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World Cup

Opinion: Negative image a thing of the past

Germany winning its fourth World Cup is the icing on the cake for German soccer. But the latest triumph in Rio is much more than that. This victory is symbolic of a modern, likeable Germany, writes DW's Volker Wagener.

Cross from Schürrle - Götze receives the ball to the chest as he runs - he shoots in mid-leap - into the far corner - GOAL!

In a few years' time, when wise men debate questions such as who we are, where we're from, and why we are the way we are, they will probably confirm that the emotional Big Bang that happened in Rio has changed Germany - to a certain extent, at least. It has lit a beacon, not just in terms of this soccer tournament. Germany as a whole is now the center of attention.

The way we Germans are perceived abroad has changed. We are well received, and finally we're realizing that, too. We're beginning to get an idea of what we want to be; what we could be.

Historical burden

For a long time we were dealing almost solely with what we didn't want to be. In terms of foreign policy, we first and foremost didn't want to attract attention. For historical reasons, we remained the junior partner to our Western allies - sometimes without any position of our own at all.

We mainly focused on negations: No more war, no more fascism, no more Auschwitz. The German flag with its colors black, red, gold and Germany's national anthem were regarded as uncool, even embarrassing, by many of the grandchildren of the generation of Nazi perpetrators.

Volker Wagener (photo: DW)

DW's Volker Wagener

The German political landmarks of recent decades have always been delayed reactions to a hideous past. Former chancellor Willy Brandt's gesture of humility towards the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Helmut Kohl holding hands with French President Francois Mitterrand at Verdun, which became a symbolic gesture of reconciliation between the two countries. And then-president Richard von Weizsäcker's speech on the 40th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, articulating Germany's historic responsibility for Nazi crimes. Even the fall of the Berlin Wall was a long overdue correction of history.

Growing up

But something has changed. The political-historical tension is disappearing. Germany is formulating its own foreign policy.

No more hiding: Germany is taking a stance, even a leadership role. Witness Chancellor Angela Merkel's involvement in dealing with the eurozone crisis, where she has shouldered most of the burden. France is rather weak - it's mostly thanks to Germany that the Paris-Berlin axis is being maintained. In Brussels, Merkel is the unacknowledged queen of Europe; and when it comes to the Ukraine crisis, her word carries weight with Putin - at least, more than Obama's does.

And now even Berlin's tame, almost submissive attitude towards its big brother from Washington seems to be disappearing. Just a couple of days ago, Merkel ordered the United States' intelligence chief in Germany to leave the country.

The world stops and stares as Germany takes the gloves off. It won't just put up with everything anymore. Germany is currently in the process of redefining its partnership with the US. Bulls are being seized by the horns.

Germany reinventing itself

Germany's 1954 victory in Bern has been seen as the true timestamp of the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany. Securing the World Cup in 1974 was a suitable finale to the Brandt era, in which Germany ventured towards more democracy. Germany's victory in 1990 was proof of its strength of purpose, coming as it did shortly before the country's unification.

The German World Cup trophies were always also metaphors for the German attitude to life, a marker for what we wanted to be. And now: the giants of Rio.

German soccer and Jogi Löw's boys stand for a Germany that's likeable, a mature country that no one is afraid of anymore. A team that dealt respectfully with those it defeated. Brits, Brazilians and Chinese can bear witness to this. These are thrilling players who are modest in their success.

It is this, the manner in which Germany attained its fourth star - its fourth World Cup win - that could give Germany and Germans an idea of what they might want to be: someone people around the world can warm to.

And at home? Never before have Germans related so closely to their national team. Soccer is Germany's biggest social capital - it's the cement that bonds society.

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