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Redemption in Rio – Germany’s Transformation Through Football

Germany are the most successful side ever at the World Cup. Der Nationalmannschaft has made more semi finals and finals than any other team in the history of the tournament.

Germany’s now four World Cup triumphs bring them level with Italy and just one behind Brazil. Each of Germany’s previous three victories, 1954, 1974 and 1990 can be punctuated by a greater political and social meaning for the German nation and German people. One should never underestimate how much the German people have suffered throughout their history.

The first victims of Hitler and his followers were the German people. Equating ordinary Germans to National Socialists is an entirely ignorant process. The history of oppression, separation, denial of democracy and collective shame has, over time, broken a resolute people. One thing is for certain, an outright declaration of pride in one’s German-ness is something that up until recently remained taboo in a nation still haunted by the past. The World Cup, however, has always provided Germany with a stage upon which to rebuild their reputation.

1954- Das Wunder von Bern. Germany’s first World Cup win came in, of all places, neutral Switzerland facing Hungary with an English referee. The World Cup in 1950, coincidentally the last one to be held in Brazil, excluded the then three German states of East Germany, West Germany and Saar; meaning that 1954 was the first World Cup at which West Germany were permitted to play.

Furthermore this was the first time the German National Anthem had been played at major sporting events, some nine years after the end of the Second World War. The victory for Captain Fritz Walter’s team was a major turning point in post-War German history. Following the win a tide of optimism returned to a nation that had only just again found its feet and was experiencing then some of the greatest economic prosperity ever seen in the world.

1974 continued in a similar vein. A twenty-year barren spell was cut short by Franz Beckenbauer’s victory on home soil. Germany had emerged in the 50’s and 60’s as one of the most vibrant and powerful economies in the world. The 1972 Summer Olympics held in Munich should have been the moment at which Germany returned to the world community in earnest; unfortunately the murder of five Israeli athletes and six Israeli coaches by a Palestinian militant group, Black September, overshadowed what had been billed as “the happy games”.

Hence the 1974 World Cup, held in West Germany, was a chance for a new confident Germany to assert itself as a proud nation once more. The awarding of the Olympic Games and the World Cup to West Germany exemplified the new trust that other nations were willing to bestow upon a nation that many still viewed as criminals.

1990 was one of the most momentous years in German history. On November 9th 1989 following a announcement by the East German government that travel restrictions to the West would be eased, a crowd of East German citizens descended on the Berlin Wall; border guards were powerless to stop them. The process of reunification that began with the dismantling of the Wall in November 1989 was finally completed on October 3rd 1990 when East and West Germany became one. This was also coincidentally the last time (before last night) that Germany were world champions. Lothar Matthias’ men defeated Argentina in the final in Rome to make 1990 one of the most momentous years in German history.

The legacy of 2014 is yet to be decided. It is possible that 2014 is what should have been in 2006, when Germany once again hosted the World Cup. It was perhaps the final step in the process of restoration of pride in one’s German-ness. As one German put it to this journalist:

“2006 was the first time in my life I was happy to be German, I was proud to be part of this wonderful country.”

Germany ultimately did not win in 2006; two last minute extra time goals in the semi-final from Grosso and Del Piero destroyed the “Sommermaerchen” (Summer Fairy Tale). The 2006 documentary Deutschland: Ein Sommermaerchen portrayed well the utter despondency suffered by the players after this defeat; but it also showed the pride that Germans once more felt in their team and their country as thousands upon thousands lined the streets to clap the team bus back to the hotel that night.

Maybe 2014 doesn’t have the same political meaning as ’54, ’74 and 1990 but if one were to look closely you can find one. Mario Götze, the World Cup winning goal scorer, was born in 1992 and so is a member of the first generation of Germans to grow up in a unified Germany and also to grow up in a society that embraced its nationality rather than hid it away from the world under a bushel of shame. Fitting then that Götze would be the man to win the 2014 World Cup and even more fitting that he would replace Miroslav Klose the oldest player on the team; the torch has been passed.

One thing is for certain, Germany is a proud nation today and one should never underestimate just how important football has been in that transformation. However the process is not entirely over; as Winston Churchill said during the darkest days of Germany’s history:

“This is not the end, nor is it the beginning of the end. It is, perhaps, the end of the beginning”.

Deutschland: Weltmesitern 1954, 1974, 1990, 2014.

Daire O’Driscoll, Pundit Arena.

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team.