I was born and raised in Germany, in a little conservative town in the Northeast that once belonged to the Soviet Union. I was born four years after the Fall of the Wall which reunited Germany as a nation. Yet, differences remain and even some people my age still breed stereotypes about Eastern and Western Germany as if they were two completely different countries, one better than the other. It was an environment where “the others” were in the majority, somehow wanting to suppress us with their wealth that must have been stolen from “us” at some point.
At the young age of 16, I decided I could not bear this anymore. I went to Iceland as an exchange student, without any expectations apart from getting out of the vicious circle of conservatism. I discovered a culture that’s different in many ways from where I grew up, with different values that loosened the imaginary noose of tradition. I felt empowered, free and responsible for myself. I felt that this multinational environment was exactly what I had always wanted. I still feel this way.
As a kid, my dad put me in a football team, but I was not a sports person. I spent my time swallowing whole books in just a few days, constantly creating my own fantasy world where I could be whatever and wherever I wanted.
I could not escape from the popularity of football, however. Virtually every male person around me feverishly followed every game of their favourite team. When any major tournament came around, everybody went crazy. Literally. Every time the national team scored a goal, each and every car of the whole town celebrated by honking as loud and as much as they could.
Nationalism and pride
I was, and still am, pretty scared of nationalism. Considering the contemporary heritage of my native country, I am very sceptical about people being “proud” of the country they were randomly born in. Even though my friends kept condemning the fascism of the first half of the 20th Century, they were addicted to following the national team, singing the national anthem and even weeping when the team lost.
This whole thing still scares the shit out of me. It carries a certain hypocrisy with it that you can love your native country—but only when the national sports team is succeeding.
The bright side
Yet, there is another side to it. Football brings people together. They celebrate together, and they bond. Families reunite. People cheer and cry together. They feel like they can make a difference in the world—especially in the case of Iceland.
Maybe it’s even one of the reasons Iceland is such a fast-developing country. Icelanders have worked hard and for a long time to be where they are now. And they keep working. Whether in terms of arts, education, the economy, or sport—they keep growing and developing. And for that, they deserve my respect.
And that’s why I am excited to see how the Icelandic team will do. For me, it’s symbolic of the idea that it doesn’t matter how small you are, you can achieve big things. And that, I cherish.
Let the smiting begin.