wherein DF travels to Deutschland for the 2006 world cup to follow the US men's national soccer team

Friday, June 16, 2006

Fun urinals, player escorts, and other WC laffs in Berlin

There's nothing funny about soccer, people. It's big business and deadly serious competition. And when you consider that the World Cup is being held in a nation that is, while efficient at making cars and strict in rule-following, not exactly known for its humor, then you've got one unfunny tournament on your hands.

But Germans have made a few valiant efforts to lighten the otherwise serious mood. And where better to start but in the men's room, where urinals contain little goals and soccer balls so you don't have to be away from soccer even when you're answering nature's call (see pic). Oh, and if you're using one of these and you get the notion that it would be amusing to call out "goooooooal" while you're doing your business, know now that it's been done. By every damn man to use one of these novelty-enhanced facilities. So it's played.

And near my encampment in Kurfuerstendamm lies another WC innovation that, while not ha-ha funny is certainly an enjoyable novelty: an enormous foosball table with four-foot-tall Berlin bears as the players (see pic). It's both fun and a great workout for the lats and trapezius, as I learned the other night when a group of us went over to play a few games (using a life-size soccer ball rather than the standard tiny foosball sphere).

Unfortunately, this game lasted only about five minutes until a policeman showed up and told us all--in a profanity laced tirade--to stop. We were all kind of baffled; this was, after all, a public space and we were using the foosball court for its intended purpose. The cop's stated reason for ruining our fun was that the game was too noisy and would thus wake guests in the nearby hotel. It was a little hard to buy this reasoning considering that this was the same night Germany beat Poland to spark wild and very loud celebrations throughout the city. I had a difficult time imagining a hotel guest saying "I had no trouble sleeping through the honking horns, football songs, and general pandemonium, but when I started to hear the sound of a soccer ball bouncing off some large porcelain bears, that crossed the line."

So I did what any sane person would have done under the circumstances and gave this cop a yellow card for being an idiot (see pic). As it turns out, there are red and yellow cards lying all around the city. I've picked a couple up and now take them with me everywhere. It's really become a great social tool. If someone makes a lame comment or spills someone's drink or otherwise commits a party foul, they're on a caution. Two such incidents (or one really egregious one) and they'll have to leave the premises and sit out tomorrow night's activities. I'm definitely going to introduce these into my daily life upon returning to the States.

Finally, I feel compelled to end on a down note. We all know that mores in Europe are more relaxed than they are in the US (prostitution is legal here, after all), but I was more than a little surprised when I discovered that FIFA is arranging escorts for all players in the World Cup. Apparently people write in from all over the world giving reasons they'd like to be a player escort, and the lucky (?) winners get to do their thing with a randomly selected player before a game. I don't want to sound prudish, but some of the language on the FIFA site is really a bit much. They tout the number of applications they've received, and then boast that "this really does show how much of an honour and exciting prospect it is to be a McDonald’s Player Escort. All hoping that this is their opportunity to be involved in something extremely special." I'd say. Well, as the man says, when in Rome.

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