More than 400,000 fans gathered today at the Brandenburg Gate, a landmark once marooned behind the Berlin Wall in the eastern half of the city, to welcome the soccer team that sealed the first World Cup victory for a united Germany.
Revelers danced in a sea of black, red and gold -- the colors of the German flag -- as the German capital brimmed with an outpouring of admiration and enthusiasm for the 23 players and their coach, Joachim Loew.
“Without you, we wouldn’t be here,” Loew told the adoring crowd as thousands chanted his name. “We’re all world champions.”
Many supporters spent the night driving to reach Berlin and greet the team, from Hamburg in the north, Cologne in the west and Munich in the south. Local students, on school break, had an easier time reaching the celebrations.
People started arriving in the early morning, waiting hours in the sun for the team to arrive from Brazil. Just after 10 a.m., they cheered wildly as LH2014, a chartered Deutsche Lufthansa AG flight carrying the team, buzzed the tree-lined avenue in front of the Gate.
After landing at Tegel Airport, the team boarded an open-top bus that crept slowly toward the center past thousands of supporters. At every turn, fans threw jerseys onto the bus to be signed by Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Mueller, Manuel Neuer and their teammates. As the bus passed under a rail bridge, a suburban train stopped above to give passengers a view of their heroes.
At the Gate, local music stars including Helene Fischer and Die Hoehner fired up the throng. The loudest singing accompanied “To Us” by Andreas Bourani, a German of Egyptian heritage. The tune has become an anthem for a generation unburdened by the darkest hours of Germany’s history.
“Cheers to what unites us, to these days,” Bourani sang to the crowd before captain Philipp Lahm finally emerged from beneath the gate’s columns holding the World Cup trophy in both hands.
A spirit of unity is the hallmark of the team, said Michael Sander, a 55-year-old from Hanover who coaches ethnic Turkish, Nigerian and Albanian children in soccer. The German team, though lacking a standout star like Argentina’s Lionel Messi or Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, featured six players who have at least one parent of non-German origin.
“They’ve forgotten that they’re different,” Sander said, while waiting in the crowd at the Gate. “Why can’t that work in everyday life?”
Others, though, cautioned that the celebrations merely mask the fault-lines that remain in Europe’s largest economy 25 years after the Wall fell: Residents of the former East have less than half the net wealth of their western neighbors, according to a February report from the DIW economic institute.
“When something special like this happens, people stick together like there’s no tomorrow,” said Bianca Mueller, a 15-year-old student from Freiburg. “But when everyday life kicks in, I fear it will be everyone for themselves once again.”
Germany last won soccer’s biggest tournament in 1990, three months before the country was reunified. For the final last Sunday, Chancellor Angela Merkel traveled to Rio de Janeiro to cheer coach Loew’s team to the 1-0 victory over Argentina in Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium.
The victory, and Germany’s 7-1 drubbing of host Brazil a few days earlier, mollified a nation often said to be full of national coaches, with everyone freely offering suggestions on what Loew could be doing better.
“We’ve known for a long time that we had good players,” said Merlin Muehl-Wenninghaus, a 16-year-old from Berlin. “But at every tournament you have to mold these players from different clubs into a team, and whoever gets that done quickest has a big advantage. That’s a great credit to Loew.”