Euro Cup 2012 started last week. On the day before, walking on a central street in Berlin with colleagues, I saw in a drugstore, and immediately purchased, the dishwashing liquid: “fit Spuehl Fuehrer.”
I checked out the maker’s website to find traces of “corporate Germany” celebrating consumption and sports, as was the case in the World Cup six years ago, when tabloids and supermarket chains cooperated in selling the newspaper/beer/ flag. The website had nothing about this newly minted product. There was also no reflection on it in the press: unsurprising, perhaps, as there has been no interest in the overall presentation of the flag this time around.
The maker of the dishwashing liquid (TIP) advertises another product with the flag, a “fan hat” with a bear and a flag on it. Something you’d wear going to see the game outside. I also learned from the website that the liquid is slightly cheaper than their normal dish soap.
That afternoon I saw the same product in a different drugstore in my neighborhood of Prenzlauer Berg, again, in very visible outdoor stand, and got it to share with family and friends, and to test again, now in a different part of Berlin, whether there would be any comment made about my purchase. There was not.
Sometimes a flag is just a flag, I guess, and fans everywhere celebrate their national teams. But how should one read the association with the fuehrer?
I posted the photo on Facebook and some friends living in Germany assured me that it is benign. That Hitler is not a part of it; “they” did not think about it that way. Of course “they” did, and playfully, with reference to another term: “Spiel Fuehrer”— “the man of the match.”
The flag colors combination is everywhere in Germany, related to games. Restaurants and cafés fly flags, indicating that they are broadcasting matches. The flag colors are on ads all around town, including my son’s new sneakers, which he chose, and my daughter Brio toys’ packaging.
Not all toy makers in Germany use the colors, but it is very common these days. Anja Peleikis, in hers and Jackie Feldman’s study of the Jewish Museum in Berlin’s advertisements, pointed to the recurring use of the red, white, black combination (the Nazi Party colors). This is of course not an accident. These are intriguing, well known colors referring to a national past that cannot be escaped, in the new Jewish museum.
Do we see a similar playful take on the current combination of black, red, and gold? While I’d like to think that we are observing the playfulness of symbols, I think that there is also something beyond that, which touches Huyssen’s question about the monumental mania in Berlin and Germany in the 1990’s that exceeded the interest in commemorating the Holocaust and reflected the fascination with the eternal and the gigantic in the new capital. Here we see a fascination not with the possibility of being “normal among other nations” which is how I read the flying and discussions of the flag in the World Soccer Championship in 2006, because it is not discussed in the local media at all now, and because of the added text.
Still, we are observing a mundane mix of the flag colors and its very apparent use is a ritualized performance of the possibility of German national identity. It is not always positive, but nevertheless now legitimately representative. A good example of this is Angela Merkel’s attire in the ritual commemorating the murder of German of Turkish origins by Neo Nazis in February 23 2012. She discreetly wore a necklace with the national colors.
I know, Obama and Netanyahu would just have the flag pin on their suits: there is nothing new or problematic beyond how literal and immediate the association between leaders and nations is expected to be. But it is both new and then also not new in the German context. For instance, while discussing my fascination with the phenomenon, my colleague, Till Weber, told me the way the story goes: “it is OK to fly the German flag because there is nothing wrong with it.” Meaning there is nothing wrong about Germany as an entity, though there used to be (both about it and in its celebration). But that is now gone.
Perhaps what this prevalence teaches us, then, is that it became a social fact, unquestioned, and so my interest is historical and narrative change could at best be deemed outdated, worst still coming from an age old suspicion of (German) nationalism.
Yet, I am left with questions. What about the content, or the combination of the flag, the fuehrer and the dish liquid (leading in cleansing, as ‘Spuel Fuehrer’ literally states) which is not the most immediate product one would associate with being out for the games (excluding what one brings to barbecue, another site of celebrating nationhood, in Germany as well as elsewhere)?
When people think of the flag do they think of the fuehrer? Perhaps they think of the unthinkable fuehrer? And what about the other way round: when we think of the fuehrer do we think of the flag? Clearly, putting such emphasis on such a marginal text can also tell us about how safe it is to air those issues in this minor, unimportant form. But as we saw, at least the flag is very central in connection to games and play. In this context we can also play with the fuehrer safely. He is of course referred to in the work of comedians, in an exhibition in the German Historical Museum I wrote about last year, in movies and in laws surrounding Nazi memorabilia presented in the open. We see that the flag is central in connection to both games and history, for which the fuehrer now stands. I wonder: if the games would take place in Germany would we see more reflection about this phenomenon and not only about the Polish Hooligans in the German press, because of the fear of association of German hooligans, drunkenness and the right wing?