Tonight is the first German match in the soccer world cup. You might know Germany is rather good at soccer but if you are not German, the immense historical and cultural significance of the sport might have escaped you. What alarms me is that I care so little about this year’s tournament. What does this mean – am I de-germanizing? Am I losing my religion, eh, national allegiance?
To understand this, one must start with watch the excellent movie “Das Wunder von Bern” (The Miracle of Bern) which skillfully depicts the historical impact Germany’s victory in the 1954 world cup in Switzerland had. Germany was then feeling (and possibly also seen) as a defeated Nazi state, a society that was looked down upon, an occupied country that had no standing in the global community. The people had been facing post-war reconstruction and all the side effects of that: lost homes, the return of traumatized fathers from war imprisonment, refugees from the East, and a country bombed to pieces. When the German team qualified for the world cup and then advanced into the finale to eventually win the title of World Champion, the phrase, “Wir sind wieder wer” (We are someone again) was coined, expressing the feeling that Germany had returned to the world’s stage with a positive association, with a friendly, sportsmanlike and fair victory after all the years. If you care about soccer, or Germany, or history, you simply must watch “Das Wunder von Bern”.
Interestingly enough, soccer continued to play an important role in German history: in 1990, we won the title right after the reunification (ah, the symbolic value!) and in 2006, we hosted the World Cup. The 2006 event marked, I believe, a generational experience for my peers that those born too late cannot really relate to.
Before 2006, it was very much frowned upon if you waved Germans flags or if you displayed national pride. Obviously deriving from our history, we’ve had a difficult relationship with national(ist) symbols. In 2006, the government executed a branding campaign for Germany (something that I only found out last year, and I believe all other Germans also thought the atmosphere during 2006 was a spontaneous happening) to portray Germany as a welcoming host and an attractive country. The motto “Die Welt zu Gast bei Freunden” (The world hosted by friends) alongside other public relations/diplomacy measures fueled the positive mood that grasped the entire republic.
We experienced 4 weeks of beaming sunshine (not a given in July) and people started going to what we call “public viewing”, meaning not visiting the dead but gathering in very large crowds in public places to watch the matches. Suddenly everyone was waving flags, hanging the colors from their balconies, walking around with red-black-gold on their cheeks and decorating their cars with small flags on the windows. Speaking of cars, it was the first year I was allowed to drive on my own and everyone would drive up and down the streets in what we call a corso after the matches we had won.
No one had any thought of over-nationalism; it was the first time ever when it was perfectly fine, entirely peaceful to be equipped with national symbols. The world cup was later documented in a movie that followed the players. It was called “Sommermärchen” (Summer Fairytale), reflecting the German feeling toward the 2006 cup.
During the Summer Fairytale we were still in school but not in the final, very serious year yet, we were old enough to do what we wanted and young enough to not have a care in the world. Several songs were created for the world cup and they became the anthems of that summer, of maybe even this part of our generation that was in their late teens then: “54, 74, 90, 2006” was the song that we jumped up and down to and at the same time it helped us once and for all remember the years we won the cup. When Germany did not make it to the final, the band changed the song to “54, 74, 90, 2010” – showing the spirit that prevailed that summer. It was okay not to win as long as the soccer party continued. It was okay to only be the “winner of the hearts” as long as the Summer Fairytale feeling was there. The nation was caught in a rapture of happiness and a not only a new national feeling was created, we even invented a new word for our homeland: Schland. That’s what you heard when Klose or Podolski scored the crucial goal and the Germans on their public viewing site enthusiastically screamed the name of the team: Deutschland becomes one loud Schland.
In 2010, not all of still a large part of the Schland feeling returned. This year, I am shocked to find how this far I do not care at all. The flags that deck the cars and windows suddenly seem so 2006. Singing the anthem feels so serious not fun. I don’t know who is playing and I was trying to avoid investing precious time in watching tonight’s game. But my colleagues force me. Let’s hope Germanness returns to me.
P.S.: Trying to compare to others’ experiences, I have sensed that for Swedes, the 1994 world cup where Sweden ended up in third place might have meant something that could maybe come close to the 2006 euphoria. For Germans, of course, it is funny to hear how Swedes pride themselves with a third place, something that is usually not talked about afterwards in German soccer history, let alone praised. But I personally don’t care so much about where a team ended up as long as it generated a great atmosphere among its supporters.