14 Jul 2014

Proud to be Kraut – but what to do with all those flags?

The Germans take waste management very seriously. And one of the unintended consequences of last night’s victory was a question, mulled over by one of the country’s broadsheets, Die Welt. What to do with the millions of German flags, wing mirror decorations, rattles, bottle warmer or coolers?

What should happen to the paraphernalia of footballing junk that has emblazoned so much of the country in the the German colours black, red and gold.

Americans love hanging out their flags. The union jack or the England flag were fluttering from windows and pub awnings long after England flamed out like a distant shooting star that turned out to be space junk.

But Germans, for some obvious historical reasons, had until recently a somewhat tortured relationship with displays of national affection. No longer. Even the little complementary victory tartlet I was offered at breakfast this morning in my hotel, displayed the three colours courtesy of some blackberries, red currents and custard.

So, the Welt newspaper asks, if it’s not edible, should the stuff be junked and recycled or should it be kept somewhere safe till the European Championships in two years’ time?

It is a very German question to a very German dilemma: just how patriotic are we allowed to be in public?

As one reveller put it to me last night in fluent English: “We are now proud to be Kraut!” The feeling crosses party lines, and even the veteran lefty bus driver from the old east I met this morning said he was moved by the sight of Angela Merkel, who he decidedly did not vote for, hugging the grimy, sweaty, exhausted players last night like the sons she has never had. Her nickname is, after all, Mutti – or Mummy.

I have also never seen crowds like the ones I saw last night in the centre of Berlin. About 15 minutes after the game had finished, the city began to fill up with a cacophony of fireworks, car horns, vuvuzuelas, broken beer bottles and shouts of Deutschland! Deutschland! that I have never heard here before at such volume.

Even in the heady years after the Berlin Wall came down and Germany hurtled towards unification, the patriotic feelings were more muted. The country was dipping its toes in the waters of national pride. Last night it went for a full body immersion.

The degree to which Germany was invested in the game was also evident from the numbers. 35 million German TV sets were switched to the game. The reach of the audience was almost 90 per cent. Who, you wonder, were the remaining 10?

We watched it in a Bavarian theme restaurant near our hotel, where middle-aged, middle-class Germans festooned in the national colours grimaced, winced, yelped, chortled, howled, swallowed, grunted, shrieked and screamed with all the agonies and ecstasies that a World Cup final produces in adults. It was a rollercoaster of facial expressions that finally erupted into an outburst of post-traumatic euphoria,the likes of which I have never seen in my country.

Once upon a time this might have embarrassed the Germans and frightened the neighbours. Today it feels normal – just like the flags.

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