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

Thursday, June 15, 2006

GER 1:0 POL @ Berlin fanfest

So the big news in Germany yesterday was the game against Poland, which I watched with some natives at the FIFA fanfest here in Berlin. Out of deference to my hosts, I pulled for the home side, wore the right colors (white shirt, black shorts), and even allowed a large, sloppy German flag to be drawn on my face. (Word to the wise about the face paint, by the way: it can get kind of itchy, leading you to want to scratch your face, leading your well-crafted flag to end up looking like an abstract but patriotic painting.)

Truth be told, rooting for Germany proved a bit of a difficult task for me. I’ve never really felt much of anything for German soccer (save for some necessary admiration). There has always seemed to me something about their undeniable precision and consistent success that makes it hard to feel much emotion for or against them. Rooting for Germany to win seems to me like rooting for a Deutschebahn train to arrive on schedule.

But from an ethnographic perspective, last night proved really interesting. The Berlin fanfest is an vast venue, with five big-screen (more like enormous-screen) monitors, and while we got there an hour or so ahead of time, our vantage point placed us several hundred feet back from the nearest screen. The intensity of the support is what you might imagine: a mass of humanity hanging on every kick through every second of the game. The best analogy to American sports would be college football or March madness, which possesses an authentic passion that lacks in the popular but overly commercial pro leagues (even the NFL). But what makes soccer different is the constancy of its rhythm: the clock never stops in either half, and while the oft-repeated observation that soccer has nonstop action isn’t quite right (there are frequent whistles leading to stoppages of play), there are nothing like the frequent time-outs and extended pauses that one finds in basketball or football. (Leading one British friend to ask me a propos of the latter how I could watch that “dead boring shite.”).

I also found surprising the not insignificant presence of Polish supporters at the fanfest. At the outset of the game, when the flag-waving was at its peak, red-and-white flags seemed to approach German ones in number. My casual empiricism suggests there were nothing like as many Polish as Germans there, but they made a much bigger impression per person. All-star status has to go to the Polish girl who sat on some guy’s shoulders and waved a large flag attached to a tree branch the whole game. It was the most impressive display of upper-body strength I’ve ever seen in a woman. My arms felt tired just watching her. If it were thirty years ago, she’d have been snapped up for the Polish olympic team in a second and made a defensewoman for the national ice hockey team or some other role where her burliness would have served her fatherland well.

And the game itself was, of course, a great success in the end, as Oliver Neuville re-reprised his role as super-sub, coming in to score a late goal that clinched both a 1-0 win for Germany and qualification for the next round. It was nothing less than the hosts—who had been very unlucky not to score earlier—deserved, and was met with predictable delirium. And neither then nor in the celebratory aftermath throughout Berlin did I see anything like violence between Germans and Poles. There was plenty of flag-waving (Germans triumphantly, Poles defiantly) but no aggro. Of course, this morning on the Deutschenews there were vids galore of police beating down supporters and supporters beating down each other, but my impression was that these incidents represented by far the exception rather than the rule.

{Pic #1: flags galore wave at the Berlin fanfest as GER-POL kicks off.}

{Pic #2: Berlin Girl and DF after the big win; note messed-up German flag on my face.}


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