Tuesday, 7 April 2015

The peaceful invasion

Seventy-five years ago, Britain was bracing itself for a German invasion of the classic sort - aggressive and unwanted - and the way the island fought back is, of course, history. I invaded Germany myself nineteen years ago and a recent trip back to Blighty made me smile at the signs of a more subtle, but ultimately more effective invasion by our Teutonic cousins.

Back in the 90s, German brands were welcome in the UK as long as they were connected to German engineering in the broadest sense - or alternatively, sports and beer. But I was surprised just how many German cars now roll along those British roads and lanes. I suspect that more and more British homes are cleaned and serviced with Miele equipment, with the outdoor areas kept spick and span with a Kärcher.

All of this - cars, sports, beer, engineering - reflects areas where the Germans are generally, if grudgingly, acknowledged to be better than the Brits. At the same time, the Germans lapped up anything from Britain with cheerful abandon and lack of discrimination. Until recently, it was a rather one-sided love affair.

The German exports so far this century have had a different flavour. Less to do with steel and mechanics and more to do with cosiness, family, cooking, tradition, home, childhood. Just look how many German-style Christmas markets spring up in December. Or Easter-egg painting and hunting, as I blogged here.

So many German brands in the area of family and children's food have been successful in the UK in the last fifteen years - often up against stiff competition. Müller, Hipp and Haribo are just three examples. And perhaps the biggest success of all is one often mentioned on this site - Aldi and especially Lidl now dominate the UK grocery scene. It may be taken for granted now, but twenty years ago, challenging the might of Sainbury's and Tesco's was almost unthinkable. And the retail invasion hasn't stopped there. Deichmann now features in many city centres, and there are plenty more shoe and clothing chains where that one came from. Perhaps dm fancies taking on Boots?

Who knows - maybe the British Royal Family will revert back to one of their former names and the whole thing will go full circle.

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