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Could Euro 2024 deliver a summer fairy tale 2.0?

June 8, 2024

As Euro 2024 approaches, there is much talk in Germany about a possible second "summer fairy tale," referring to the weeks in 2006 when Germany hosted the men's World Cup. DW explains what it's all about.

German fans gathered in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin during the 2006 World Cup.
The 2006 World Cup set off a party atmosphere in Germany that went on for four weeksImage: Sven Simon/picture alliance

What is meant by the 2006 summer fairy tale?

For four weeks in June and July 2006, football dominated life in Germany. An estimated 18 million people gathered in front of giant video screens to watch men's World Cup matches. For Germany's last game, their semifinal against Italy, a crowd of as many as 900,000 fans packed the viewing zone in front of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate – with people from all over the world celebrating the beautiful game together. The weather played along too, with almost uninterrupted sunshine throughout the entire month.

Ever since the end of World War II Germans had been burdened by their past and as such were reluctant to show national pride. The summer fairy tale changed that. Suddenly the colors of the German flag, black, red, and gold, were displayed seemingly everywhere.

"Here you can see a united and happy German people," said the then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Sociologist Thomas Druyen told DW: "In 2006, the power of football led to a skeptical, not risk-averse, but security-fanatical people really opening their arms and celebrating a big party. For me, as for millions of other people, it was a great moment in my life."

Who coined the term 'summer fairy tale?'

German film director Sönke Wortmann produced a documentary about the 2006 World Cup called "Deutschland. Ein Sommermärchen" (Germany. A summer fairy tale). The title was a nod to the 1844 poem "Germany. A Winter's Tale" by Heinrich Heine. In the travelogue, the German poet, who had emigrated to France in 1831, settled scores with the political stagnation of his homeland under Prussian rule. Wortmann set the opposite tone with his film title: He showed Germany and its national team moving in the right direction.

National team coach Joachim Löw, film director Sönke Wortmann, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and national team player Bastian Schweinsteiger (left to right) at the premiere of the film "Germany. A Summer Fairy Tale" in Berlin.
Joachim Löw, director Sönke Wortmann, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Bastian Schweinsteiger (left to right) at the film premiere in BerlinImage: Michael Hanschke/dpa/picture alliance

The documentary, which was released in Germany in October 2006, was a cinema and TV success. The term "Sommermärchen" subsequently entered everyday German parlance. The Duden dictionary, regarded as the most authoritative of the German language, has included an entry for Sommermärchen since 2009, defining it as: "A wonderful, great event that takes place in a summer."

What part did the national team play in the summer fairy tale?

Prior to the tournament, not much was expected of the German national team, led by team manager Jürgen Klinsmann and assistant coach Joachim Löw. This made the attacking and successful football the team played all the more surprising. Off the pitch, too, the team appeared laid back and approachable. Chief among them were the 21-year-old emerging stars Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski.

Germany qualified for the knockout phase with three victories in the group stage. In the round of 16, Germany beat Sweden before going on to knock out favorites Argentina on penalties in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, though, Germany lost to the eventual World Cup winners Italy, conceding two goals near the end of extra time. However, the defeat did nothing to dampen the euphoria of the fans. After they beat Portugal in the match for third place, Germany were feted as if they had won the World Cup.

Florian Wirtz, Jamal Musiala and Niclas Füllkrüg enter the stadium in Hartford, USA
Can Florian Wirtz (left) and Jamal Musiala (2nd from left), seen here with fellow striker Niclas Füllkrug, make noise at Euro 2024?Image: Markus Gilliar/GES/picture alliance

How sustainable was the summer fairy tale in sporting terms?

Team manager Jürgen Klinsmann did not extend his contract, which expired after the 2006 World Cup. Klinsmann's assistant Löw took over as head coach, which ensured a degree of continuity. At the following World Cups, Löw led Germany to a third-place finish in South Africa in 2010 and finally to the title in Brazil in 2014. With Philipp Lahm, Per Mertesacker, Miroslav Klose, Schweinsteiger and Podolski, five players who had contributed to the summer fairy tale at the World Cup in Germany eight years previously were still there. After the World Cup triumph, though, Germany stagnated and then slipped into a crisis that culminated in them failing to advance from the group stage at both the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

What impact did the summer fairy tale have on Germany's international image?

"Germany and its people were confirmed to be more relaxed, friendly and emotional. Old prejudices (stubbornness, humorlessness, xenophobia, emotional coldness) were dropped," found a final report by the German government on the 2006 World Cup. Franz Beckenbauer, the late head of the World Cup organizing committee, was also pleased.

"This is how the good Lord imagines the world to be, even if we are still 100,000 years away from it in reality," Beckenbauer said.

It was not until 2015 that the scandal surrounding the awarding of the World Cup cast a shadow over the summer fairy tale.

Lukas Podolski and Bastian Schweinsteiger simle after winning the match for third place against Portugal
Lukas Podolski and Bastian Schweinsteiger were at the center of the optimistic atmosphere in Germany during the summer of 2006Image: Herbert Rudel/picture alliance

However, this hardly detracted from the good publicity the 2006 World Cup gave Germany.

"The image boost back then was huge,” recalled Druyen. "This image didn't suffer any significant setback afterwards. There are certainly some people in the world who would describe us as hard-hearted again. But for the most part, our image is much better than before."

How likely is there to be a repeat of the summer fairy tale at Euro 2024?

"I would wish for nothing more. But I wouldn't rule anything out at the moment, because the social conditions don't suit it and neither does our willingness to rise above ourselves," said Druyen with a view to the tournament to be hosted by Germany from June 14 to July 14.

"Our society is deeply frustrated. Letting go of such a mood is only possible – if at all – if Germany reaches the final. Euphoria cannot be generated if your own team is eliminated."

Ahead of Euro 2024 there are parallels to where Germany stood prior to the 2006 World Cup. In Julian Nagelsmann, Germany have a relatively new national team coach who, like Klinsmann at the time, is prepared to break with convention. As in 2006, this is a team that until recently hardly anyone believed could play an important role in the tournament Germany is hosting. There are also young players with huge potential, such as Florian Wirtz or Jamal Musiala.

According to Druyen, a second soccer summer fairytale could do Germany as a nation a world of good.

"It is a historic opportunity to overcome the emotional impasse," he said.

This article was originally published in German.