Mathilde Rauch, 79, has lived through a lot of German history. But on Friday, surrounded by at least 750,000 others at the football World Cup open-air “fan mile,” near Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, was something different.
“It is just amazing to see all this and to be able to experience it. I am proud to be German – and there have been times when I didn’t think I would be able to say that,” she said, showing off the German flag tattooed on her hand and the black, red and gold garland round her neck.
The enthusiasm even of the nation’s pensioners for football and its dubious sartorial code revealed to the world an unfamiliar, confident Germany, happy to wear the latest fashion on its shoulders. And there is at least one more day like this to come after Germany beat Argentina on penalties on Friday night to progress to the semi-finals.
The change in mood was encapsulated by Jürgen Klinsmann, the German coach. Pilloried beforehand for his oddball ideas and (shock) living in California, he kicked out a dogmatic insistence on solid defence and risk-aversion. In came an attacking style that was on ample display on Friday.
Some likened the moment to the 1998 election victory of Gerhard Schröder, the first leader too young to remember the Nazi dictatorship, who talked in his inauguration speech of “a self-confidence of a grown-up nation that doesn’t have to feel superior or inferior to anyone”.
Could the Klinsmann factor have wider repercussions for Germany, no longer the “sick man” of the European economy – or has it simply made German flag- flying acceptable? Those closest to the action saw definite lessons. Christoph Metzelder, a smart-minded German defender, said: “We can live unselfconsciously and carefree and we can also play football that way”. Jens Lehmann, goalkeeper, said those Germans who, like him, had worked abroad had changed perceptions. “This is patriotism without any racist element and we are showing ourselves as open and tolerant to the world.”
Ulrich Hesse-Lichtenberger, German football author, argued Mr Klinsmann had had a “hugely positive influence”, not only on soccer but also on Germany as a whole. Whether politicians take note is another matter. Angela Merkel, the chancellor who watched the match from the stands and whose facial contortiions matched the mood of the game, declared this week that Germany’s football prowess created a “new opportunity” for the country.
Before the kick-off, she sought to show a comparable reformist spirit, hailing as “courageous” a parliamentary vote for far-reaching changes to Germany’s complex federalist political system.
However, Peter Lösche, politics professor at Göttingen University, said: “The World Cup will have no real long-term influence on the slow, step-by-step way politics works . . . I don’t expect the team’s good performance to lead people to suddenly welcome the recent decision to increase value-added tax rise by 3 per cent.”
Not that anyone on Friday seemed too worried about that.
Additional reporting by Ralph Atkins in Frankfurt
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