature dominantly in politician's speeches."

He said the reasons for the outbreak were "less clear cut" than those for the Second World War, making it hard to make this part of the theme of commemorations. He added: "The biggest single contribution to the start of the First World War was Germany, but others played a part."

He added: "Whether it was a win or not, it wasn't worth it. It would be easier for us to take an active part (if there is no celebratory element). It would be easier to concentrate more on commemoration and what we lost. A whole generation was wiped out."

He went on: "We recognise that who are we to prescribe... A less declamatory tone would be easier. That is the way to make use of it, for the future."

Precise details of how Germany will mark the centenary will not be announced until after the country's elections, next month. However, Mr Walter suggested that on the continent, the centenary would be a time to reflect on the achievements of the European Union.

"This is something that won't go down too well here, but the European idea is something that helped us overcome the situation where a war like this could start, where European countries could go to war with one another. It may sound far fetched here, but it doesn't elsewhere in Europe. Of course, we also see new nationalism coming up in a lot of countries, and the EU is there to counter that. The European community will very much be part of the German commemoration. Thankfully we have the European Union."

Mr Walter said it was unlikely German schoolchildren would be sent to visit the battlefields and cemeteries, as their British counterparts are to. More likely are collaboratory projects, such as an international gathering of children, to discuss the conflict.

He added: "There is simply a different culture in this country. You have much more military events than we do, like Trooping the Colour. We don't want to commemorate the battles. We want to commemorate the dead."

Source: Telegraph


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