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Franz Beckenbauer: Into free space

Who are so many Germans actually mourning these days – for him or for themselves? Franz Beckenbauer managed to combine three things that don’t usually go together so easily in this country: lightness, elegance and success. He was the promise that all of this was possible at the same time, definitely for himself, but also a little for us. Now the embodiment of this vision has died, and one suddenly notices: the country lost the promise of lightness and success, even elegance, long before that. In order to pass into the free space, however, you need to have an eye for the free space. That’s why the images of his greatest triumphs these days seem so unreally long ago: the World Cup victory in the summer of 1990, his lonely walk across the lawn in Rome, the summer fairy tale of 2006, the flags, the joy, unity and warmth – “The world closed Guest with friends”. Were we that young once?

Franz Beckenbauer was the ruler of a bright alternative world. An artist. He created a new image of Germany, of himself, of us in the world.

Beckenbauer also happily recognized himself in the Germans

Anyone who sees the scenes of his life now is almost shocked. They seem to speak of such a naive trust in one’s own abilities, a trust in the world in which things are constantly improving. At some point, Beckenbauer gained this basic trust in himself. First in his art of playing, then in the art of living. It was as if he had fallen into a magic potion of success at an early age. Whatever he touched succeeded.

This confidence in himself was initially transferred to his teams. Then onto the fans. Then onto the land. Finally, to many people in the world out there. “We love you, Franz!”, it shone from the scoreboard in New York when he played for the Cosmos, alongside Pelé, in the late 1970s.

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This article comes from ZEIT No. 03/2024. You can read the entire issue here from 5 p.m.

Oh, certainly, these nostalgic retrospectives are always harmonious, triumphant and transfiguring. And yet they tell a truth from a time when a young, narrow-chested man could enchant and inspire a nation with the ease and elegance of his ball handling and his open, friendly nature. A man of unifying power. How striking is this in a world where everyone follows their own star. And uses it as a weapon against all the hostile stars around them. But Beckenbauer left us his legacy here. “I have no enemies because I first treat everyone positively,” he said.

We are shocked when we see the loneliness of the last years of the once celebrated man: at some point we believed that Franz Beckenbauer could do anything. Anyone who wins the World Cup as a player and as a team leader with such nonchalance can – magically – bring the World Cup to their own country. And as we know: he succeeded in doing that too. Anyone who knows FIFA or has ever heard of it could have guessed that things weren’t all right. But we didn’t want to know. We wanted to celebrate. We wanted the world to see the friendly German face of Franz Beckenbauer, all of us, our true face. And he also happily recognized himself in these Germans. His manager has now told the ARD documentary about Beckenbauer how, at the moment of triumph (third place after a World Cup of lightness and elegance), he stood at the window in the Hotel Adlon at the Brandenburg Gate, looked at the people celebrating and said: ” This is how the good Lord imagined the world.”

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We don’t know about God. But he, the emperor, had probably imagined her like this. But when it came out, by what means – what, FIFA is being bribed?! Unbelievable! – After Beckenbauer created this world, he suddenly found himself alone. An emperor without a people. He had brought the party. Afterwards, hardly anyone wanted to have anything to do with the morally questionable means.

Now the loneliness began. Beckenbauer lost the admiration of the Germans, at least temporarily, and the Germans lost confidence in successful, easy elegance. Uli Hoeneß’s FC Bayern still remained successful, but became extremely heavy and constantly seemed insulted. And the national team?

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Yes, exactly, he is really missed, Franz. On the football field and everywhere out there.

Who are so many Germans actually mourning these days – for him or for themselves? Franz Beckenbauer managed to combine three things that don’t usually go together so easily in this country: lightness, elegance and success. He was the promise that all of this was possible at the same time, definitely for himself, but also a little for us. Now the embodiment of this vision has died, and one suddenly notices: the country lost the promise of lightness and success, even elegance, long before that. In order to pass into the free space, however, you need to have an eye for the free space. That’s why the images of his greatest triumphs these days seem so unreally long ago: the World Cup victory in the summer of 1990, his lonely walk across the lawn in Rome, the summer fairy tale of 2006, the flags, the joy, unity and warmth – “The world closed Guest with friends”. Were we that young once?

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