Friday, 9 November 2012

8: Why Germans never lose at sport

Germans like to play all kinds of sports and generally they win at any they compete in. Success, unlike in England, is not a trip to the quarterfinals of a major tournament followed by each of the fallen-from-grace star players shedding tears, dropping their pants and abusing air hostesses on the flight home. This isn't even a ritual in Germany. 

No, for Germans, even reaching a World Cup Final is mildly disappointing; like walking to the South Pole only to find it’s just your freezer enlarged and full of penguins. From cross-country skiing to rock climbing, Germans break world records like the Sudanese do peace agreements. Germans are medal hoarders from athletics to netball, via ice hockey, handball, yachting, tennis, and table football.

Only Brazil has reached as many World Cup finals as Germany (seven), but in Berlin bars, such success is relatively muted. At best Berliners fly small flags off the side of their cars, wear an old scarf, or get rowdy in young groups. Few will build up their chances before a tournament, only to pile drive through the opposition and beat the favourites in the final. Hungary 1954, Germany 1972, Italy 1990: It’s a list waiting to be made longer by German efficiency.

So efficient they don’t even do rounds. They just see a route to the final and lay down tarmac. Winning is not a competitive act for Germans, it is an innate, automatic epilogue. And sport, with its precise rules and boundaries, offers the Teutonic character, forever ready to gauge and dissect any given quandary, the perfect outlet. Opposition teams are mere equations waiting to be exposed for German national sides. Three World Cups and 3 European Championships (7 finals), often against far better opposition, is but the über-outcome of the national logicgeist.

But unlike most European nations, who happily vaunt any slim victories over their neighbours for decades after, Germans almost apologize for winning. They forget lost finals as if they were failed exams or childhood diseases. Semi finals and quarterfinal defeats at major championships are buried like stacks of old porn. As part of my initiation into German society, I’ve had the displeasure of watching Germany sail through several tournaments with the air of spectators watching an old replay. The fans simply nod to each other each time their team scores, acknowledging the inevitable. 

Odd one out

Like most other northern Europeans, Berliners like to watch their national team in beer gardens. Your best way to integrate into this bundesfest is to buy a Berliner and nestle quietly into a good observation point. Do not get too excited about minor successes on the football field. While winning a throw-in or a free-kick on the edge of the halfway line in a tough game represents a beer-raising “Go on!” in England, in Germany anything short of hitting the post is not worth muttering about. Chants tend to begin at around 3-0, unless it is against a sensitive opponent, in which case these may be replaced by muted cheers or the adversaries' revolutionary anthems translated into German.  

Although they love it, Germans cannot face paint properly, so they settle for a symmetric tricoloured flag painted discreetly on either cheek- outrageous enough: full body paint is something other countries do – countries whose people dance in bars late at night with each other’s mothers and drink coffee from small cups.

Of course, expecting Germany to lose at anything is ridiculous, so you’ll have to get used to Germany winning. If you support England or any other highly inconsistent excuse for a football team, watching Germany run riot over opponents who just knocked out your team will hurt. Remember this rule steadfastly: never compare your own team to Germany.

 The worst thing is Germans don’t even like winning; it gives them something else to apologise for. This is perhaps why they find it fashionable not to be into football. The German fear of being associated with nationalism produces an almost schizophrenic reaction towards the national football team, whereby many pretend they don’t care about FIFA and UEFA tournaments because they are just unnecessary shows of nationalism. But as Germany approaches the semis, the tournaments are suddenly very necessary and valid, and closet hooligans are suddenly at hand to cheer. Up to a point, Germans would rather pick a fight with a redemption-carrying balloon than have to be in the winning spotlight. But at the same time the national team's assiduous preparation and competitive spirit means they inevitably do.

There is a reason why Germans rarely ever lose on penalties too. It lies in the name. The English call it a ‘penalty shot’, as if the finest gift in the opposition’s area were a curse. The Germans call it an elfmeter, an ‘eleven-meter,’ like naming a flight route after the distance it covers.

Because a lot of trendy Berliners think football is for nationalist thugs, they have developed a passion for their own vegan-friendly game – hacky sack. This is like playing football with baby socks filled with sand. Everyone is incredibly good at it in Berlin, especially girls. 

Hacky sacks, for those who haven’t played, are made of sand and cloth and are the size of a tangerine. The hack is incredibly difficult to control with your feet, but you’ll need to use your arms, eye-balls and shoulders to make any headway. Only play hacky sack if you know how to, or you’ll end up just being your own ball-boy to the sound of “keep trying.”

Probably the thing Germany as a nattion loves best about sports is organizations, foundations, associations, clubs, federations, governing bodies, syndicates and anything that offers them the chance to have a continuous bureaucratic organism that requires regular administrative attention. 

So administering sports bodies is perfect. If you ever asked yourself how a Swiss has ruled the world’s football governing body for years, ask no more. Only a German-speaker sees admin as pastime and not a chore. The natural order, the chaos of nature and spontaneity, is too much for a psyche loyal to hunting precise science.

As many sports such as football and Formula 1 already have old existing governing bodies, Germans have developed a number of sports of their own. Look no further than chessboxing and tractor pulling for classics.

1 comment:

  1. Germans don't enjoy soccer/football because they tend to be masochists, losing hurts but so does winning. They only show nationalism towards the end because doing so avoids being ridiculed (by potentially losing early on). And they're good in penalty kicks because they're only comfortable in situations of absolute power over others (kicker vs. goalie, their goalies only tend to make more saves than other countries because they're bigger and take up more of the net).

    They're also obsessive about stuff, so they tend to win because other people realize there's more to life than training and competing. Having said all that the German soccer team is finally doing better and it's made up mostly of players who are half-German at best (Ghanian, Turkish, Spanish, Polish, King Kahn was 1/4 Latvian, Klose is Silesian, most of the "real" Germans are actually Bavarian.)