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Rediff.com  » Sports » It's only football

It's only football

July 14, 2018 11:30 IST

South Korea scored, twice, and the German team crashed out of the tournament in the first round, for the first time in history.
Uttaran Das Gupta discovers a stunned nation on a visit to Germany during the World Cup.

German star Thomas Mueller weeps after Germany was knocked out in the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Photograph: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

IMAGE: German star Thomas Mueller weeps after Germany was knocked out in the 2018 FIFA World Cup.Photograph: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

The U Bahns were not stopping at Brandenburger Tor, the nearest station to the iconic Brandenburg Gate in central Berlin where one of the few public screenings of the World Cup match was taking place, that Wednesday afternoon.

Eager German fans, some wearing the country's red-yellow-black tricolour around their shoulders or painted on their cheek, did not seem to mind.

Getting off at nearby stations such as Friedrichstrasse, most covered the last stretch on foot and waited patiently for the security check before being admitted to the large viewing area.

After their shock defeat to Mexico, the defending champions had made a strong comeback by defeating Sweden. South Korea was supposed to be one of the weakest teams and a German victory seemed not only probable but inevitable.

Before the FIFA World Cup 2018 began last month, German flags had sprouted across the nation's capital: On windows and balconies of multi-storyed buildings, at bars and pubs, on cars.

But this was not always the practice, says freelance journalist Antje Steibitz.

"Waving the flag during football matches became popular only in 2006, when Germany hosted the World Cup," she said.

The moment in history is now referred to as sommermärchenor, or 'summer fairy tale', when taking pride in one's German identity, at least with football, become okay again.

Jana Ehret, a political worker based out of Stuttgart in south Germany, confirmed it.

 

Marco Reus, right, celebrates with Thomas Mueller after scoring Germany's first goal against Sweden. Photograph: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

IMAGE: Marco Reus, right, celebrates with Thomas Mueller after scoring Germany's first goal against Sweden. Photograph: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

"Germans have always been passionate about football. But seeing symbols of nationalism, such as flags hanging from balconies, was new," says Ehret.

"It began with Germans trying to show the world that they could be nationalistic without being aggressive," said Diethelm Blecking, professor at the department of sports and science, at the University of Freiburg.

What had prevented it previously?

"We have always been uncomfortable about how the Nazis used nationalism and wreaked havoc on Europe and the rest of the world," said Steibitz.

The Nazis had built a narrow definition of what it meant to be German, based on ideas of racial purity.

These ideas seemed to be staging a comeback of sorts, with the far right political party, Alternative for Deutschland (AfD), which has been vocally anti-migrant, winning 12.6 per cent of the votes in the German federal elections last year.

"Hooligans on the right wing often try to use football to stir up feelings of toxic nationalism," said Professor Blecking, "but the German football association has been trying to fight this, especially the anti-migrant rhetoric, at least since 2006."

The depressed political mood in Berlin could have affected the mood and performance of the national team, speculated journalist Shelley Pascaul in a piece for thelocal.de.

Written soon after the German team's loss to Mexico, she quoted sports journalist Ralph Guhlke: 'All of Berlin was covered with German flags (during the 2014 World Cup), and you don't see many of them this time around. There is no party.'

After Germany defeated Sweden on June 23, the parties did start, especially in pubs and bars near Kreuzberg where I watched the match. Even the unseasonal rain could not dampen the mood.

German Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer after South Korea scored an unlikely 2-0 win over Germany. Photograph: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

IMAGE: German Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer after South Korea scored an unlikely 2-0 win over Germany. Photograph: Photograph: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

Despite the German team not scoring till the 90th minute, the fans at Brandenburg Gate that Wednesday cheered loudly when six extra minutes were given. But the extra minutes proved to be a curse in disguise.

South Korea scored, twice, and the German team crashed out of the tournament in the first round, for the first time in history.

"But it's only football," said Steibitz.

The flags were folded up and stuck into bags or pockets.

Disappointed fans walked away hurriedly, quietly. The service from Brandenburger Tor resumed.

Uttaran Das Gupta
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