Could Euro 2024 deliver a summer fairytale 2.0? – DW – 06/08/2024

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What is meant by the summer fairy tale of 2006?

For four weeks in June and July 2006, football dominated life in Germany. An estimated 18 million people gathered in front of giant video screens to watch the men’s World Cup matches. For Germany’s final match, their semi-final against Italy, a crowd of as many as 900,000 fans gathered in the viewing area in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, with people from all over the world celebrating the beautiful match together. The weather also played a part, with almost uninterrupted sunshine throughout the month.

Since the end of the Second World War, Germans have been burdened by their past and have been reluctant to show national pride. The summer fairy tale changed that. Suddenly the colors of the German flag, black, red and gold, were visible seemingly everywhere.

“Here you can see a united and happy German people,” said then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Sociologist Thomas Druyen told DW: “In 2006, the power of football led to skeptical, not risk-averse, but safety fanatic people really opening their arms and having a big celebration. For me, like for millions of other people, it was a great moment in my life.”

Who coined the term ‘summer fairy tale’?

German film director Sönke Wortmann produced a documentary about the 2006 World Cup called “Deutschland. Ein Summermärchen” (Germany. A summer fairy tale). The title was a nod to the 1844 poem “Germany. A Winter Story” by Heinrich Heine. In the travelogue, the German poet, who had emigrated to France in 1831, dealt with the political stagnation of his homeland under Prussian rule. Wortmann set the opposite tone with his film title: he showed that Germany and its national team were moving in the right direction.

Joachim Löw, director Sönke Wortmann, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Bastian Schweinsteiger (from left to right) at the film premiere in BerlinImage: Michael Hanschke/dpa/picture alliance

The documentary, released in Germany in October 2006, was a cinema and TV success. The condition “Summer Marches” subsequently entered everyday German usage. The Duden dictionary, considered the most authoritative of the German language, contains an entry for Summer Marches since 2009 and defines it as: “A beautiful, amazing event that takes place in the summer.”

What role did the national team play in the summer fairytale?

Before the tournament, not much was expected from the German national team, led by team manager Jürgen Klinsmann and assistant coach Joachim Löw. This made the attacking and successful football that the team played all the more surprising. The team also looked relaxed and approachable off the field. Chief among them were 21-year-old rising stars Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski.

Germany qualified for the knockout phase with three victories in the group stage. In the round of 16, Germany defeated Sweden before eliminating favorites Argentina on penalties in the quarter-finals. However, in the semi-finals, Germany lost to eventual World Cup winners Italy, conceding two goals towards the end of extra time. However, the defeat did not detract from the euphoria of the fans. After beating Portugal in the third place match, Germany were celebrated as if they had won the World Cup.

Can Florian Wirtz (left) and Jamal Musiala (2nd from left), seen here with fellow striker Niclas Füllkrug, make noise at Euro 2024Image: Markus Gilliar/GES/picture alliance

How sustainable was the summer fairytale from a sporting point of view?

Team manager Jürgen Klinsmann did not extend his contract, which expired after the 2006 World Cup. Klinsmann’s assistant Löw took over the position of head coach, which provided a certain continuity. At the following World Cups, Löw led Germany to a third place in South Africa in 2010 and ultimately to the title in Brazil in 2014. With Philipp Lahm, Per Mertesacker, Miroslav Klose, Schweinsteiger and Podolski, five players who had contributed to the summer fairytale on the World Cup in Germany eight years earlier were still there. However, after winning the World Cup, Germany stagnated and subsequently entered a crisis that culminated in the country failing to advance out of the group stages at both the 2018 and 2022 World Cup.

What impact did the summer fairy tale have on Germany’s international image?

“It was confirmed that Germany and its people are more relaxed, friendlier and more emotional. Old prejudices (stubbornness, humorlessness, xenophobia, emotional coldness) were abandoned,” said a final report from the German government on the 2006 World Cup. Also Franz Beckenbauer, the late head of the World Cup organizing committee, was satisfied.

“This is how the good Lord imagines the world, even though in reality we are still 100,000 years away from it,” Beckenbauer said.

It was only in 2015 that the scandal surrounding the awarding of the World Cup cast a shadow over the summer fairytale.

Lukas Podolski and Bastian Schweinsteiger were at the center of the optimistic atmosphere in Germany in the summer of 2006Image: Herbert Rudel/photo alliance

However, this hardly detracted from the good publicity that the 2006 World Cup gave Germany.

“The image boost was enormous then,” Druyen remembers. “This image has subsequently experienced no significant setback. There are certainly people in the world who would describe us as harsh again. But for the most part, our image is much better than before.”

How likely is it that three will be a repeat of the summer fairy tale at the 2024 European Championship?

“I would like nothing more. But I am not ruling anything out at the moment, because the social circumstances do not suit it and neither does our willingness to rise above ourselves,” said Druyen with a view to the upcoming tournament. organized by Germany from June 14 to July 14.

“Our society is deeply frustrated. Letting go of such a mood is only possible – if at all – if Germany reaches the final. Euphoria cannot arise when your own team is eliminated.”

In the run-up to Euro 2024, there are parallels with Germany’s position before the 2006 World Cup. With Julian Nagelsmann, Germany has a relatively new national coach who, like Klinsmann at the time, is prepared to break with convention. Just like in 2006, this is a team that until recently virtually no one believed could play an important role in the tournament that Germany is organizing. There are also young players with enormous potential, such as Florian Wirtz or Jamal Musiala.

According to Druyen, a second football summer fairytale could do Germany a lot of good as a nation.

“It is a historic opportunity to overcome the emotional impasse,” he said.

This article was originally published in German.