Europe '96: Berlin, Football, and German Nationalism

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As I mentioned above, my friend Flora knows damn well she's a Berliner, but has serious doubts about this "being German" thing. My last evening in Berlin, the German team was in the finals of the Euro Cup (that's football, which is to say soccer, for you Americans who haven't heard of the Euro Cup), playing against the Czechs. Flora doesn't have much of a TV, and watching this game was just plain compulsory (Americans: think of the World Series, the Superbowl, and the NBA championship rolled into one. And maybe the Stanley Cup, too) so we went to this Italian bar/restaurant which qualifies as a Berlin miracle: a reasonably nice place where you could actually get a decent meal for about US$15-20. Flora claims she doesn't often go there, but she seemed to know a third of the people in the place. Then again, she also seemed to be one of only half a dozen people there who wasn't on a first name basis with the whole staff.

Out of some combination of anti-nationalism and just plain finding one of the Czech players really cute, Flora decided to root for the Czechs (though not loudly). I was rooting for the Czechs more on a rooting-for-the-underdog basis. No one else in the room was rooting for the Czechs. At the end of the game, when Germany won 2-1 on an awfully cheap goal in overtime, the place went wild. I have to say that edging the tiny Czech Republic on a lucky goal in overtime doesn't say that much for the prowess of Deutschland, but there weren't many other people in the room thinking about that sort of subtlety. And even fewer on the Ku'damm, which we went by on our way home. Partly it was just soccer-crowd jubilance (which is not the prettiest sight in the world) and partly it was major nationalistic flagwaving. We didn't stay long.

Flora had some rather interesting comments, to which I may not do justice, but I will try to pass them on as well as I can. The following is really more of a paraphrase (at best) than a real quote. "They [the people reveling after the soccer victory] are out there, and they don't think of any of what they are doing as political, but if you started asking in that crowd what they think, you would find a lot of people who support a pretty aggressive foreign policy...Kohl would be very popular in that crowd." (This last, by the way, was definitely not the case in the bar where we were watching: groans and catcalls every time the TV cameras showed Kohl watching the game.) We speculated on how this crowd would react if a bunch of Nazi skinheads came by. Our guess was that they probably would be perfectly willing to party with them, although I would add that if the skinheads started getting aggressive towards someone on the basis of race, this didn't particularly look like a crowd which would back them -- though it might not confront them, either. (Not to be unfair, clearly some of the people were just out there to have a good time, eminently aware that after a football victory, the Ku'damm was where the party in Berlin was going to be that night, but others, especially one knot in the middle of a street intersection, had a pretty menacing aspect. I noticed a few Turks and Blacks high-tailing out of there, and I sure understood why they were bailing out.)

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Originally written: 1996

Last modified: 26 February 2021

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