Ze Germans and ze British: Just good Frenemies?

A lot of people know about the German connections of the British Royal Family during the 18th and 19th centuries. But did you know that what was to become British Gas was founded by two German chemists in the 19th century? That Germans were the largest group of foreigners in Britain in the 19th century? That German academics are the largest group of foreign nationals working at British Universities (including at Reading University)? That the Germans are obsessed with a British comedy sketch, Dinner for One, which is shown, and has been shown for decades by every German TV station throughout the day each year on New Years Eve for decades? That two Germans invented the Doc Martens’ air cushioned sole?

A pop-up travelling exhibition, provided by the UK-based Migration Museum Project, explores such relations between Britain and Germany. It is currently on show at the University of Reading and will remain here until 24 March. It can be visited anytime between 9am and 5pm on weekdays in the Humanities and Social Sciences Building on Whiteknights Campus, room 274A. More directions and a couple of weekend dates for external visitors can be found at the bottom of this post.

The panel discussing “The Brelephant in the Room” on 15 February

The exhibition consists of a small number of panels that explore different groups of German migrants to the UK, from the Royal family to the poor and the refugees during the Second World War. It also explores different economic as well as cultural connections between the UK and Germany from Early Modern Period onwards. There is also a panel about stereotypes and sport – yes, football gets a mention, too; but did you know that a German doctor working in London inspired the Paralympics? Each panel provides specific examples as well as a short text about the historical background. Showing this exhibition is timely – with a view on a pending Brexit – and equally interesting from a German as well as from a British perspective, as it describes a part of British migration history and illustrates how (groups of) migrants contribute to the country that they make their new home, and partly also the difficulties that they may face.

Part of the audience at the panel discussion

A little programme of events around the exhibition also attracted visitors, such as a panel discussion about “The Brelephant in the Room: Living in post-referendum UK as an EU citizen”.

Two more events are coming up: A guest lecture by Dr Stefan Manz about “German Immigrants and the First World War. A Centenary Perspective” on Wednesday, 1 March, 4-6pm and a presentation by Final Year German Studies students who interviewed German academics working at the University of Reading on Wednesday 15 March, 4-5:30pm (meet in HumSS 274A for both).

The exhibition and events are supported by the Vice-Chancellor’s Endowment Funds for academic events, the School of Literature and Languages and the Heritage and Creativity Institute.

The Humanities and Social Sciences Building (HumSS) is located on Whiteknights Campus, building number 1 on the map: Room 274A is on the second floor. The exhibition is also open to visit on the following two Saturdays: 4 and 18 March, between 8am-12pm and 2-4pm. Please contact Dr Melani Schröter  if you would like further information.

Vice-Chancellor Sir David Bell visited the exhibition earlier this month

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