The Washington Post

In Germany, great expectations and palpable excitement ahead of World Cup final

Germany's Toni Kroos celebrates after scoring during the World Cup semifinal soccer match between Brazil and Germany at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on Tuesday. (Hassan Ammar/Assocated Press)

Right now in Germany, it’s all about the Mannschaft.

That would, of course, be “team” in German. And Sunday, there was only one Mannschaft on the minds of 80 million Germans — the national soccer team, which prepared to do battle with underdogs Argentina at the World Cup final in Rio.

As they strove to give their country its fourth World Cup title – and its first as a reunified nation – Germans were not so much holding their breath as filling their gullets in front of TVs at beer gardens and lining streets and pouring into stadiums where big screens were being set up for the game.

With Germany tipped as the favorites, a cautious optimism gripped a famously skeptical nation, which prepared to erupt tonight in something rarely seen in post-World War II era – a collective display of German pride.

“I’m full of expectations, I’m 100 percent convinced that we are going to win the World Cup,” said Marco Adam, 20, wearing a set of devil's horns the color of the German flag. He dodged the Berlin rain on Sunday near the city’s Brandenburg Gate, where up to 200,000 were gathering to watch the match on big screens. “For Germany, this means a huge international success and respect. And if Germany wins, we're going to party until 8 in the morning.”

Organizers in Munich were expecting 33,000 to fans to gather in the city's Olympic Stadium to watch the final. That city’s biggest beer garden, the 8,000-seat Königlicher Hirschgarten, were predicting a full house. In Frankfurt, 50,000 fans were gathering at the Commerzbank Arena to watch the match.

Meanwhile, images of the national team were emblazoned on shop windows, glossy magazines and social media feeds. The saucy Bild tabloid told the national team that “80.8 million hearts are beating for you.” The BZ tabloid, meanwhile, trash-talked the Argentines, warning them that Pope Francis, their countryman, would not be enough to save them from the divine providence of a German victory: “You are pope. But we are gods,” it declared underneath a picture of Germany’s 11-man team.

Yet advance footage of an interview with Chancellor Angela Merkel on the ZDF public network set to be broadcast tonight showed her to be the consummate politician. When Merkel, a major soccer fan who has flown to Rio to watch the final, was asked whether Germany would win, she answered, “The possibility is there.” She said that after the game against Brazil “everybody thinks, we've already made it.” But the game “certainly won't be that easy. Therefore we have to cross our fingers.”

The World Cup final once again showed Germany’s gradual post-World War II evolution toward a normal relationship with national pride.

After being banned from competition after the war, Germany’s return to the World Cup in 1954 (as West Germany) brought a stunning victory in the finals against Hungary and marked the first time that the German national anthem was sung at a public sporting event.

Yet the shadow of the past continued to dim every corner of life here — even into the 1990s, flagpoles at schools were bare of the national flag and children weren’t taught the words to the national hymn.

Only in 2006, when Germany hosted the World Cup, were the colors of black, red and gold tentatively draped from windows and attached to car antennas. In an illustration of the “new Germany” that arose after years of immigration and economic growth, the most fervent flag-waving came from this nation’s large Turkish immigrant community — regarded as the fan bloc that opened the gates to more public displays of patriotism.

On Sunday, streets across Berlin, Germany’s largest city, were filling up with fans — including some who sat atop the cement blocks of the Holocaust memorial, wearing Hawaiian leis the color of German flag and drinking beer. In a country with a still-uneasy relationship with patriotism, the displays of national pride irked a segment of the population.

“I find it astonishing that a football World Cup can cause such a change in overall society,” said Theresa Kalmer, a spokeswoman for Green Youth — an organization of young Green Party members. “I would never accuse anyone who carries a Germany flag, wears face paint or a wig in German colors of nationalism or racism. But I do think that this attitude can lead to a mind-set of 'We are the Germans, you are the French,' which often goes hand in hand with a devaluation of the other.”

Anthony Faiola is The Post's Berlin bureau chief. Faiola joined the Post in 1994, since then reporting for the paper from six continents and serving as bureau chief in Tokyo, Buenos Aires, New York and London.
Anne Hull is a national reporter for the Washington Post.



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