- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 20, 2000

LONDON Spitfire beer has only been around for 10 years, but its German-bashing ads sometimes make it seem like World War II is in full fury.

The latest spat surrounding the ale, which calls itself the "bottle of Britain," was touched off last week when the London Underground ordered Spitfire posters removed from subway trains because they were considered offensive.

Poking fun at Germans became the theme of subway ad campaigns from the Kent-based brewery three years ago. "Downed all over Kent, just like the Luftwaffe," read one poster. "Goering, Goering, gone," was another.

Having won several advertising awards, Spitfire started a new campaign two weeks ago.

One poster quickly deemed verboten by the Underground leans heavily on the pervasive impression among British vacationers that Germans get up at the crack of dawn and hog the best chairs around the swimming pool. "Have the sun beds. We're going to the bar," it reads.

Another banned ad says simply, "Votz zo funny about zeez posters?"

A third is titled "enemy identification chart." A takeoff on the charts used during the war to spot enemy aircraft, it shows the silhouette of two beer glasses one a squat British pint and the other an elaborate German stein. The pint says "ours," the stein says "theirs."

Spitfire was originally brewed a decade ago to mark the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, when Spitfire fighter planes were credited with saving the nation from Nazi invasion. The beer was so successful that family-owned brewer Shepherd Neame decided to make it a permanent brand.

It wasn't inevitable, but perhaps it isn't surprising that the company later decided to capitalize on the beer's name by engaging in a time-worn British tradition not limited to just the tabloids: German bashing.

When England was pitted against Germany in the 1996 European soccer championships, for example, headline writers had a field day with banners like "Let's blitz Fritz" and "Herr we go bring on the Krauts."

When BMW, the German carmaker, decided to bail out of its ownership of Rover earlier this year after suffering huge losses, the press reaction was savage. The Sunday Telegraph headlined one article about BMW: "We surrender."

Some Germans are clearly not amused. Last year, the departing German ambassador, Gebhardt von Moltke, accused the British of "profound ignorance" about modern Germany and suggested that history instruction in Britain seems to end with Hitler.

Stuart Neame, whose family has owned the Shepherd Neame brewery for four generations, thinks the controversy smells of political correctness gone crazy.

"It is certainly not intended to be offensive," he said in an interview. "The vast majority of people find it very amusing… . I think it's highly unlikely that Germans would even understand it."

Mr. Neame adds that he has many German friends.

"It will be a sad day," he said, "when the people with no sense of humor stop us from enjoying a little lighthearted amusement."

• Distributed by Scripps Howard.

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