Just over a year ago, I wrote a blog post on Germany and its perhaps peculiar relationship to patriotism. For a long time it was my most successful post, and it is still among the most read on the blog.
Only last week I closed comments on the post. It may be a bit cowardly of me to do that, but frankly, I was tired of justifying myself for my very personal view on the matter (which happens to be shared by quite a few people). In fact, from all the discussions I have had on the issue, my view is fairly moderate. I love Germany, although I have my (personal!) problems with the expression „national pride“, and I am very much aware of historical responsibility without wanting to propagate or feeling myself a personal and individual guilt. Other positions exist and I never denied that they did. There are, as the comments on the mentioned post show, people who do take pride in the fact that they are Germans and are not afraid to say so. Others find anything remotely patriotic completely unsuitable for Germans and equate patriotism with nationalism. And then there’s loads of people somewhere in the middle of that. Why would Germany differ from any other country in that respect? It wouldn’t. Only, and this was my one central point in the post, the connection between patriotism and nationalism has history in my country, and I think it suits us to be aware of that and handle the subject with care.
The post’s viewing numbers recently spiked, and I am fairly sure that it is to do with Germany’s performance during the football world cup. In fact I expect them to spike again today in the course of the discussion that is marked on twitter by the hashtag #gouchogate. I am not sure if it’s made international media yet. The story goes as follows: The German team was welcomed at Brandenburg Gate in Berlin yesterday with celebrations for winning the World Cup, and a few of the players did a little dance that goes „This is how the gouchos walk, the gouchos walk like this“ – crouching down, looking beaten, and then „This is how the Germans walk, the Germans walk like this“ – walking upright, jumping, celebrating.
Now some of the German media, and I quote here, find this performance to be a „gigantic own goal“ because they think that it defames Argentina in unacceptable ways, turning the German team that has played a tournament of fairness and tolerance into a bunch of idiotic nationalists.
Excuse me, but WHAT A LOAD OF CRAP!
The German twittersphere has largely reacted by pointing out how ridiculous it is to make a dance – one that is a well-known and established part of German football culture – a national affair and basically play the Nazi card yet once again. They have also shown that it is completely out of proportion to claim that the #gouchogate affair throws shade on the entire tournament and the achievements of the German team. But the story does prove that showing German pride is a problematic issue still when patriotism is not a big deal in other countries.
Throughout the whole world cup I have been confronted with it. It starts with the anthem. I always sing along, however sometimes quietly. I don’t, however, put my hand on my heart. It feels weird to me. That is just my very personal standpoint. I sometimes wish I could do it. But I don’t. And that is my very personal choice, as is singing along. Back to that: I have watched games with people who thought it was sad that no one else sang along. I have also watched games with people who said (if in jest): „If you sing along I might have to spit in your face.“
Football plays a huge role in the whole patriotism debate in Germany, and always has. It is weirdly connected to big historical moments and the evolution of German cultural identity. When Germany won the World Cup in 1954 they called it a miracle. It was a moment when Germans won back their dignity, when for the first time after World War 2 the country was associated with something positive again. I can’t say much about 1974 because I am not an expert, I am just relating my own thoughts here, unresearched. But in 1990, just before reunification and after the downfall of the Berlin Wall, it was one of the defining moments for a new era, a new Germany coming into existence, because the GDR followed and cheered for the West German team as much as the the Federal Republic did. 2006, when the World Cup was held in Germany, flag waving and the general display of black-red-gold felt normal for the very first time since the 1940s, and it was a four week celebration of happiness down to the game that got Germany third place and beyond that on to the final between Italy and France.
And now, in 2014, it’s done. Germany has won the cup. WE have won the cup. Together as one. And it feels wonderful, truly truly wonderful.
The day after the final I wore a shirt to work that had black-red-gold rims and four golden stars on it. And I was actually surprised that no one judged me for that.
When I went home after work yesterday, after the celebrations at Brandenburg Gate were over, I passed by the Monument for the Murdered Jews of Europe, also known as the Holocaust Memorial. A drunk football fan dressed in black-red-gold stood on one of the stelae and loudly sang songs about beer and schnaps. I will say that it made me feel uncomfortable. But it would have done so without him wearing national colours. He didn’t respect the idea of the place, and it bothered me.
What I am trying to say is: It is not as easy as saying „Get over it, Germany, and be proud of what you are today.“ It is not as easy as saying „We may never be happy and celebrate our country ever again“, either. There are implications, contexts, and what’s most important, there are people involved, with feelings and emotions and standpoints in this debate, and they should all be heard and acknowledged, however much either one side does not agree.
I do hope very much that one day Germany, and we as Germans, will find our balance when it comes to this. Because I truly love my country. I’m not proud of it as a whole, in fact I’m really quite critical of it at times. I am not proud of being German because, really, it’s not an achievement. But I am, and I repeat myself from an old post, immensely grateful and happy that I am allowed to live here and for all the things this culture has taught me and given to me. And right now I am proud of my national team that has fulfilled a collective national longing and won a sports tournament for us, and I applaud them and thank them for the face-splitting grin they have put on my face these last few days.