On September 29, 2001, Gilbert Gottfried told a joke. He said he needed to leave early to catch a flight to Los Angeles. “I couldn’t get a direct flight, I have to make a stop at the Empire State Building.” By all accounts, no one laughed. One person in the audience yelled out what everyone was thinking: “Too soon!”
It was 2008 before I saw really good humor about 9/11. (“9/11 Conspiracy Theories ‘Ridiculous,’ Al Qaeda Says” – The Onion.) In my opinion, all the flag-waving was pushed by neocons trying to sell wars and manufacturers trying to sell trinkets in red, white and blue. Still, the death of almost three thousand people was a shock – nothing too laugh about right away. And it established a formula for when something is “too soon”.
Getty Images snapped a shot of a man on the way to the Fanmeile at Brandenburg Gate holding up a German flag on top of the Holocaust memorial. I can only hope this was an attempt at black humor. But to be sure I want to call that guy from the Gilbert Gottfried audience.
Let’s look at this rationally (we are, after all in Germany): after 3000 deaths, we need about seven years until we can be merry again. So how long should it take to get over 6,000,000? To me, 70 years just seems “too soon”. The 9/11 formula says it takes about one year for every 450 deaths. So that would mean we can feel excited with German patriotism in – plus or minus – 13,000 years.
Waiting until 15,014 AD before we can all happily swing back-red-gold banners and yell “Schland” might sound like an unreasonably long time. But try to see it in perspective: The events of the Dune novels don’t even start until sometime between 21,000 and 23,000 AD. At least Paul Atreides would have the possibility to be a Germany fan, even if planet Earth has long since been destroyed.
Isn’t this all just a bit of harmless fun? I’m not convinced. After the World Cup finals, all over Germany there were reports of imperial flags, jerseys with “88” (standing for “Heil Hitler”), “Sieg heil” calls, Hitler salutes – and racist violence. Statistics also show increases in domestic violence around big sporting events.
As this woman pointed out on her blog, this football nationalism reinforces a sense of wir as opposed to sie. And when Bundespräsident Joachim Gauck hugs the winning team, that can’t be divided from his call for “us” to carry out more foreign military interventions – even though a clear majority of Germans are opposed.
(Of course, Gauck is only in favor of bombing other countries “for humanitarian reasons”. But we’ve already seen this film: it leads to a German officer ordering the aerial murder of 100 or more civilians around an oil tanker in Kunduz. Since Germany is a Rechtsstaat, he has to suffer the consequences – a promotion to general.)
Who wants to bet that in no time Joachim Löw will be at the head of a new Afrikakorps marching German troops into Libya?
I know many fans just like the game, or, as some bombastically refer to it, the “art”. I myself am a big fan of movies – I get really excited when a new Wes Anderson film comes out. But that doesn’t mean I wander drunkenly through the streets waving the stars and stripes, just because Anderson and I happen to have the same passport. And I certainly haven’t ever beaten up a German for having the same nationality as Roland Emmerich.
The last time enthusiastic patriots marched through the streets of Berlin, shouting slogans in the hope that Germany would become a Weltmeister of a different sort – the date was January 30, 1933 – the German painter Max Liebermann famously remarked: “Ich kann gar nicht soviel fressen, wie ich kotzen möchte.” (“I can’t eat as much as I would like to puke.”) Having been to the Ku’damm at the night of the World Cup finals, I have nothing to add.