Backside of Berlin

Would you like a side-order of nationalism with that?

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Deutschland, Deutschland...

So many German flags it looks like the streets are painted red, yellow and black. Horns and vuvuzuelas going berserk. The biggest screen in Europe, at the Fanmeile (above), shows the Germany matches live to an audience of over five hundred thousand people. Every car and motorbike has the national colours trailing like banners in the wind. Facepaint. Big screens. Raucous street parties. Imagine if they actually win it?

Most of the people I talk to fall into one of two groups. There are those who embrace it and love it, genuinely excited for the young and talented group of footballers who have been the leading light of this World Cup. Then there are those who are deeply suspicious of the overt nationalism on every street corner. With a history like Germany’s there is an obvious gingerness towards displays of national fervour; for every person who drapes a flag from their balcony, there is someone who is annoyed at the proclamations of pride sweeping the country.

The embrace of guilt-free nationalist glee is a relatively new development. I’m told it really started to become accepted in 2006, where as hosts of the tournament, Germans were able to embrace the merchandising madness of supporting their team through the full regalia of shirts, giant floppy hands, and flags. Displays of nationalist sentiment have grown more and more accepted. Do those who voice concern do so simply out of revulsion towards this kind of jingoistic patriotism, or is it flavoured by remembrance of where this has led in the past?

The shackles of the last seventy years are still clear to see when talking to people in their forties and fifties. In one of my classes, a political discussion about how the Israelis stormed the aid ships last month suddenly turned into a heated debate about responsibility for what happened during the Holocaust under Hitler and whether the next generation should carry the sins of their predecessors. One student argued fiercely that what had happened wasn’t his cross to bear any more. The others were embarrassed by his comments, almost ashamed on my behalf. I had to stop the discussion.

On the other hand Berlin is so multicultural that a lot of people simply don’t care for the deutsche Mannschaft. At many of the Turkish-owned spätkauf – including my personal favourite where the 60 cent beers come with free sunflower seeds and big smiles – they laugh heartily at all the hoo-ha and support Argentina or Brazil or Spain. The African immigrants feel little allegiance to their adopted national team. And in bars all over the city there are raucous Italian, or Mexican, or Ghanain gatherings. Ghana, incidentally, seemed to be the popular underdog of choice – at least until they were painfully dumped out by Uruguay. Truth be told the predominance of German colours feels slightly at odds with the usual vibe of the city, and its I-don’t-give-a-fuck-I’m-a-Berliner attitude – although I’m sure the Kreuzberg punks and anarchists are doing their bit by burning the odd flag here or there.

Still it’s hard not to admire the German team. Humble characters led by Loveable Lahm, no egomaniac superstars, fabulous attacking football, and all this in a team with an average age of less than twenty-five and with five players who had less than ten caps going into the tournament. What’s not to like?

If only the man across the street would stop blowing his vuvuzuela every time they score.

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