BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany celebrated its first win in the Eurovision Song Contest in nearly three decades Sunday with fireworks, street parties and a frenzied revelry normally reserved for World Cup soccer victories.
A teen-ager named Lena ended Germany’s long losing streak in the popular European-wide song competition with an improbable triumph over 24 other finalists in a live program from Oslo watched by more than 100 million people across Europe.
A crowd of 45,000 people welcomed Lena at a homecoming celebration in her home town of Hanover Sunday evening while Chancellor Angela Merkel and other political leaders praised the straight-talking 19-year-old for her honesty and warmth.
“Europe does like us!” wrote Bild am Sonntag, the country’s best-selling Sunday newspaper on page one after Lena clinched victory in the pan-European voting just after midnight.
Fireworks lit up the sky in Berlin, in Hamburg where 70,000 people watched the contest on giant TV screens in a central square, and in Hanover, where 20,000 had celebrated Germany’s first win since 1982 at an open air party.
Hanover also hosted a nationally televised homecoming rally Sunday afternoon for Lena, a high school student whose full name is Lena Meyer-Landrut. The song contest might be dismissed as tacky in some countries but it is serious stuff in Germany.
“I was so incredibly nervous,” Lena told the Hanover crowd.
Germany had complained bitterly in the past when even top acts such as “No Angels” it sent to compete often ended up near the bottom. Since taking 24th place in 2005, Germans were 15th in 2006, 19th in 2007, 23rd in 2008 and 20th in 2009.
That prompted soul-searching about whether Germany’s European partners still held a grudge against it for the country’s role in two world wars.
“Why doesn’t anyone like us?,” Bild asked after the “No Angels” got zero votes from 40 of 42 countries in 2008.
“This definitely was not to be expected,” the energetic 19-year-old Lena told 10 million German TV viewers, referring to the long line of defeats that followed Germany’s last win in 1982 with Nicole’s anti-war ballad “Ein bisschen Frieden” (“A Little Peace”).
“I’m just floored. I can’t believe it. I just can’t frigging believe it,” she added. While German entries got zero points from many countries in the past, Lena got points from most countries and called the widespread backing especially pleasing.
“I’m really, really happy about that aspect,” she said.
Lena was an unknown before she won Germany’s qualifiers for the contest earlier this year. But she has since become a national celebrity with the catchy love song “Satellite,” her infectious enthusiasm and her signature short black dresses.
The win by the amateur singer against a field of European professional acts was all the more surprising for many Germans. Before this year, Lena had trained only as a dancer and had a few minor attempts at singing with a school band.
“It’s all just so unbelievable,” said ARD TV’s commentator Peter Urban, who has watched generations of German hopefuls suffer humiliating defeats. “We knew she was good but there’s always the problem of translating that into points.”
Germany, humiliated by poor past results it blamed on politically and geographically motivated bloc voting, had pushed hard to reform the voting system and dilute the phone-in voters.
This year only half of a contestant’s score came from the traditional phone-in votes with professional judges accounting for the other 50 percent.
editing by Noah Barkin and David Stamp