Euro 2012 is raging in Europe. Everywhere, we’ve seen German flags on cars, draped round people’s shoulders, on houses, and hanging out windows on tall buildings. This is by far the most nationalism I’ve ever seen in Germany, to my surprise…and I’ve been here eight times. In our hotel, many of the guests huddled round a TV set set up in the foyer. To Jean’s surprise, when the German national anthem played at the start of the Germany v Portugal game, not one German guest sang a single note. But I knew why. As one of the guests said, it is a legacy of the Second World War.
In the 1980s, the young West Germans of my generation were appalled at their country’s recent past. The horrors of the Second World War and the fundamental inhumanity of the Nazis saddened many, turning them very pacifist. The Nazi experience and its intense nationalism vaccinated so many post-war Germans against nationalism that this sentiment is today very much in their DNA. In the 80s, the Cold War was still raging, and Germany was divided into two, with the eastern half suffering under the leadership of a Stalinist regime of the ugliest order, whose policy was to murder anyone attempting to cross into the west. So the Germans of my generation saw the atrocities of Germany’s recent past as well as further inhumanity still perpetrated by Germans against Germans in the east. For Germany, the 20th century ended in 1989 – just 23 years ago – when state-sanctioned murder in Germany was finally swept away.
Now there is a new generation of young Germans who look to a new future. They can be more nationalistic than their predecessors. As the hotel guests said, the flag waving is coming more from the young, and not so much from them.