The Germans and their patriotism


Conservative parties in Germany believe the country needs more patriotism to unite it. But what does that mean for Germany?

< p>National flags and excitement during the 2006 men's soccer World Cup in Germany

The CDU/CSU, the largest opposition party in the German Bundestag, has submitted a proposal to parliament that hits a nerve. In essence, it is about a question that has been on the minds of Germans since the end of the Second World War: Can they be proud of being German again?

The conservative party wants to upgrade the “Day of the Basic Law” on May 23, which commemorates the passing of the German constitution in 1949, to a national day of remembrance and proposes a federal program for patriotism. It includes:

  • that the “year-round visibility of national symbols – especially the federal flag – will be increased in public space” and that the national anthem will be sung more frequently at public events and “continue to be cultivated as an integral part of German songs “
  • that the Bundeswehr should hold more pledges and appeals on special occasions in public spaces “to emphasize the connection between the armed forces and civil society and to develop the patriotic potential of this connection”
    < li>that “the Reichstag will be strengthened in cooperation with the Bundestag as a parliamentary center for patriotic self-assurance”
  • that “particularly in East Germany, the lack of connection to one's own nation, which could have caused a much stronger all-German feeling of togetherness immediately after reunification, is processed as a weak point of reunification, from which a special commitment to patriotic questions in East Germany must now arise “

The “Day of German Unity” on October 3, which commemorates the reunification of the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic, the East German GDR, in 1990, is intended “to be seen by significantly more citizens as a connecting national experience and not simply as a a day off from work.

Immigrants should also be addressed

The Christian Democrats advocate a “modern patriotism” that should have an inclusive effect, including on immigrants. Foreigners living in Germany should be attracted by the “connecting and inviting potential of patriotism and their identification with the German state” should thereby be “reinforced”. Patriotism has “potential” and it shouldn't be pushed to the political side.

The CDU hopes to wrest the issue of patriotism from its right-wing political rival, the Alternative for Germany (AfD). A new sense of national pride would counteract the “increasing polarization and fragmentation of our society,” write CDU party leader Friedrich Merz and his CSU parliamentary colleague Alexander Dobrindt in their motion.

A culture of pride, a culture of shame

The problem with German patriotism is almost as old as the Federal Republic itself. National pride was no longer popular after the Second World War. The injuries and scars can still be felt today and are still having an effect.

A survey by the Insa Institute from 2021 showed that 61 percent of Germans believe that schools should encourage children to have a “more positive” relationship to Germany. But what exactly that could mean is unclear, because German history has made dealing with patriotism problematic.

< p>Candles stand between the steles of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin

“Who can commit themselves to the German nation without reflection and without inhibitions?” asked Martin Sabrow, historian at the Leibniz Center for Contemporary History in Potsdam. “There is a Holocaust memorial in the government district [in Berlin] with steles commemorating the six million murdered Jews and whatever millions of people died in the war. It would be strange if we didn't have a queasy feeling about dealing with it of our nationality.”

Black, red and gold: controversial colors in Germany

There are also older reasons why patriotism is not as self-evident in Germany as it is elsewhere. The German national colors – black, red and gold – have a checkered and highly politicized history. Rarely did they unite the Germans like the American Stars and Stripes or the British Union Jack always did.

The flag of the German Empire was black, white and red

The colors black, red and gold were first waved by individual corps of the Prussian army fighting to liberate Europe from Napoleon. By the early 19th century they were established as the national colors of the German Confederation, and the flag itself was adopted by the National Assembly after the revolutions of 1848, when national identity, liberty and individual rights combined with an anti-monarchist wave.

< h2>Black-red-gold was always abolished

The flag changed as early as 1871, when Prussia's power grew and the monarchy prevailed again. Black, white and red were declared the colors of the new German Empire. When Kaiser Wilhelm II was overthrown and the Weimar Republic was proclaimed in 1919, the colors changed again to black, red and gold – only to be abolished by the National Socialists in 1934.

The black, red and gold flag was used during the Weimar Republic, between the two world wars

Even after the Second World War, the national colors were controversial. “There was a dispute with the GDR,” explains historian Sabrow, recalling the founding of the German Democratic Republic in 1949. “They were actually the first to adopt black, red and gold, and only then did the West follow suit.” The color combination has never had a tradition that is taken for granted by various political camps.

The Germans and their “summer fairy tale”

It was only two decades ago that the Germans began to be more relaxed about their national colors and to wear them more naturally in public. Especially when it comes to supporting their sports teams.

The 2006 Men's World Cup, hosted in Germany, is often cited as the beginning of a new positive, optimistic patriotism. During the tournament, which was dubbed the “summer fairy tale” as it progressed, the German national flag flew from countless balconies and wing mirrors, and the nation rallied behind a (conspicuously multicultural) sports team.

Right-wing appropriation


But in recent years, the black, red and gold colors and the theme of patriotism have been increasingly co-opted by far-right political forces such as the Islamophobic PEGIDA movement and the right-wing populist AfD, founded in 2013 and campaigning against immigration.

German flags are also waved at right-wing demonstrations against government policies

The CDU has now set itself the task of recapturing national pride from the extreme right. According to political scientist Uwe Jun from the University of Trier, however, it is also trying to restore the tradition of “constitutional patriotism” – a patriotism that is not rooted in national identity but in the values ​​of the German Basic Law. “They say: This basic law, which has created a stable democracy in Germany, should be taken as an opportunity to celebrate,” Jun told DW.

Can the CDU win back AfD voters?


Jun is not sure, however, whether showing the flag more often can help make the CDU more attractive to AfD voters again. The right-wing populists have continued to rise in the opinion polls in recent months and their approval ratings have never been so high. “It will be difficult,” says the political scientist. Many AfD core voters are protest voters who distrust mainstream parties such as the CDU.

The historian Sabrow is also skeptical. “It's an attempt to return to a so-called normality without denying one's own historical responsibility,” he said. “But I think such attempts are completely useless. I don't think that in modern society it is possible to decree such a bond from above.”

Collaboration: Grzegorz Szymanowski

The text has been adapted from English