Dear German national Mannschaft: Are we going to like you?

Turkish-German flag @geotypograpika-com

By Elif Kayi

OPINION. Germany’s most (in)famous terrorist group the Red Army Fraction is no longer active, except on the big screen with the movie of Uli Edel “The Baader Meinhof Complex”, which was released in 2008. But the war is not yet over and not all guns have been put down.

RAF members Meinhof, Baader and Ensslin

A German citizen of Turkish origin, Ibrahim Bassal, reported how a group had tried to cut down and burn the 20-meter flag he had hung above his electronic shop, in the Berlin district of Neukölln. The Berliner and Lebanese citizen Ghassan Hassoun further explained that small badges, which were attached to his daughter’s and his neighbours’ cars, had also been stolen.

The attempt to violate the flag at Bassal’s shop was claimed by some “autonomists” calling themselves the “Commando Kevin-Prince-Boateng Berlin”. The Swiss daily newspaper Basler Zeitung reported the harsh words of warrior Bassal: “I will defend the German flag!” Oops! What is this all about? The German flag? Migrants’ new task in Germany? Honestly, we always felt that Germans were kind of weird… but this…

While I write these lines, the German national soccer team is still on the run for the World Cup and will play against Argentina in about two hours. Dear Mannschaft, you may play well. Even though some experts, random experts or bar experts pretend they do not like the way you play nowadays. Too passive, they say. Well, as far as I am concerned, I do not miss the time you were playing aggressively. French supporters still remember the horror foul of goalkeeper Harald Schumacher in 1982 on French defender Patrick Battiston, who was knocked unconscious, lost two teeth and suffered damage to his vertebrae.

Player Patrick Battiston carried off the field

But the Mannschaft is luckily no longer a bunch of wild beasts. They have learnt how to behave abroad. And one should recognize that they do not play badly. Three times world champions in 1954, 1974 and 1990: No mean achievement. So we, as non-German supporters or simple citizens, owe them at least some respect. I speak of respect because as you know, it is hard to feel happy when they win. Their victories leave a bitter and irritating feeling. No matter whom they play against, frankly speaking we usually tend to support their opponent.

German fan

Dear German fellows, please, don’t pretend that you were surprised or shocked by these words. I am sure you know exactly what is meant here. Remember that not so long ago, you were the first to be embarrassed by your own enthusiasm for “your” national team.

Please notice here the use of quotes. Did you indeed ever wonder why Germans often put the possessive adjective our into quotes when writing about the German team? “I am happy that ‘our’ team has won” or “I wonder how ‘our’ players will do on Saturday”. Commonly read sentences on the beloved Facebook… OK, we as non-Germans got their point. They always feel the need to display loudly their detachment from any supposed mark of nationalism. Just in case we would think they did not learn the lessons of recent history.

But somehow we feel that something is brewing within them. The wish to finally dare to shout aloud their scary nationalistic passion? Having spent quite a few years on German soil and actually really enjoyed it, I still dare to say that I never found anything as frightening as a mass of Germans yelling after their team had scored a goal. As we say in France: one has to be careful of still water…  But maybe something good will come out of this abandoned restraint. Let us just give our fellow Germans the benefit of the doubt.

German fans in Bremen in 2006

June 2006. Germany was in World Cup fever. For the second time –the first time was in 1974- the Germans had the privilege to be the host country of the most followed sport event in the world. Everything was ready in overconfident Germany. Even tee-shirts and banners with “Germany World Cup Champion 2006”. We smiled at such naivety afterwards…

But not all people had a great opinion of the event. In spring 2006, the African Community in Berlin had declared in a press release that they wanted to protect foreigners and tourists from racist attacks in Germany during the World Cup. They had decided to publish a map of so-called “no-go areas”, which basically meant dangerous areas for people with dark skin or those who could be immediately perceived as foreigners. The focus was set on the new Länder of former Eastern German Republic, where more than hundred foreigners had been killed during racist attacks since the reunification.

The press release caused a heated controversy in the country. Former government spokesman Uwe-Karsten Heye added some fuel to the fire by saying during an interview with the radio channel Deutschlandradio: “There are small and medium cities in Brandeburg, and in other places, where I think a person with dark skin should not go. He or she might possibly not leave it alive”. In Berlin some hundred persons gathered around the Cameroun-born activist Simplice Lemovou and launched the World Cup Racism Help Line, a hotline service in different languages designed for tourists who might be victims of racist attack or abuse.

