Stereotypes, Ideology and Foreign Correspondents

German Media Representations of Ireland, 1946–2010

by Fergal Lenehan (Author)
Monographs X, 306 Pages
Series: Reimagining Ireland, Volume 75


This book examines German media representations of Ireland from 1946 to 2010, from the post-war period to the years of the so-called «Celtic Tiger» and Ireland’s subsequent economic downturn. It charts both the patterns and the inconsistencies in depictions of Ireland in the weekly publications Der Spiegel and Die Zeit, as well as in German cinema.
Cultural stereotypes may be employed in the furthering of a problematic cultural essentialism; however, they may also be used to «play» with readers’ or viewers’ expectations. They may be juxtaposed with newer cultural generalizations, or re-moulded to fit a transformed cultural reality. The representations of Ireland examined in this book are revealed as inherently ideological, consistently locating Ireland outside of an evolving European societal «normalcy». While this is often presented as something highly positive, the book argues that it implicitly places Germany at the centre of Europe and may be viewed as a type of excluding Europeanism.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction: Transnational Cultural History and Irish-German Intercultural Studies
  • Chapter 1: The Semantics and Syntax of Journalistic Articles of “Other” Cultures: Stereotypes and Ideological Narrative Meaning
  • Chapter 2: Unravelling a “Canon” of Representations: Irish Stereotypes in German Cinema
  • Chapter 3: ‘Many things appear Oriental’: Ireland in Der Spiegel and Die Zeit, 1946–1968
  • Chapter 4: ‘Their hands still clasp prayer books and guns’: Ireland in Der Spiegel and Die Zeit, 1969–1993
  • Chapter 5: ‘Nowhere is Europe so American as in Ireland’: Ireland in Der Spiegel and Die Zeit, 1994–2010
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series Index

← viii | ix →


This book was, in many ways, a solo effort, researched between seminar preparation and teaching, and written between nappy changing and trips to the playground. Which is not to say that I did not receive any help – both intellectually and emotionally. Thanks to Prof. Dr Jürgen Bolten and Prof. Dr Stefan Strohschneider for making very insightful comments during presentations on my on-going research, as part of the colloquium in Intercultural Studies at the Depatment of German as a Foreign/Second Language and Intercultural Studies of the Friedrich-Schiller-University of Jena. Thanks also to Prof. Bolten who agreed to lighten my teaching load for a semester so that I could write (and look after the new baby). I am grateful to Prof. Dr Joachim Schwend, formerly of the University of Leipzig, for his willingness to chat about on-going projects, and for various kinds of practical support. Gratitude must also be shown to Prof. Dr Dirk Vanderbeke of the English Department at Jena. Thanks also to the two anonymous peer reviewers and to Dr Eamon Maher of the IT Tallaght, the series editor, for their comments.

Thanks as well to Dr Luisa Conti, Dr Xun Luo, Yolanda Lopez Garcia and Dr Yeliz Yeldirim-Krannig from the FSU Jena: for help with teaching, intelligent conversations and collective dinners in the Mensa, followed of course by coffee.

My wife Kirsti Lenehan has been a rock of support over many years and life and work are, simply, unthinkable without her. My daughters Clara and Rosa continually put a smile on my face. My parents Phil and P.J. have also been a constant positive presence (even if largely on the telephone from Ireland).

Fergal Lenehan

May 2016
← ix | x →

← x | 1 →

Introduction: Transnational Cultural History and Irish-German Intercultural Studies

In a 2009 episode of the immensely popular German children’s cartoon, Bibi Blocksberg, the eponymous young witch at the centre of the series has to tackle the problems created by the sudden appearance of a leprechaun in her family’s post-box. Bibi’s Irish witch cousin, Margie Thunderstorm, had inadvertently sent it to her.1 Irish characters and settings often play a role within the plots of this hugely successful German children’s television show, based upon books and radio plays of the same name, with the cartoon Bibi visiting Ireland on a number of occasions to visit her cousins. The reason for this Irish presence probably lies chiefly with the fact that the British-born, Austrian-bred author of the original Bibi Blocksberg books, Elfie Donnelly, had an Irish presence herself; her father originally coming from the Emerald Isle.2 Drawing on statements from Daniel Binchy – Ireland’s chief diplomat in Germany from 1929 to 1931 – journalist Derek Scally has argued that an ‘uninformed sympathy’ has generally been central to ‘average German’ views of Ireland, from the 1920s to the present.3 This ‘uninformed sympathy’ may also suggest another more culturally collective reason for the fluid incorporation of Irish characters and settings in the aforementioned children’s cartoon.

