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June 15th, 2006 3:49PM


By Mike Woitalla in Hamburg

The cover of the Hamburger Morgenpost consisted of the black-red-gold German flag covered with the headline, "We're no longer embarrassed by these colors."

The nation's largest circulation daily, Bild, announced on its cover that "Black, Red and Gold is Cool," and compounded the good news for Germans with an adjacent article declaring that beer prevents prostate cancer, according to a recent study.

Since the World Cup opener, German flags haven't only been carried by fans, tattooed (temporarily) on their bodies or worn on their heads in the form of silly hats, they're hanging from homes and cars. That's an unprecedented phenomenon in post-war Germany.

This omnipresence of the German colors has ignited a debate about patriotism, a controversial subject since Germany's World War II atrocities.

"The ocean of flags is a whole new feeling," reads the Morgenpost's article, which cites a pre-World Cup study that found only 24 percent of Germans were proud of their country, compared to 80 percent of Americans.

A poll by Stern magazine revealed that 61 percent of Germans considered the World Cup flag-waving "very good" or "good." Twenty one percent considered it "not so good" or "not at all good."

Germany coach Juergen Klinsmann said, "What's going on here is great; it unifies us. It's all right."

Black, red and gold were readopted as Germany's colors in 1949, replacing the Nazi era's black, white and red. The current colors represent unity and democracy. They derive from black skirts, red cuffs and golden buttons worn by soldiers during the early 19th century war with Napoleon's troops.

But in Berlin, German police have been ordered to remove flags they attached to their patrol cars and motorcycles.

"Even during the World Cup," says Berlin police president Dieter Glietsch, "the police officer's role isn't to be a German soccer fan. Also, we have forbidden it because police should appear neutral if they have to intervene in clashes between fans."

Daily newspapers have been editorializing about the flag-waving and "the new German patriotism." The right-leaning press has hailed the display of national pride, while other publications have commended the country's support of the national team.

The Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung speculates that this World Cup, 16 years after the reunification of West and East Germany, may "further weld the east and the west together."

Bild, the same newspaper that assailed players who did not sign along with the national anthem during pre-tournament friendlies, chided German captain Michael Ballack for wearing a T-shirt adorned with the Italian flag at training camp instead of the German flag. Ballack defended himself, explaining that it served as a reminder of Germany's last World Cup win, 1990 in Italy.

The Hamburger Abendblatt featured a full-page collage of flag-waving Germans celebrating World Cup success. It headlined it the "The New German Partytism."

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