A time to make friends @smart-travel-germany-com

In such starry eyed days, the entire political family strongly reacted, forcing Uwe-Karsten Heye to apologize officially. Nobody really wanted to listen to the spoilsports raising the question of racism. Through its advertising campaign “Die Welt zu Gast bei Freunden” (which was translated in English: “A time to make friends), Germany wanted to show the new face of a friendly, open-minded and tolerant society.

In the meanwhile, 2006 seemed to be the year of change. I still remember the theory that a German fellow journalist once told me. According to him, the worst nightmare of a German tourist would be for instance to be spotted as a German while enjoying a cappuccino and reading La Repubblica on the terrace of a nice café in Florence… Yes, there was a time -not so long ago- when it was hard to be a German. It was not something to be happy with, not something to be proud of…

But suddenly in the summer 2006, red, black and golden flags started to flourish on every corner. All of a sudden it seemed fine to make-up one’s chicks in Teutonic colors. Some explained the situation with the change of generations. The grandchildren of the baby-boomers were not directly affected by the familial difficulties of the national-socialist heritage and felt the repression as belonging to a distant past. But there was something more.

Among the supporters of 2006 there were also the so-called migrants! [For readers acquainted with German internal political discourse: You may want to discuss the word “migrants” itself, preferring to use the expression “person with migrant background” or “migrant child” or even “child born from a family with a migrant background”… I prefer not to beat around the bush and speak of “migrants”, a word that can easily be understood. Apologize for my political incorrectness]. Not having had to go through the difficult process of familiar and historical heritage, migrants and their children saw no problem in waving the German flag. In many places one could see Turkish flags –the Turks went up to the semi-final in 2006- together with Germans ones.

German and Turkish flags

So-called Anti-Germans (in German Antideutsche), whose political movement was a response to the rise in racist attacks and nationalism in the wake of the German reunification, would call this attitude a complete misunderstanding of German history. But this could also be interpreted in a positive way. Deciding not to wait for a “national recognition” of their presence, “migrants” were sending a signal that they had “adopted” Germany themselves, and in their own way.

In fact politicians of the German Bundestag only recently recognized officially that Germany was “a migration country”. Which means some fifty years after the first Turks, Greeks, Yugoslavs, Italians and other Gastarbeiters had started to come to the German Federal Republic…

Turkish Gastarbeiters

In 2005 a campaign had been launched by 25 media companies showing several kids, mostly with migration backgrounds, saying the innocent sentence “Du bist Deutschland” (You are Germany). The idea of the companies was to create “positive thinking and a new German national feeling”. For critics the expression was very unlucky, reminding Nazi banner with Hitler’s picture and the words “Denn du bist Deutschland” (Because you are Germany). Ghana-born German soccer player Gerald Asamoa supported the marketing campaign. In reaction, a campaign run by neo-nazis started on the Internet against him with stickers showing his picture with the words Nein, Gerald, du bist nicht Deutschland (No, Gerald, you are not Germany).

You are Germany

I already mentioned that it was not easy to be a German. But it is also not easy, when not impossible, to become one. The citizenship law for instance introduced in 2000 makes it easier for residents to obtain German citizenship but still requires the candidate to opt out of his or her former citizenship if he or she wants to become German. Small step by small step… And being German on paper does not make you a “real German”. I spare you the endless vocabulary around “Urdeutsche” (original Germans) or “Biodeutsche” (Bio-Germans) and other hilarious predicates. But migrants and their children, waving their flag, may still portray the new faces of a changing country.

In France, we had the Republican model – all French and only French in the public and private sphere- and in the UK, they had the multiculturalistic approach –British in the public sphere, whatever you feel like in private. Both models are being criticized nowadays. But Germany never had such policies. The process is therefore long and will take time, but it seems on the way. Even the German team is changing. There are already players like Poland-born Miroslav Klose or Brazil-born Cacau. And among this year’s new stars is the young German of Turkish origin Mesut Özil.

