The German question of patriotism
Translated by: Elizabeth Rinde
In June it will finally happen again: the FIFA World Cup in Brazil is rounding the corner. This means one month in which everyone in Germany and many other European countries are football fans. This is not a surprise since football is the number one sport almost everywhere.
In Germany, on such occasions, we like to remember the World Cup. Here, the World Championship of 2006 is regarded as the birth of a new “German mentality”. Although it has been eight years since then, there is a continued enthusiasm over how Germany was represented to foreign countries then: hospitable, open-minded, party-loving and blessed with a guarantee for good weather. We were proud to be able to show ourselves at our best and to disprove the cliché of the grumpy, strict German.
Today, a wave of euphoria and festivity still overcomes the country when heading a big championship. Since the so-called “summer tale” in 2006, it is popular to decorate one’s car with small German flags or even a big flag on one’s window. If it was frowned upon before to “show flag”, it is now considered to be usual to wear black, red and golden colours in the summer every two years. In addition, another phenomenon, the public viewing, developed eight years ago and has gained in popularity ever since. Hundreds of thousands of people can now watch the German national team’s matches on big screens at parties. This trend has become so popular that many people, who are not even interested in football, flock to the fan miles just for the sake of partying.
There seems to be a new kind of patriotism rising in the championships. When football is concerned, it is often said now that the Germans can be “proud of their country” again. The media supports this view by reporting extensively on the celebrations around these matches. Moderators and commentators no longer shrink away from saying “we” when talking about the national team, but also when they talk about the German population or the country itself.
All these aspects can be described as “healthy patriotism”. It seems to be healthy because it creates a sense of togetherness. Football makes people from different social classes celebrate and mourn together; it makes one forget everyday worries for a while.
However, there is another side to the coin. If the national team loses an important match, the atmosphere can switch from a joyous celebration to deep frustration in a matter of moments. That is what happened after Germany’s elimination in the semi-finals from the European Championship two years ago. After the defeat against Italy, many windows of Italian restaurants and bars were shattered in more than one German city. The most shocking thing regarding incidents like this is that the fury seems to be directed against the whole country in that moment. This example shows that there is a fine line between the so-called “healthy patriotism” and nationalist patterns of thinking and acting.
The danger that negative feelings towards other nations rise out of positive feelings for one’s home country probably does not only exist in Germany. After all, here, the patriotism is obviously underdeveloped compared to other European countries. As soon as a big tournament is over, all the flags are taken down and stored away in the basement until the next time. Maybe it is right to say that the discrepancy between championship season and the rest of the year make the sudden “pride of the homeland” shine in a strange light.
The national anthem does not play an important role in Germany as it does in England, France or Italy. An exception was made two years ago when the German team was eliminated in the semi-finals against Italy; thereafter, the tabloid press initiated a discussion considering a possible obligation to sing the anthem along. Their point was that someone could not be prepared to give his country his all during the game if he chewed gum in boredom before the match or did not sing along with the national hymn.
In the end, the discussion was off the table, but it did not lead to Podolski, Özil and Co having to learn the lyrics and sing them at the top of their lungs. This shows that Germans still do not have any distinct patriotic feelings. At this point, there were two questions that came to me: What is the reason for the German population’s relatively low national pride; is it the continued burden of National Socialism which now dates back almost seventy years or is it related to other factors? My second question is: Would it be good for Germany to follow the example of the other European counties and become more patriotic? Of course, both questions cannot be answered objectively. Especially to the question of “why”, I do not know any appropriate answer. Concerning the second one, I am of the opinion that more patriotism and national pride would have more negative and dangerous consequences than positive ones for my home, Germany. The last question that came to mind while writing this article is one that I am unable to answer: Would it be advantageous for the peaceful togetherness and European thought in general if all countries took Germany as a model for national consciousness and patriotism?