Argument

And the Winner Is… Schland

And the Winner Is… Schland

It is a small hut in the Chiemgau Alps, about an hour’s drive east of Munich. Hikers and mountain bikers love to take a break there and have a big glass of beer or of some kind of more isotonic thirst quencher. But on Sunday, the day of Germany’s final in the soccer World Cup, the hut was closed. It had a little piece of paper pinned to its door which read Geschlossen wegen Schland  — "closed due to Schland." Passersby understood and smiled. It says a lot about Germany, or rather the very Germany that won this year’s title: a Germany completely different from the ones that won the trophy in 1954, 1974, and 1990. 

When Germany holds the World Cup in its hands, it doesn’t just mean that it has scored at least one more goal than the final adversary. Each of the (now four) stars the Nationalmannschaft is flashing on its jersey coincides with a different turning point in the country’s history; every title stands for a new chapter in socio-economic and sometimes even in geopolitical terms.

In 1954, when Helmut Rahn fabricated the "miracle of Bern" by scoring the third goal against Hungary, the western part of the country, at least, was somebody again (Wir sind wieder wer!) on the global scene. Having started World War II and slaughtered 6 million Jews in concentration camps all over Europe, the once most-powerful country of the continent was split in two, its sovereignty handed over to the winners of the war, the cities and industrial facilities bombarded, its former intellectual and artistic elite murdered or driven into exile. But the World Cup victory allowed the country — at least for a moment — to forget about the horrors and the guilt. It also marked the beginning of the economic miracle (Wirtschaftswunder), Germany’s comeback as a productive giant and, for the time being, a political dwarf. 

At the end of the 1960s, the German Social Democrats got to head the federal government for the first time in post war history. The restoration era of the 1950s was over, women’s liberation made progress, and mass universities were being built. Willy Brandt opened up the former hard line of foreign policy and received the Nobel Peace Prize for his Ostpolitik. And in 1974, closing the World Cup final in the airy, tent-style newly built Munich Olympic stadium, Gerd Müller scored to beat the Netherlands. 

Then on the 9th of November 1989, the Berlin Wall crumbled. With the end of the Iron Curtain, a chapter in world history was closed. And a couple of months later, shortly before the formal reunification of the two Germanies, Andreas Brehme scored a highly debated penalty kick against Argentina in the World Cup final in Rome, nourishing fears of a Fourth Reich — another attempt of German domination of the continent. 

In 2014, it’s Schland.

Schland, or more correctly Schlaaaaaaand, is a somehow nonsensical, acoustical abbreviation of Deutschland that arose as a nickname during the home World Cup summer in 2006 and told the world — and the Germans themselves — at least three incredible things about the country. That summer can have more than two days of sunshine in a row. That Germans can create and even have fun, on and off the field. And that Podolski, Asamoah, and Odonkor are German names, at least somewhat.

Today, "Schland" is being examined as a possible entry in the Duden, the more or less official dictionary of German language. It stands for a new generation of Germans’ ease with their national identity: Before the Schland World Cup, it would have been unthinkable for most Germans to wear the Nationalmannschaft jersey, to mark their cheeks with black, red, and yellow stripes, or even to put little German flags on their cars — celebrations seen Sunday night on Munich’s Leopoldstrasse and Berlin’s Strasse des 17. Juni, the very normality you would see in more or less any other country in the world.

Schland, for the first time, has become a rather ordinary country.

And Schland is becoming attractive. Of all the countries in the Organizaton for Economic Cooperation and Development, only the United States has lured in more immigrants than Germany lately.

Schland is also becoming self-aware. Having been spied upon by the Americans so clumsily and so openly, even everything-is-not-so-terrible Chancellor Angela Merkel couldn’t help but throw out the chief American spy in Germany — unthinkable during the Cold War, and perhaps only possible after her predecessor Gerhard Schröder’s fierce and daring opposition to George W. Bush’s attack on Iraq.

Schland is becoming colorful, too. It was Schröder’s overdue — and still timid — reform of Germanys citizenship and immigration laws that helped the nation’s economy attract and retain an urgently needed workforce from abroad. Just take 2014’s Internationalmannschaft with Klose and Podolski (of Polish origin), Khedira (Tunisia), Boateng (Ghana), Özil (Turkish), and Mustafi (Albanian). 

Maybe Germany has them to thank especially for not being regarded anymore as the eternal tank brigades, but rather as a more and more colorful nation that adores eating Italian pasta and drinking French wines in its increasingly cosmopolitan cities.

Of course, after getting there in a car made in Hannover, Munich, or Stuttgart.