Volker Purfurst lived in a small village in East Germany and couldn't wait to get out, doing so a few years after the Berlin Wall fell. Even so, the 58-year-old rooted for eastern German player Toni Kroos during the World Cup final Sunday and calls Germany's win a defining moment.
"We've been waiting for this for 24 years," he said from his home near Stuttgart. "In 2006, we were quite close. In 2010, we were quite close. And now it's finally happened – it's euphoric!"
Tens of thousands of fans gave the returning team a heroes' welcome in Berlin Tuesday at the "Fan Mile" near the iconic Brandenburg Gate.
Still, in the days following the victory, postgame analysis – German-style – has reigned: Forget about deconstructing the goal or the plays, it's all about what the victory means. Some say it's a reflection of typical German qualities such as teamwork and perfectionism.
"The captivating game played by the German team embodies many traits of Germany as a whole: dedication, disciplined teamwork and a strong sense of strategy," Deutsche Bank co-CEO Juergen Fitschen told Handelsblatt daily Tuesday.
Others said it was united Germany's moment to finally shine on the world stage – in a way it hasn't through international crises or the European sovereign-debt disaster.
But most talked about German unity, grounded in reality now but still a work in progress.
Mr. Purfurst recalls how the East German-West German border opened in 1989 and, in February, 1990, it was already clear the two Germanies would be reunited. But during that year's World Cup, because unification hadn't taken place yet, the "Ossies" (Easterners) didn't quite own Germany's 1990 World Cup win even as they were thrilled by it.
In the years since, disillusionment among residents set in: The eastern German states continue to be the poor stepchildren in the country, with far higher unemployment and far lower wages than in the western states. Still, that didn't seem to matter Sunday.
"In 1990, there was already a feeling of unity because the Wall had just come down, despite the fact that there were no players from East Germany," said Timo Deschner, 25, of Berlin. "This time it's legitimate."
Still, when Germany beat Brazil last week in the semi-final, there was shock: "No one could believe it; such things don't happen," said Andreas Kipp, 38, watching the game at a brewery in north Berlin.
And even though Germany was favoured to win over Argentina in the final, its fans didn't really believe it would happen, typical of the "culture of doubt" that famously reigns here.
"We're not Americans – we just don't think that way," Mr. Kipp said.
Call it humility, call it caution against being disappointed, or even call it a fear of displaying too much pride in one's country – a hangover from Germany's past and the Second World War.
Since the mid-2000s – and especially since Germany hosted the World Cup in 2006 – patriotism has been steadily on the rise as the country puts its postwar legacy behind it.
There was no hesitancy to put that pride on display Sunday following Germany's fourth World Cup win. In Berlin, fireworks erupted on main thoroughfares and small residential streets alike. The crowds celebrating and toasting were so thick that trams and taxis couldn't get through.
But not everyone is so thrilled with the glee over the World Cup triumph, warning that an "appropriate amount of skepticism and a wary eye" are necessary.
"It's about pointing out that it can become a negative trend," Martin Winands, a researcher at the University of Bielefeld, told German media outlet SHZ.de. "It is important that we don't allow any excessive nationalism."
With a report from Angela Waters in Berlin