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July 04, 2006

Flying the German flag in Crete

With Germany seemingly riding a tidal wave of national enthusiasm into today's World Cup semi-final clash with Italy, lots of people have been writing about Germany's rediscovery of flying their national flag and wearing their national colours.

Mark Steel wrote about it very amusingly and eloquently, as you'd expect, in The Independent:

There's a debate in Germany about the current fashion for exhibiting the German flag, which has previously been considered unacceptable, with what happened last time. But in this World Cup it's lost its stigma, making some people think: "Uh-oh, they've started again."

At first glance there shouldn't be too much to worry about, as one of the main ways in which the flag colours were displayed in Cologne was on yellow, red and black curly wigs. Surely even the UK Independence Party wouldn't say, "Oh yes - it starts with curly wigs and ends with invading Greece."

Germanbird2006aThe reason I write is actually related to Mark Steel's last sentence there. On Friday during the build-up to the German clash with Argentina in the quarter-finals, I was standing at the bus stop waiting to get the bus into town. A car drove by with a large German flag hanging out the window. Standing just twenty metres from a massive monument erected by German troops during their occupation of Crete I was really surprised and taken aback. Can you go around waving a German flag like that in modern Crete?

The battle for Crete and the subsequent occupation were by all accounts a bitter battle and harsh period to live through. The Germans followed a policy of collective punishment, shooting swathes of villagers. Crete resisted occupation, and those fighters who history now benignly calls "partisans", but whom in the modern day if they weren't fighting on the "right" side would be labelled guerrillas, militants, terrorists or 'unlawful combatants', are also accused of committing atrocities against German troops.

The fact that the monument at Germaniko Pouli is still standing at all, even if in a dilapidated state since 2001, is testament to a rather philosophical Cretan attitude about the number of times the island has been invaded. However, on the other side of the coin, in recent years, remembrance services at German war graves in Crete have been disrupted by anti-fascist demonstrations.

I wondered what elder Cretans would feel, to see someone driving along the road that leads from Maleme displaying a German flag like that? I guess for the younger generation it isn't so much of an issue, the whole area relies so much on German tourism that it isn't economically viable to harbour any resentment.

Then again, growing up in a country that doesn't seem to be able to escape from a collective glorification of the Second World War and 1966 and all that, perhaps it is me who needs to update my attitude?

As German comedian Henning Wehn put it in his recent Independent article "'Allo 'allo, where are the stereotypes?"

The World Cup is my first extended trip back to Germany since moving to the UK.

...

Having lived in the UK for the past four years, I am so used to the British stereotypes about Germans that I had expected to find the locals wearing lederhosen, goose-stepping up and down the Hauptstrasse, eating huge amounts of bratwurst and singing David Hasselhoff's latest songs. This is ludicrous, of course: we prefer the Hoff's old material.

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