World Cup semifinals: the case for German pride
Germans are finally able to celebrate their country after more than 60 years of dealing with their past. For the rest of the world, this should be a welcome turning point.
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Here in Berlin, Black, gold, and red – the country’s colors – are out in force. Small flags stick up from windowsill gardens, and giant ones four-stories-long roll brusquely along building facades. Others are rigged to bicycles, clamped down by car trunks, clipped onto windows, and pegged to antennas. Black, gold, and red body and fashion accessories, from women’s handbags to rubber bracelets, are making appearances on wrists, fingers, and necks. You can even get black, gold, and red face paint in a single stick, making application as neat and easy as a single flick across the cheek.
This is the World Cup, after all, a global event many times grander than the Olympics. Pride and ego are on the line. Emotions rise and fall with the movement of the ball. Displays of national fidelity are commonplace.
But Germany is a different case.
Patriotic exuberance can’t help but be accompanied by palpable unease. Embedded in German DNA is a deep knowledge of a dreadful history. Like original sin, Germans are born with a sense of wrongdoing.
At least it can feel that way.
Public education never misses an opportunity to hammer into malleable children, perhaps to a point of diminishing returns, the destruction their grandparents were party to. In matters involving Jews or Israel, Germany treads lightly. At large public gatherings, surely someone in the crowd will interject not-so-subtle allusions to Third Reich pageantry. It may be merely jest, but there is truth in jest.
No one seriously suggests football passion is the top of a slippery slope, but the grotesque wound National Socialism left on the German epidermis is enough to make many Germans repel, or at most sheepishly approach, national symbols.
At the extreme, German media have reported left-wing agitators vandalizing properties of immigrants who visibly support their adopted homeland (a twisted rationale for making an anti-Nazi statement). It’s more common, though, for mainstream Germans to root for World Cup teams other than Germany – it’s less complicated.
And yet, amid this inward mistrust, which feeds on self-characterized pessimism, the World Cup is creating space for a pinch of normalcy to settle in. It’s about time. To be sure, it raises worried eyebrows, both inside the country and out, but to deny Germans the pleasure of national pride is to intimate that 65 years and three-plus generations means nothing.
It is important to recognize that painful but transformative period in Germany’s postwar history, when the antiestablishment movements of the 1960s swept through German youth, sparking a German awakening. Germans realized what their parents, professors, and politicians had done, and they were outraged.
Demand for change manifested itself most violently as the Red Army Faction, a guerrilla group that staged hundreds of “anti-Fascist” attacks.
With the last of the witnesses to Nazi terror dying out, Germany maintains responsibility for its past, even as other countries mistakenly attempt to redefine theirs.