How soccer healed Germany

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Aug 222006
 
Authors: Luci StorelliCastro

Although I welcome every summer with a sigh of relief and open-armed euphoria, this summer was especially inviting.

After four long years of waiting, the FIFA World Cup was back – and this time in the heart of Europe: Germany.

Soccer fans from around the world, many of who had spent years saving up for this event, stampeded to Germany with flags, face-coloring kits, jerseys, and high hopes that their team would rise to the occasion.

I was fortunate enough to be among these fans and paid witness to a whole nation become engulfed by soccer mania and transformed by feelings of nationalism.

As the World Cup gathered steam, Germans were not ashamed to show pride in their Jungs by waving black, red and yellow flags while chanting praise to the national team.

All across the country, one could hear a united choir of Germans chanting “Berlin! Berlin! Wir fahren nach Berlin!” – the English translation being, “Berlin! Berlin! We are going to Berlin!”

Berlin, the site of the final match, was the destination most Germans were confident their national team would reach.

For anyone familiar with the German culture, such optimism and flag parading is truly atypical. Five years ago, as an exchange student in Germany, I spent a vast portion of the year without seeing a German flag.

I recall my German classmates exchanging perplexed expressions as I commented that, in every classroom of the Fort Collins high school I attended, there was an American flag.

Also, in terms of optimism, Germans are not traditionally known for seeing the glass half full. Amongst themselves, Germans joke around about the fact that their culture has a knack for worrying.

In a way, as my German host father explained, worrying motivates Germans to be perfectionists and to excel in different disciplines.

While the desire to advance might be the root cause fueling Germans to worry, a violent and tumultuous history is the underlying reason Germans avoid nationalistic rituals.

Even though 61 years have passed since World War II ended, it is evident that many Germans still suffer from moral guilt for having orchestrated the Holocaust and initiated a war that left Europe in tatters.

The sense of guilt that has carried over from the war was clearly illustrated in a Spiegel article, which reported a guest book entry made by a ninth-grade student who visited the Holocaust exhibit of the Berlin Historical Museum in 2000.

The 15-year old student wrote, “I don’t think it was good that Hitler killed the Jews. Every one of them deserves our sympathy.”

Next to this entry another student snaps, “What do you mean Hitler? Your grandpa!”

Given that the Nazi regime heavily sponsored nationalistic activities and propaganda to help consolidate its power, Germans have become wary of nationalism altogether.

For this reason, it is rare for Germans to embrace nationalistic symbols, such as the flag, or simply express pride in their country.

Times are changing, however – as evidenced when Germany’s president, Horst Koehler, recently admitted, “I am proud of this country.”

Germans are learning to put the past behind and look towards the future. It is not to say that Germans have forgotten the past, but rather, they learned their lesson. Nowadays, Germany has distinguished itself in the international community as a torchbearer of human rights, democracy, and tolerance.

Even though the German national soccer team did not win the World Cup, they did win the hearts of their fellow countrymen and women. Throughout the German media, the national team was praised as being heroes for having revived and captivated an entire nation.

It was argued that not since the reunification had Germany been so united – to which the Vaterland owes a big danke schoen to soccer.

Luci Storelli – Castro is a junior political science and philosophy major. Her column appears every Thursday in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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