Europe, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines

SPORT: World Cup Revitalises Tired German Spirits

Jess Smee

BERLIN, Jul 10 2006 (IPS) - For Germany, it was a World Cup full of surprises.

Black, red and gold flags, long considered taboo because of the Nazi years, fluttered in the hot breeze. German footballers proudly belted out a national anthem that had previously been mumbled, if sung at all. Even a football sceptical Chancellor Angela Merkel sprung to her feet, grinning widely when Germany scored.

But what has most surprised local commentators at this World Cup is how the tendency towards glass-half-empty-ism vanished overnight. Usually terse Berlin shopkeepers suddenly bantered; strangers on the street managed a smile.

“It is nothing new that Germany can provide solid organisation. But what one hadn’t expected was the great atmosphere,” Leonard Novy, political analyst at the Bertelsmann Foundation, a German think tank, told IPS.

“The show wasn’t dominated by Fifa or the sponsors as some had predicted. It was the man on the street who was celebrating.”

Politicians and analysts welcomed the fact that Germans, for the first time, joined in the festivities with flag waving and patriotic chants – activities which had long triggered guilt and soul-searching.

Some 60 years since the end of World War II, the new generation now feels less morally responsible for what happened, sparking what commentators dubbed a more “normal” approach to patriotism. And the World Cup was a perfect outlet for the new pride.

The public festivities have done wonders for Germany’s image abroad. In Britain, Nazi stereotypes and World War II have long clouded the popular perception of Germany but people now have a “new and positive image” of their European neighbour, British Prime Minister Tony Blair commented in the best-selling tabloid Bild am Sonntag.

Meanwhile, German President Horst Koehler said the event did much for the country both at home and abroad.

“We did not win the World Cup, but it gave us so much. Foreign visitors and television audiences saw a cheerful, confident and hospitable country,” he told world leaders attending the World Cup final in Berlin on Sunday.

“I believe that this soccer festival also gave us as Germans a new window onto ourselves and our country.”

And fortunately there was no sign of extreme-right-wing violence, a problem much discussed in the months before the tournament. During the competition, a neo-Nazi demonstration due to be held in Munich was cancelled.

Instead, the streets were a paragon of multiculturalism. Turkish and Arabic families draped their windows with the German flag and joined in the post-match parades of honking cars, shouting “Deutschland” from open windows.

And despite millions of international fans arriving in Germany, the event was largely peaceful.

A lasting image of the competition, and one which has been beamed around the world, was the hordes of euphoric fans of all stripes under the Brandenburg Gate, once a symbol of the Cold War and the division of Germany.

“It has been an exceptional atmosphere in Berlin,” football fan Heike told IPS, wheeling a pram still adorned with a black, red and gold flag a day after Germany’s semi-final match.

“There’s been such a feeling of unity and happiness on the streets.”

She added that the party after Germany’s 3-1 victory against Portugal, which gave them third place in the competition, had been as good as if they had won the Cup.

Germany’s long-ridiculed team ranked among the competition’s big surprises. Defying expectations they would be knocked out in the first round, they put up a zesty battle throughout.

Novelist Guenter Grass, himself an avid soccer fan, said the players’ enthusiasm had infected the nation.

“The public inside and outside the stadiums reacted to a young team who, by German standards, played an amazing new game – ready to go on the offensive,” the Nobel-prize winning author told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper in an interview.

“Their unity was passed on to the public.”

Much of the team’s success was attributed to their proactive coach Juergen Klinsmann. His irrepressible energy and his refusal to succumb to media pressure won him many fans, despite calls for his resignation in the run-up to the competition.

Such is his newfound hero status, that Die Welt daily newspaper wrote that Chancellor Angela Merkel should learn a lesson or two from him.

But it will take more than soccer success to boost Merkel’s fortunes at the moment. With Germany suffering high unemployment, sluggish economic growth and unsustainable debts, the honeymoon period of Merkel’s tenure is over.

While the World Cup stole the limelight, she faced some of the most taxing weeks yet. Rifts emerged in her so-called “grand coalition”, the biggest tax hike in German history was pushed through, and politicians were at loggerheads about how to make Germany’s sprawling health system more affordable.

“Internationally, both with the EU and America, Merkel is very well viewed. The problem is that she now has to try and gain similar success with national politics,” Novy from the Bertelsmann Foundation said.

And for many Germans, the World Cup has been a timely distraction. While newspaper editorials have fretted over the need for further belt tightening and reforms, people could home in on front-page soccer banter and place their bets on the next game.

“Thanks to the German boys for a great time,” read one hand-painted banner waved at Germany’s semi-final on Saturday. “Shame it’s all come to an end.”

Republish | | Print |

Related Tags

the book of counted sorrows