History is rarely this tidy. Exactly one hundred years after Kaiser Wilhelm gave Austria his famous ‘blank check’ in 1914, Mario Götze kicks the decisive goal to win the 2014 World Cup for Germany. The media on both sides of the Atlantic respond: a century of tarnished national identity, absolved in an instant! Or is it even more surprising that we still think in terms of nineteenth-century ‘national identities’?
The German magazine Der Spiegel had a piece last month entitled Wir sind wieder–wer? (‘We’re Somebody Again, But Who?’) that tackled what it meant to be “German” and what national identity in general is taken to mean in a modern era of demographic pluralism and ethnic diversity. And in the US and Britain, a slew of papers began commenting on what Newsweek referred to as the “German Century.” Surely there was a need to take something from the World Cup victory and relate it to some broader significance in history and culture.
Is this merely a numeric obsession? (such as the exact 20-year cycles of World Cup victories, spoiled only by 1990 not being 1994, or the triplet pattern of 1914-1939-1989 as being Sternstunden of German history?). A need to understand history and world events in terms of groups (nations) and milestones (dates)? Maybe, like all narratives, we need this one to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. And so the win was a way we could collectively close one narrative about Germany (and, of course, begin another).
However you look at it, as the Economist concluded, “Let the restrained celebration begin!”