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28/06/2006

Patriots of a new stripe

Thomas Brussig on the healthy new German patriotism

© Sven PaustianThomas Brussig © Sven Paustian
Unbelievable tidings: total strangers are putting their arms around each other at the public viewings, singing the German anthem together. Confectioners are decorating their tortes with black/red/gold flags. Things we haven't seen since August 1914.

Shocked, we ask ourselves: are we allowed? Are we dangerous again? Have we not learned? I confess, I too have been singing and wearing the German colours on my face for hours on end. And I'll probably do it again. The mood is contagious. And I'm so glad that the media barrage that lead up to the World Cup has finally been replaced by the real thing.

In 1990, many German flags were being waved but not by me. I was afraid that Germany, in a great failure of imagination, would carry on where it had had to leave off. I still haven't forgotten the election party of the "Allianz für Deutschland" a few months earlier, where I was personally confronted with the German nemesis. An Allianzler, drunk with victory, began to sing "Deutschland, Deutschland." Somehow he managed to string together the text and he was raising his right arm in the air, like a sleep walker. It was an eerie moment because there I was, among Germany's future. Years after reunification, I still couldn't say the word Deutschland out loud. It was not a word like any other. Saying "Deutschland" was like clicking your heels. It sounded military and yesterday. A good 15 years have passed since then. If you measure German unification against what was feared at the time, it has succeeded. But if you measure it against the expectations, it has failed. That goes just as well for soccer. Beckenbauer's prophecy of years of German soccer supremacy has remained as unfulfilled as many other confident prognoses.

Modern people tend to stay away from terms like patriotism, love of the fatherland, love of the homeland. These terms have been oppressed, abused and seen for what they are. But they express strong and authentic feelings that won't allow themselves to be dismissed. Belonging and connectivity are modern, cautious and most important innocent words for the same phenomena. The old patriotism is dead, finally. But without any patriotism at all, something is missing. And now it's there, occupying the void. At first it'll last just a few weeks. It's a new patriotism. New patriotism means: not the old one. Another one. We're still trying. The old patriotism lived in a Germany that doesn't exist any more. This new patriotism is going to be as different from the old one as Germany today is from what it used to be. Just as the ongoing World Cup will have as much in common with the 1936 Olympic Games as Beckenbauer does with Hitler, or Sönke Wortmann with Leni Riefenstahl.

What we are experiencing at the moment is more a soccer enthusiasm than a national one, but we'll only realise that when our team finally loses. The flags will hang at half-mast for three days, then we'll begin smearing our faces with other colours. Then we'll be for the Brazilians, Italians or Portugese. The fact that we were for Germany, just as the French were for France, the Italians for Italy or the Brazilians for Brazil won't be forgotten. Nor that it was alright to be proud of Germany without mutating into anything close to a Nazi. That's possible. What a miracle! It's this feeling of continuous, German harmlessness that allows me to celebrate with a waving flag.

When the world is our guest, what we have long suspected will become clear: Germany enjoys a sensational image abroad. German technology is exemplary, we're good about giving development aid, we're great protectors of the environment, everyone profits from our travel-happiness, we're totally non-unilateral and Germans weren't in the Iraq war or at Abu Ghraib. Stadium Germans once sang "Deutschland, Deutschland, über alles" – in 1954 at Wankdorf Stadium for instance, or in 1983 at the hockey world championships – but they don't any more. Maybe we're also celebrating the fact that we're not what we've suspected ourselves of being all along. And presumably, peoples, including the Germans, are susceptible to the same phenomena that's to be observed in individuals: namely, he who notices that he's popular, starts to glow.

Months ago, we Germans decided that these four and half weeks would be something special. We wanted something wonderful, and now we have it. We don't celebrate any worse than the others and we're playing soccer almost as well as they do. The world doesn't recognise these Germans. Now that Matthias Matussek has explained in his best seller "Wir Deutschen" (more in German) why everyone can like us, we're even starting to like ourselves these days. Or is that all just camouflage? Are these underground, smouldering dull deutsch feelings just using the World Cup to gain public acceptance? I know that I'm no rightie in disguise, but what about the driver who has mounted a black red gold plus eagle flag on the roof of his car? Might he be the singer from the election party?

It is of course possible that the German nimrod is playing a part in all this. But the fact that "I am proud to be German" no longer automatically means, "I am proud to be right-wing" is an achievement in itself. A German patriot of the new variety is ashamed that there are no-go areas (more) that dark-skinned people have to fear. A German patriot of the new variety would rather establish German schools and universities than send German troops around the world. This increases popularity and guarantees influence. And it pays off in the long run.

By the way, not all those who once refused to sing the third verse of the German anthem and turned down the German flag, have suddenly opted to go German. There are still doubters and sceptics. Which is why it's very important to affirm that every German has the right not to get excited about Germany. Even if we are Pope and become world champion.

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This article originally appeared in the Süddeutsche Zeitung on Montag, June 19, 2006.

Thomas Brussig (German website) is a writer and screenwriter. His books have been translated into 28 languages.

Translation: nb
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