For Germans in Alabama and Everywhere, a Moment of National Pride
***Update: Germany defeated Argentina 1-0 in Sunday's World Cup final with a late goal in extra time***
Because of its ties to the aerospace industry, and because of companies like Mercedes-Benz and ThyssenKrupp Steel, Alabama has a sizable German population. And those German Alabamians will likely be glued to their televisions on Sunday when Germany plays Argentina in the World Cup final. One person CERTAINLY will be. Michael Johnson is the Honorary German Consul for Alabama. He lives in Birmingham. But he has ties to Argentina and Brazil, and of course Germany. He also happens to be a lifelong soccer fan, having worked for FIFA for many years, an amount of time that’s spanned numerous World Cups tournaments.
Michael Johnson: "This is the first World Cup where I've actually been in the U.S. since 1994. Course, I've been terribly unproductive in the month of June. I've gone to watch so many matches at venues in Birmingham, and I have been tremendously surprised and gratified and amazed by the level of support, not just for the U.S. team, but the level of interest of people that follow the only true world sport that unites the entire globe, and it's phenomenal. Sunday, I think that Alabama, because we have such an important relationship with Germany, I think in Alabama everybody should be supporting Germany over Argentina.
Jeremy Loeb: "Gotcha. That brings me to my next question. I was wondering who you were going for. I mean, I guess you're the Honorary Consul for Germany, so that makes sense, but you started by talking about Argentina and then Brazil, and then of course, you're an American. So you're allegiances were very stretched thin, weren't they?"
Johnson: "Yes, I've been torn a bit. Obviously, I had a good relationship with Argentina, but my first marriage I was married to a Brazilian, I lived in Brazil, I worked in Brazil, I have strong personal ties, so I really love Brazil. It's a wonderful country. I have strong personal ties with Germany, as well, and business ties, and so the match on Tuesday between Germany and Brazil was personally hard. But Germany played very well, and it was so tragically difficult for Brazil. So on one hand I was in mourning for Brazil. At the same time, I was happy for Germany, because Germany played well and Germany deserved to win. But on Sunday, it's clear. If Brazil went down to Germany, I certainly like to go back and say, "Brazil was beaten by the world champion," and I think Germany has played phenomenally well, played very clean, played good football, and is a fun team to watch, and so I'm going to be supporting Germany for sure."
Loeb: "So I'm gonna ask you two hypotheticals, and I'm gonna start with the worst one first. So what would it mean to you if Germany lost Sunday?"
Johnson: "It would mean that we made it all the way to finals for the first time since 1990, played, I think, just exceptionally well, and then lose in the final, after so much is riding in terms of the national feeling, it would be a letdown. It would be depressing. I think it would be bad at every level, because so many friends and colleagues, and business friends and close friends would be just emotionally impacted, so I would feel for them. I would personally be very disappointed. But even if Germany loses, Argentina is a fantastic team, and they're a world power also in football and a former world champion. So I think we've reached the best. So if you do lose, you know you did your best and you reached that pinnacle.
Loeb: "But on the other hand, turning more positive, what would it mean if they win?"
Johnson: "We'd have a great reason to celebrate. You know, Germany has struggled with national pride in the whole post-war era, because that was a difficult time. And for the first time in 2006, when Germany was the host, and a phenomenal host, I must say, for the World Cup... I was there in '05 and '06, the Confederations Cup and then the World Cup... It was the first time I'd seen a real expression of national pride. People with flags, and proud to be German... There's a lot of things to be proud for. I mean, everybody has history. We have it in Alabama, so we should certainly empathize. But I think if Germany won it would begin this ability to say "I'm German. I'm proud. Look at what we've done. Look what we've accomplished," and to be able to share that with the rest of the world... It's a positive, again, beyond just what happens on the field. It's a positive nationally and internationally. And frankly, it's kind of strange. People speculate and look at different numbers and say sometimes if you're the champion, you end up with an economic boom. People are happier. They spend more. You get a baby booms sometimes, too after the Cup. It's far more than just a sport or just a match on a field of play. It's something of national consequence, just like when you lose. But it would be a big positive and a big bump. Germany's been economically leading all the recovery in Europe. I would like to see Alabama celebrate that victory with Germany if we do win, and hope that we also get to be part of that "feel-good." It has consequences, and I think people in Alabama, because they're used to being winners in sports, and it's also very emotional, I think people could easily understand what it means to be champions. And in this case it's World Champion."
You can hear my full conversation with Michael Johnson below.