World Cup Fever -- kind of

Seen at a public viewing in Fulda. During the world cup? This guy is a normal fan. Outside of it? Possible neo-Nazi.

Having the chance to be in Germany for the World Cup is something I was quite excited about. Sure, the U.S. is becoming more and more interested in soccer, but there's still no question that the sport is more popular in pretty much every other country in the world. Given its long legacy of being a dominant force in the sport, Germany is an especially good place to watch the events of the cup unfold in all of their drama and excitement. 

But part of the reason I find being in Germany for the World Cup so interesting is not just for the festive atmosphere. The World Cup brings out a very different side of Germany than is normally shown, and its occurrence often coincides with national discussions about the merits (or lack thereof) of patriotism and national pride.

You see, outside of the World Cup season, there is typically very little display of any sort of national pride in Germany. Rarely do you see people flying a German flag "just because" the way you would in the U.S. If someone did, other people would think it to be quite odd, and they would possibly even wonder if the person had neo-Nazi sympathies. By the same token, there is little collective identity in Germany -- no one speaks of being proud to be German or of being proud of their homeland as a whole. 

It's not hard to figure out why this is in Germany; it's quite obviously a sign of how Germany developed post-World War II. This is a country that demonstrated to the world just how dangerous having a sense of national superiority can be, and the lesson was well learned here. 

But, these sentiments fall somewhat to the wayside during the World Cup. Cars proudly display mini-German flags. People attend games decked out in German-flag facepaint, national team jerseys and perhaps a German flag around the neck for good measure. By American standards, it's pretty run-of-the-mill, but by German standards it's nearly shocking. When I attended a public viewing for the Germany-Ghana game last week, it was one of the few times I have ever heard the German national anthem played, and the only time I have ever heard Germans sing along. Keep in mind that this is a song whose first two verses are never sung because of their ties to Nazi times. 

This doesn't mean that everyone is on board, however, as some Germans are quite uncomfortable with the patriotism that emerges surrounding the World Cup. I don't know that you could say a significant portion of Germans are anti-World Cup, but at the least I wouldn't consider it to be merely a fringe movement. There are plenty of articles in German newspapers that cover this debate.

Something I found interesting was a recently released song from the German band Deichkind. This is a very well-known, generally well-liked electro/hip-hop band -- again, not somebody representing the fringe. Just as the World Cup was beginning, they released their song, "Ich habe eine Fahne" ("I have a flag").  Lyrically it's not the most impressive, but it still has a clear message behind it. 

When it was first posted, the music video for the song garnered several hundred thousand views within a few days. Unfortunately, it had to be taken down, probably due to copyright issues since it made use of a lot of different pictures to illustrate its point.

The lyrics are critical of the World Cup on a few points, not just politically. It includes lines like, "Sklave bau den Tempel auf / FIFA treibt das Vieh zusammen," which roughly translates to "Slave, build the temple up / FIFA drives the cattle together." This is clearly criticizing the conditions under which many of the World Cup sites have been built (both in Brazil and in Qatar). Other lines criticize the heavy drinking culture that accompanies the games ("Bier, Pokal, Bier, Bier, Pokal, Spiel egal, Bier, Bier, Pokal" can be translated as "Beer, Cup (as in trophy), Beer, Beer, Cup, The game? Doesn't matter -- Beer, Beer, Cup"). 

The most inflammatory line, at least by American standards (as well as punning standards!) is the one that actually references the song title: "Ich hab' eine Fahne -- und ich steck die jetzt in Brand," which means, "I have a flag -- and I'm setting it on fire." It's a clear statement against nationalism and patriotism. 

Again, I'm not trying to say that if you come to Germany right now you'll find huge swaths of people utterly opposed to the World Cup (well, maybe you would in certain parts of Berlin). But I think it's very interesting that such a prominent German band would write a song that is unmistakably anti-World Cup as well as anti-patriotism.

If a popular American band wrote about setting the flag on fire? It would only be a question of how fast people would begin to call for boycotts of the band. Yes, Germany has a very different take on patriotism than the U.S.