German patriotism


Patriotism in itself is neither good nor bad; the problem with it is about how easily it can be exploited and turned into aggressive jingoism, arrogance and xenophobia. It can also be exploited in order to distract from domestic problems. The attention span is limited; a nation that's bathing in jingoism might forget about its solvable problems. It might even be stupid enough to overextend its resources because of jingoism fantasies.

That being said, outbursts of patriotism or nationalism (or even jingoism) have been very rare to non-existent in Germany during the Cold War (both East and West).
The 1989-1991 period (reunification) saw a revival of the "nation" idea. The old generation was fully aware that Germany was a divided nation, but for many of the young generation the German states were already different countries (similar to Germany and Austria today, but shh! - don't tell Austrians I wrote this!).

The football world championship 2006 hosted by Germany was IIRC the tournament that brought the breakthrough. Suddenly, we had all those German flags on cars, hanging outside windows - black-red-gold decoration everywhere. Almost like Christmas, only different colours and more. That was a very uncommon sight, but the later football championships (European and World) saw repetitions of the pattern, and it has become a custom. We're patriots in public for a couple weeks every 2nd year now.

The European Football Championship 2012 in June will show this again.

Don't be scared if you see lots of German flags. We don't have enough tanks these days to ruin your lawn. Everything is fine. ;)

S Ortmann


  1. Aaah...the 2006 German flag waving revival myth. Actually this had a forerunner-the 2002 World Cup in Japan/Korea. With the unusual times of broadcast(mid-days) and the progress of the Mannschaft through the tournament the demand for black-red-gold rose extraordinary. I remember a news segment about a state-run flag lending shop that was totally 'sold out'. And again, please try to think this way: sports fans everywhere like to show off their colors. And these are the ones of the German football team. ;)

  2. Quite correct...I still remember how the number of cars sporting these little flags multiplied in parallel with the German teams progress (stumbling?) through the 2002 tournament. The 2006 championship took it to a new level, but the habit was established. Same as with "Public viewing" (what a talent Germans have with re-purposing English terms btw...).

  3. Not sure if the following comment brings much to the table... but I find your blog generally quite interesting (a breath of fresh air compared to almost all "milblogs" I know, and much broader in scope than almost all french blogs), and that particular entry is one of the very few I feel I can comment about.

    Well, it certainly isn't a solely german phenomenon. Back in France, and despite the first panel of the cartoon (is that from the same guy who made that one about Finland besieging the world, with all the countries defending, and only France cowering in a corner, with a white flag? Swell...), I'd say you've got the exact same relationship to patriotism.

    IE, it only is publically tolerated in a neutered form, mainly in sport events (beware of the dreaded far-right hooligans, though), and for politicians campaigning (but then, not too much, cf. sarkozy's crass attempts at sponging off the FN votes, which made him a virtual Hitler-like figure in the eyes of the french MSM).

    Any other times, the assumed idea is that France and french History are mostly guilt (about colonialism, collaboration, racism, algerian war, indochina war,... but, never, ever about anything from the Good Side), and failure (we're a moldy Nation of losers). France is Vichy plus Waterloo, nothing more.

    If anyone thinks this is exaggerated, well, just try and display a french flag on the street, and see what kind of looks it draws.
    Latest high visibility example I can recall is a military guy getting married in Avignon last year (IIRC), who displayed a french flag on one of the guest's cars, and got literally ambushed by a car convoy carrying a mob from the Diverse parts of the city, with him and his handful of family & friends ending up in the ER.
    French flag = Fascism, far right, nazism, collaboration.

    It all boils down to the fact that, here too, any notion of patriotism is way too tangled up with a "weaponized" cult of WWII to be "safe" in the current, post 60's, cultural doxa.

    Compare and contrast with the USA and the UK, both of which have their own identity "issues", but where flag-wearing, flag-waving is tolerated (if not encouraged in the increasingly jingoistic and IMHO hysterical american "conservative" parts of the population).

  4. "Compare and contrast with the flag-wearing, flag-waving is tolerated (if not encouraged in the increasingly jingoistic and IMHO hysterical american "conservative" parts of the population)."

    Parody? Irony? Self mockery? How is one supposed to see this? Increasingly? That's just silly. It's as it's always been. Oh well, it's always amusing to see how the other guy is always over the top... but coming from a Vichy loving Surrender Monkeys is hard to take. (now it's your turn to figure out if I'm serious or deluded)

  5. Be careful with insults and with what can be understood as insult, please.

    1. I think Germany isn't that alone in Europe in being uneasy about nationalism and patriotism, though probably to a greater degree than most other European countries. At least here in Sweden nationalism is "safely" relegated in the mainstream to sports and the Eurovision.

      And IMO to a degree that this is a problem, since it gives ultra-nationalistic and fascistic groups a near monopoly on the national symbols. For all that I'm uneasy with the level of nationalistic and patriotic fervor in the US, I think that is a lesser problem than suppressing sane levels of showing pride in ones country.

    2. EN has made his reponse with enough distance that I'd be very thin-skinned to see this as an insult.
      In any case, I'm back to lurking, after this exchange. I don't have much to add to the responses I've made, and am in no way trying to start a debate; I just wanted to give my personal view on the subject, not being normally able to comment in any meaningful way on the usual topics.
      If EN really wishes to further discuss this, I can email him, so not to pollute this blog.

