Berlin, July 9 (Reuters): German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder cancelled his holiday in Italy today after an Italian minister refused to apologise for calling Germans “hyper-nationalistic blondes” who invade Italian beaches.
Schroeder will instead spend his annual summer vacation in his home town of Hanover, northern Germany, for the second year in a row, a government spokesman said.
German newspapers had urged the media-savvy leader to spurn Italy following the comments from Stefano Stefani, an Italian junior minister responsible for tourism.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who last week sparked a diplomatic row by comparing a German member of the European Parliament to a Nazi concentration camp guard, said Schroeder’s holiday decision was a shame for the German leader. “I’m sorry for his sake,” Berlusconi said.
Schroeder, who has spent his holiday in Italy a number of times and admires Italian cuisine, was due to spend about two weeks on the Adriatic coast starting at the end of next week.
But German-Italian relations, already shaky after Berlusconi’s comments, worsened after Stefani wrote in a Right-wing newspaper: “We know the Germans well, these stereotyped hyper-nationalistic blondes, who’ve been indoctrinated from the beginning to feel top of the class whatever the situation.”
Germans “loudly invaded” Italian beaches, eating spaghetti while criticising Italy for mafia killings, Stefani wrote in the letter to La Padania, the newspaper of the Northern League party, a coalition partner in Berlusconi’s government.
Germans are used to jibes about their Nazi past when abroad and have been amused by British media ridicule at their apparent tendency to seize deckchairs by draping towels on them at dawn.
But Stefani's comments hit a nerve, and sparked warnings from officials that Italy risks deterring the 10 million German holidaymakers who spend eight billion euros in Italy a year.
Olaf Scholz, party manager for Schroeder's Social Democrats, said:“After the most recent outbursts by members of the Italian government against German holidaymakers one can understand that Schroeder and his family no longer want to go on holiday there.
”Thousands of German tourists holiday in Italy every year. They don't need to be insulted in this blanket fashion. The chancellor made this clear with his decision.”
The affair cast further shadows over the start of Italy's six-month European Union presidency, marred last week by Berlusconi's Nazi jibe.
”This will rattle confidence in Italy's ability to carry on untainted with its EU presidency and as such could see the entire six-month period spent bickering and plotting tit-for-tat tactics,” wrote foreign exchange analysts at MCM Currencywatch.
Hanover, razed by World War Two bombing, has a limited range of holiday attractions for Schroeder, his fourth wife Doris and her daughter Ä some medieval houses, royal garden and a zoo.
Ulla Kastner, head of a tour company that organises trips to Italy, said Stefani's comments were“hair-raising”.
”But if I look at what happens at Lake Garda or Tuscany, I can understand what he's talking about,” said Kastner.
”Hotel owners there say, 'Oh God, the arrogant Germans'. They're a minority but in the big tourist centres you do get some Germans acting like 'I'm the king and who are you''”