The World Cup: A Conundrum for Modern German Patriotism

The Mixologi Team just finished spending the first two weeks of the World Cup traveling to experience this event ‘in country’. No – we didn’t go to Brazil to watch the games (although that would, admittedly, be awesome). We made our way through four countries in Europe to bring you a few sights, sounds and observations about how Croatia, Italy, Germany and Switzerland celebrate this truly global event.

We know that almost everyone loves the World Cup (…and with Americans finally coming around, we might NOT need to include that ‘almost’ for much longer). While we continue to post pictures and videos of our experience, we also wanted to give you some insights into what we found when we made the third stop on our trip – Berlin, Germany.

Arriving in Berlin during the World Cup, you can’t help but be struck by the number of German flags all over the city. Apartment balconies, car windows, office buildings; all draped with the black, red and gold tricolor flag. The sense of national pride is organic, all-encompassing and spontaneous…no part of it seems to be government-promoted or a marketing ploy. It is an outward display of national pride that seems to come from the people themselves. In fact, with all the flags flying, it reminded us a little of the US shortly after 9/11. The arrival of the World Cup clearly signals a singular period when it is finally OK to be unabashedly proud of Germany. As this was the third country on our trip through Europe (and neither Croatia or Italy had been anywhere near this immersed in national pride), this was a welcome (if not, surprising) development.

Modern patriotism in Germany is, at best, a tricky endeavor. Even 60 years after the end of the last World War, this is a country that is still alive to its past. There is shame that continues to exist, lying not very deep below the surface, in the German psyche. That almost no living German lived through the horrors of World War II, does not mean that they are not aware of its legacy. History is everywhere in Berlin. There are monuments to an imperialistic past, memorials to the horrifying attempt at fascism and reminders of two World Wars and the now-felled Wall that followed them. Because so many of these painful reminders in German history were rooted in aggressive nationalism and a belief in German superiority, open patriotism has, for a long time, been a plague to be avoided. It was the imagery of huge crowds of Germans, with unmistakable Nazi bluster, saluting the red, black and white swastika-emblazoned flag that created this impression. So, for that reason, proudly displaying and waving of the current black, red and gold flag of a democratic Germany has remained taboo.

Mixologi World Cup

It is not like this in the US. There are commemorations to a terrible history that abound throughout this country. A history that has included the almost total annilhalation of indigenous populations, the forced servitude of many millions, the internment of a whole race of citizens, and many more collective sins. But for an American to show pride in his or her country is not a direct re-enactment of the behavior that caused this misery. It is, however, in Germany. Overt patriotism, especially when it involves the flag, is inextricably linked with the legacy of antagonistic nationalism that led Germany to ruin just a generation or two ago. As we spoke with Berliners, we heard over and over again that for many years this created a muted sense of pride and a conscious effort to not play into this stereotype; lest Germans appear to be heading back down that terrible path.

It might have continued like this. This shaky, uninspired German patriotism might have persisted. Germans might have continued with this ‘head down’ approach to pride in country. The forces of globalization, capitalism and interconnectedness might have shaped the identity of this people. An identity tied more to Europe or the greater world might have been forged. Alas, it did not. And it was the World Cup that changed it all.

When Germany hosted the World Cup in 2006, a spark was lit. All of the sudden 31 other national teams (and their fans) showed up with their flags flying proudly and there was a change in mood among the German people. There was finally a need to respond in kind and show, outwardly, that Germans did have a deep sense of pride. Yes, they were proud of their national team (who came in 3rd place) but they were also ready to show pride in themselves, their culture and their country. This was a nation that was, by then, the economic leader of Europe and projecting influence throughout the globe. We were told over and over again how “everything changed” in 2006. Banners were hung all over the country. Jerseys, tee-shirts, hats and flags were displayed in the streets, the bars and the stadiums. It was a groundbreaking moment for the German people because it finally made it OK to be proudly German.

Mixologi World Cup


Our first two stops (Pula, Croatia and Milan, Italy) were not like this. Compared to Berlin, we barely saw any flags being publicly displayed in either country, aside from those above the government buildings. We satisfied ourselves with the explanation that Croatia was too new a country (having only gained independence in 1991) and Italy was too ambivalent about the start of the World Cup (owing to the foolhardy belief that this team would be playing late into the tournament). Although these explanations may have had some truth, the real story was that Germany was just much more ‘into’ the World Cup. It can not be overstated; the Germans were confident, excited and proud of their team and their country in a way that, initially, staggered us but, eventually, drew us in. The public viewing that we witnessed at the Brandenburg Gates drew tens of thousands of people who were constantly singing, chanting and waving their flags. We saw nothing like this in any of the countries we visited before or after…and it was hard not to get swept up in this patriotic zeal.

Mixologi World CupWe were told that many of the flags go away and the patriotism really does go back ‘underground’ after the World Cup ends. These symbols are stored until the next major, international tournament in two years. That said, it is hard to deny that, even if limited to every two or four years, the patriotic Germany that we witnessed owes much of its ‘awakening’ to the 2006 World Cup. If Germany does win this tournament on Sunday, there is no doubt that this country will erupt with jubilation and pride in what their team has accomplished. Although the reminders may be there, this will not be the same type of blind nationalist fervor of the Old Germany but rather a conscious and aware show of patriotism that can only be expressed in a country that is so mindful of its past.

Mixologi