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Cosmopolitanism and Patriotism blend during the World Cup (June 19, 2006)

A team of reporters describes the euphoria that reigned during the soccer World Cup hosted by Germany in 2006. The tournament showed off an attractive national team and saw Germans demonstrate friendly hospitality towards visitors from around the globe. It also became the occasion for new-found pride in national unity and the historic achievements of a stable democracy.

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Germany, a Summer Fairy Tale

Like a different country: hundreds of thousands in the stadiums, millions in front of the TV and on the streets celebrate soccer and themselves – with Mediterranean cheerfulness and an uninhibited, open-minded patriotism. Will the mood last once the party’s over?

[ . . . ]

At the moment soccer rules almost every corner of the country. It fills the heads, the hearts; as though in a summer fairy tale, it’s turning Germany into a different country, a spellbound, happy country, a country under a black-red-gold cloth. Since November 9, 1989*, there has been no greater party than this one. Back then, the Germans celebrated with each other; now they’re celebrating with each other and the world.

The country experienced the greatest World Cup ecstasy thus far last Wednesday, when the German team beat Poland 1:0 in Dortmund. It was the perfect script, a long offensive play, never-ending fear and hope, and then deliverance in overtime through a goal by Oliver Neuville. The roar that followed was probably the loudest the Federal Republic has ever heard.

It wasn’t only in the Westphalia Stadium that people were cheering and dancing. Half of Germany was gathered in front of large TV monitors. There were half a million people on the Straße des 17. Juni [June 17th Street], the fan-mile in Berlin. Shortly before the kickoff, organizers closed the gates to the Heiligengeistfeld [Holy Spirit Field] in Hamburg; 50,000 people were already inside, another 10,000 were trying to get in. In Stuttgart, 70,000 spectators were following the live broadcast in front of the Neue Schloss [New Palace], where officials had originally wanted to allow only 40,000. Car parades brought traffic to a standstill on the downtown ring in Hanover; the bleachers along the banks of the Main in Frankfurt were closed because of overcrowding.

The German flags, which are made in China, are nearly sold out. Adidas has sold a million German national team jerseys. During the last World Cup the company sold 250,000. Germany is wearing Germany again.

The land is vibrating, it’s buzzing. If you walk through the streets you hear the voices of the TV commentators and the roar from the stadiums coming from every window.

The country is colorful as never before. In the cities where games are being played, flags and jerseys from 32 countries blend to form a picture that, when viewed from far above, must look like an Impressionist painting of a spring meadow.

The country is friendlier than ever before. The Germans want to be good hosts and mother their guests whenever they can. And the country is suddenly cool. Kirsten Bach and a few friends are lying on a lawn between Leipziger Bahnhof [Leipzig Train Station] and Augustplatz [August Square]. They’re all around twenty, and almost all of them have small German flags painted on their faces. Kirsten wears hers on her forehead; she has a piercing in her left nostril and a second one in her belly button. They’re not drinking beer, but water, and instead of battle chants, lounge music is wafting across the grass. A woman approaches from the train station with a giant rubber condom on her head and hands out samples.

Kirsten says that she and her friends are here no so much for the soccer but for the atmosphere. It’s loose and relaxed here, a little like Hyde Park in London or Amsterdam. Leipzig is now – she’s groping for a word – “metropolic.”

If you point to the German flag on her forehead and ask if she’s proud to be German, she answers: “Nah.” Does it feel better now, during the World Cup, to be German? “Of course.”

* The night the Berlin Wall opened up – eds.

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