The Bigger Meaning Of Germany's National Team
The Mannschaft's World Cup winning team was the perfect embodiment of what Germany hopes to be perceived as — a mix of artistry, perseverance, solidarity and individual freedom.
BERLIN — Our national soccer team's appearance Tuesday with the World Cup trophy at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, their triumph will also move to the core of the Republic.
The summer of 2006 — when Germany hosted the World Cup and finished third — was a fairy tale for the country. It resulted in a sort of miracle: Germans made peace with themselves in the face of a young soccer team, whose charm and joyful playing style had little to do with the scrappy, uninspired play of its predecessors.
The team became a medium for a general loosening up among Germans. It led them to build a relatively un-neurotic relationship with the symbols of their national identity. Black, red and gold were finally O.K. — whether on flags or painted faces. Singing the national anthem even emerged from the patriotic underground.
Nowhere in the world did anyone fear this outbreak of joy for the German Fatherland. On the contrary, they shared the rejoicing.
An economic — and national — contribution
Coach Joachim Löw, the manager of the team, was at the time an assistant to Jürgen Klinsmann, and players like Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger were already seen as major talents. When Klinsmann left in 2006, the Deutsche Fußballnationalmannschaft (DFB) — the national football team in Germany — chose to promote the soft-spoken Löw to head it. This was a clear tribute to his role as the team behind-the-scenes genius during the 2006 World Cup.
Following that decision, Löw and his concept of a modern, highly-imaginative and elegant game prevailed, despite criticisms and setbacks like the team's elimination six years later, in the 2012 European Championship.
The fact that he stayed the course paid off on Sunday night. Up to two billion people were watching as the young Mario Götze knocked in his thrilling, winning goal in the closing minutes of overtime.
Just like the semifinal game against host Brazil, the German football team made quite an impression not only on the pitch but before and after the game. They were unassuming and focused before the whistle blew, smiling and empathetic with the losing team when the game ended.
When the players' wives and children came out to join the exultation that followed the match, and a tearful Miroslav Klose — that magical player and melancholy hero — picked his children up to hug them, even the crustiest anti-German sentiment must have melted away.
The Mannschaft did just as much for Germany's inner and outer perceptions as Willy Brandt’s "Warsaw Genuflection" and Helmut Kohl in Verdun did to deal with the ghosts of the two World Wars. The team has become the most popular embodiment, both at home and abroad, of the perception of what modern Germany has become.
London's liberal newspaper The Guardiangushed about the "intelligent design" of the German game, and bowed unusually low to the virtuosity of a professionalized, active promotion of young players, that has done so much for German soccer these past two decades.
Without the fantastic German centers for young talent, players like Götze would have never emerged. Education policies in this country should be optimized in that same, goal-oriented way.
In the end, the German national team is less a confirmation of German politics — or a charming doppelganger, as some would say — than an exciting counterpoint.
Löw’s 11 offered an ideal mix of team spirit and individuality. The collective won from maximizing each player’s freedom. The lesson to draw from the political liberal minority here is that solidarity with the weak and vulnerable helps not only the team but individuals as well. The one to remember from the social-democratic mainstream is that nothing sparks individual strengths like competition.
A lot of humanistic wisdom goes along with this triumph, too. It is a victory of a coach and captain who, rather than playing authoritarian cards, see the best in the players even when they don't see it themselves. As “united artists,” the German national team made it clear that artistry is much more than a mere, seductive decoration for a solid craft. It is a prerequisite for winning in the 21st century.
Thank you, dear team, for this unforgettable World Cup championship.