It is halftime during Germany’s 4-0 thrashing of Australia at the World Cup in South Africa on Sunday. The game is being broadcast back to Germany on ZDF public television, and ZDF anchor Katrin Müller-Hohenstein is in the midst of reviewing the highlights of the first half with expert analyst Oliver Kahn, the former star goalkeeper of the German national team.
At the 25th minute of the match, the lately much-maligned German striker Miroslav Klose scored a goal, heading the ball sharply past the Australian keeper. Here is how Müller-Hohenstein comments on the play: “And for Miroslav Klose, [it must be] an inner Reichsparteitag – honestly now – that he scored today.” Reichsparteitag literally means “Reich party rally.” The Reich in question: the Third. The party? The Nazi party.
The annual Nazi gathering is more commonly known in English as simply the “Nazi party rally” or as the “Nuremberg rally” for the Bavarian city where it was held. As it so happens, Müller-Hohenstein was born in the neighboring city of Erlangen.
The small nervous smile that flits across Müller-Hohenstein’s face after making the remark suggests a belated awareness that she may have said the wrong thing — or, at any rate, in the wrong place. After only the slightest instant of seeming embarrassment, a game Olli Kahn continues, “Ja-aa, for him it’s a sort of redemption [Erlösung] …” (For a short video clip of the exchange, see here.)
Müller-Hohenstein’s remark provoked protests from viewers and a quick apology from the director of the German World Cup broadcasts, Dieter Gruschwitz. On Monday, Gruschwitz was quoted describing Müller-Hohenstein’s use of the expression as “a verbal faux pas,” which “occurred in the heat of the moment.”
“We regret it,” Gruschwitz continued, “and it won’t happen again. It’s a colloquial expression that has no place on television” (source: Der Tagesspiegel). According to the latest reports, ZDF has no plans to take any additional steps.
In the meanwhile, however, the initial criticism has given way to widespread attempts to trivialize the incident in the German media and German internet forums. While conceding that the expression “inner Reich party rally” forms part of the linguistic heritage of the Third Reich, Tilman Krause, writing in the daily Die Welt, has even suggested that the expression is somehow ironic and in fact expresses criticism of the Nazi regime. Krause provides no evidence on behalf of his claim.
Nonetheless, the meme has been enthusiastically embraced by some members of the German public, as reflected in recent German tweets like “inner Reich party rally is not at all Nazi jargon, but rather anti-Nazi jargon …”
As the German political scientist Clemens Heni has pointed out, however, at least one person who lived through the period in question remembers the expression as having been anything but ironic. In memoirs written for his grandchildren and completed in 2005, one Karl Schaefer, a German who was born in 1931, writes as follows:
Starting in 1939, on account of the war there were no more Reich party rallies. But the festive atmosphere that took hold of a large part of the [German] nation during these rallies remained anchored in memory … above all in the case of genuine Nazis. When someone was particularly pleased about an event and as consequence was in an excellent mood, the person would say, “For me, it’s an inner Reich party rally!” During the Nazi period, I often heard this expression; it became popular and after a while it was used without a second thought. At this point, it had the same meaning as, say, the phrase “It’s like having a second Christmas.” … Even in the years after the war, it remained in use. It was around 1975 perhaps when I heard it for the last time: this time, however, from a true “old Nazi”: my colleague B., who during the Nazi period had been a high official in the Hitler Youth …
(Karl Schaefer’s memoir is available on the German website Das Archiv der Zeitzeugen [Witnesses of History Archive] here.)