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World Cup Patriotism in Black, Red and Gold

Diana FongMay 29, 2006

German national fervor surfaces during World Cup soccer matches, but many Germans still feel uncomfortable about waving the tricolor flag outside of sports events.

Germans soccer fans decked out in their national colorsImage: dpa

What would Freud have said about repressed national pride? It is likely that the father of psychoanalysis would have regarded World Cup soccer as therapeutic for a patient with an identity complex. Yes, that patient is Germany, where guilt for Nazi atrocities has been deeply imbedded in the collective psyche for six decades.

Sparschweine vor dem Bundestag Symbolbild
Promoting the national colorsImage: dpa

"The idea of Germany as a brand, as a nation, has always been a difficult one. One can be wholeheartedly Bavarian or Swabian, European even, but not German. The problem is that Germany needs this national self-confidence to work its way out of an economic slump," according to Henrik Müller, author of Wirtschaftsfaktor Patriotismus, a book which argues that patriotism is a key factor for success in a global economy.

In the context of the World Cup, however, exuberant flag-waving nationalism is not only acceptable, but encouraged. As the 2006 host nation, Germany even gets the chance to strut its national colors -- black, red and gold -- like a proud peacock before a global audience.

Black, red and gold all over

Ahead of the tournament, the horizontally-striped tricolor design has been featured prominently at airports, railway stations and window displays of shops everywhere. Mass market paraphernalia abounds in the form of beer mugs, umbrellas, beach towels, teddy bears, T-shirts, hats, caps and, of course, flags of all sizes.

It seems one cannot get enough of the German flag these days. Even designers who cringe at the word patriotism have jumped on the bandwagon to promote the black, red and gold.

Die Modedesignerin Eva Gronbach
The federal eagle and tricolors as a fashion statementImage: Eva Gronbach

The official tricolor T-shirt selected for the "Land of Ideas" campaign, an initiative started by German President Horst Köhler and business leaders, is a hot seller, according to Levon Melikian, co-owner of the fashion firm Eva Gronbach GmbH. "The demand has been enormous, beyond our expectations," said Melikan, who declined to reveal sales figures for the item.

Coming to terms with one's national identity

His design partner Eva Gronbach launched her fashion career in Cologne a few years ago with her "Declaration of Love to Germany" and "Mother Earth, Fatherland" collections which bear the flag motif and a variation of the federal eagle. But first, Gronbach had to battle her own personal demons and come to terms with what it means to be German, by living abroad along the Eurostar corridor -- Brussels, Paris and London -- for six years.

"I used to hate the colors of the flag, but now I find them feminine. The flag represents positive values -- freedom and democracy," said Gronbach, who emphasized that the multi-racial models wearing the cardigans, pullovers and accessories in the tricolor designs, reflect her vision of a tolerant and diverse Germany.

Mann mit deutschband
Will Deutschband feature prominently on German suits?Image: www.deutschband.de

Besides wearing the flag, it is now also possible to paste it anywhere and everywhere with Deutschband, a 66-meter (217-feet) roll of packaging tape in tricolor horizontal stripes. "This was our own personal project for the World Cup," said Arne Schultchen of Feldmann + Schultchen, whose industrial design clients include Bacardi, Europcar and Microsoft.

"The user is supposed to have fun with the tape, which is skin friendly and won't damage car paint. Being a designer with an awareness of branding, I wanted the flag colors to become a national brand, and seep into daily consciousness with 1001 creative uses," said Schultchen.

But even the 40-year-old Müller, who grew up in a generation that associated patriotism with the far right, admitted: "The only time I identify myself with being German is at the World Cup. If the German team makes it to the final, it will be a psychological boost for us, but I won't overestimate its importance in solving the budget deficit and unemployment."