You know the story. One of East Germany’s biggest “start-ups” now looks a challenger for the Bundesliga title, at time of writing. The story has drawn a different kind of foreign attention to the Bundesliga. Outsiders frequently acknowledge the excellency of the German Football experience, but now they are hearing more about the stark mainstream rejection of this story on behalf of fans. Why do Germans hate RB Leipzig so much? German society and culture play a big part.
Many Brits point to Germans as a “proud nationality” without really thinking about it. Never. Germans are very self-conscious about their perceived role in modern history and are far less likely to take blind pride in their nation than others are. Public national flag waving is very taboo outside of sporting events. I quizzed a colleague about this very topic, probing him why Germans don’t just move on and accept that their country has achieved many great things. Why still so paranoid about “The War”? Eventually he snapped:
“Because Germans feel a responsibility to remind the rest of the world of the dangers of nationalism and the Right”
It was the first time this had been articulated in this way to me. It wasn’t self-pity, as I had thought; Germans see themselves as a key agent in global political discourse. In 1945, Germans were astonished and mortally appalled at the emerging stories of gruesome practices undertaken by their government. Never before had anything so evil against humanity been accomplished. Germans looked at themselves at least partially as perpetrators, a guilt that remains, as no strong (Western) nation led by the Right has come close to such atrocities since. “The human cost of this is too great to ignore”. As the populations of the world constantly flirt with nationalism and other far-right populist movements (now more than ever), Germans maintain a strong sense of responsibility to constantly remind the world of the dangers of the Right, and that society is responsible for checking governments’ ambitions when there is potential for human suffering. From cradle to grave, Germans are politicised and proactive in fighting against the potential for human cost.
This strong historical precedence causes Germans to favour the Left. This love for the Left and obligation to protect human rights is universal in German society and pervades all political domains, including economics. Regardless of their level of formal education in economics, whenever corporate or commercial interests are in danger of being prioritised over public interests, Tobias and Theresa will make their disapproval heard. Just look at the whole Atomkraft? Nein Danke! saga. Those morals are tough. Integrity is high. Germans will always promote individual wellbeing over big-business and capitalism, because they see themselves as responsible to do so.
This brings us to Football. Red Bull GmbH uses Sport as an advertising vehicle. You cannot deny it. Even as it hosts some of the most outrageous sporting events and in many ways pushes creative boundaries of all the sports it touches, at the end of the day its motives are commercial. But it is still providing spectacular entertainment and helping sports thrive. Fans of snowsports, free-running, boardsports, motorracing, acrobatics and generic “stunts” will most likely have a positive impression of Red Bull, as it pumps money into the sports they love. Can it also be a force for good in Football? Possibly; RB Leipzig’s training facilities, coaching staff and stadium are truly exceptional.
But the Germans do not to see that. Having observed what the very commercial Premier League has done to stadium atmospheres, your average Bundesliga fan worries that commerce, advertising and profit-seeking could compromise the Kurvekultur that he idolises, as he could be priced out of a ticket. Once again, Germans see the potential for human loss at the hands of business. The solution? Boycott RB Leipzig (the widespread of this action only proves how entrenched this idea is in German society!). This is where another typically German characteristic plays its part: dogmatism.
Dogmatism is the way in which individuals stick to a belief without questioning it. Germans like things to be black and white, good or bad, right or wrong, and they are less subjective in their opinions. As an example, the level of bureaucracy in everyday German life is overwhelming. But try to suggest efficiency improvements? No. We do it this way. Change isn’t needed. As a result, Germans are not good at playing Devil’s Advocate and arguing both sides of the coin. Yes, business interests in Football could compromise fan enjoyment. But Leipzig as a city has been drastically underachieving in sports for decades. Should we not encourage investment that helps develop the sporting landscape of the city? Germans do not even consider it; it’s either good or bad. RB Leipzig’s conspicuous rise to the top is based on a commercial model that ignores German Football tradition and may cause other major investors to buy out their sport, stripping the fans of said tradition. Case closed.
This is where the story comes together. The strong German sense of morality forces them to always favour the human cause over the business cause. People’s enjoyment in Football must always be the highest concern, and any business or commercial interests in the sport that threaten fan wellbeing, such as those of Red Bull GmbH, must be fought against. And the dogmatism means Germans will never consider Red Bull a force for good, in spite of their large investment in a Footballing wasteland. Germans invariably feel responsible to take up the mantle of the people who fight to remind us there is no price for human wellbeing. Also in Football.
If you’re German, or have experience of life in Germany, I hope you could identify with the key characteristics explored above, and I sincerely hope this post does you justice.