Why Germany's 2006 World Cup patriotic fervor is unlikely to repeat at Euro 2024

BERLIN — (AP) — When Germany hosted the 2006 World Cup, it unleashed an unexpected burst of national pride across the country. For many Germans, it was the first time they felt they could wave the flag unburdened by the country’s dark past.

As Germany gets ready to host another major soccer tournament, the European Championship, such scenes of patriotic fervor are hard to imagine happening again.

While the national team could yet coax reluctant Germans to celebrate, the country itself is going through difficult times politically, with a far-right surge making many uncomfortable about public displays of national pride.

Even with Germany’s opening game on Friday against Scotland just days away, there are few German flags hanging from balconies or windows, few national colors on show.

“It’s not going to be like 2006, because we’ve moved on 18 years and there are conflicts everywhere,” said Stephan Uersfeld, a sports columnist for broadcaster NTV. “Conflicts within German society, conflicts within Europe. It hadn’t been the case in 2006.”

Germany was one of the countries where the far-right made significant gains in elections to the European Parliament on Sunday. Alternative for Germany, or AfD, came second.

In 2006, the country wasn’t as polarized. Germans still refer to the World Cup that year as a “Sommermärchen,” or summer fairy-tale.

It was the first time Germany hosted a major soccer tournament since reunification. The economy was recovering from a deep depression with unemployment at 12.6% in 2005 – the highest it’s ever been since the war – and new Chancellor Angela Merkel promised better times to come.

She enthusiastically cheered along as a young Germany team coached by Jürgen Klinsmann defied expectations to reach the semifinals in a country where soccer is by far the most popular sport. The good weather also played its part. Germans watched on large screens in beer gardens, on the streets or among friends at home, then continued the parties in parks and clubs.

“It was just a great atmosphere,” Uersfeld said. “I think the entire country was proud to actually host a tournament and be such a great host. They couldn’t believe that people liked what they saw in Germany. You had people coming from all over the world.”

He said hosting a European Championship isn’t as big as hosting a World Cup.

It’s questionable if even a World Cup would generate a similar celebratory mood now as in 2006. There hasn’t been the same collective mass-displays of national pride in the country since, not even after Germany won the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Anxiety over the rise of AfD, which uses the German flag frequently in campaigning, and more extremist groups has put many Germans off from displaying national symbols.

“Nobody wants to be confused with the right-wing stuff,” said Axel Lischke, a sound engineer in Berlin.

He described himself as a fan of soccer, but not particularly of Germany, and said he would likely root for Scotland in the opening match on Friday.

“I would love to see German society treating everyone equally,” said Lischke, who suggested the image of the multicultural German national team is only a vision. He pointed to the treatment of former Germany international Mesut Özil after the team flopped at the 2018 World Cup.

Özil, who has Turkish roots, was made the scapegoat for Germany's group-stage exit and a target for racist abuse. The president of the German soccer federation, DFB, at the time, Reinhard Grindel, later regretted not giving Özil more support.

The DFB has since positioned itself in direct opposition to the far-right, promoting inclusion and tolerance. It has launched campaigns against racism and discrimination.

“It’s part of our work,” DFB general secretary Heike Ullrich told The AP. “You cannot say that sport has no role in politics. And we know how strongly football can be used as a model to send out politically important messages.”

Just before Euro 2024, a TV documentary questioned the German national team’s role in fostering integration in a multicultural society.

Germany defender Jonathan Tah and former internationals Shkodran Mustafi and Gerald Asamoah talked about the racism and hostility they faced.

The program on public broadcaster ARD included a survey asking 1,304 participants if they would prefer more white players on the team. One in five replied they would.

Both Germany coach Julian Nagelsmann and midfielder Joshua Kimmich said they were shocked that the broadcaster would even ask such a question.

“When you consider that we are about to host a European Championship at home, it’s absurd to ask such a question when the aim is actually to unite the whole country,” Kimmich said. “It’s about achieving great things together. As a team, we’re trying to get everyone in Germany behind us.”

To what extent that will happen – even if it doesn’t reach 2006 levels – will become clear once Germany gets the tournament underway on Friday.


Associated Press reporter Geir Moulson contributed from Berlin.


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