  6. EN, I'm serious, though I'll readily admit that I'm biased in that regard my "window" is the WWW. And, as you know, the only suitable prism through which judge people as a whole online is the GIFT (Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory).

    So, yeah, my sample is skewed toward the mouth-breathers and the like, but, still.

    I have been a regular lurker and an occasional commenter in the US conservative blogosphere between 2001-2008, even through the height of the 2003-2007 french bashing, which was quite a thing in itself, with a real interest in the "GWOT"... and, again, I'm sorry to say, but in the mainstream "Red Meat" conservative internet, one can find a toxic mix of hubris, paranoia/fear, ignorance,... that is really hard to miss.

    Check the "buttons pushing" articles in Free Republic, military.com, arf15, PJM, foxnews,... Hell, I often do, just to get that perverse thrill.

    Ok, this varies in crassness and virulence, and I'm aware that I'm writing here about an ONLINE expression of a "CONSERVATIVE" under-current, but, it's an unmistakable TREND.
    You don't seem to agree, well, fine.

    What's funny is that the more "rightwing" websites and blogs actually are much less into this, as a matter of fact, the "America fuck yeah" crowd is much less represented there, for ideological reasons I guess (no living vicarously through militarism or through cops giving "wood shampoos" to hippies, the notion that the USA-as-a-proposition-Nation is the worst ennemy of the american people,...).
    Also, I've drifted considerably "left" over the last 5 years or so, and have found a renewed interest in contents that often highlight some of the same symptoms (from antiwar to RAW to the exile), so I guess I'm not the only one with delusions about that very unpleasant face of the US collective mind - as if the latest Republican primaries freakshow was not a strong clue.

    And, finally, a passing thought : one tidbit that I remarked early, and that I find amusing/infuriating, and which has NO tu quoque in the french media (sorry, my spanish certainly is not good enough to read the online press, and I don't speak any other language, so, english it is), is how *easily* the "average" english commenter (not just the dailyfail) resorts to "frogs", "huns", "kermits",... Not to mention that it's always 1940.
    I'm right of center, and follow mostly rightwing to center media, with occasional forays into uncharted territories, so I'm quite aware of racial slurs and sterotypes-based commentaries used in thoses, no denying it... but, nothing as widespread and close to the surface.
    I'm not an educated guy, I have zero credential on which to base this observation, but I have eyes, and again, this is unmistakable. Chalk it up to being an insular Nation, and one of the WWII "winners".

  7. As a parting thought, since I don't want to troll this otherwise fine blog, which certainly is not about that topic, nor about my états d'âme...
    One funny example I remember is from the firearms blog where Tony Williams and Sven comments from time to time (which almost totally avoid that "Red Meat" mindset, by the way), with that fellow going ballistic in the comments of the military calibers SO guest-article, and ended up labelling D&F an "american-hating website", with the author being more hateful that ben laden.
    Perfect illustration : "patriotism" = following the "conservative" party line, and not deviating one bit from the narrative. And that lone commenter was far from being the worst, foaming at the mouth, I've read, far from it.

    EN, I'm ok with you not agreeing with me, because, let's be honest, none of this little exchange matters much, but I hope that you'll acknowledge that there is a very unwholesome strain of thoughts in the "conservative" part of the american population, something that is both very fearful/insecure, and very aggressive.

    Also, I won't deny the various kinds of french anti-americanism(s), nor the other manifestations of hate and such... but, the particular expressions of patriotism/jingoism/bigotry/... are IMHO pretty dissimilar on both side of the Atlantic (or Channel, for that matter). And the jagged rocks are much closer to the surface, in that there are much more mainstream (again, at least in the online snapshot) in the anglo-saxon world.

  8. I for one appreciate your comments Kevin, and as an American I can tell you the flag waving is not a parody, it is serious, and it's essentially a way of rejecting the same sort of "white man's guilt" that suppresses open expressions of nationalism in much of Europe. These people really do think, as Sean Hannity puts it, "America is the greatest, best country that god has ever given man on the face of the Earth." This is a serious article of faith for a large portion of this country, and many of them will get angry if its challenged. Europe's lack of nationalism, if it's perceived at all, is seen not only as a weakness in itself, but as a sign of Europe's inferiority and (socialist) decay.

    Most Europeans I've met like Americans but dislike a lot of things about America, or at least they're polite enough to say that. I always have to emphasize to them that they get a very skewed idea of what Americans are like, and that the reality is probably much worse. Europeans tend to meet the more well-off, well-educated, cosmopolitan Americans because they're the kind of people who are traveling to Europe. They also watch a good deal of American television, which tends to skew things in the same direction because it's written by that same class of people. They don't see the working-class Republican voters, they don't see much of the evangelicals, they just don't see America's far right.

    The right wing in America and the right wing in Europe are hard to compare, mostly because the right-wing in America has a strong political party that channels such sentiments towards the ends of its financiers. This actually means that the public face of the party is much less radical than its base; the Republicans may appear less radical, for example, than the FN or NPD, but I would say their voters are comparable.

    As for German nationalism, I definitely got a sense that it was lying repressed beneath the politically-correct anti-nationalist position. Germans I spoke to, from christian democrats to communists, are actually very proud of their country and their culture, and I think the explosions of Schwarz-Rot-Gold surrounding sporting events represent a certain defiance in the face of the official anti-nationalist position. I sense that even this blog post, reasonable though it is, was motivated partially out of that same sense of defiance. In that regard I think the German flag-waving is comparable to American nationalism, albeit far more reserved.