I always got that growing up as a kid—"So you're German, huh?" No not really.
Yes, my mother is a high school German teacher. Yes, I speak German. Yes, there are always German people staying at our house. Yes, I have a master's degree in German Literature. Yes, I can enjoy the music of David Hasselhoff, but no—I am not German.
I think there's a little Swiss-German action on my mom's side of the family, but there's no real heritage. Culture, however, is more about familiarity and nostalgia than it is purity; it's really a sense of identification and comfort, in my opinion. And when it comes to soccer, I identify with the Deutsche Nationalmannschaft more than my own American counterparts. In 1986, I was in staying with my parents in Mainz—a small town in Germany's Rheinland near Frankfurt—watching a tiny television set when Argentina beat West Germany in the cup final. I remember eating gummy bears and playing with Playmobil toys while the screen flickered away. In 1990, we celebrated with our German friends from Iserlohn when West Germany exacted its revenge on the defending champions and hoisted the Weltmeisterschaft trophy into the air; it was my first real taste of sports-related excitement (something I wouldn't really feel again until the Giants won the World Series).
In 1994, when the tournament was in the states, our friends Lilo and Dieter came to visit for the summer and we watched Brazil go all the way through (Dieter seemed to know Germany stood no chance against the South American giants). In the summer of 1996, I was a high school exchange student in Germany and I stayed with my mother in a small youth hostel (or jungendherberge) in Bacharach, high upon the riesling-terraced cliffs, sitting in the heat of the common room as thirty or so sweaty Germans cheered their team past the Czech Republic in the Euro Cup final. That was a night I'll never forget.In 2006, when Germany finally hosted the World Cup again, I was there—working on my masters degree at the Freie Universität in Berlin—singing this song before every game:
...and sitting with a devastated crowd in the local Biergarten when Italy defeated the Nationalmannschaft and went on to be the world champion (although my wife and I did travel to Italy the next day and it was a giant party).
For my entire life I have rooted for the German national soccer team—in Germany with Americans, in America with Germans, with a beer or without a beer, as a kid with my parents, and as an adult with my wife. My relationship with the country and the language has continued to forge new relationships in my post-graduate career (a German artist created my wife's wedding ring after I sent him an email in German, and we got the jump on the Monkey 47 gin because I had communicated auf Deutsch with the Black Forest Distillery long before anyone knew it was coming to the states). Even though I rarely speak the language these days, I still keep up with friends I made while abroad and I still love reading Der Spiegel.
Today I am heading over to Modesto with a huge box of wine (magnums only, because Germans like big bottles), some sausages, cheese, and various other snacks where I will join my parents for another Germany/Argentina showdown. And it will be just like old times.
German or not, I'll still be wearing the jersey.