You can see it in some German eyes, in the uneasiness when the subject of America comes up. You can hear it in their cocktail party chatter, their cutting remarks about zigzagging U.S. foreign policy, the pitiable decline of the dollar or the sorrow fighting condition of U.S. soldiers stationed in West Germany.
And you can easily detect it in their jokes. "Did you hear that President Carter is going to the Moscow Olympics? No, why? To preserve his amateur status."
The one always draws a laugh, if not a snicker.
But ill-tempered irritation with Carter is only part of the problem.
Today in West Germany -- a land America has regarded for three decades as a stepchild -- and incipient anti-Americianism is evident. There are no "Yankee go home" posters, no general diplomats of unfriendliness directed at U.S. citizens living or visiting here. The shift has been more subtle.
According to a recent survey by the Allensbach Institute, however, 53 percent of West Germans still name America when asked which country they consider their "best friend." During the last six months, West Germany proved to be America's best friend in Europe. It is the only major European power boycotting the Moscow Olympics and within the Common Market has been most supportive of U.S.-sought economic sanctions against Iran.
Because of its role in modern European history and because of the U.S. influence on West Germany since the end of World War II, the German view of America always has been of consequence. With West Germany's enormous economic power and political influence within Europe today, however, the emergence of anti-American attitudes here carries an import far beyond the borders of the modern West German state.
Both West German and U.S. diplomats say they are disturbed by what they describes as a more openly critical allitude toward the United States.
Even Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Bonn's foreign minister, was compleled last month to speak out in a major foreign policy address against a "fashionable anti-Americanism."
At root, say experienced observers, is not an anti-American feeling but a reborn pro-german one. Perceptions of America in decline have coincided with a resurgent West German strength. The result is sympathy of U.S. problems tinged with mid disdain.
The anti-Americanism that is evident is less demonstrative than the Vietnam protests of the 1960s, but the German language has a word for it: schadenfreude, a kind of silent gloating about the misfortune of someone else.
"There has been a change," commented one experienced U.S. diplomat, "from German reparations to a renewed running down of America."
Offsetting this attitude is the close contact and constant exchange of people, products and ideas between West German and the United States -plus the continued reminder of their dependence of U.S. military protection through the presence of the 200,000-man U.S. 7th Army.
Despite the many close bonds, there are strong indications -- including the results of a recent private survey commissioned by Chancellor Helmut Schmidt -- that a large number of West Germans are worried about how dependent their country is on the United States and want more detachment.
There are several key reasons for this:
West Germany has come of age. Economically, it is no longer a little brother of the United States but a major partner in trade and banking.
While any resurgent sense of nationalism is still held in check, there has been a rebirth of West German pride. "The years of shame are over," said a senior American soure. "There is good feeling again about being German."
Moreover, West Germany is using its regained economic strenght to pursue its own political and diplomatic interests. Bonn has been careful not to depart from clear West European and Atlantic policy lines, but increasingly in partnership with Paris and London is accenting a European interest distinct from the American. West Germany's own economic, political and human contacts with the Communist East now run broader and deeper than America's.
These developments have been paralleled and probably quickened by an increased dismay with the United States, not only its ability to lead but its ability to cope.
Americans are generally seen as saving too little, buying too much on credit, consuming too much energy and living beyond their own and their country's means. In foreign affairs, America is regarded as a nation governed largely by vacillating public opinion polls.
German officials also mourn the passing from Washington's councils of power of the "old German hands," men like John McCloy, George Ball and others with clout and extensive experience in European affairs.
"The motives behind our attitudes are ignored," said a senior Schmidt aide. "The only yardstick seems to be solidarity, suggesting that because the United States did so much for us, we should do as we're asked or else we are acting ungratefully or as cowards."
On top of it all is ill-tempered irritation specifically with the Carter administration, although at this point a Carter presidency is still regarded here as preferable to a Reagan one.
During a televised panel discussion last week, a West German solider, trained to respond to a threat from the Communist East, stood up in the audience to ask whether West Germany also faced a threat today from the United States.
Of course not, answered a foreign policy expert. But the fact that the question was raised at all was significant. It pointed to a tendency by some West Germans to place the United States and the Soviet Union on the same qualitative plane, to regard each as similarly endangering world peace.
In fact, uncertainty about U.S. foreign policy -- particularly about Carter's military intentions in the Middle East and in Afghanistan -- contributed to a heightened fear of war here during the winter and early spring. It was from this anxiety that Schmidt has drawn support for his cooler stance toward Washington and his continued overtures toward Moscow. Schmidt is scheduled to travel to Moscow for talks with Soviet President Leonid I. Brezhnev later this month.
A large majority of West Germans say they do not trust the Soviets. At the same time, many are afraid of being dragged into a war by the United States.
There has been a drifting apart of the younger German and American generations. Roughly two-thirds of today's 62 million Germans were born after World War II. They associate America with Vietnam and Watergate more readily than with the Marshall Plan of Care packages.
To a degree, some say German criticism of America parallels changes in America's own mood. "Even the Americans are anti-America," said one senior chancellory aide.
Commenting on the disappointing performance of U.S. Army volunteers stationed in Germany -- the same aide said, "We know. We are aware of your own Pentagon reports on the condition of the U.S. military."
The Afghanistan crisis flushed much of the emotion to the surface. In the United States, it was anger not only at the Soviets but at the European allies. In europe, irritation, defiance even, was disrected against the United States.
In England, there's still a deep strain of paternalism towards America. In France, it's a sense of independence. But West Germany's new negativism is perhaps the most worrisome, and most incalculable.
Where will it carry Bonn? Probably not very far from Washington since West Germany's political maneuvering room remains still unusually limited as a result of its history.
"Germany is the one country that has the least amount of political mileage to get out of anti-Americanism," said a senior American source.
Schmidt himself, blamed by party friends and opposition Christian Democrats for encouraging open season on the United States by his private snipes at the Carter administration, has been notably guarded lately in this respect. In a major party speech this week, the German chancellor declared he is "firmly opposed" to anti-Americanism.
But as U.S. Ambassador Walter Stoessel remarked in a recent talk on German-American relations, "the relationship between our tow nations is not automatic."