Jul 11 | The shame of being a German

The World Cup match Germany vs. Brazil last Tuesday was (and still is) reason for a lot of discussion in the media and among some of my friends and Facebook acquaintances.

It also made me contemplate how I look at things, how easily my mind gets distracted from what’s happening in the world and how I see myself as a citizen.

As I might already have mentioned, I am definitely not the most political person on this planet. Reality is a world away from that, actually. And as the title might disclose, sometimes I have problems assuming my given and inherited national identity.

So this one here will be a difficult post for me. I want to try it nevertheless. Forgive me if I get confused, get lost, get things wrong (especially political affairs), and/or if I seem naive beyond belief. But at least I have the guts to admit that global politics are not my cup of tea and I am often way out of my depth following and discussing them.

 

After the rather epic soccer “massacre” (media quote, not my word) on Tuesday, German newspapers, print and online mags, and of course TV brimmed with enthusiastic headlines and statements about how the German team played vs Brazil, and how they won. It was even titled a historic win.

I have no problem believing the fact that after checking all kinds of statistics available to mankind, a 7:1 in a semi-final of any kind of world championship seems pretty historic (at least to me). A lot of points to score, a lot of time to play, and a lot of emotion to keep under control or let run free.

What I am not particularly fond of, although I can easily understand the why and the how, is the fact that the media hype someone (a team, an individual athlete, an author, who-/whatever) to unbelievable heights, and then, when they don’t perform according to expectations, they get dumped faster than a hot potato fresh from the oven, held by bare hands.

It’s not only talent, skills, ability, determination, doggedness, and never giving up that make up success. Sometimes, it’s also luck. The odds on your side. Chance. Stars aligned in your favor. And who can actually influence the improbabilities life throws at us?

Let me just add that I was happy about the “epic win”. I had just witnessed a great match where things came perfectly together for the team I wanted to succeed, I had enjoyed the company of nice people, and a great atmosphere in a sports bar in a country that usually really isn’t into soccer. So I enjoyed myself, and felt content, even though of course I did not contribute anything to the sweat, the running and the scoring that happened in Brazil.

 

So while the hype just gained speed right after the game, some (friends and acquaintances) were already fed up with it. Currently, hundreds are killed in Gaza as rockets fall on Israel, even more bombs explode and hurt people in other Mid East locations, the Egypt capital faces violent clashes again, and there is a new Tsunami warning for the region of Fukushima that worries people.

So some of us (“us” as in humankind) apparently wonder why others care so much about a soccer match? Why is a total of eight goals more important than people dying, being threatened, or natural disasters happening?

 

I for one do not have an answer to these questions. I just know that sometimes, especially during difficult times, some of us need to bury their heads in the sand and forget about the barbarousness of this world. Worldwide athletic competitions, telecasted internationally, would be the sand in that case. They take our minds off of daily cruelties we witness in the news, or of a difficult economic situation, job loss, personal troubles, whatever. It gives people something else to talk about and maybe to identify with.

That was one aspect that popped up in my mind and kept spinning circles in there (brain squirrel, remember?).

 

The other one was my (maybe) disturbed relationship with my nationality. Could also be that it’s perfectly normal. Or somewhere in between.

I know a few German people who have a difficult relationship with their country, with national pride and patriotism. All these terms and words seem to be (more or less) stigmatized in our culture. At least, that was and is my impression.

Why is that?

Regarding myself, I know that I may be proud of who I am, who I have become since I stopped being a hormonal teenager, what I have achieved in my life. Am I proud of being German? I don’t know. It really wasn’t my choice, I didn’t have a say in it at all, everything was decided by fate at that point since it was the country I was born in and the nationality of my parents.

Can I be proud of my nationality, and of what my country achieved, without really contributing to it? Maybe.

We have this great word in German. Fremdschämen. It means feeling shame on someone else’s behalf, for what this someone has done or how (s)he behaves. When I think about Germany, I often have to think about what was done in the past. What Germany still stands for in some countries. How people despise the Germans, even if they do not know a single one or never have set foot into that country that also has its beautiful sides and sights, but for sure also its flaws. Because the good and the ugly are always two sides of the medal, and only together, they are a harmonious whole.

I often asked myself why WW 2 could happen. Why people were so blindly following one man, why they obediently tried to commit genocide, why they didn’t question everything. Why they didn’t feel guilty. But who am I to ask these questions? And would I have acted differently? I do not know. Speeches and propaganda were compelling, orders were easy to follow, and the idea of harm coming to family members utilized as leverage was probably pretty persuasive. I don’t try to find excuses, I just try to understand. And I know that deep in our hearts, no one of us is (or should be) beyond doubt that (s)he wouldn’t have fallen for it. Following is easy, disapproving and standing up against something is hard. Dying for your convictions is noble, but it needs a lot of courage and a brave mind.

To get back to my initial thought: I am not really sad that I don’t have much national pride. But what I always missed was a feeling of solidarity as a nation. Fellowship between Germans. A sense for my cultural origin, other than what happened in that war, and that Germans build great cars.

I think I got my first glimpse of this feeling when the Wall came down. Suddenly, Germany was one. Very unusual, very new.

And now, a few thousand miles away from my “cultural inheritance” and surrounded by symbols of patriotism (yes, some of our neighbors have a flag in front of the house) and a usually pretty public exhibition of love for one’s country (I leave room for your own interpretation here), I might have found what I was looking for.  Through the World Cup 2014. And through watching soccer with strangers.

I don’t want to feel senseless pride. I don’t want to feel guilty and ashamed about the past. I don’t want to be a stereotype.

But I want to be part of something. I want to feel happy when I tell people I am German. I want to have something positive to tell them, to connect with them about. The joy of sports, the fairness the German team showed most of the time, and the benefit of understanding the rules and being able to explain them to people who are into Baseball and other sports I will never ever be able to get – somehow, as bizarre as it may seem, I think it made me a better German.

And for the first time ever, I wore a national team jersey and even put the flag out in front of the house (only for soccer, mind you!) without feeling remorse but to show my support. And my colors.

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