Mon, Jul 14, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Germany, Italy warm to each other

KISSING AND MAKING UP The Italian tourist official who called Germans a bunch of arrogant blondes quit and top newspapers tried to put the whole row in the past


An ugly tiff between Italy and Germany looked Saturday to be cooling off, after the resignation of a tourist official who described Germans as a bunch of arrogant blondes -- a remark that Italians feared could jeopardize the lucrative influx of German vacationers.

Millions of Germans and billions of their tourist dollars flood into Italy every year. The spat this month led Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to cancel his planned vacation to Italy -- yet those in the tourist trade were hopeful Saturday that there would be no major repercussions.

"I don't think it's a matter of politics," said Giulio Rossi, a waiter at a restaurant near the Pantheon. "The Germans always come over at the end the summer."

British student Mathew Mason wandered around the ancient site with his girlfriend, and said the young Germans they'd met just seemed to be having a good time here. "They don't seem to be interested in this political affair," he said.

A German tourist reading a newspaper at an outdoor cafe echoed this.

"I come to Italy every year -- no problem," said 52-year-old G. Wozny from Hamburg. "I am coming back in seven weeks time."

The tension between Italy and Germany began when Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi told a German lawmaker in the European Parliament on July 2 that the man would be perfect for the part of a Nazi concentration camp guard in a movie.

Then, an undersecretary for tourism, Stefano Stefani, wrote a newspaper article calling Germany a "country intoxicated with arrogant certainties," and Germans "stereotyped blondes with hyper-nationalist pride."

This was too much, and Berlusconi's government pressured Stefani out. The premier told reporters Friday night that Stefani had resigned on his request.

"I'm sorry that the chancellor eliminated his holiday," Berlusconi `said. "I don't believe we can give too much importance to this episode. The chancellor will spend his holidays in Italy next year."

President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, whose position carries little power but considerable moral weight in Italy, urged the Italian and German governments on Saturday to make up.

"We cannot allow a painful polemic which disturbed German-Italian relations to cast a shadow over our future cooperation," Ciampi told Germany's Bild am Sonntag weekly newspaper, in remarks released Saturday.

Local officials from regions that rely on German tourism expressed relief that Stefani had resigned -- a few local politicians even took the opportunity to invite Schroeder to holiday on their local beaches.

German politicians welcomed Stefani's resignation.

"With this, the matter should be over, and no further fuel added to the flames," Angela Merkel, the leader of Germany's conservative opposition, told Bild am Sonntag.

Germany's top-selling Bild daily printed a picture of Stefani on its front page Saturday with the headline "I love Germany!" Underneath were a list of dozens of reasons why Germans love Italy -- from the fact that German Formula One champion Michael Schumacher drives a Ferrari to Italian film star Monica Bellucci.

Italy's largest newspaper, Corriere della Sera, headlined Saturday's paper: "Rome-Berlin, The Resignation Closes the Case."

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