Midfield General

And the Winner Is... Schland

In case you couldn’t tell, a new Germany has won the World Cup.

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.  

Clemens Bilan / AFP / Getty Images

Midfield General

So Far Away -- and So Close

Why Germans and Argentines have so much in common, even in soccer.

Does the Argentine soccer team dance around its opponents to the rhythm of el tango? If so, they have the Germans to thank for it. For it was Heinrich Band, a little salesman from the Ruhr town of Krefeld who, in the mid-19th century, invented with the bandoneón, the very instrument that German sailors later on took to Buenos Aires and which, with its weeping sound, became emblematic of the tango. In fact, the two countries are so connected that Germans might almost root for Argentina -- almost.

German Socialists fled to Argentina when Otto von Bismarck took over power in Prussia. German Jews fled to Argentina when Hitler took over power in the Third Reich. Nazis fled to Argentina when their 1000 years of power were brought to a premature end. One of them, Erich Priebke, responsible for some of the most gruesome massacres the SS committed in Italy, happily lived in the Patagonian town of Bariloche for decades, where he headed the German school, before anyone cared to find out.

Argentine president Juan Domingo Perón, who somehow wanted to establish Argentina as a third pole in global politics after World War II, lured German nuclear physicists to Patagonia to build him an atomic bomb of his own -- only to find out after a couple of years that Americans and Soviets had only left la cuarta, the very bottom, of the German nuclear expertise up for grabs. And then, during the last military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983, former Nazi officials helped the junta set up private torture chambers while companies like Mercedes Benz set up lists of trade unionists who were to disappear. They even bought incubators for the dictatorship's elite, so that babies from "guerilla" mothers could be raised by decent, childless couples from the police and military. And by the way, Franz Beckenbauer and other prominent German soccer figures complained about the German media mentioning the dictatorship during the 1978 World Cup, famously claiming that he hadn't "seen any torture chamber at all."

These two countries have had something going on between them for much longer than there even was a World Cup.

Yet the German view is a puzzled one of disparagement, too. So many cows. So much grass land. And so messy, so bankrupt. This is a perspective many Germans have on Argentina. Why can this country, about one century ago one of the richest in the world, never really profit from its potential? It seems to be infected by an energy-sapping melancholy -- a nostalgic way of looking at the past, as in the tango's lyrics and melodies.

And it is one way of looking at Argentina's soccer. We envy and adore the genius who seems like he barely has to try, be it Diego Maradona or be it Lionel Messi. And then again it is unthinkable for Germans to romanticize a hero who has -- like Maradona in the 1986 semifinal -- scored a goal by unfair means, with the "Hand of God."

Even with Messi in the side, however, this tournament seems to echo Argentina's unfulfilled potential. We ask ourselves, "Why has this country, with so many great players, played such a boring World Cup?" In a way, Argentina's discipline and focus on a strong defense is compatible to the uninspiring philosophy of the old Nationalmannschaft, before Jogi Löw took over as a coach. There is more of us in Argentina than we think. And maybe this can only be explained by the many things our two countries have had in common -- starting with the bandoneón.

Jamie Squire / Matthias Hangst / Getty Images