This book centres on an aspect of culture diametrically opposed to children’s television, namely print media organs of German intellectual culture. The journalists writing for the publications examined here could most definitely not be described as ‘average Germans’, while the pervading perspectives have generally been well informed, and not always necessarily ← 1 | 2 → sympathetic. While Bibi Blocksberg has been a mainstay, in various forms, within children’s bedrooms in the German-speaking world since the early 1980s, the weekly newspapers Der Spiegel and Die Zeit have had a substantial presence within the more austere settings of German sitting rooms, reading rooms, and libraries since the late 1940s.

The specific study of Irish-German intercultural relations has attracted a relatively large amount of scholarly attention. Recent monographs and edited volumes have appeared in three principal areas: history and cultural history,4 literary studies,5 and business ← 2 | 3 → relations.6 A number of edited volumes have also been published containing a variety of articles with varied perspectives and approaches.7 The most relevant scholarly sources for the present discussion are those dealing with the Irish presence in Germany and depictions of Ireland within German primary source publications. The doctoral theses by Holfter, Dohmen and Oehlke examine portrayals of Ireland within German literature, with a strong orientation towards travel writing, while O’Neill’s monograph examines wider Irish-German literary interaction.8 Some shorter articles have also appeared on the image of Ireland within German literature.9 ← 3 | 4 → A small number of articles have also examined the German print media discourse on Ireland, oriented towards specific intercultural incidents and recent EU politics.10

This monograph is, therefore, the first time that the depiction of the island of Ireland in a selection of German media organs has been examined over an extended period. Such an approach enables the scholar to achieve an expansive overview and helps, thus, to highlight changes, progressions, and trends in relation to the image depicted of this specific geographical entity. The existing book-length scholarly publications centring on depictions of Ireland in Germany have had, as we have already seen, a literary inflection for the most part, while the last wide-ranging monograph published on this topic, Holfter’s Erlebnis Irland [The Irish Experience], is now more than twenty years old. This study sheds light on German images of Ireland in monograph form beyond the purely literary context, while also covering new ground by providing substantial space for the study of Ireland in the German print media from the mid-1990s until 2010.

This monograph is written from the perspective of transnational cultural history. Cultural history has challenged ‘historical realism’; the view that ‘history is composed entirely of observable actions that actually happened’, and has emphasized the study of thoughts, emotions and representations.11 Indeed, the study of representations has probably dominated ← 4 | 5 → approaches to cultural history since the 1980s.12 This book does not wish to reduce history to its ‘symbolic representations’, however, but views the material reality of the past as inherently and complexly interconnected with representations circulating within past time, following John R. Hall in seeing cultural history ‘as the study of cultural meanings in their shifting temporal connectedness to enacted social life’.13 This means also, of course, that any work of cultural history examining representations ‘involves formulating meanings about meanings, representations about representations’;14 such a work requires, therefore, a high level of theoretical reflection. This monograph follows the approach of the Berkeley-based journal Representations in looking for a working method ‘that is theoretically sophisticated but with a high degree of social, historical, and textual specificity’.15

Transnational history is an approach to historical writing that developed in the post-Cold War world of the 1990s, especially in the USA and Germany, countries that looked to move beyond methodological nationalism and to position transnational interconnections and non-state agents at the centre of historical narratives.16 In 1991 the Australian historian of the USA Ian Tyrrell argued for an approach to US history that moved beyond the narrative of American exceptionalism.17 By the end of the decade this perspective had become central to American historical scholarship, with a ← 5 | 6 → dedicated transnational edition of The Journal of American History appearing in 1999.18 In Germany transnational history arose out of discussions between protagonists of the long-standing method of comparative history and the newer, chiefly Franco-German approach of Transfergeschichte; the history of cultural transfers.19 From this discussion the methodology of histoire croisée emerged, which looked to combine comparative approaches and Transfergeschichte, and emphasized a more rounded reflexivity.20 Despite these (often intense) methodological discussions transnational history remains multifarious in terms of approach, the ‘common emphasis on relations’ constituting the shared core.21 While the nation-state is viewed within transnational history as a construct linked historically to power relations, it is also seen as an important spatial organizing principle for human beings and thus should not be ignored; even if now viewed as only one possible organizing principle, among many.22 This monograph combines transnational history and cultural history as it examines representations emanating from internationally active journalists who may be viewed as ‘human connectors’ between polities and societies, one of the chief agents at the centre of transnational history.23

