Germans claim to have been through the wringer a bit of late and maintain their country is a shambles. But with the World Cup kick-off inching closer, it turns out they still know how to muster a sense of national pride.
Nothing can move Germany quite like a soccer ball
Recent political events have shown only too clearly the difficulties involved in trying to unite the nation on half-cut promises of a brighter future. Fed up with fiscal cuts, raging unemployment and the prospect of more of the same, voters gave the politicians a run for their money at the polls back in September.
Even now, with a new chancellor safely installed in office, and a new coalition mapping out the coming four years, skepticism is widespread. But that is not to say that Germans cannot evolve into a critical mass of optimism when inspired by the right incentive. And soccer, it seems is just the ticket.
What's the kick?
Perhaps one of the most fascinating things about the game is its own ability to fascinate. Exactly what is it about two teams of 11 men, a large green field and a small ball which wields such emotional power over so much of the world's population?
Sociologist Bero Rigauer says it is largely the simplicity of the game that secures it such a solid fan-base. "The rules are easy to understand, you have two teams who attack and defend. Everyone from the chancellor to the man on the street can follow what's going on and that makes identifying with the sport easy," he said.
A source of pride for Germany
While a set of simple rules do not explain soccer's ability to drive swathes of people out of the doldrums and into a spirit of hope, identification with the sport goes some way to providing an answer.
Professor Eric Dunning, an expert on sport sociology at Britain's Leicester University, says human beings have an innate need to bond and identify with groups. "Other than our families, and perhaps our cities, nations are the most fundamental units with which we associate," he said.
A little bit of soccer can do a lot for national pride
Dunning added that the only two other main sources of identification at a national level are war and religion, leaving plenty of room for sport -- which is "fundamentally a source of good" -- to shine. "Germany will be very proud of hosting the World Cup," he said.
Sporting spectacles build hope
And that pride has already begun to show. The hype surrounding soccer's most prestigious tournament started a long time ago and will continue to gather momentum until the sound of the final whistle signals the end of the fun and a return to normality in the middle of next summer -- unless, as Rigauer suggested, that normality gets a make-over in the heady excitement of Germany being descended upon by so many people from so many of the world's nations.
It is not only soccer fans who stand to benefit from the stimulation generated by mammoth sporting spectacles such as the World Cup, but the host countries themselves, he said. "Nations hosting big tournaments need such events. They are international happenings which help the host build optimism and hope for a better future. They act like political and economic triggers for change."
How happy will the World Cup make Germany?
Just as there is no way of knowing the outcome of the tournament, there is no knowing whether the fallout from Germany's role as host will really have a positive lasting effect on the national mood. Still, being in the international limelight offers Germany the chance to focus on what it has going for it rather than its woes.
Strength for the nation's youth
Provided all goes well, and Rigauer said that good organization should see to that, Germany does not need to chalk up a major win in order to gain positive recognition out of the biggest sporting attraction of 2006.
That said, Rainer Zietsch, managing director of JugendD21, an organization for young soccer enthusiasts, said the knock-on effect of Germany putting up a good fight on the pitch cannot be underestimated.
If kids can be made happy with soccer, so be it...
"The younger generation want to see Germany do well at the World Cup. When their country succeeds, it encourages them to follow suit, and gives them a sense of strength in their day-to-day existence," he said. And that is a victory Germany could genuinely be proud of.