Thursday, June 26, 2008

National pride in post-Nazi Germany

"It's an interesting time to be in Germany right now" said a fellow student I met in Amsterdam, also from North America, also on exchange to Northern Germany. "Football gives the country a real reason to celebrate, which they otherwise hesitate to do."

60 years following the fall of the Nazi regime, when few are left to remember it first-hand, Germans still hesitate to show pride for their homeland. The atrocities of the Third Reich are the crimes that this nation will live with for years to come, and it shows. People hesitate to fly their national flag because they fear their neighbours will call them Nazis. Public policy is still largely driven by an apologetic Bundestag that feels they have not yet made amends. German films preach the evils of the Nazis and why it is important to understand and not repeat the past. It stifles community relationships, influences the government often to the detriment of the German people as a whole, and while not censorship, greatly limits what artists, musicians, and filmmakers in the country can do. Fear of association with the past crimes of their nation keeps the German people from moving forward, always hesitant and reserved.

The nice thing is that change is occurring, albeit slowly. A catalyst for this change seems to be football. Hosting the world cup in 2006 remains a huge source of pride to the German people, and all I have met look back on the summer with fondness. Watching games with the German crowd ranks among the most exciting things I have done so far in Europe. It is a great thing to see a crowd of teenagers running down the street shouting "Deutschland!" and trailing a flag behind them. Or the bumper-to-bumper cars driving round the city ring honking madly and flying the black, red and gold. 5 years ago, pre World Cup, you would never see this:

Things are changing for the German people. Slowly, they are rediscovering their identity, after being the boogeyman of the developed world and subsequently divided and reunified, suffering the hardships of Soviet influence on the country. Now, Germans can once again begin to celebrate their rich history, their diversity and unique culture. If football is the thing to set the ball rolling (pun intended) then so be it. It makes for a great experience at the public viewings.

Go Deutschland!

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