World Cup: Germany wins - just not the Cup
So we lost the World Cup. But we Germans seem to be coming out as winners in all sorts of other odd ways. We’ve lost championships before. What’s new is that we’re doing it gracefully, and with a smile. And nobody’s even thinking of stopping the party.
For a German born before 1989, this World Cup has been a bemusing experience. Particularly if, like me, you live in Berlin, which these days seems rather more Brazilian than Prussian.
Punctually (in this, at least, we’re still recognizably Old German) for the beginning of the Cup, a long, wet, cold spring suddenly became a scorching Sicilian summer. Ever since, the city has been swarming with hordes of young people (what demographic problem?), most of them wearing very little clothing except for bits of nylon in gold, red and black, Germany’s national colors.
The more tribally inclined add facial and body makeup and plastic wigs in the same colors. The prostitutes who turn out at sundown to line Oranienburger Strasse in Mitte, where I work and live, seem Victorian by comparison; certainly the corsets they favor now appear a little, well, strait-laced.
Even more startlingly, most of the hordes seem to be German. Handkerchief-sized "car flags" are everywhere. Even the police sported them, until the authorities, in a last anxious surge of political correctness, nixed that.
Every single café in town has invested in a projection or wide-screen television. Berliners and tourists alike have been lolling around in café chairs in front of them, eating, drinking and generally having an innocently good time in a way that an earlier generation of Germans would have considered positively immoral.
For those who, like me, have been 38 for a couple of years and think that’s a good age to stick with, this is all heady stuff. Let me put it this way: Germans Feeling Good About Themselves and Not Apologizing For It Every Minute is not what we grew up with.
The serious media, of course, have been earnestly turning over every shred of flag for weeks to see whether there’s an ugly nationalist hiding under it. But frankly nobody has time to read that much.
Nationalism, indeed, seems to have very little to do with it. We’ve seen groups of Germans happily wearing Togolese or Argentinian colors from crown to sole. And an East Berliner friend of mine recounts that when she was trying to hitch a ride to a game, the driver of the first car that stopped said in a thick foreign accent, "Are you for Germany?" She considered her options, said yes, he invited her in, gave her a smooch on the cheek, and dropped her off at the game.
So even without Germans in the Cup final, these games have achieved one formidable victory for Germany: Our right-wing extremists, who had been maneuvering to monopolize the national flag, rebranding themselves from white-red-black (the flag of the Reich) to gold-red-black, have had their tactic pulled out from under them. The flag belongs to everyone now.
Coach Jürgen Klinsmann was seen here until quite recently as the soccer equivalent of the locust, the foreign "Heuschrecken" investors who gobble up bits of choice German Mittelstand industry and run with the profits. He was reviled for living in California and - Skandal! - conducting training sessions by videoconference, all this on the unmanly pretext that he didn’t want to uproot his family.
No more. Now he’s a model for "reform." Even after the 2-0 upset by Italy in the semifinals on Tuesday, Germany’s all-powerful tabloid Bild was praising him and begging him not to resign.
Klinsmann created an eleven that’s actually a team rather than a gaggle of soccer primadonnas, who were badgered into fitness by American trainers (including psychologists!) - and who are, in the words of the Financial TImes, "abandoning Germany’s turgid defensive style for free-flowing attack." "Attack" - and there was no mention of "jackboots" in the entire article!
Chancellor Angela Merkel, it appears, took advantage of the country’s ebullient, can-do mood to kick her reluctant grand coalition into some reforms of their own. Taxes, federalism, health: The compromises weren’t pretty, and the sides are still bickering, but the deals are done.
Another myth that has been quietly buried is that Germany is not an "Einwanderungsland" - a country that welcomes immigrants. Players Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski were born in Poland, Oliver Neuville speaks with a French accent, David Odonkor is half Ghanaian. It’s not even thought worthy of comment. Hyphenated Germans are here to stay.
Oh, by the way: We still are the world’s soccer champions - of the womens’ league.
Constanze Stelzenmüller is director of the Berlin office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.