The World Cup is over, and Germany is the victor. For most countries, the triumph would spark an outpouring of national pride, and to judge from my Facebook feed yesterday evening, the Germans I know were indeed very happy their team won.
But were they proud of their country? Patriotism is a complicated topic in modern day Germany, where national pride is still tempered by World War II, the Holocaust, and the role that nationalism played in propelling the Nazis to power.
Recently the question-and-answer website Quora has hosted two interesting discussions on how Germans feel about their country (here and here). The first began as a question about why three players on the German national team—Ozil, Boateng, and Khedira—don’t sing the national anthem before games. The most common answer was: Who knows! But the question did spark a very interesting, more general discussion about patriotism in Germany today.
Most commenters, many of whom identified as Germans, agreed that their country frowns (or shirks from) the kinds of overt patriotism common in the U.S. “Germany is unlike other nations in that we have abolished patriotism,” wrote Judith Meyer. “We are trained not to be patriotic..and we readily comply,” said Stefan Lorengel.
Most people agreed that American-style patriotism is rare in Germany, but explanations for why, varied. Lorengel said that his fellow citizens are afraid of fulfilling the stereotype of “the ugly Germans.” Meyer and several other respondents said that today, only neo-Nazis would say something like “I’m proud to be German,” while other commenters mentioned lingering national shame for World War II. The most common reply, however, was about a long-running aspect of German temperament, not about 20th century history. A commenter named Ute Abel wrote, “I am not proud of being a German, since it is not an accomplishment of mine to have been born here rather than elsewhere.” Others echoed that point, reinforcing the idea that patriotism is too squishy a concept for the ultra-rationalist Germans.
The World Cup, however, seems to be just about the only thing that can bring out Germans’ flag-waving side. Participants in the discussion noted that Germans only really began flying their national flag in 2006, the year their country hosted soccer’s international championship. One anonymous commenter wrote that ever since then, it’s been common for Germans to fly flags around big soccer matches, though even then, he wrote, “it really feels like a playful holiday theme, like when you display scary stuff for Halloween.”
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Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.