Breakfast with Germany
I was about to write something grumpy about Germans in hotels. I was going to complain at how, at the breakfast buffet, stern Teutons hover impatiently on your shoulder while you wait for the coffee machine, as if you, whether personally or by implication, are responsible for holding up the onward advance of civilisation, with them in the vanguard. But having experienced Brazil 1 Germany 7 in the ancient German city where I am lodged this week, I come with this post to praise, not to bury.
Since Pavarotti and Gazza’s tears, English fandom has surfaced every two years, save the occasional atrophy in qualification stages, feigning laddish lageriness, puffy chested, loud insouciance, their hubris dwarfing the actual ability and talent of their team on the pitch itself. Boisterousness edges xenophobia, and for many of their evanescent following, the England team is always, absurdly associated with the world wars. It is hard to tell who is parodying whom, the English themselves or their newspapers who stoke and reflect ignorant isolation.
The euphoria this time round lasted little more than 20 minutes, between Daniel Sturridge’s equaliser and Mario Balotelli’s winner. What is remarkable is that genuine national pride is absent from these occasions, perhaps because late capitalism has gutted England so comprehensively of so many of its distinguishing features, such that all that remains is disappointment, loss, incomprehension, rancour, fear. And racism: if you are cool about your local high street standardised with foreign multinationals like McDonalds and Starbucks, but you have a problem with a Bengali family living next door, that is racism.
Contrast this sorry spectacle with the understated brilliance of Germans. There was a frightening mercilessness to how Mueller, Khedira and the others trounced the overhyped hosts in front of the watching world, likened by Barry Glendenning this morning to a wino getting beaten up by a gang of skateboarding hoodlums. But they never gloated, they were annoyed when they conceded Oscar’s footnote, and surveying the carnage of prostrate seleção after the game, whom they sincerely attempted to console, it was as if they’d woken from their reverie shocked to realised they’d been the agents of Brazil’s nemesis.
A giant screen occupied one side of a wet Viehmarkt, Trier, the rest of the square enclosed by beer stands. The space was only half full, and the atmosphere was jovial but not jubilant. A modest triumphalism greeted the post match streets; the usual horns and fluttering flags from car windows, and faces painted with the national colours, which you get on the continent.
If anything, the revellers were slightly detached, except for a few moments after the goals went in. At that point, unfailingly, someone would launch a plastic tumbler of beer into the air, arcing its golden libation into the starless night.