For me, watching soccer in Germany is like making new friends. Whenever you’re trying to establish a friendship, there comes a point that requires you to show something real. Something deep. Whether that’s admitting an obsession with astrology or sharing a love of trashy sitcoms, it’s a make-or-break moment that will either settle you deep into a shared intimacy or catapult you immediately into weirdo territory. Germany’s emotionally unabashed love of football is especially evident whenever there’s a championship—and in no case more than when the FIFA World Cup rolls around.
In Germany, any display of overt nationalism is typically associated with the hard-right and Nazism, and therefore avoided. Even flying the German flag is considered gauche, which, coming from a country that wears its flag on its sleeve (and any other conceivable place the stars and stripes will fit) is a bit of a shocker. The football championships are a major exception. This is an area where Germans are uber-proud to be German—and as four-time World Cup winners (second only to Brazil) and three-time Euro Cup winners (second to none)—you kind of can’t blame them.
As we’ve crept closer to the football World Cup, shops are cramming the shelves with tricolor wigs, horns, banners, capes, cowboy hats, and flower leis. The grocery store sells bags of colored candies in red, black, and yellow. Members of the national team are featured in billboards scaling across four stories, their badges as prominent on their chests as medals. Facebook has been flooded with hordes of events from what feels like every bar, club, and restaurant in Berlin, advertising game-viewing parties and accompanying specials.
I wasn’t here during the 2014 World Cup, but I’ve been here for the Euro Cup. Watching the German national team proceed through the matches was like watching the entire country have a slow stroke—the drama, emotion, and shuddering pride of this typically staid society very nearly left me speechless. It felt like all the usual trappings of German life fell completely by the wayside. Suddenly, the rhythm of focused work was interrupted. Everyone had beers at their desks, and in the corner of the monitors, you could spot the fat green squares of the game fields as everyone streamed the game. People traded their snappy suits and ties for curly tricolor wigs and T-shirts. And any venue that has access to a screen and a power outlet is suddenly streaming the game—efficiency be damned.
I love it. Even without following any of the world cup teams or knowing the rules of soccer (ahem, füßball—pronounced foosball, exactly like the table game. Aha! It all clicks), I can’t help but love the football championships for bringing out this goofy, silly, emotional, and deeply passionate secret side of my new country. It feels like bonding with a deeply respected colleague about sharing the same guilty pleasures—suddenly life’s that much more approachable, human, and familiar.
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