The flags are back.
They started appearing the middle of last week. Suddenly delivery vans were zipping around Berlin with two little tricolours fluttering in the wind like a pair of elephant ears. Balconies in the German capital were likewise decked out in black, red, and gold banners. Even the city’s hipsters began spontaneously sporting sweatbands in the German national colours.
Yes, the Euro 2008 this summer certainly has German hearts aflutter, and not just because the German team might actually have a shot at winning Europe’s most important football – soccer to all the North Americans and Australians out there – competition this year.
Major football tournaments have always been occasions where even the most unpatriotic Teutons felt it was acceptable to be German again. For decades, the only time many Germans felt comfortable showing a little patriotism was when the country’s national football team hit the pitch. West Germany’s World Cup win in 1954 turned out to be a seminal event in forging the German post-war identity after the horrible events of the Second World War.
But when Germany hosted the World Cup in 2006 something changed. The country finally seemed to shed the sometimes oppressive self-loathing that came with the heavy burden of its past. Not that Germans forgot their country’s history – but they appeared more willing to celebrate Germany’s modern and tolerant incarnation rather than simply regret the crimes of the Nazi era.
The outpouring of good will and positive vibes in the summer of 2006 was infectious and helped change German perceptions about themselves in addition to the world's perhaps outdated opinions of Germany.
At the time, some grumpy Teutonic pundits thought it might just be a flash in the pan and Germans would eventually revert to type. But how quickly Germans have packed out their flags and other patriotic gear for the current football tournament would seem to prove otherwise. What was a watershed for the country's collective identity in 2006 is this summer remarkable because of how utterly unremarkable it seems for Germans to go black, red, and gold without sparking some tortured national debate.
It's a different country – and many would say a better one – for shaking off its aversion toward a healthy bit of patriotism.
Germany need not develop the often abrasive and borderline jingoistic patriotism seen in other countries, but as I wrote a few years ago, the more Germans are okay with being German, the more others will like Germany too.
Certainly, the most heartening thing I’ve seen this week as the Euro kicked off have been the cars in Berlin belonging to members of the city’s sizable Turkish population. Just like many Germans, they’ve got their rides decked out with two flags. But instead of doubled red and white banners showing their support for the Turkish national team, most are flying the black, red and gold for Germany’s footballers too.