The full significance of Germany holding the World Cup has just started to register. In its typically understated manner, the country is winning over its critics -- just by being itself.
The consensus so far is that the World Cup has been one big party
I often think I wouldn't hear this question so frequently if I lived in France or Italy or England. Sure, they all have had historic low points they wish had never happened, but they aren't reminded of them constantly. Instead, I live in a country that's been eating humble pie for decades. It appears to be the fate of resident foreigners to have to explain their choice of Germany again and again. But times are changing -- thanks to the World Cup.
Braced for insult, people here have been taken aback by outsiders actually lauding our much-maligned home. Germany has already won the tournament off the pitch, columnist Steve Richards of British daily The Independent announced this week, pointing to the praise that visiting soccer fans and journalists have heaped on the country for "the ease of travel from city to city, the cleanliness of its towns, the class of the accommodation, the cycle-friendly paths … and the ability of cities to stage late-night festivals without them ending in a drunken brawl."
Germans may be organized -- but they also know how to have a good time
The Guardian correspondent in Berlin, Luke Harding, also attested to the British press' "enthusiastic, positive and fair coverage" of Germany's World Cup. Roger Cohen, writing in the New York Times, discovered that Germans can indeed be flexible and even -- God forbid -- humorous.
The German way?
This image makeover is just what the Germans have hoped for but repeatedly failed to pull off. The problem has not just been Hitler, World War II and the Holocaust: Their general glass-is-half-empty approach to life has also been bad PR. The country has collectively viewed the continuing challenges of reunification, labor market and healthcare system reforms, high unemployment and long-term strikes on the part of medical staff and public servants through the prism of their seemingly innate pessimism.
Germans may be forever castigating themselves because they are blind to their country's accomplishments or because they're anxious to keep their achievements from spreading a backward-looking fear among foreigners. Whatever the motive, their perpetual soul-searching is emotionally draining and detracts from the high quality of life they have managed to establish and defend in the face of numerous challenges.
Many a foreigner believed the hype, too. England's tabloids in particular have jumped on opportunities to keep the Teutonic clichés alive. But now, drawn not necessarily by the hosts but by the world's biggest sports event, people who would never have come here otherwise are doing so and discovering that they misunderstood Germany.
The party goes on
Despite the doomsday predictions that circulated in the German media ahead of the event, the World Cup has already been a huge success on the feel-good front. The Germans are using the limelight to show the world that their strengths lie not just in efficiency, punctuality and organization but apparently in openness and hospitality as well. So far, the feedback suggests their campaign has gone over far better than the skeptics expected.
Of course, Germany's World Cup will soon be over. If we're lucky, the international visitors, spectators and media observers won't forget it all overnight. It would do the Germans good. Besides, I've been enjoying not having to justify myself lately.