Something remarkable happened on Monday at Wimbledon. The crowds there are known for their love of the underdog, but it was still a surprise to see the Union Flag clad masses – a gaggle of middle class, large-teethed and white-skinned humanity that would be first against the wall in any kind of revolution hatched outside of the confines of the nearest conservative club – really start to bellow their support for Sabine Lisicki.
The scene looked like a gymkhana from the Twilight Zone, where the horse-faced hordes watched the humans do the hard work, but what was remarkable was the love that was pouring down from the stands. Not because Lisicki was the underdog, but because she was, well, German.
Of course Boris Becker was adored in this rarefied quarter of west London, and even Michael Stich still doesn’t have to buy himself a ludicrously overpriced Pimms in the shadows of the centre court, but it still came as a bit of a surprise. Lisicki was facing Serena Williams, she had battered her in the first set, fallen apart in the second and she needed a bit of luck to claw her way back as she was a break down in the third. But that luck was all going the other way. The towering blonde who moved to Berlin when she was 10 years old could only grin ruefully as a Williams return clipped the top of the net and dropped agonisingly over, leaving her no chance. But then it happened again on the next point, again the ball just clipped the net, again Lisicki laughed, but at the time it looked like she was buggered. After all, when one is playing the best player in the world one doesn’t need her to be getting all the luck as well.
But Lisicki didn’t give up, and the Teutonic love-in washing around number one court only got louder and louder. All of those flags that we are so used to seeing malevolently fluttering as a symbol of good old fashioned little-British parochialism and xenophobia were waving for Lisicki as she remarkably turned the match on its head and broke and broke back again. The world number one was defeated and all of the good grace and humour that she had shown when everything was against her was being lauded by the rapturous crowds.
Maybe, I thought to myself, just maybe, this is the start of a new English-German sporting affair. Maybe, things are finally changing. I thought back to the Champions League final and all of the talk over here about German football and how it is the new model for the way things should go. I walked through London and saw a little English kid wearing the German football kit, the Trikot, with the name Götze proudly emblazoned on the back. All weekend people were asking me about the Bundesliga, wondering if André Schürrle was really worth the money, wondering if I thought that Lars Bender would really join Arsenal. I shrugged my shoulders though, because I had to point out that I live in Berlin, so have barely focussed on the Bundesliga this season. We, I had to remind them, had nothing to do with it, and they didn’t seem too keen on a chat about the tantalising prospects of the Regionalliga Nord-Ost next season.
But then I read the papers and they are full of the same old crap about the EU and Germany, full of the same tired old lines about efficiency and punctuality and a desire to control the plucky Brits’ every move and I remembered that it was just Wimbledon and that nothing has really changed at all. Well, apart from the efficiency thing. I’ll fly back to Berlin this weekend to an airport that they can’t get finished before using an SBahn that can’t work in the winter and go and get drunk with my neighbours who wouldn’t know a hard day’s work if they had to play against it on centre court in front of a few thousand privileged idiots.
It’s alright, I said to myself. I’ll be home soon and they can just get back to hating the Germans and resenting their wins again. Then everything will be back to normal.