BERLIN (Reuters) - About a million jubilant Germans welcomed their triumphant national football team home to Berlin on Tuesday, many waving flags and banners saying "We are all World Champions!" as they basked in the nation's fourth World Cup victory.
Hundreds of thousands of revellers packed Berlin's "fan mile", a 1.3 km stretch of road running from the west of the capital up to the Brandenburg Gate, for a huge party. Many more lined the streets in the city centre along the team's route.
The players danced and sang their way onto a stage at the Gate, a potent symbol of the Cold War, dressed in black T-shirts with the number 1 emblazoned on them and threw footballs into the crowd.
"Without you we wouldn't be here. We are all world champions," low-key coach Joachim Loew, affectionately known as Jogi, told the fans, many of them holding red posters with the words "Thanks Boys".
Young and old fans alike were decked out in Germany shirts, many with their faces painted black, red and gold and with wigs and bandanas in the national colours. Many had started drinking beer hours before the team's arrival from Brazil.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it's something to remember," said Sabine Kopf, 42, who travelled by train from the western city of Cologne with her husband and 11-year-old son who wore a shirt with "Jogi's Joker" on the back.
A black open-roofed bus drove the players, who jumped, screamed, waved and held up the golden World Cup trophy, through the streets of Berlin at a snail's pace for about 2-1/2 hours.
"I am really excited to welcome the World Cup winners during my lifetime. I am from East Germany and this is important," said Guenther Richter, 51, from East Berlin.
Sunday's 1-0 victory over Argentina in Rio de Janeiro marked the first time a reunified Germany has been world champion, with West Germany having won the trophy in 1954, 1974 and 1990.
One group of players drew attention for poking fun at their defeated opponents by stooping low and chanting "This is how Gauchos walk, Gauchos they walk like this", before jumping up to shout: "This is how Germans walk, Germans they walk like this!"
The success of the national team since 2006, when Germany hosted the World Cup, is widely seen as having helped Germans take greater pride in their nationality. History had previously made them uncomfortable about displaying such feelings.
Television channels blanketed the airwaves with coverage of the party and newspapers dedicated whole editions to the win.
"This is what four feels like!" splashed top-selling Bild on its front cover, with a picture of the team with hands raised.
"Welcome, World Champions!" Berliner Zeitung wrote on its front page.
Football enthusiast Chancellor Angela Merkel watched the match in Rio and had pictures taken in the dressing room with the exhausted but jubilant players afterwards.
Some experts think the popular chancellor may expect a boost in her ratings due to the World Cup feel-good factor. She did not receive the team on Tuesday as she was in Croatia, leaving Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit to welcome the players, who signed the city's roll of honour.
A roar went up from the crowd in the "fan mile" when the team's plane circled overhead. "Football's coming home!" bellowed fans when it touched down at the airport.
Captain Philipp Lahm led the team down the plane's stairs holding above his head the golden trophy secured in Sunday's final, with midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger close behind him wrapped in a German flag.
"We all saw each other here in 2006. But now we've got the damned thing," Schweinsteiger, who got a battering during the final match and ended up with a bloody cut under his eye, told the fans in the city centre.
Germany snatched the win in extra time with a stunning goal from fresh-faced Mario Goetze, a 22-year-old boy wonder who got a hero's welcome when he danced onto the Berlin stage.
"This is an unbelievable feeling. It's a dream," he beamed.
(Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Stephen Brown and Raissa Kasolowsky)