(AFP) – More than 250,000 jubilant fans massed at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate Tuesday to cheer the World Cup winners and new national heroes bringing home football’s top prize for the first time to a reunified Germany.
The flag-waving crowd erupted in applause after screens showed the flight bringing the triumphant players to the German capital from Rio de Janeiro touch down shortly after 0800 GMT.
Crowds began forming in central Berlin before dawn and thousands more supporters gathered on a viewing platform under warm summer sunshine at Tegel airport to meet the plane, a Lufthansa jet rebranded “Fanhansa” for the occasion on one side and “Victors’ Plane” on the other.
Captain Philipp Lahm was the first player to emerge, clutching the golden FIFA trophy and lifting it in the direction of applauding supporters.
Midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, his shoulders draped with the black, red and gold German flag, followed him down the steps to the tarmac, where airport employees snapped photos with their mobile phones as fans cheered.
“This is a historic event,” said 34-year-old bus driver Bernd Hesse, who managed to follow all the matches in Brazil on the radio when he was behind the wheel.
He noted that Germany fans had waited 24 years to bask in the glory of a World Cup victory, the first since the reunification of the country following three wins by the former West Germany.
“It’s not every day that you get to see something like this,” he said.
Lydia Lampa, a 28-year-old advertising executive, stopped by the airport with a friend on her way to work.
Wearing a Germany jersey adorned with the coveted fourth star for the latest World Cup win and a Hawaiian-style garland of plastic flowers in the national colours, she said she had watched every World Cup match featuring the Mannschaft.
“This is my way of saying thank you,” she said.
“All the games were exciting and I wanted to see the players at least once live. I had a good feeling from the start of the tournament and I thought, ‘OK, this time we’re going to win’.”
– Germany’s unity team –
Ecstatic fans lined the route as black buses ferried the players to central Berlin, construction workers waved from building scaffoldings and dozens of cyclists followed the motorcade, their bicycles draped with Germany banners.
Once they arrived in the city centre, the players boarded an open-top truck and some sipped from beer bottles as they waved to the adoring masses.
Players tweeted photos of the fans, with Mesut Ozil writing “What a crowd! Unbelievable!”.
After meeting Mayor Klaus Wowereit, they will take their places on a giant stage at the Brandenburg Gate, the symbol of German unity since the country ended its Cold War division in 1990.
That was the last year a West German team won the tournament and Sunday’s nail-biter 1-0 victory over Argentina marked the first time that a side representing both the west and the former communist east brought home the trophy.
More than 250,000 fans had rallied behind the German side on the so-called Fan Mile behind the Gate during the match late Sunday.
By around 0830 GMT Tuesday, police said the venue to watch the players and trainer Joachim Loew hoist the trophy was full with over a quarter-million supporters and advised those turned away to watch on live television.
Supporters on the Fan Mile sang “This is what victors look like!” and waved German flags, which rarely make an appearance outside major sporting events in the country in deference to its militaristic past.
Ulrich Felgentreff said he was born in 1954, the first year West Germany won the World Cup — just nine years after the horrors of World War II, as the country was gradually rejoining the community of nations.
“Everyone has an immense feeling of pride,” he said, decked out with his family in black, red and gold. “And that pride grows title by title.”
By contrast, 18-year-old fan Sven Engel was not even born the last time West Germany won.
“Germany deserves this title, they were much stronger than the other teams,” Engel said.
“But the Brazil match was still the best,” he said, referring to the jaw-dropping 7-1 thrashing of the hosts during the semi-final.
The championship has bolstered an already upbeat national mood, with the German economy humming and popular Chancellor Angela Merkel at the helm of a stable government.
The German media ran banner headlines and even normally staid business daily Handelsblatt joined in the celebration.
It quoted the head of Germany’s top bank Deutsche Bank, Juergen Fitschen, singing the national side’s praises.
“The German team embodies many of the qualities that typify Germany today: commitment, discipline, technical skill and tactical know-how,” he said.