BERLIN — When child Holocaust survivor, Huguette Hermann, 86, watched Germany defeat Brazil 7-1 last week, she was proud of her country’s team. She was particularly impressed with their humility after winning.
“They were so fair, they didn’t exult or make a big show. I liked that. I think this is something new. I don’t think that would have been like that in the 50s or even in the 60s,” says Hermann.
Hermann has no problem with all the flags or expressions of German pride currently sweeping the country.
“I think it’s normal. Every country would be proud if their team had got so far. If the British team got so far, the British would do just the same,” says Hermann.
Hermann fled the Nazis in her native Belgium, and survived World War II in England. In 1950, she moved with her then husband to West Germany where she encountered an “atmosphere redolent of Nazism,” she recalls.
“[West] Germany in the 50s was awful,” she says, remembering Germans waxing nostalgic for the Nazi period and a latent animosity in the air. In the 50s she encountered a country without smiles and a cruel bureaucracy. “Today, they’ve gone to the other extreme,” she observes.
Hermann lives on the bustling Chauseestrasse neighborhood of Berlin, where the atmosphere is light and festive. People of all races and nationalities walk the streets, which ahead of the World Cup finals are heavily adorned with German flags and fans wearing funny costumes supporting Germany.
Many of the team’s fans are not even German. In Berlin’s touristy Hackescher Markt, young people with faces painted red, yellow, and black wear artificial flower leis in the same colors. They drink beer in pubs festooned with German flags. Some speak Swedish; others in American accented English, and the festive atmosphere is akin to Munich’s Oktoberfest. However, whereas Munich has its lederhosen, in Berlin during the World Cup is dominated by the German flag.
One German who will not be wearing any flags today is Stefan Kunath, 25. Kunath is an activist in Germany’s left of center Die Linke party. In an online correspondence he writes, “Many Germans use the World Cup as [an] outlet to show their suppressed nationalistic feelings. This why soccer is not solely about soccer, but the regaining of German pride after Auschwitz…”
‘Many Germans use the World Cup as [an] outlet to show their suppressed nationalistic feelings. This why soccer is not solely about soccer, but the regaining of German pride after Auschwitz’
“Only during the World Cup usually sanctioned nationalistic attitudes become mainstream and widely accepted. Recent studies have shown that xenophobia and nationalism are increasing during World Cups in Germany. This is why I am sure that you can’t get one thing (a happy football festival) without the other (xenophobia, nationalism),” he writes.
Will Kunath watch the game?
“I think I will watch the game and I hope to see them losing 7:1 for Argentina,” writes Kunath.
Those slim odds certainly aren’t the hope of Hermann’s grandson, Doron Rubin, 32. Rubin was born and raised in the Stuttgart area, and today is the chairman of Berlin’s fast growing Orthodox community, Adass Jisroel.
“The question if I feel like I am supporting my national team is a bit tricky, there is a long answer somewhere, but I guess I support them like a Jew in Switzerland is supporting Switzerland,” says Rubin.
Other members of the Jewish community find it difficult to support the national team. Ioulia Isserlis, 24, like many of today’s younger Jews in Germany, immigrated as a child from the Former Soviet Union. She grew up in Dresden, which unlike multicultural Berlin, is known as a less tolerant and conservative city, with annual neo-Nazi marches.
Today, Isserlis is happy to live in Berlin.
“In Dresden, they made sure that I never felt at home. In Berlin I feel at home because of the international community,” says Isserlis.
Her experiences with German anti-Semitism and xenophobia weigh on Isserlis’s relationship to her national team.
“As a Jew, you cannot fully support them,” she says.
Yet, Isserlis is also an avid soccer fan.
“Germany is one of the best teams nowadays, of course if they win, they deserve it. If they win, I won’t have negative feelings.”
And which team would Isserlis support, if not Germany?
“If I were to choose a country to support, it would be Israel. But unfortunately Israeli soccer is not there yet,” says Isserlis.