Scholarly approaches to Irish-German studies have invariably been empirical, and have not tended towards theoretical innovation. This work ← 6 | 7 → will also continue this trend, being an empirical work of ‘hermeneutic cultural history’24 dedicated to the investigation of representations, and covering sources drawn from a period of sixty-five years; seven hundred and forty-nine journalistic articles in total. It also engages with relevant theoretical discussions, proffering additionally a structural theory of journalistic texts of other cultures. This study looks, thus, to provide an additional theoretical contribution to wider on-going discussions regarding cultural-historical approaches to intercultural relations and transnational interconnections, as well as contributing empirically to the study of Irish-German relations.

It was decided to concentrate on the weekly newspapers Der Spiegel and Die Zeit for a number of reasons. Both newspapers have existed since the post-World War 2 period until the present, thus allowing for an analysis of the depiction of Ireland over an extended period of time. In addition, both newspapers have consistently retained large, and influential, readerships, and have provided room for correspondence from abroad. While the daily newspapers created after World War 2 attempted to fulfil the acute need for information, the weeklies took a different approach. They looked to provide background information for news items, to offer a more in-depth analysis and commentary, and to place contemporary events within a wider context.25 It did not take long for both Der Spiegel and Die Zeit to become ‘prestige papers’, publications with a historical and cognitive identity, an above averagely educated and experienced staff, a system of codified inner norms, and a readership among the political and cultural elites.26 The study of these newspapers also represents, thus, the study of ideas and arguments circulating among the most influential circles of German society, ideas and ← 7 | 8 → arguments relating to Ireland that have engaged the minds of the most significant German political and cultural decision-makers.

Both publications are also, of course, West German newspapers. It was decided that the print media of the German Democratic Republic would not be analysed here. Irish elements within the GDR media have already been studied by the historians Damian Mac Con Uladh and Jérôme aan de Wiel, and it was questionable whether any new knowledge of real value would be forthcoming, the reading of Anglo-Irish conflict and the Northern Irish “Troubles” in Cold War propagandist terms representing, according to the aforementioned authors, the most dominant orientation within the rather slender GDR discourse on Ireland.27 Indeed, recent historical research has also suggested that the GDR media was heavily influenced by its western counterpart in its choice of topics – a feature of entangled German-German history that may allow historians of the future access to aspects of the history of both German states, within one historical narrative.28

The temporal “bookends” of this study – 1946 and 2010 – both represent, it will be argued, moments of sovereignty loss. 1946 is the first full year of Allied occupation and Allied control of the full machinery of German society. November 2010, following the Troika’s “Irish bailout”, was perceived by many in the Republic of Ireland also as a loss of sovereignty, ← 8 | 9 → with the usually restrained, liberal editor of The Irish Times claiming, for example, that ‘the true ignominy of our current situation is not that our sovereignty has been taken away from us, it is that we ourselves have squandered it’.29 This study deals with depictions of the full island of Ireland, both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. This is for pragmatic reasons, and is not meant in an Irish nationalist manner. Our main concern is with the island Irish; representations and discussions of the global Irish community not born in Ireland – for example the playwright Eugene O’Neill, or the US president John F. Kennedy – are excluded for reasons of space. The online digital archive of both Der Spiegel and Die Zeit were accessed. However, a key word search was not undertaken; instead, every weekly copy of each publication was consulted. In the case of Der Spiegel this meant the PDF version of the magazine’s print articles, accessed online from the magazine’s archive. The daily electronic resource from Der Spiegel, Spiegel Online, which generally has up-to-date articles and whose content often differs from the print version of the magazine, was not analysed. In the case of Die Zeit the PDF versions of the weekly newspaper’s articles were accessed also from the online archive. From 1995 the paper is available online only in its website form, but is dated in the same weekly manner. However, some of the articles appeared online before the publication of the print version of Die Zeit and there may, thus, at times be a disparity in dates between individual articles and the newspaper issue.

