I've mentioned it before that I used to be heavily at odds with my nationality for most of my youth. This September marks my 10 year anniversary of living in the UK and when I arrived here at 14 I was very anti-German. My family is 100% German, there is no going about it because trust me I've tried. Growing up being German wasn't positive for me in the slightest. There's really no point rehashing why I started hating being German because that's like getting blood out of a stone. The cause doesn't matter, what matters is how I felt for about 10 years of my life.
Being German is incredibly difficult. Whilst most people are open minded and realise there's more to Germany than a horrible time in history, sadly ignorant and rude people seem to be the ones who shout the loudest. This is true for everything in life so that's probably the best lesson you can take away from this. Most people who I have met have never had a problem with me being German but sadly the negative encounters stick in my mind the most. So much in fact that it really broke my self esteem and confidence. I think for people from different countries it's hard to understand. I'm not even sure if I'm explaining myself properly. Not being able to be proud of where you are from is incredibly damaging. I used to see pictures of British people celebrating and waving the Union Jack and be incredibly jealous of this overwhelming sense of patriotism and pride.
Patriotism is something we're slowly learning in Germany. Waving flags and sporting black, red and gold made a lot of people very uncomfortable back in 2006 when Germany was the host for the FIFA World Cup. Flags and patriotism were always inherently linked to 1933-1943 and big Nazi rallies. War guilt is such a big thing in Germany and it's what most of us have to wrestle with because it's always brought up by the loud mouthed ignorants of the day. My generation has been brought up by a generation, who in their history lessons, had to watch the original concentration camp liberation tapes the Americans made. My mother has often told me how traumatised she was by this. Shame, self loathing and avoiding strong displays of loving your country were the order of the day.
However, football has started to change all that and even though I am not a sports fan I think the beautiful game and all it stands for (unity, team spirit and pride) has worked wonders for Germany. Not only do we happen to have a good team (in case you hadn't noticed yet) but we're slowly starting to feel good about supporting a country that has overcome so much. We're a new generation now, we will never forget what has gone and we will never make those mistakes again but I don't want to hide my nationality anymore. We have a lot to be ashamed about but we also have a lot we can be proud of. We're a great country with warm and funny people (contrary to popular belief), beautiful countryside, amazing food and a history we can all learn something from.
The longer I live in the UK the more German I feel. There are days when my heart is heavy for Germany. The best word I can use to describe how I feel is a German word - 'sehnsucht' which means "longing, yearning or in a wider sense a type of "intensely missing". After years of terrible self esteem linked to my anxiety of being German I've finally come around. I've also learnt to understand that 'hilarious' and 'original' WWII and nazi jokes tell me more about the ignorance and stupidity of the 'joker' rather than my country. If you have ever been to Germany or know anything about us, you will know how serious we take Holocaust memorials and how important they are to us.
Football has become my small way of being proud of where I'm from, of supporting a country that has gone through so much but that has learnt just as much. It may only be a game to some people but to me it has become so much more.
'An eurer Seite' roughly translates to 'at your side' and it's the tag line of the German FIFA World Cup effort. I think we've been doing pretty well so far. We are all standing together, supporting each other. Seeing pictures of German fans celebrating together warms my heart and keeps me on the right path. Watching this video gives me a big lump in my throat. I'm optimistically posting this before the final kick off this evening in Rio de Janeiro because regardless of the outcome I'm still so proud of Germany and being German.
The moral of this story is don't waste your life hating something when no good can come out of it. Love where you're from, be open minded and kind. That's all there really is to it.