BERLIN, June 30 (Reuters) - More than 300,000 Germany fans welcomed their defeated team home at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on Monday at a melancholy ceremony paying tribute to the Euro 2008 runners-up.
Waving black, red and gold German flags, crowds packed a fan mile in front of the Berlin landmark monument at the start of a public viewing area that stretched two kilometres west to the 'Victory Column'. Some 600,000 fans watched the final here.
'It's disappointing to go so far in the tournament, get to the final and then lose,' captain Michael Ballack told the big crowd after the team returned from Vienna. Germany lost Sunday's final 1-0 against Spain. 'That's always bitter.'
But Ballack, who has now lost in 10 final matches in his club and international career, said they had felt the support from the huge crowds that filled public viewing venues across Germany all the way to their secluded hotel in Switzerland.
'I don't think we'd have gone so far without these great fans,' Ballack said. 'We all saw the TV pictures of what was going on back here and it felt like we had an extra man on the pitch all the time.'
Thousands of children skipped school to attend the rally. Draped in the national colours and flags in a relaxed display of German patriotism unimaginable just a few years ago, many held placards thanking them for a thrilling run to the final.
The team's plane from Vienna had made a series of low-flying passes over central Berlin to get a closer look at the enormous crowd jamming the centre of the German capital.
'We were all pretty sad last night but I think we achieved a lot with second place and I think we can all be proud that we were in the final,' coach Joachim Loew said.
'Spain were a great team throughout the tournament and they were a class act last night. But if we meet Spain in a tournament again, we'll beat them next time.'
Goalkeeper Jens Lehmann admitted giving away the goal was going to haunt him.
'That's one I wish I could have stopped,' Lehmann said. 'It's going to haunt me for the rest of my life. But even though we lost it's still great that the people are so enthusiastic.'
Team mate Bastian Schweinsteiger said: 'This feels really good to be here after the deep disappointment last night. It helps the healing.'
The hour-long tribute, broadcast live nationwide on several networks, included rock music and short interviews with all 23 players. It was concluded with the traditional shower of beer.
There was a similar tribute for Germany after the 2006 World Cup. But the spirit was clearly better there after the team had won the match for third place against Portugal the night before. This time the defeat was still a bit of an open wound.