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History

Horst Köhler - "I think it's great that I'm not the only one with a flag on my car"

Ever since Germany hosted the 2006 FIFA World Cup and a mood of collective euphoria swept the country, it's been ok to be patriotic. While some welcome this rediscovered national pride, others are more reserved.

Former German president Horst 
Foto: Jan Woitas dpa/lah
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Ex-Bundespräsident Horst Köhler

Horst Köhler: 'I think it's great that I'm not the only one with a flag on my car'

Flags on all the cars

The 2006 soccer World Cup marked the dawning of a new era of national pride for host nation Germany.

Ever since Germany hosted the 2006 FIFA World Cup and a mood of collective euphoria swept the country, it's been okay to be patriotic. While some welcome this rediscovered national pride, others are more reserved.

The summer of 2006 was one of Germany's finest hours. It was thrilled to be hosting the FIFA World Cup and a mood of collective euphoria had swept the nation. On most days, there wasn't a cloud in the sky: the temperatures soared and the country seemed to have taken to heart the event's official slogan: A time to make friends. It really was.

The German team was also in fine fettle, confidently winning its first four games and then defeating Argentina, the hot favorite for the title, in the quarter-final. As the semi-final approached, Germany looked like it had a good chance of winning the tournament and the nation was delirious with joy.

Fans painted German flags on their faces, sang along lustily to the national anthem at the start of every game, decorated their cars with red, black and gold pennants and hung flags from their balconies.

GettyImages 71402192
Fans celebrate the German National Team (Photo by Markus Gilliar/Pool/Bongarts/Getty Image)

Germany fully supported their football team during the 2006 World Cup

As they gathered at public viewing venues in their thousands to cheer on the national team, the world looked on in astonishment, wondering what to make of this jubilant German public that was nothing like the uptight, unfriendly, bad-tempered bunch they'd been led to expect.

This new-found patriotism was hailed as a healthy sense of national pride, and no one begrudged Germany its rediscovered self-confidence.

"I think it's great that I'm not the only one with a flag on my car," Horst Köhler, who was German president at the time, said in an interview with the mass-circulation "Bild Zeitung" in June 2006.

Freed from the burden of history

Diethelm Blecking, a sports scientist at the University of Freiburg, called the summer of 2006 Germany's "national coming-out."

But he added that it began a long time before the country hosted the World Cup, and said it was already stirring after German reunification in 1990.

"As early as 1998, writer Martin Walser gave a famous speech in St. Paul's Church in Frankfurt, urging Germans to free themselves from the burden of history," Blecking said. "The audience got to their feet and gave him a standing ovation."

But in 2006 after the final whistle in the championship match in Berlin, the flags were soon packed away. Germans' uninhibited patriotism didn't survive the end of the World Cup tournament.

Jürgen Mittag
Bildrechte: Arne Lichtenberg

Jürgen Mittag: "tournaments are staged like events"

That came as no surprise to Jürgen Mittag, professor at the German Sport University in Cologne.

"Increasingly, those sort of tournaments are staged like events and national symbols are part of the package," he said, explaining that their point is basically to create a party atmosphere.

But the flags hadn't disappeared for good. They were dusted off for the 2008 UEFA European Football Championship, the 2010 World Cup and the UEFA Euro 2012. The German team played well in all of these events and the public turned out in droves to watch the games at public viewing venues. It was just like 2006 all over again.

But Blecking didn't think too much should be read into the nation's new-found willingness to wave German flags around.

Diethelm Blecking
Bildrechte: Arne Lichtenberg

Diethelm Blecking: "Young people look to football for a sense of community"

"Many people today are confused and have no idea what to expect in the next 20 years," he said. "Young people in particular look to football and the sense of community it offers to fill this vacuum."

He dismissed the idea that there's any latent nationalism lurking behind the flare-up of patriotism in Germany.

Along with Mittag, he said he thinks the effects of sporting events soon die down. Once they're over, people forget their national pride - and the German president is once again the only one driving round with a flag on his car.

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