What are (most) Germans interested in? Autos (cars)? That would be one answer. Wurst? Too many vegetarians these days. And too stereotypical. The Nazis? Many Deutsche want the past to be the past. Beer? Only nach Feierabend (after calling it a day). Nein. If you follow German media these days, it is Fußball–or what the British call “football” and Americans “soccer.” With Bayern München being Deutscher Meister (German champion), UEFA Champions League winner, and Pokalsieger (German cup winner) as well, German soccer ist in aller Munde (on everyone’s mind)–and not just nationally, with two German Fußballvereine (football clubs)–Bayern and Borussia Dortmund–in the 2013 Champions League final and the German Nationalmannschaft (national team) trying to win a Titel (cup), either the Euro Cup or the World Cup, for a couple of years now (I actually TV-witnessed the last of each–1996 and 1990, respectively). But why is Fußball one of der Deutschen liebsten Kinder (one of Germans’ favorites)?
In its early years, Fußball was called die englische Krankeit, the English sickness. Maybe this had to do with Imperial Germany trying to compete with the British when it came to building warships. Or maybe because, despite being alleged cousins, Germans have always looked at the British isles with some sort of contempt (a favorite cussword is Inselaffen–island monkeys–or tying any sort of hereditary sickness with the English, such as not having had some new DNA in their gene pool since 1066 and such). Despite all this, Fußball has become the most famous sport in Germany and the English national football team a Lieblingsgegner of the German Nationalelf. The English only beat (West) Germany once in a final–that was the 1966 world championship final with its infamous Wembley-Tor, which was NOT a goal. Afterwards, (West) Germany has usually kicked out the English, preferably via Elfmeterschießen (penalty shootout), at which the English suck, plain and simple. I remember the Halbfinale (semi-final) 1990, the semi-final 1996, the Achtelfinale (best of 16) 2010 … And I am looking forward to the English getting kicked out by the Germans in 2014.
When the Nationalmannschaft plays, this is one of the few times, perhaps the only one, when a majority of Germans have a least common denominator (aside from those wannabe anti-fascists who generally side with the other team because they think being anti-German is so cool–and especially aside from those Germans who are anti-soccer, a “minority” that should not be overlooked). People don German Fußballtrikots (soccer jerseys), wave the schwarz-rot-gold national flag (or put a miniature one, or several, on their cars, just to loiter the Autobahn with miniature flags that have been ripped off by the Fahrtwind [apparent wind?]), paint their faces black-red-and-yellow, pilgern (go on a pilgrimage) to Public Viewing locations, and mitfiebern (are engrossed with) the Nationalmannschaft and its current match. This has been especially the case since 2006 when the Weltmeisterschaft (World Cup) was im eigenen Lande, in Germany itself. Some might even call it having been a collective hysteria; at least it was a collective experience (and the loss in the semi-final against Italy one of the saddest moments in my life). With sons of immigrants (Poles, Turkish, Afro-Deutsch) playing for Germany, football has also become a means of assimilating those with a Migrationshintergrund (well, Italian-Germans will still most likely root for Italy, while Turkish-Germans will root for Germany even when Germany has beat Turkey). On the one hand, it could be argued that this kind of openly displayed Patriotismus (patriotism) with jerseys, flags, and the whole collective experience are positive, as Germany, as you might have guessed, has somewhat of a problem with being patriotic (maybe shouting HITLER out loud in a room packed with Germans and the accompanying cringe humor will help you understand).
Especially foreigners think it is good that Germans show some love for their country, just as everybody else does (unlike what most Germans expect when they go abroad, especially Americans will not point out the Nazi past first things first when they talk to you, if they point to it at all). Although I root for the German soccer national team, and although I think that some well-measured patriotism is good, and although I like the ethnic setup of the Nationalmannschaft (because, to be honest, at least in this respect Fußball is much more progressiv than most parts of German society), I could not help feeling a chill run down my spine when thousands shouted “Deutschland” in the Berliner Olympiastadion (olympic stadium) in 2006. And that was not a positive chill. Why? 1936 Olympics in Berlin – Hitler – Nazis – Reichsparteitag – Sportpalast – Deutschland shouts – nationalism – racism – genocide – total war. Maybe (wo)man needs the collective experience, but even if one is enthralled with a soccer game, if that person is history-conscious, s/he cannot help feeling somewhat … awkward.
Speaking of German history and what makes something really deutsch … Fußball is. Stepping down from the national level, we are quickly at the regional to local level, as so often with Germany. While Americans play sports at school and root for school, college, and university teams, Germans like their local clubs, the Vereine. Schulsport, sports at school, is just a weak attempt, and a very bad one at that, at keeping pupils/students fit. While there are at times Schulteams, the majority of teams can be found in the Vereinsport, the sports clubs. A small town might only have one Verein while cities like Berlin boast a large number of them, from traditional (usually from the 1800s) to immigrant ones. These clubs are important for local identity, as you kids might play for that Verein and/or you have played/still play for it, you meet neighbors and old friends there, usw. usf. (etc.pp.). Sport, and especially Fußball, is also a way to fight out rivalries between neighboring towns or even within towns.
Fußball can be identitätsstiftend–soccer can actually create an identity. Ever heard of the Pfalz (Palatinate)? Maybe if you were a G.I. stationed in Ramsteim or Landstuhl. Or in Kaiserslautern. The 1. FC Kaiserlautern is one of those Traditionsvereine that give identity to a whole region, in this case the Pfalz. It helps that half of the 1954 world champion German soccer national team came from the 1. FCK, including Fritz Walter, one of the icons of German football (and the FCK was also the first and only team so far to . Perhaps the 1. FCK’s biggest arch rival (aside from Bayern München–but then, almost every German soccer club’s biggest enemy IS Bayern München) is SV Waldhof Mannheim–but, as both teams play in different leagues, a Lokalderby, a local game between these two teams who are about 50 kilometers apart is quiet unlikely at the moment. For a time, Mainz 05, a good 80 kilometers to the northeast of Kaiserlautern was a favorite enemy–the Rheinland-Pfalz Duell (Rhineland-Palatinate duel). And when the FCK plays against VfB Stuttgart or the Karlsruher SC from Baden-Württemberg, it’s a Südwestduell (southwestern German duel). It’s always nice to identify yourself via the other (whether they be Kurpfälzer, Rheinhessen, Badener, Schwaben, or Bayern), isn’t it … Especially when you are a loyal fan to your club, albeit–or especially because of– its ups and downs from one league to the next. Oh well, Germans like to leiden (suffer) and to klagen (moan) …
So if you are in Germany during the Fußballsaison (soccer season) from late August to mid-May (with a winter break from mid-December to mid-January), you might want to try and watch a live Fußballspiel (unless you are an anti-football person, of course). You’ll have the choice from 1. Bundesliga to second and third, Regionalliga, Verbandsliga, Jugendligen, etc. pp. … But please refrain from arguing that England or Argentina or whoever plays good football (German reasoning: it’s not the style that counts but the results!) as it might cost you dearly in Bier, and please don’t wear the wrong colors to the game–it could get you into trouble if you wear them in the wrong Block … “Hooligan” might be an English word, but some Germans have kultiviert it.