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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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Ich lerne hier Deutsch

First class yesterday, and what a nervous rag-tag bunch we were, waiting for our teacher who showed up ten minutes late. Not very German, muttered a voice in the crowd. Japanese catering lady with a square business card, Israeli ginger, petite Spanish, Basque guy from Spain (I’m from Basque Country – in Spain), wizened young Italian musician, two beaming Vietnamese.

We had to spell our names aloud using the German alphabet. I suspect some would have had trouble in their native tongues let alone a new one. Neol turned out to be Lior. Ehuazel revealed herself as Iguacel. We all chuckled commiseratively over each other’s mistakes and made oversized faces to pronounce new sounds, gargling our Rs and hocking up our CHs. We were introduced to insipidly contructed dialogues between Peter and Laila and Carlos and Marina, which we recreated in a mingle just outside the classroom.

Thomas our teacher has a flowing brown crown surrounding a bald pate, infectious energy, and is self-conscious about his own (excellent) English. Actually English was used quite a bit both in the classroom and outside of it, as it’s the lingua franca of most of the students; I’m not sure if our German will get much better but everybody’s English certainly will. Three and a quarter hours is a hell of a long class, so we gladly collapsed outside with coffees and rolled cigarettes during our break and swapped potted histories. Nobody’s really got a proper job except Tomoko the smiley caterer. Everybody else is a student or intern or housewife or househusband or, like me, has decided that the word ‘unemployment’ is decidedly more palatable if you can claim to be learning the local lingo.

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