Is a pessimistic political mood affecting the German national team?

Many German fans were left stunned after the national team's first World Cup game against Mexico last Sunday ended in a 0-1 defeat. Some experts say die Mannschaft’s performance has to do with politics.

Is a pessimistic political mood affecting the German national team?
A fan of the German football team in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Expectations are high for the reigning champions who managed to beat Argentina in the 2014 World Cup final.

But even before the shock loss to Mexico last weekend, they didn’t exactly show top form during pre-tournament friendlies, losing for instance 1-2 to Austria.

Defending a title is psychologically difficult right from the start, psychologist and head of the Rheingold market research institute Stephan Grünewald told the German Press Agency (DPA), adding that it's hard to achieve something which has been achieved once before.

“This hunger and lust for success just no longer seems to be a given with the players,” said Grünewald.

Sports reporter at Berliner Rundfunk Ralph Guhlke agrees, telling KCRW radio station in an interview that die Mannschaft didn’t play against Mexico the same way they did four years ago as world champions.

“Maybe it’s a mix of being self-satisfied… and maybe being a bit arrogant. Clearly they underestimated Mexico… and thought to themselves nothing could go wrong,” Guhlke said.

Still, the champions knew it wouldn’t be easy going into the tournament. Even though many of the 2014 stars are playing this year, key figures aren’t present, such as then-team captain Philipp Lahm, top scorer Miroslave Klose and midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger.

On the flipside though the 2018 Mannschaft has a slew of younger talents to replace the veteran stars, such as Timo Werner, dubbed “Turbo Timo” by German media.

So what could possibly account for the team’s lacklustre performance thus far?

Politics and football 

“The country is not exactly in an optimistic mood at the moment,” Grünewald said. According to the psychologist, the current political situation in Berlin has been directly impacting not only the national team, but also the sensitivities of the fans.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is currently entangled in a bitter dispute with her Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU) over the issue of asylum seekers at borders. The fight threatens to collapse the German government less than three months after it was formed.

But insiders said a collapse of the coalition remained unlikely. Moreover, a survey carried out by YouGov and published on Friday showed that most Germans don’t believe the coalition will fall apart over the current political dispute between Merkel and the CSU.

Guhlke agrees with Grünewald when it comes to Deutschland being in a comparatively pessimistic mood this time around. He said that even before the team’s loss to Mexico, he felt the atmosphere wasn't exactly party-like.

German fans at Brandenburg Gate in Berlin during the World Cup in 2014. Photo: DPA

History, nationalism and football 

“All of Berlin was covered with German flags [during the 2014 World Cup], and you don’t see many of them this time around,” Guhlke said. While proud of their modern country, it seems like Germans still have complex and mixed feelings about patriotism.

For many of die Deutschen, patriotism for Germany only properly started to become acceptable in 2006, when the country hosted the World Cup in what became known as the “summer fairytale.”

Back then, much like four years ago, the black-red-gold flag was being waved on everything from bikinis to cars. “It was in 2014 that the Germans realized they can be passionate without scaring the rest of the world,” Grünewald said.

Compared to European neighbours like France or England, historically, Germany was late in developing a strong national identity. Since 1945, the legacy of the Nazi period has weighed heavily on German culture and society. 

“History has made it difficult for Germans to be patriotic,” Christian Lammert at the JFK Institute of the Free University Berlin told Handelsblatt Global, adding that things like aggression and the Holocaust have polluted national identity in the Bundesrepublik.

Looking forward (and backward)?

While 2006 showed in a way that worries about national identity were easing up, some experts the DPA interviewed say the situation has become difficult yet again, due in part to the national flag being associated with a resurgent far-right and dark times in the past.

Some members of the football community are questioning what waving the flag actually demonstrates and are much more careful or even turning away from it, said Grünewald.

But two political scientists disagree. Jürgen Falter told DPA the German flag “is not the Third Reich war flag.” Stefan Marschall chimed in by telling the news agency that anyone who flies the country's flag at football games prevents it from being “appropriated and exploited for other ideas.”

