When it's OK to hate Germany

For a few weeks every four years, we’re allowed to lob insults at our European neighbours. That’s the beauty of the World Cup

November 24, 2016 20:55

'So, did you have a nice day at school, Lucy?" I asked my seven-year-old daughter. I was expecting one of the normal replies - either "Be quiet, I'm watching Spongebob" or "I can't remember."

But today was different. "Yes, it was great," she said.

What, I inquired, was so wonderful about today. "It was Germany day," Lucy told me. "We had German chocolate and German pretzelly things and they gave us badges with a map of Germany and this pencil which actually has the German flag on it. It looks like a really nice country - maybe we can go there on holiday."

I tried very hard to sound enthusiastic. I certainly don't want Lucy to grow up with negative feelings about Germany based simply on the fact that 70 years ago they murdered a large part of her family and stole all of their possessions.

After all, Germany has done much to come to terms with that terrible part of its history - the country is open about teaching Holocaust studies to its children and has striven hard to become a force for good in the world.

As soon as the German 11 line up for their first match, I’ll come over like a Sun headline writer

True, I would have preferred it had the school staged Spanish day, French day or Danish day (particularly if it was cinnamon Danish day), but I don't have a problem with Germany.

I will help Lucy with her German homework, particularly if I can insert a cheeky Yiddish expression here and there, and if she wants to wear her badge which features the phrase "Deutschland ist fantastisch", then she has my blessing.

However, there is a line that I will not allow her to cross. She will not be able to put a German World Cup poster on her bedroom wall.

You see, in the real world, Germany may have recovered from its dark past, but the football team remains "the baddies". Outside of football I might acknowledge that Germany is, like, a really cool place these days, but as soon as the German 11 line up for their first game against Australia and the band strikes up Deutschland Über Alles (or whatever they call their national anthem these days), I will come over like a Sun headline writer. The two late goals from 1970 have not been forgotten, neither has the 1990 penalty shootout. And it still riles me that the German fans started singing Football's Coming Home after knocking us out of Euro 96 - that in itself justifies the blockade of Berlin.

And it's not just me - I can guarantee that within minutes of the start, commentators will be describing the Germans as ruthless and efficient. Indeed, back in the 1980s the BBC commentator Barry Davies really did come out with the immortal phrase: "The Germans are adopting a shoot-on-sight policy."

This is the role that international football has to play. Jose Mourinho might be correct in his assertion that the Champions League final is, in football terms, more significant than the World Cup, but the World Cup is out there on its own as a harmless repository for racist feelings against our European partners (and Argentina).

However, once the final whistle blows, Phillipp Lahm has lifted the trophy for Germany and the post-match rioting has ceased, I will return to tolerance and liberality. Though one thing is for certain - our holiday will be in Suffolk, not Stuttgart, this year.

November 24, 2016 20:55

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