Traditionally, German soccer teams have purportedly embodied “German virtues” (die deutsche Tugenden): a tough work ethic, discipline, organization. They’ve been made to sound much like a Mercedez-Benz. At their best, their performance indeed resembled German engineering. Otherwise? As Swiss National Coach Ottmar Hitzfeld recently described the German virtues: “Not necessarily play well, but win anyway.” If you’ve never lived in Germany as an expat (or as a German!) there’s no way to convey what a basic article of faith the German virtues have been. There’s gravity. There’s the fear of draughts. And then there are the German football virtues. All these are fixed elements of the German universe.
In that spirit, the old-time German stars tended to take themselves pretty seriously. The legendary Franz Beckenbauer, for instance, is one of those guys who makes you worry his whole face might crack and shatter if he smiled too warmly. His skin looks that much like brittle leather (perhaps it’s an antique ball, circa 1927?). Luckily, Beckenbauer doesn’t crack a smile often. Sure, it’s a stereotype – the humorless German – and even some of Beckenbauer’s contemporaries, the stars of the 1970s and 1980s, broke the stereotype on occasion. Still, they didn’t break the edifice of “German virtues.” Why, they helped build it higher, brick by brick.
Monty Python had their own take on this, with their Philosophers’ World Cup:
So maybe Marx wasn’t the most promising footballer. (Note Beckenbauer, however, in the lineup of philosophers. They’re not quite shittin’ you.)
And yet, the revolution did come, ushered in by none other than my alltime favorite soccer star, Jürgen Klinsmann. My Klinsi** coached a young, inexperienced team to third place in 2006. The German football-nation danced in the streets. Everyone in Berlin forgot how to be humorless (possible exception: those yippy little dogs that poop everywhere). Upon Klinsi’s departure, he handed the baton to Jogi Löw, who’d provided the tactical brains of the operation.
And today, the revolution in the “German virtues” burst onto the world stage. The boys (and they’re mostly still boys, many too young to drink legally in the U.S.) didn’t just win 4:0 against Australia. They didn’t just pass the ball like magicians, with the grace and style of Otto the Goalie Kitteh. Above all, they looked like they were having a blast!
ABC has snagged my Klinsi as a commentator. His verdict? “They’re having fun with the ball.”
Sounds like a real improvement on the old virtues to me! And oh, were those young, pass-happy Germans ever fun to watch! “Fun” is a virtue I can gladly get behind.
I lived in Berlin for just shy of a decade. I stepped in a lot of the aforementioned yippy-dog-doo. I figure I’ve earned the right to prognosticate. Sungold’s magic 8-ball sez: Germany might just make it to the finals! And if they do, it’ll be with virtuoso command of their passing game and a huge dollop of fun! Oh, and I’m hoping to catch a glimpse of Klinsi now and again – always my idea of fun fun fun.
** I say “my Klinsi” because back in 1996, I appointed myself president of the American women’s Klinsi fan club. Since no one has stepped up to depose me, I hereby appoint myself president-for-life.