- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 24, 2006

HANOVER, Germany — Germans suddenly are in love with Germany.

It has been a long time coming, but the success of Germany’s soccer team at the World Cup has spawned a patriotic love-fest not seen in these parts since Boris Becker won Wimbledon in 1985. And this party has just begun. If Germany, undefeated in three games, beats Sweden in Munich today in the knockout phase of the tournament, the fun will switch into overdrive.

When the finals began on June 9, few German flags flew. But in the last few weeks they have sprouted up everywhere — hung from windows, draped around fans and fluttering from cars. (Insurance companies have warned drivers that they will not be covered if they have an accident in a car flying a flag, as it is considered an uninsured accessory.) Germans are painting their faces and dyeing their hair with the host nation’s colors.

After Germany’s victory against Ecuador on Tuesday, the city center of Hanover went wild. Hundreds of flag-waving Germans gathered around a beer garden just north of the train station.

‘Ole, Ole Super Deutschland, Ole, Ole Ole” they sang over and over.

Haunted by the past, Germans have gone out of their way for years to avoid expressing patriotism. Waving the flag was almost heresy and even now older Germans are a little uneasy of national pride.

‘I hope it’s not a new patriotism,” said Michael K. Eckert, 50, who works in the regional council, and was observing the party at the beer garden. “I hope it’s just having fun because of football. I think in America you have got many reasons not to be patriotic and we’ve got one special reason. People must keep checking about what it means to be German going back in history. I hope it’s not the kind of patriotism which can be misused.”

But even Eckert was moved as the crowd got even louder.

“This is the mentality Juergen Klinsmann has brought from California,” he said of the national team’s coach, who is a native of Germany but lives in the United States.

Others are less cynical.

“There is a very good atmosphere in Germany and it’s new for us. It’s a new patriotism but it’s a good one and nothing to fear,” said Thorsten Jungholt, a writer with a Berlin newspaper. “It will be interesting to see what might happen when Germany loses.”

Ironically, Germany has gotten this far in the tournament with the help of a couple of non-born Germans. Five of Germany’s eight goals have been scored by Miroslav Klose and Lucas Podolski, who were both born in Poland but came with families to Germany as children. Klose has scored four goals.

Part of the celebration is also relief at the fact Germany is doing well. Before the tournament, Germans openly said this was one of the weakest German teams ever fielded at a World Cup, and many were critical of Klinsmann, who was spending too much time in his home in California and introducing American ideas on fitness and nutrition to the team.

But now, Klinsmann, who is being suggested by some as a future coach of the American team to replace Bruce Arena, can do no wrong and seems to be loved by all.

“I think we can win the World Cup,” said 13-year-old Olivia Kupka, who with her mother were both wearing wigs dyed in Germany’s colors. “Klinsmann is doing a good job.”

Germans now believe that this modest squad, with only one big-name star (Michael Ballack) can go all the way to the final in Berlin on July 9. Of course, Argentina — whom the Germans likely will meet in the quarterfinals if they get past Sweden — might have something to say about that.

Christian Mohr, who works for the Ministry of Economic Affairs of Lower Saxony, said his co-workers weren’t allowed to watch Germany’s game against Ecuador on Tuesday. But he caught glimpses on the Internet.

“This is a big friendly party, you even see Germans waving Brazilian flags, we are all having a lot fun,” Mohr said.

One supermarket in Hanover gave an 8 percent discount on all items yesterday because of Germany’s advancement to the 16-team second round.

But the skeptics are cautious.

“[Bob] Dylan wrote about 40 years ago: the Germans now too have God on their side,” said Eckert, a look-alike of Vermont’s independent congressman Bernie Sanders. “He meant it as some kind of a warning. He was and is still right.”

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