The text is structured into five chapters. Chapter 1 sets out the principal arguments of the monograph and establishes the theoretical framework, which also partly moulds the structure of the three chief empirical chapters. Chapter 2 sets out what I would like to call the canon of German stereotypes of Ireland by discussing the representation of the island in German cinema. Chapters 3, 4 and 5 examine the depiction of Ireland and “the Irish” in Der Spiegel and Die Zeit, from 1946/7 to 1968, 1969 to 1993, and 1994 to 2010 respectively. The beginning of the Northern Irish “Troubles” dominates Irish history in the year 1969, while 1994 sees the Provisional IRA declaring a ceasefire; these dates were chosen as dividing lines for these thematic ← 9 | 10 → reasons, a certain reorientation in the island’s depiction being, from the very beginning of research, assumed here as a given. Chapters 3, 4 and 5 retain a similar structure; each chapter commences with a short historical overview of the period in question based on relevant secondary material, a survey of the thematic domination within “Ireland texts” in Der Spiegel and Die Zeit during the period in question then follows. This leads to a discussion of stereotypes as an intercultural “language”, and the prevailing ideological syntax of the texts in question.

Comment must also be made in relation to some style issues within this text. All primary source translations are by the author, and are intended to be fluid and thus not necessarily literal. Within the text, key German quotations are placed side by side with their translation; for the purely English-speaking reader this serves as a reminder that they are engaging with a text based upon German-language sources. For a greater fluidity of reading one may, of course, move straight away to the translation. Readers who understand German may compare text versions if they so wish; this juxtaposition also thus highlights the sometimes problematic nature of translation. Quotations are given within the grammatical conventions of their time.

While this monograph covers original empirical ground, the most innovative aspect of the text undoubtedly lies in the methodology that is used and which is derived from the theoretical discussion of Chapter 1. Cultural stereotypes are viewed as inherent inter-textual presences within specific cultures. It is argued that stereotypes may also be seen as a type of “circulating” intercultural language with which authors from one culture may write about another culture in a manner instantly understandable to a mass of readers. This may result in the furthering of a problematic cultural essentialism. Authors may, however, use stereotypes as an intercultural language in order to “play” with readers’ expectations, juxtaposing long-held stereotypes with newer cultural generalizations or re-moulding long-held stereotypes to fit a newer cultural reality. Stereotypes are, thus, seen here as the textual semantics of journalist articles of “other” cultures. It is also argued that this collection of texts remains inherently ideological. This is to be seen within recurring tropes, metaphors and analogies that place Ireland outside of an evolving European “normalcy”. While often actually ← 10 | 11 → seen as something highly positive, this recurring ideological narrative meaning places Ireland outside of European societal “norms”, implicitly places Germany at the centre of Europe, and may be viewed, it is argued, as a type of excluding Europeanism. Ideological narrative meaning is seen here, thus, as the recurring textual syntax evident within numerous articles within this large body of text. ← 11 | 12 →

1 See here: Gerhard Hahn and Royce Ramos, Bibi Blocksberg: Der Kobold aus der Briefkasten (Germany: Hahn Film AG, 2009).

2 See here: Wieland Freund, ‘Warum Benjamin Blümchen der erste Grüne war’, Die Welt (19 November 2012).

3 See here: Derek Scally, ‘What Did the Germans Think of Us?’, The Irish Times (1 May 2011).

4 See here e.g.: Jérôme aan de Wiel, East German Intelligence and Ireland, 1949–90: Espionage, Terrorism and Diplomacy (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2014); Christopher Sterzenbach, Die deutsch-irischen Beziehungen während der Weimarer Republik, 1918–1933: Politik – Witschaft – Kultur (Münster: Lit, 2009); Gisela Holfter ed., German-speaking Exiles in Ireland 1933–45 (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2006); Mervyn O’Driscoll, Ireland, Germany and the Nazis: Politics and Diplomacy, 1919–1939 (Dublin: Four Courts, 2004); Mark Hull, Irish Secrets: German Espionage in Ireland 1939–1945 (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2003); Andreas Roth, Mr. Bewley in Berlin: Aspects of the Career of an Irish Diplomat, 1933–1939 (Dublin: Four Courts, 2000); Reinhard Doerris, Prelude to the Easter Rising: Roger Casement in Germany (Oxford and New York: Routledge, 2000); Joachim Fischer, Das Deutschlandbild der Iren 1890–1939: Geschichte – Form – Funktion (Heidelberg: Winter, 2000); Cathy Molahan, Germany and Ireland 1945–1955: Two Nations’ Friendship (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1999); Thilo Schulz, Das Deutschlandbild der Irish Times 1933–1945 (Frankurt am Main etc.: Peter Lang, 1999); David O’Donoghue, Hitler’s Irish Voices: The Story of German Radio’s Wartime Irish Service (Belfast: Pale, 1998); and Hans-Dieter Kluge, Irland in der deutschen Gescichtswissenschaft, Politik und Propaganda vor 1914 und im Ersten Weltkrieg (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1985).

