'I can't do that', he continued, 'after Auschwitz'.
I think my eyes nearly popped out of my head, but, fortunately, I somehow managed to maintain control of the car and to listen to the rest of the commentary, on how good it is that many players in the Nationalmannschaft have an 'immigration background' (Migrationshintergrund), i.e., who are either immigrants or descendants of immigrants.
The commentator's identification with the German team, thus, was only possible to the extent that it was not (in the traditional sense) 'German'.
Now, the German neurosis about patriotism is well known -- indeed, almost legendary -- and it is most acute in well-educated, left-liberal circles.
Those are circles to which I, actually, belong; however, I can't share in the over-the-top Angst about 'Nationalismus'. Admittedly, my own Migrationshintergrund was in a culture with a more, shall we say, relaxed attitude toward patriotism; of course, that could be said about every country in the world other than Germany.
I can't help thinking that some of us immigration-backgrounders might be a bit further along than the German intelligentsia in puncto national identity, as another World-Cup-related story made me think last week.
He will not stand for any ridicule. "I will defend the German flag," says Ibrahim Bassal resolutely, hitting the glass counter three times to make his point. Over the past few days he has been through a lot and what he has experienced has only strengthened his resolve. "I won't let anyone get at it," he adds.
Herr Bassal, you see, is proud of the German team's performance, and he has no hesitation about waving the black-red-gold banner:
"We have hung little German flags outside for years," Bassal explains. But this year, he and his cousins decided they would do something different. They placed a special order with a textile company, and soon a giant German flag worth €500 ($616) was hanging on the outside of the building where Bassal's store is located. Measuring 22 meters tall and 5 meters wide (72 feet by 16 feet), the over-sized banner covers five stories. For Bassal, a German with Lebanese roots, the flag is a symbol of "We live in Germany and we also belong to Germany," he explains.
"We live in Germany and we also belong to Germany." A better and more moving statement of successful integration, you might think, is hard to imagine.
But not everyone, you see, is happy.
Over the past few weeks, ever since the start of the football World Cup, the neighborhood has been the scene of what local media are calling the "Neukölln flag fight." Left-wing activists have called on sympathizers to destroy the German flags which can be seen everywhere, arguing that they are a symbol of German nationalism. There has been a rash of thefts of small flags attached to car windows. Some of those who decorated their vehicles with flags say they now only display the flags when they are actually driving their cars.
As for the giant flag, Bassal and his friends, who have all donated money to the cause, have already had to replace their flag twice. Since they adorned the building in black, red and gold, the colors of the German flag, they have become the target of attacks, presumably from members of theand someone even tried to set fire to the flag.
Ah, the ironies of some ethnic Germans -- whether liberal Gutmenschen or left-wing Autonomen -- casting doubt upon (or even seeking to prevent) the same expressions of patriotism that immigrant ethnicities (often condemned by conservatives for insufficient identification with Germany) are engaging in enthusiastically.
Now, I've become German by choice rather than birth, and experience over my nine years in this country has taught me that I'm far more enthusiastic about Germany than most Germans, most of whom (right, left or centre) seem to think their country is in a state of terminal decline or, alternatively, poses a constant potential threat to the world.
Immigration and national identity are never going to be easy issues (they aren't anywhere and never have been), especially in Germany where remnants of the Blut und Boden tradition linger on; however, a less constipated relationship with patriotism might be a very good thing for this country, not least for its immigrants.
Tomorrow, I'll be joining Herr Bassal and his friends in waving the flag and backing our team, regardless of whether their surnames are Özil, Podolski, Gomez or, yes, even Müller.