A MATTER OF NATIONAL PRIDE
Some Germans reluctant to express public support, in light of country’s history
BERLIN — Youssef Bassal’s heart swelled with pride when he draped an enormous German flag on the building where he runs a cell phone store.
So the Lebanese immigrant, a supporter of Germany’s World Cup team, was stunned when German leftist groups tore down the 1,000-square-foot flag. The next day, he cheerfully put the flag up again — and they ripped it down again.
“I don’t understand them at all — every American or Frenchman would be proud to show their flag and root for their football team,” the 39-year-old said at his store, in a neighborhood that’s home to many Arab immigrants.
“It’s not like there’s still a swastika on Germany’s flag.”
It’s a paradox rooted in Europe’s multicultural world. Immigrants are rallying around Germany’s diverse football team that includes players with roots in Turkey, Ghana, Poland, Tunisia and other countries. But 65 years after the end of World War II, some Germans are still adamantly against any expression of national pride and feel uneasy about cheering “Deutschland, Deutschland” during a World Cup match.
There are many Germans, especially from the younger generation, who don’t hesitate to paint their faces with the German tricolor on game day. Large gatherings have watched outdoors in major cities. But it only became widely acceptable to show such overt expressions of national pride four years ago when Germany hosted the World Cup.
Strikingly, what has caught the eye during this World Cup is that Berlin’s immigrant neighborhoods sport many more black-red-golden flags on cars, balconies and store fronts than more traditional German quarters like Mitte or Prenzlauer Berg.
No longer is the German national team a collection of blonde-haired, blue-eyed players. It is a celebration of the nation’s multiethnic modern-day makeup. The team of 23 includes 11 players with a variety of immigrant roots. It reflects the country’s transition: 15 million out of 82 million inhabitants claim immigrant background.
“These players, who are the children of former guestworkers and binational parents, represent Germany in South Africa on the world’s stage,” Cem Ozdemir, co-leader of the Green Party and the son of Turkish immigrants, told daily Die Welt.
While the entire nation has rallied behind the World Cup team, relations between immigrants and Germans are not always easy.
Just a few days ago, a low-level politician in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic party suggested an intelligence test for prospective newcomers to assure that they “really benefit our country.” The idea was quickly shot down.
While many immigrants complain about racist remarks and xenophobic behavior, many Germans fear terrorist attacks by homegrown terrorists, especially Muslim extremists, after a handful of failed attempts.
To further complicate things, the legacy of the Holocaust still looms large — even when it comes to sporting events.
Heide Schwartz, a 58-year-old German teacher, said even though she liked watching the World Cup, she would never adorn her car with a flag, because “Germany did too many horrible things during the Third Reich to be able to cheer out loud for this country.” Friede Schulze, a 56-year-old banker, said, “I root for Germany with my family, but I do not feel good about joining those large crowds of flag-waving fans.’’
The German radical leftist group “Autonome WM-Gruppe” went a step further and published a post on the Internet calling for the destruction of Bassal’s flag.
Bassal, who moved to Germany 25 years ago, has organized a group to protect the German flag at night. He has also pressed charges against those believed responsible for tearing it down.
“This flag has nothing to do with politics,” Bassal explained. “It’s about celebrating our great German team, which is half immigrant anyway.”
Indeed, while the team has players like Thomas Mueller and Bastian Schweinsteiger with deep German roots, it also has Sami Khedira, whose father is Tunisian; Polish-born Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski; Ghanian-rooted Jerome Boateng; and Mesut Oezil, whose parents are Turkish.
“Our team is a successful mix,” Khedira said. “We are playing with this typical Mediterranean ease, but also have a very strong discipline.”
Oezil, one of the biggest stars, is reported to murmur Koranic verses before games. His girlfriend, Anna Maria Lagerblom, made headlines recently for reportedly converting to Islam.
As Germany redefines its identity, immigrants may be leading the way in teaching Germans how to feel good about themselves. Said Bassal: “In the end we’re even going to teach the Germans how to cheer for Germany again.”
Fans at a public viewing area in Berlin react after a German goal. Younger Germans seem less reluctant than some elders to show enthusiastic support for the national team.
Mesut Oezil, left, and Lukas Podolski celebrate a quarterfinal win over Argentina. They are two of the German national players with family roots that extend outside the country.