5 See here: Eoin Bourke, ed. and trans., “Poor Green Erin”: German Travel Writers’ Narratives on Ireland from Before the 1798 Rising to After the Great Famine (Frankfurt am Main etc.: Peter Lang, 2013); Gisela Holfter, Heinrich Böll and Ireland (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2011); Gisela Holfter, Erlebnis Irland: Deutsche Reiseberichte über Irland im zwanzigsten Jahrhundert (Trier: WVT, 1995); Doris Dohmen, Das Deutsche Irlandbild: Imagologische Untersuchungen zur Darstellung Irlands und der Iren in der deutschsprachigen Literatur (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1994); Andreas Oehlke, ed., Fahrten zur Smaragdinsel: Irland in Deutschen Reisebeschreibungen des 19. Jahrhunderts (Göttingen: Edition Peperkorn, 1993); Andreas Oehlke, Irland und die Iren in deutschen Reisebeschreibungen des 18. Und 19. Jahrhunderts (Frankfurt am Main etc.: Peter Lang, 1992); and Patrick O’Neill, Ireland and Germany: A Study in Literary Relations (New York etc. : Peter Lang, 1985).

6 See here e.g.: Mary Keating and Gillian Martin, eds, Managing Cross-Cultural Business Relations: The Irish-German Experience (Dublin: Blackhall, 2004); Niamh O’Mahony, German-Irish Corporate Relationships: The Cultural Dimension (Frankfurt am Main etc.: Peter Lang, 2004); Claire O’Reilly, The Expatriate Life: A Study of German Expatriates and their Spouses in Ireland – Issues of Adjustment and Training (Frankfurt am Main etc.: Peter Lang, 2003); and Gillian Martin, German-Irish Sales Negotiation: Theory, Practise and Pedagogical Implications (Frankfurt am Main etc.: Peter Lang, 2001).

7 See here e.g.: Claire O’Reilly and Veronica O’Regan, eds, Ireland and the Irish in Germany: Reception and Perception (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2014); Joachim Fischer and Rolf Stehle, eds, Contemporary German-Irish Relations in a European Perspective: Exploring Issues in Cultural Policy and Practise (Trier: WVT, 2012); Joachim Fischer and Gisela Holfter, eds, Creative Influences: Selected Irish-German Biographies (Trier: WVT, 2009); and Niamh O’Mahony and Claire O’Reilly, eds, Societies in Transition: Ireland, Germany and Irish-German Relations in Business and Society since 1989 (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2009).

8 See here: Holfter, Erlebnis Irland; Dohmen, Das Deutsche Irlandbild; Andreas Oehlke, Irland und die Iren in deutschen Reisebeschreibungen des 18. und 19. Jahrhunderts; and O’Neill, Ireland and Germany.

9 See here e.g.: Heinz Kosok, ‘Thomas Crofton Croker, the Brothers Grimm and the German Image of Ireland’, in: O’Reilly and O’ Regan, eds, Ireland and the Irish in Germany, 85–102; Patrick O’Neill, ‘Kennst du das Land? Ireland and the German Literary Imagination’, in: Gisela Holfter, ed., Heinrich Böll’s Irisches Tagebuch in Context (Trier: WVT, 2010), 70–88; and Emer O’Sullivan, ‘Idylle und Ernüchterung: Eine imagologische Analyse des Irlandbilds in der deutschsprachigen Literatur nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg’, in: Hans Richard Brittnacher, ed., Horizonte Verschmelzen: Zur Hermeneutik der Vermittlung (Würzburg: Königshausen und Neumann, 2007), 117–28.


X, 306
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (July)
Intercultural studies Stereotypes Ideology Ireland Germany
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2016. X, 306 pp.

Biographical notes

Fergal Lenehan (Author)

Fergal Lenehan teaches Intercultural Studies at the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena.


Title: Stereotypes, Ideology and Foreign Correspondents