The last mark of an ongoing process for a successful integration “à la française”: Beside “nice guys” like Özil, Germany also has its “bad kids” like French Nicolas Anelka. Kevin-Prince Boateng! Well, Kevin-Prince is not really German because contrary to his brother Jérôme, who plays in the German national team, he, the “scum” of the Berlin district of Wedding, decided to keep the Ghanaian citizenship of his father and plays for the Ghanean national team. But it doesn’t matter. His foul on German captain Michael Ballack in the FA Cup final ruled Ballack out of the World Cup and made the “needed hate figure” out of him.

In Germany these days people claim that supporting the national team belongs to a “healthy patriotism” and has nothing to do with “ugly nationalism”. At least, Germany should say thank you to its migrants! They managed to send the Mannschaft into the quarterfinal (Özil at 60’). But above all they –either players or supporters- make German euphoria look much friendlier.

And as I finish these lines: 4-0… Deutschland! Schland! Schlan!

German Chancellor Angela Merkel during Germany-Argentina game



Filed under Migration, Opinion, Sports

8 responses to “Dear German national Mannschaft: Are we going to like you?

  1. Marina

    Hihi, you might even make me interested in football! well, this is an interedsting piece, especially since my two months in Berlin. But to be honest, I have to say, here in Sweden, and actually in many other parts of Western Europe, I have seen that people are genuinly happy for Germany. It is like they feel that they have piad their dues… I have to say that I do subscribe to this theory as well, mostly as I feel that today’s generations of Germans have nothing to do with the second world war. However, all nationalism, and patriotism fot that matter, is just a biproduct of the brainwash that is the national state (personal opinion) and I see no point in indulging in it, especially as a former Yugoslav. But people seem to need and like it. Is it always dangerous? No, I don’t think so.

  2. Elif

    Thank you for your comment, Marina!
    I am not so sure whether people are really genuinly happy for Germany all over Europe. But what is sure is that the debate over “waving or not waving the flag” in Germany was really heated, especially during the last World Cup in 2006. It seems there is slowly a consensus that supporting the national soccer team and feel happy for them can be tolerated 😉 And I definitely think that “migrants” have played a role in the issue, which makes the whole story quite funny in fact…

  3. Stephanie

    Hi Elif,
    it is an interesting piece that brought up a lot of different kind of emotions and reactions from my side.
    I agree with Marina, that nationalism or patriotism, has to regarded carefully – but no matter from which country!
    Second point is, that from a perspective as a German, reading English newspapers during the World Cup always makes me sad. I am referring to the use of military and Second World War related words like “Blitzkrieg” or the “German Panzers on the field”. But apart from that, I had the impression, especially since the 2006 World Cup that we ALL, not only the Germans, refrained from this association when it comes to soccer. I was hoping the sport is finally moving towards who plays a more beautiful game than the other. In 2008 no one wanted Germany in the finals – except the Germans themselves. The kind of soccer the played then was just not good and they only made it there with a lot of luck.
    Now you are writing that “No matter whom they play against, frankly speaking we usually tend to support their opponent.”
    Frankly, I am very happy, that at least the headlines of foreign newspaper after the match against Argentina just now seem to contradict you, speaking of one of the best German teams ever, a beautiful kind of soccer being played there.
    Which brings me to a few points from my perspective as a sole soccer fan:
    – check your facts: Turkey was playing against Germany in the Semi-Finals of the European Cup in 2008. In 2006 Germany played and lost against Italy in the Semi- Finals.
    – “But the Mannschaft is luckily no longer a bunch of wild beasts. They have learnt how to behave abroad.” – What kind of generalisation is that? Which Mannschaft? Do you mean the WHOLE of German national teams playing from the 50ties to now? Or just the 1982 one? It is a different team every time and the kind of soccer the German team (and all other national teams) played has varied over the years. For example, the 1982 German national team was pretty much the same team that won the European Cup in 1980. And this team was widely critizied for their very defensive style of play during the European Cup. So, although, I totally agree, it was a terrible foul from Toni Schumacher, there should have been a penalty shot and so on… the German national team of the 80ties was not actually known for their aggressivness.
    – you pointed out the worries about racism and hooligans in 2006 before the start of the World Cup. You failed to mention that although there were a lot of worries beforehand, it turned out to be an extremely peaceful World Cup with no incidents whatsoever.

