Jubilant crowds welcome home German World Cup heroes

BERLIN - Tens of thousands of jubilant fans massed at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate on Tuesday to welcome 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 news spread that the flight bringing the triumphant players to the German capital from Rio de Janeiro touched down at the airport shortly after 0800 GMT.

Crowds began massing 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 team.

"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 black, red and gold, 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 though, 'OK, this time we're going to win'."

Germany's unity team

A bus will ferry the Mannschaft to central Berlin.

After meeting Mayor Klaus Wowereit, they will stand 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 German team won the tournament and Sunday's nail-biter extra-time 1-0 win 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 late Sunday and a similar turnout was expected Tuesday to watch the players and trainer Joachim Loew hoist the trophy.

Supporters waved German flags, which rarely make an appearance outside major sporting events in a country due to its militaristic past.

Thousands wore jerseys marked Mueller, Schweinsteiger, Podolski, Goetze and Lahm after the star players.

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 the national colours. "And that pride grows title by title." By contrast, 18-year-old fan Sven Engel was not even born the last time Germany won.

"Germany deserves this title, they were must 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 German media ran banner headlines and normally staid business daily Handelsblatt even joined in the national 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.