Saturday, July 17, 2010

Flag Flying and German "Normalization"

The spirit here in Hannover got a lot more subdued after Germany lost to Spain in the World Cup semi-finals. But the flags are still flying, and this is somewhat surprising.

When I first started coming to Germany 20 years ago, you hardly ever saw a German flag except at key federal government buildings, and even then the display was less insistent than is the norm in the U.S.

The shift started with the 2006 World Cup hosted here. I was living in Hannover at the time, and almost out of nowhere, one started seeing a large number of flags hung from balconies and waved outside of stadiums. But with this year’s World Cup, there has been an explosion of proud German flag flying. You see flags everywhere: on balconies and car antennas, for sure, but also on sticks strapped to bike fenders, on t-shirts and backpacks, even painted on fans' cheeks. The Germans rediscovered their flag, and with a fervor.

Even six or seven years ago, all of this flag waving would have been seen at best as impolite, if not menacing or even threatening of national order. Pundits here claim that this is a clear sign of Germany's long awaited “normalization”—that the country has moved on from the legacy of the Third Reich to become a “normal”, flag-flying, sending-troops-to-Afghanistan nation. And while this certainly does bring Germany more into line with western norms, I can’t help but think something is lost as well.

There was and is virtue in Germany’s commitment to its historical debts, to remembering the depths to which nationalism and racism can bring us.

Maybe I'm just nostalgic, but I always thought that there was something profoundly right about Germany's vehemence in rejecting nationalism, in recognition of its devastating effects through the Third Reich. Of course, we can't stain today's youth with the blood of the Holocaust, but it is also the case that Germany isn't just any country. And it seems truly, sincerely virtuous that Germany has kept this history so front and center, in monuments and school texts but also myriad everyday ways.

How “normal” should Germany be?

1 comment:

  1. I agree, there is something profoundly right about rejecting nationalism (in Germany or elsewhere), but I don't think Germans were rejecting nationalism. They were being discreet about it.