    Okay, this were just a few remarks.
    Generally, I think you picked an extremely interesting topic: The combination of soccer, politics, racism, nationalism. It is super- interesting, but also extremly sensitive. And for writing about such a sensitive topic your article had in my opinion a few too many generalisations in it.

  4. Elif

    Dear Stephanie,
    thank you very much for your comment. I know this is a very sensitive subject. However, I do not intend to bring “facts” in a “factual way”, sorry.

    I do not really know what you mean with “check your facts”, sorry again. I read again but I do not see where are the mistakes in the text. I did not write that Turkey played together with Germany in the World Cup 2006, but only mentioned the flags together (which could also be explained by the presence of Turkey up to the semi-final).

    I love irony and I am sorry you took up my vocabulary seriously. I did not mean to hurt anyone’s feelings. Maybe, like in my article about the French team, I should have added the precautions mention at the end : “Should anyone feel upset about this, all apologies! And feel free to write back”.

    Anyway thank you for writing back 🙂

  5. great story, you’ve got a lot from what one might call the German Befindlichkeit (can’t think of an English word for that).. good luck for you, yrs Robert

  6. Sophia

    Dear Elif,

    thank you for your article! A lot of my German and non-German friends living here keenly read it. They did not always love this rather controversial opinon article, but it hit the nerve, I guess.

    Schland is not any more on its way to the finale, however, as a German comedian said “We Germans are used to loosing. At least, they did not bomb us: we only have to rebuilt our moral this time, not the bombed cities.” 😉

    Viele Grüße, Sophia

  7. gabriel hoesch

    ok, nice text, enjoyed reading very much. still i disagree with some of your statements:

    “No matter whom they play against, frankly speaking we usually tend to support their opponent.”

    that might be true, if “we” refers to yourself and/or france. otherwise, you’re completely wrong, i can assure. germany’s reputation is much better than you would expect. i travelled a lot around europe and asia, and guess what: there was no other football jersey i saw more often than the german one. by far. but it’s not only because of “our team’s” attractive football. have you heard of nation branding? i’m not saying it’s the perfect proof for my pov, but it certainly adds to the theory that germany’s reputation in the world is better than you think.

    another thing:
    it IS perfectly normal for any population of a country (regardless of its past) to cheer and be happy when they succeed in the national sport and/or in the world’s biggest sporting event (for me it’s bigger than the olympic games).
    this is not something you may “slowly find consensus about and tolerate it”, it’s a human right!

    also it is perfectly normal for (a) citizen(s) of a country to refer to this country’s national team as “our team”. what’s your problem with that?

    and i’m very sorry for you, if you find nothing as frightening as peacefully cheering germans.
    we’ve become a peaceloving country, haven’t you noticed? we don’t exhibit our military power each year on october 3, as you do on july 14. we don’t have nuclear weapons either, and are sorry we invented them.

    but yes, we do have problems with integration as we are host to the third largest number of imigrants in the world. but i’m sure, in france you don’t have any problems at all. 😉
    and for your interest: i’ve never heard the words “urdeutsch” or “biodeutsch” before.

    one more thing i have to get rid of even if it has nothing to do with your text:
    at history class in school, there is (of course) no topic that gets more attention than the third reich. we deal with it honestly and unadorned. and in german class, most of the books kids read also deal with that topic. so we know what has been done and we won’ forget. but we also feel that it’s a shame that has nothing to do with my generation and the generation before me. so it kind of hurts if you read an english article about sports and encounter words such as blitzkrieg or german panzers etc.

    as i finish this germany plays kazachstan in a qualifyer match. good luck for france against luxembourg 😉


  8. Elif

    Dear Gabriel,
    thank you for your comment(s).
    I don’t consider myself as “we” talking about the French, nor do I mean a “you” talking about the Germans. So having spent quite some years in Germany, I also consider myself as part of your “we”. I hope you don’t mind 😉
    And as I already wrote before, I love playing with irony. But I’m sure you got the points between the lines, isn’t it?
    One question about your comment though: “but yes, we do have problems with integration as we are host to the third largest number of imigrants in the world”. I am curious to know why you feel that hosting the “third largest number of immigrants” automatically means “having problems of integration”. This would be an interesting point to develop. Maybe more interesting to develop this point than fighting about the “we” and the “you”…

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