For now, if a noticeable increase in black-red-gold flags during the 2018 tournament is to take place amid a heightened optimistic atmosphere for the national team and among fans, it can only really be if die Mannschaft wins and progresses.

The grim reality for the reigning champions is this: an early exit from the World Cup could be on the cards unless they get the better of Sweden in their second match this weekend.

With DPA

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How the Greens want to replace Germany’s €9 ticket deal

New proposals drafted by the Green Party have set out plans for two new cheap travel tickets in Germany as well as a shake-up of the country's travel zones. Here's what you need to know.

How the Greens want to replace Germany's €9 ticket deal

What’s going on?

Germany’s €9 travel deal has been hugely popular this summer, with an estimated 30 million or so passengers taking advantage of the offer in June alone. Now the last month of the three-month offer is underway, there are hopes that the ticket could be replaced by another deal that offers simple, affordable travel on a regional or national basis.

There have been a few ideas for this floating around, including a €365 annual ticket and a €69 monthly ticket pitched by German transport operators. Now the Green Party has weighed in with a concept paper setting out plans for two separate travel tickets to replace the €9 ticket. The paper was obtained by ARD Hauptstadtstudio on Friday. 

Why do they want two different tickets?

The first ticket would be a regional one costing just €29 a month and the second would be a €49 that, much like the €9 ticket, would be valid for the whole of Germany.

This would allow people who mainly stay in their local region to opt for the most cost-effective option while long-distance commuters or those who want to travel further afield could opt for the nationwide offer.

Presumably the ticket would once again be valid for local and regional transport only rather than long-distance trains like the ICE. 

To simplify the system even more, the Greens also want to introduce new travel zones for the regional monthly tickets.

READ ALSO: Has Germany’s €9 rail ticket been a success?

How would the travel zones change?

According to the paper, Germany would be divided into eight regional zones that would include the Berlin-Brandenburg area, the eastern German states of Thuringia, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt and the northern states of Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania. 

The zones take passengers “statewide at a minimum”, the paper says, for example in the larger states of Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and North-Rhine Westphalia.

However, as the map below shows, states will also be clustered together to make larger regions.

One of the major draws of the €9 ticket has been the flat-rate system that allows passengers to travel anywhere in the country using the same ticket. This appears to be what the Greens are trying to replicate with their proposals. 

READ ALSO: What happens to Germany’s €9 ticket at the end of August?

How would this be financed? 

As you might expect, the Green Party is placing less eco-friendly forms of transport in the crosshairs as it looks for cash to fund the cheap tickets.

The first way to free up cash would be to end tax breaks for people with company cars. In addition, taxes on CO2 emissions would be increased. 

This would result in “additional revenues for the federal government and the states, which could flow seamlessly into the financing of cheap tickets”, the paper states. 

However, the Greens don’t set out how much money they think this would bring in or how much the discounted tickets would cost the state in total. 

Is this definitely going to happen?

At the moment, it seems that the Greens are the main voices in the coalition government pushing for a longer term travel deal – and they continue to face opposition from the pro-business FDP.

Unfortunately for the Green Party, the FDP happen to be heading up two crucial ministries that could both play a role in blocking a future offer: the Finance Ministry and the Transport Ministry. 

However, with four out of five people saying they want to see a successor to the €9 ticket in autumn, Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) is currently under pressure to come up with a replacement as soon as possible. 

A passenger sits on the platform a Berlin Hauptbahnhof

A passenger sits on the platform a Berlin Hauptbahnhof waiting for a train. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Joerg Carstensen

At a press conference a few weeks ago, he promised to discuss this with the state transport ministers after analysing how successful the ticket had been.

In particular, researchers will want to look at how many people ended up leaving the car at home and taking the bus or train instead.

Though the data on this is inconclusive at the moment, some studies have shown reduced congestion on the roads while the ticket was running.

In a survey of The Local’s readers conducted last month, 80 percent of respondents said they had used public transport more with the €9 ticket and 85 percent said they wanted to see a similar deal continue in the autumn.

Of the options on the table so far, a monthly €29 ticket was by far the most popular choice.

READ ALSO: ‘Affordable and simple’: What foreigners in Germany want to see after the €9 ticket