Tuniermannschaft, flags, and chaos in the streets

Three weeks ago, whenever I talked to a German about their World Cup team, almost no one expressed much faith in their football team. They weren’t graceful like the Brazilians or the Argentinians, were young, had an inexperienced coach.

Last night they beat Argentina in shoot-out. When we went to bed at 1 people were still on the streets, honking deliriously, waving flags, drunkenly accosting each other, cheering. This wasn’t supposed to happen, but now that it has, it has galvanized this city and country in a way that locals say is totally new.

There are flags everywhere, draping from buildings, hanging from cars, attached to people’s hats. Three weeks ago this was unheard of, particularly in Berlin. Flying the black-red-gold here was like hoisting the red-white-and-blue in San Francisco — a sign that you were probably from somewhere else or maybe a little feeble. Overt nationalistic statements still strike Germans as dangerous, too close to evoking their own past to be comfortable.

Now even my leftie friends are waving flags. Till, an economics student who has never had a nationalist sentiment in his life, found a flag on the ground the other day and now carries it religiously to every game. He waves it at a honking van covered in flags after yesterday’s win, and says, “They’re all my friends now. Even if I’d hate them in real life…”

It is being discussed as a healing process. This World Cup has moved this country to a genuinely new stage in its post-WWII history. We note that it is mostly younger people carrying flags, and that older people still look on with concern. The test will be what happens after the Cup. Symbols are malleable; the German flag is waiting for a meaning that expresses something beyond the community of football fans.Back to football itself. German has a word for exactly this: Tuniermannschaft, which means roughly a team that plays better in the finals, when it has to. That’s Germany. On to Italy now, and people are as scared as they are happy. I had been hoping for Argentina to beat Brazil in the end, and am sad that they have been knocked out. Our friend Sebas in Buenos Aires sent a mournful, poetic email after the game. “The worst tango sometimes becomes real,” he says.

Here it’s the next morning, and radios are still blaring happily and uncharacteristically outside. Berlin gets four days of joy before the next test comes.


  1. I watched the game in San Francisco in a mobbed bar whose crowd seemed evenly split in loyalty. By the end of the match, I was left half-deaf and half-hoarse from the noise. It was remarkable to be transported in spirit to another realm so completely–the fans sang fight songs and performed all the other rituals one might expect from fans watching the show in person who are trying to communicate a boost to their team on the field. We were a third of the world away, but it was hard to tell.

  2. […] John called me from Berlin today, on Skype. I could still hear the residual <a href=”http://johnborland.com/wordpress/2006/07/01/tuniermannschaft-flags-and-chaos-in-the-streets/”>excitement</a&gt; in his voice after Germany’s victory over Argentina. It sure was strange, and nice, to hear his voice. A feeling came over me that I cannot quite describe, but the best comparison might be suddenly going outside (where it’s sunny, hot, windy) after being busy inside your apartment all day. Suddenly, everything shifts in plane– like you were walking with a plate of food, and suddenly the plane of the plate shifts in your hand (it is barbeque season, after all) because you stumbled, or the grabbing wind, or your thoughts were somewhere else. The plane shift jolts you back a little into a feeling which is already lost, but you are aware again. […]

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