Looking to kick-start German economy

Kyle James Jun 20, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: German soccer fans are celebrating today. Their team beat Ecuador, 3-0, at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin. It’s the best start in 26 years for the German side at a World Cup. Fans are now hoping the team will make it to the final in July. German politicians have high hopes for the World Cup as well. They’re looking to get an economic boost in a country that’s been in the doldrums for a couple of years. Kyle James has that story.

KYLE JAMES: The latest cover of Germany’s biggest news magazine Der Spiegel sums up the World Cup so far in three words: The Germany Party.

In cities across the country, streets have been blocked off, creating so-called Fan Miles. Huge TV screens have been set up for crowds to follow the matches while they munch on their bratwursts.

The areas are packed, both with Germans and the many visitors from abroad who have come to back the 32 teams playing in the tournament.

In front of the giant screens, there’s usually a sea of flags and singing fans.

MICHAEL SONTHEIMER:There aren’t that many times when you see so many people who are in a good mood, who are walking around or partying. For Berlin and the whole of Germany it’s a very positive event.

Michael Sontheimer is a historian who writes about contemporary Germany. He says the importance of the World Cup for Germany could extend far beyond the sporting aspect.

SONTHEIMER: Mental factors or psychological factors are extremely important for an economy. For Germany in the last years, you could say that people expected things going down and not going up. This, I think, could change.

In fact, it’s often said Germans have a glass-is-half-empty kind of approach to life. Some of their grumbling is justified. Economic growth over the past four years has been feeble, at best. But right now, Germans are just happy to revel in the global spotlight.Back at Berlin’s fan mile, Tina Britt was carrying her son on her back. He was waving a German flag.

TINA BRITT [voice of interpreter]: In Germany, people complain a lot about the whole economic situation, and I think the World Cup could give a positive push to things. Just a little boost. Maybe after the Cup everything in general will be seen in a more positive light.

The origins of this national morale boost actually stretch back to November, when Angela Merkel from the conservative CDU party became Germany’s first female chancellor. She started repairing relations with the US and promised to tackle Germany’s economic problems. That, in turn, spurred consumer confidence, which this spring reached its highest levels in five years.

One tangible source of pride for many Germans is Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof, the spanking new main train station in the city center. It’s Europe’s biggest. The multistory glass-and-steel cathedral aims to be a central transportation hub for the whole continent.

During the month-long soccer contest, some 3.5 million people are expected to visit Germany. The country’s tourist board says the tournament should boost the domestic economy by about $11 billion. Some hope the good face Germany is putting on for the world, including showing off its renowned efficiency, could attract investors. But despite the rosy numbers and optimistic forecasts, some caution about expecting too much from a series of soccer games.

THOMAS HÜNE: It might be possible that people drink some more beer and buy some more flags, but that don’t make sustainable growth for Germany.

Thomas HA¼ne is with the Federation of German Industries.

HÜNE: They won’t buy a new car, they won’t buy a new house or anything so I don’t expect that it will be a long-lasting effect.

But others say you shouldn’t discount the symbolic importance of the World Cup. And those who think it unlikely that some well-aimed soccer balls could bring Germany out of its long torpor, have probably never been around when the national team scores.

They don’t call soccer Germany’s other national religion for nothing.

In Berlin, I’m Kyle James for Marketplace.

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