Team Germany has cast off some of its old anxieties

Opinion: The country is more tolerant, diverse and happy with itself than many realise

Fans celebrate at a public screening of the World Cup final in Berlin. Photograph: Reuters

Fans celebrate at a public screening of the World Cup final in Berlin. Photograph: Reuters

Tue, Jul 15, 2014, 01:00

Everyone is familiar with Germany’s fabled engineering brains, the ones that turn out high-end cars, kitchens and, for decades, dominated German football.

In sport, as in business, being solid, reliable and efficient were watchwords for German identity, a safe path to tread in the postwar decades. Indeed the German brain was so successful that its light, romantic heart was consigned to the deep freeze for fear of being corrupted again.

It was as World Cup hosts in 2006 that the teutonic tectonic plates first began to shift. A young generation of national footballers cast off their predecessors’ leaden boots, let themselves go and allowed the light of what had been lost shine through again.

For football fans visiting Germany, many for the first time, this lighter Germany was the biggest surprise during a fun and sunny month. But no one was more surprised than the Germans themselves. Taking their cue from the 2006 national side, the young generations at public viewing parties – at the Brandenburg Gate and around the country – cast off the historic heaviness of being German to delight in their lighter, romantic soccer selves. To misquote the late Seamus Heaney, it was a rare moment when fans and football rhymed.

Two World Cups on, many people have linked German success to their re-engineered training methods and youth academies. But the story is bigger than that. Their game changed because their country changed too. On Sunday, Germany’s unification generation – Team Thomas Müller, born in 1989 – lifted the World Cup and opened the sluice gate to allow pride in their retooled national game seep back into a proud society.

What has changed? For decades this country was a closed shop, a place where the law of the land made German nationality synonymous with your heritage: you were either born German or you weren’t.

‘Wall in the head’ The Schröder government dragged those laws into the 21st century to allow anyone who lives here, engages here and wants to succeed here to be a German citizen. It’s still a long way from the American dream, but the breath of fresh air was overdue and very welcome.

Now Germany has newsreaders and politicians of Turkish origin alongside footballers like Mesut Özil, who are recognised more for their talent rather than their heritage. And 25 years after German unification, the infamous “wall in the head” has finally been overcome. In World Cups past, Michael Ballack was praised as the East German-born footballer turned national captain – in that order. This time around Toni Kroos is simply a good footballer who happens to come from Greifswald, in the former east. Germany is Einig Fussballland, a united land of football.

Germany’s media are finally catching up with what its people have known for some time: the country is far more diverse, tolerant and happy in itself than many realised. On a happiness scale of one to 10, devised by ARD public television last November, the notoriously dissatisfied Germans averaged a respectable 7.5.

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