Sun, Jun 18, 2006 - Page 22 News List

World Cup: Germans try positive patriotism

GUSTO Forceful displays of nationalism is a relatively sensitive issue in Germany, but the World Cup may be playing a role in making such expressions more acceptable


Germany's patriotism debate has taken a new turn.

The latest squabble is over the national anthem, sung with gusto these days by huge crowds in stadiums and at World Cup fan festivals when the German team is playing. Is World Cup flag-waving a healthy show of a new national pride or a slide back to a darker "Deutschland ueber alles" mentality?

A regional teachers' union said on Friday that the 19th century verses are tainted by Germany's Nazi past and should be replaced by a new anthem. Walter Jens, a respected cultural commentator, told a German newspaper the current lyrics make little sense and that the country could do better.

Such talk prompted an outcry from some politicians.

"Bizarre and embarrassing," Wolfgang Bosbach, a senior legislator from the ruling Christian Democratic Party, said of the teachers' proposal, in a comment carried by the online Netzeitung.

Fans shrugged off the controversy, however.

"It's OK to sing the national anthem and wave flags," said 22-year-old soccer fan Ferdinand Hoppe of Neustrelitz in former East Germany. "All nations do it."

Most Germans seem to have trouble remembering their anthem's words beyond the first two lines: "Unity and justice and liberty for the German fatherland."

In recent days, German tabloids have reprinted the lyrics to support the soccer sing-alongs.

"Are you already singing, or are you still humming?" the Berliner Zeitung asked its readers.

The Deutschlandlied has had a choppy history. It was written by poet Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben in 1841, and expressed a yearning for unity in a splintered nation.

The first verse, which begins with "Deutschland, Deutschland ueber alles" and outlines a rather oversized Germany, was popular under the Nazis.

After World War II, West Germany kept the anthem, despite some debate. Communist East Germany produced its own national song, Risen from the Ruins. In 1991, after the unification of East and West Germany, only the more mainstream third verse of the Deutschlandlied, with its emphasis on brotherhood, was declared the official national anthem.


Unlike in other nations, in Germany the anthem never was a powerful presence. However, it moved center stage last week at the start of the World Cup when Germany's players stood in Munich's stadium, arms around each others' shoulders, as the hymn was played.

For many Germans it was a powerful moment, kicking off the biggest outburst of patriotism since World War II.

"This is the most positive kind of patriotism I've seen since unification. We haven't witnessed the whole country celebrating together," Germany 2006 vice president Wolfgang Niersbach said. "That's unusual."

The "patriotism debate" hasn't stopped since.

On Friday, a teachers' union in the state of Hesse called for a new national anthem after reissuing a 1990 brochure in which it argued against the Deutschlandlied.

"The current anthem is tainted and isn't appropriate for our country," union chief Jochen Nagel said. "We can't just close the lid and stop talking about the past."

Nagel added there was no such thing as "natural patriotism" in a country with Germany's history.

Jens, the cultural commentator, joined the chorus.

"If there's something to criticize in our country, it's this terrible national anthem with sometimes incomprehensible lyrics," he told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

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