“A thousand years will pass and the guilt of Germany will not be erased.” – Nazi Governor of Poland Hans Frank at the Nürnberg Trails.

“It is for the rising German generation … unanimously announcing their desire: not for a German Europe, but for a European Germany.” – Author, Novelist Thomas Mann

There really isn’t any specific German word or words for public relations.

The closest appears to be Öffentlichkeitsarbeit or literally public sphere work.

Nonetheless there has been an Öffentlichkeitsarbeitswunder in Germany in less than 70 years since the end of World War II and the discovery of the massive savagery of the Holocaust.

How can a country that was literally wiped flat and left with an indelible stain on its brand and reputation ever become the “Most Popular County in the World” in much less than a century, if one believes the chaps at the BBC?

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According to a random quantitative survey of 26,000 respondents in 25 countries conducted for the BBC, Germany finished first with a 59 percent approval rating vs. 15 percent, who disapprove. It should be noted that respondents were precluded from voting for their own country, so this result is truly a result of how Germany is seen around the world.

What this means is that during the course of nearly seven decades of surrender, occupation, division, rebuilding, reunification and now as the unofficial leader and banker of the European Union, Germany is not only seen as a normal country…a timid one at that…but a nation to be admired.

Two factors immediately come to mind: The healing power of time and how most people view success (der Erfolg).

This post is not my first foray into the question of the enhancement of the German brand (see my earlier Feminizing the Fatherland), but it does trigger a discussion about how one of the most despised nations in the history of the planet can now be the most admired.

As I pondered providing an answer to this question, I walked into the reported largest book store in the world, Powell’s Books, which takes up an entire block in the Northwest quadrant of Portland, Oregon.

Predictably, I found the majority of the hundreds of titles about Germany focused on the NS Zeit or the Nazi times with vivid descriptions of Hitler’s terror, the war and the ovens and gas chambers of the Holocaust.

As a result, there are literally hundreds of movies and television shows (e.g., Schindler’s List, Defiance, Hogan’s Heroes) that make the Germans out to be monsters or klutzy. Recent ads for Beck’s Beer in the United States portray the anal side of the Germans, suggesting that the Teutonic types take their humor, recreation and romance very seriously.

Public relations essentially evolved as an outgrowth of the industrial revolution in America, and it was used to protect the strong business positions of Cornelius Vanderbilt, John Rockefeller’s Standard Oil and other industrialists at the time.

Conversely, one should never confuse Hitler’s propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels with the practice of public relations. Goebbels’ mission was to control all media and thus dominate thought within Germany and conquered nations, not to project a positive image of Nazi Germany to the world.

After the war ended and the horrors of the Final Solution became apparent, Germany still needed to be rebuilt and with it the image of a democratic state strategically aligned to the West in the center of Europe.

What were some of the factors that led from the rubble to the most popular nation on Earth? Here are some factors for discussion and further research:

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● The Marshall Plan, $13 billion reconstruction of Europe program, spearheaded by Secretary of State George Marshall. The program accelerated the comeback of the European continent, and set the groundwork for Germany’s Wirtschaftswunder or Economic Miracle.

● Speaking of miraculous events, there was also the 1954 “Miracle of Bern” when upstart West Germany won its first World Cup. West Germany won again in 1974 with “Kaiser Franz” Beckenbauer as captain, and yet again as a reunified country in 1990 with Beckenbauer serving as coach. German sports stars, including Beckenbauer, Oliver Bierhof, Lothar Matthias, Jürgen Klinsmann, Miroslav Klöse, Steffi Graf, Boris Becker, Katarina Witt, have all contributed to softening the nation’s image and projecting a people focused on success.

● Even though Bayer was owned by IG Farben, which made the poisonous Zyklon B used at Auschwitz and other Nazi camps, the company is best known for inventing aspirin. German engineering is legendary and its products and companies are legion including: Bayerische Motoren Werke (BMW), Daimler Benz, Porsche, Vokwagen, BASF, Siemens, Deutsche Telekom, Systemen, Anwendugen und Programmen (SAP), Becks, Spaten, Aldi (owner of Trader Joe’s) and many others.

● The 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall (ein Stück der Mauer ist an meinen Tisch), the subsequent collapse of East Germany and the reunification of the country, focused the world’s attention once again…but from a positive standpoint…on das Land in der Mitte.

●The formation of the European Union and the resulting currency reform (Is the Euro the Deutsche Mark in drag?) placed Germany as the EU’s largest and wealthiest nation in a leadership position, even though the Germans eschew the word, Führer.

Early leadership by Germany in environmental protection as evidenced by the apparent strength of die Grünen or Green Party, the planned shutdown of the nation’s nuclear reactors and the 80 percent energy consumption from renewables target.

● The open admission of German responsibility for not only World War II, but the systematic liquidation of approximately 6 million Jews and others that were deemed to be undesirable (Untermenschen) by the Nazis. Besides official memorials, there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of Stolpersteinen (bronze stepping stones) that commemorate those who lived in particular German towns, who were then kidnapped and murdered.

● A five-year old held captive in one of the Concentration Camps on liberation day in 1945 would be 73 today. The World War II generation is inevitably dying out. And with their passing goes direct memory of the horrors of Nazi Germany. Time is on the side of the new democratic Germany.

● Chancellor Angela Merkel is ironically the female head of state of the Fatherland. Even though her politics are similar to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher; Merkel is seen as pragmatic and willing to compromise…traits not associated with Britain’s “Iron Lady.” This week, The Economist suggested that Merkel’s Germany is a “reluctant hegemon,” more than happy to be an economic, export-oriented power, but preferring to take a Switzerland mode when it comes to global leadership.

● This week, Barack Obama will be the fourth sitting American president (his second trip there) to speak in Berlin. Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” and Reagan’s “Mr. Gorbachev tear down this Wall” speeches are seared into our collective memories. Germany’s capitol is a symbol of the universal quest for freedom.

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Even though there are some that dredge up the past, including placing Hitler mustaches and Nazi armbands on caricatures of Merkel, Germany is increasingly seen as doing something right. Labor and management work together. Wages are competitive. The nation’s unemployment rate is low. The country is a legendary manufacturer and exporter.

And now Germany is the most popular nation in the world…at least according to one very prominent poll. Who could ever believe this result, even for a nanosecond, more than two generations ago? It’s time to delve into what appears to be a public relations miracle.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-22624104

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-21974496

http://www.cnbc.com/id/100761312

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mann

http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21578448-what-germanys-football-victory-says-about-its-role-europe-tor-tor-tor

https://almostdailybrett.wordpress.com/2011/06/24/feminizing-the-fatherland/

http://www.powells.com/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schindler%27s_List

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_D._Rockefeller

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornelius_Vanderbilt

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshall_Plan

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayer

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