All across Germany the Schwartz, Rot, and Gold waves proudly. Apartment balconies are dripping with flags. Cars are gift wrapped in mini-flags, magnets, and mirror socks. And at Ikea this week, I even saw a woman with black hair who had bleached in the colors of the flag on the backside of her head. Now that is commitment!
The country is head over heals for Die Mannschaft. Germans (as well as expats) are buying up all the Schwartz, Rot, and Gold in sight before the World Cup final on Sunday.
For an American, this seems normal. This is what one does when your local team is about to play for the World Championship. We wear our jerseys, we hang flags of the team from our car, we paint our faces, and we invite everyone we know over for a giant barbecue to watch the big game.
But how often in America does an International sporting event push its citizens to buy up American flags and wear our Red, White, and Blue? When has the nation ever shown such love for one’s country and for a National sports team all at the same time? The bout between Joe Lewis and Max Schmeling in 1936? The Men’s Olympic Hockey final in 1980? The Women’s World Cup Final in 1991?
I dare say, the US has never gotten behind one team as a nation, any time, for any sport.
That is not to say that Americans are not patriotic. Americans love their Red, White, and Blue. We let our flag fly all the time. We have a special code when it comes to our flag. We say a pledge of allegiance everyday at school. We sing the National Anthem before every sporting event. We celebrate our National Pride at least 3 times a year on Veterans Day, Memorial Day, and Independence Day. Americans love to celebrate the greatness of their country. ‘murica!
For Germans though, Patriotism is…well…complicated. For years after World War II, the German flag was something only flown over government buildings. And no one would ever wear national colors. If you flew a flag or painted your face, you were being too nationalistic. The showing of national pride was just too reminiscent of an age from which Germany was seeking atonement.
War guilt did not allow Germans to wear their colors and fly their flag until 2006 when everything changed. And what caused this awakening? Ask any German and they will tell you that hosting the World Cup in 2006 pushed the country down the road to a patriotic catharsis.
Germans have a lot to be proud of. They have a winning economy, an excellent health care system, and a safe and free democracy. They make the best beer, the best cars, and the best football teams. And hopefully, after Sunday, they will have the coveted 4th star on their jerseys.
Yet even to this day, Germans will not boast openly about the greatness of their country. There are no days devoted to National pride. There are no days to celebrate the heroes of the past. There are just the stark reminders of where that kind of national pride can lead.
Only with football do Germans feel free to speak in superior tones. Only with football do they let themselves indulge in a little flag waving.
What flag will you be waving on Sunday?
Here are some other interesting reads on Germany’s Patriotism and the Summer of 2006: