I was speaking in Germany last week during the world’s greatest sport exhibition, the World Cup Games. This is a frenzied, flag-waving, international extravaganza of the world’s greatest soccer teams whose Countries put on a colorful display of national pride. As the host country, Germany had a top-contending team, and they were flying their flags proudly too— from balconies, stuck out of cars, painted on faces — the Country was a moving tapestry of black, red and gold.
Such expressions of nationalism generally leave me cold, but when I see them in Germany, it’s always more uncomfortable. When I see Germans raising their glasses, waving flags and singing songs, I hear the Beer Hall Putsch and see the thinly veiled specter of latent Nazism. It is the lingering influence of being the firstborn son of Holocaust survivors. I have always harbored a mistrust of Germans that bordered on frank hatred. I don’t say that with pride, you can’t walk around with that much anger and still be able to heal people. Over the last 20 years in coming to Germany, I have tried, with some success, to overcome my judgmentalism and rage.
You don’t have to be a survivor child to share such preconceptions. Since World War II, Germans have not made public displays that showed a love of country; it seemed bad form to express ones German-ness. But this year, it was like the Fourth of July; young people draped in flags, faces painted, Mohawk wigs in the national colors, and singing by the tens of thousands. For the first time, instead of it momentarily clutching my chest, I felt good . . . its time had come.
I believe the World Cup 2006 represents a cathartic moment in the modern history of Germany. Young people are standing up to say “I am proud to be German.” I believe they will not forget what happened in their country, but also that they will no longer be defined and enslaved by the sins of some of their grandfathers.
I was in a small town the middle of the Black Forest on the afternoon Germany played Argentina in the quarterfinals. The central square was dominated by a huge television screen, and I stood amidst hundreds of chanting Germans. When Germany tied the score at the end of regulation play, I was chanting along, “We’re going to Berlin.” After a scoreless double-overtime, the game was decided by penalty kicks and Germany won the shootout. It was pandemonium, and I felt neither fear nor rage. We were singing Queen’s song, “We are the champions! We are the champions! No time for losers, for we are the champions of the world.”
A flag-draped young man slapped me on the shoulder and invited me to dance with him. As I danced, I felt the chains of my own enslavement loosen, and I felt like a Dancing Healer.