Germany 2006

By Mike Woitalla
Executive Editor, Soccer America

The Germans promised they would deliver a party and exceeded all expectations.

The two 30-year-old German men bought replica jerseys of Spain and France.

They cut the shirts down the middle and sewed two different halves together.

That gave them each a shirt representing both teams.

''We couldn't decide who to root for,'' said one of them as they walked to the second-round game in Hanover's AWD-Arena.

In Nuremberg, a group of elementary school children carried American flags, and a few of them had the stars-and-stripes on their T-shirts. Asked what part of the USA they're from, they announced that they're German, born and raised.

Outside Hamburg's AOL Arena, four men wore Saudi Arabian thawbs and guthras, the white ankle-length robes and red-and-white headgear. Asked if they're enjoying their visit to Germany, they explained that they are native Germans.

''We bought these on eBay,'' said one of them.

Especially popular among the German fans were the African teams.

The man who carried a sign in Nuremberg that read ''God bless the USA, let Ghana Win,'' was a Ghanaian immigrant living in the Germany. But many of the fans wearing African shirts had white faces.

They were Germans who liked rooting for the underdog and enjoyed the flair of the African game.

In Rotenburg/Wuemme, a northern German town of 21,000 that hosted Trinidad & Tobago for three weeks, they spread sand on the city plaza, turning it into a beach so the Caribbean players would feel at home.

In Celle, where Angola was headquartered, children wore Palancas Negras jerseys and collected autographs.

At Hamburg's Four Seasons Hotel, where the Saudi delegation stayed, management replaced the Gideons Bibles with copies of the Koran in the drawers of the night stands, placed stickers of arrows pointing toward Mecca in the rooms, removed pork from the menu and added hummus.

When 400 Mexican fans missed their train after the 0-0 tie with Angola, the fire department and aid workers prepared beds for them in the Hanover central station's basement bunker, a remnant of World War II, and served drinks and refreshments.

Three million people attended games at this World Cup and about five times that many attended the Fan Fests

''We thought the Germans would hate us,'' said an England fan, ''but they cheered with us and even consoled us when we lost.''

Sebastien, a Frenchman who followed his team all the way to the final in Berlin, said, ''We expected that the Germans would be very strict and police would be all over you. But they allow you to do anything you want, as long as it's fun and doesn't hurt anyone.''

After France beat Portugal, French fans in Munich kept dancing in the middle of a four-lane street. After several attempts to urge them back on the sidewalk, police retreated and instead diverted the car traffic.

''We showed that we are friendly hosts,'' said Dieter Hofmann, 65, the chef at Munich's Wirtshaus restaurant. ''We showed that we like foreigners. Of course, there are xenophobes in our country, but it's a small group.''

SHOWING A NEW FACE. The official logo of the 2006 World Cup included three smiley faces and the slogan was ''A Time to Make Friends.''

When Germany landed the World Cup, Gerhard Schroeder, Chancellor before being replaced by Angela Merkel last November, announced the country looked forward the biggest international event ever to take place in Germany.

Never, since World War II, would the world take such a long, close look at Germany.

Merkel said the World Cup provided a chance for Germany to show the world it is ''a hospitable, joyful and modern nation bursting with ideas.''

Germany coach Juergen Klinsmann said, ''We want to show the world the new face of Germany - friendly, open and relaxed.''

''We have a chance to show the world who we actually are,'' Klinsmann said. ''We have a chance to redefine Germany. To re-brand Germany.''

Hofmann was 5 when World War II ended. He says that Germans are very conscious of how they are viewed in the rest of the world.

''We keep track of the international media,'' Hofmann said. ''We know what our reputation is, that the cliches live on, that we're known as diligent but humorless, uptight and unfriendly.

''I think this World Cup really made a difference. Every day I saw hundreds of fans from different countries - from places like Australia, Costa Rica, Spain, France, Sweden - having a wonderful time, enjoying Germany, partying with Germans. I think we really succeeded in showing the world a different face.''

Hofmann's bartender, Semad, a 25-year-old who emigrated from Bosnia at 14, said, ''I've never seen so many people from different countries getting together and having such a good time.''

He was talking about parties that took place in the Munich beer gardens, which were small compared to the official Fan Fests.

Previously, when European nations hosted major tournaments, they discouraged ticketless foreign fans from traveling, considering them a security risk.

The Germans welcomed fans without tickets. They wanted as many guests as possible and set up public-viewing areas, the Fan Fests, in each of the 12 World Cup venues.

Organizers also believed that giving fans without tickets places to enjoy the World Cup atmosphere would deter violent behavior, because they wouldn't be wandering around frustrated, looking for trouble.

The Fan Fests were open every day of the tournament, had high-definition big-screens and bleachers that gave them a stadium feel; amusement booths, live music and lots of beer and food. They filled up with people of all ages and genders, Germans and visitors.

At the Hamburg Fan Fest, which reached the 70,000-capacity several times, there were 32 white tents, each a mini-restaurant serving the cuisine and drinks from one of the World Cup participants.

Organizers had estimated that about 8 million people would attend the Fan Fests, but more than twice as many did. In Berlin, nearly one million people jammed into the Fan Mile for Germany games and about 500,000 cheered the national team when it appeared a day after winning the third-place game.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter credited the Fan Fests for making this ''the best World Cup of all times.''

''Never has an event been so emotional and so global,'' Blatter said.

U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati has attended every World Cup since 1986 and was the executive vice president of World Cup USA 1994.

''One of the real highlights of this tournament in terms of being here is what the local organizing committee has done setting up these Fan Fest areas,'' he said. ''It happened in Korea [in 2002] as well, but nothing like what happened here.

''In Korea, it happened primarily around the Korean team, but here, for every game, there's this large gathering of people watching on big screens and having this generally festive atmosphere. It was fantastic.

''I'm not going to say it was the best World Cup ever, or something like that, that's for other people to determine. But I think it's been an absolutely spectacular event.''

THE BLACK, RED & GOLD. Stockbrokers in Frankfurt were allowed keep a television tuned to World Cup games. Their bosses agreed that if they didn't see the games, they wouldn't be able to keep up a conversation with their clients the next day.

In Hamburg, the SUB, a trendy cafe that offers 30 different teas, myriad coffee drinks and beer on tap, announced itself a World Cup-free zone, boasting that it would a sanctuary away from soccer.

After the third day, it installed a big-screen TV and showed the games.

''We were getting only one customer,'' explained the waitress.

Much of the enthusiasm came thanks to the German team's performance.

Germany's run to the semifinals, two years after a pathetic first-round exit in the European Championship, unleashed euphoria around the nation.

Klinsmann became a hero, his U.S. residency, once criticized, became an attribute, because he brought American optimism to the team and the country.

Klinsmann also fielded one the tournament's youngest teams and played swift, attack-minded soccer. That endeared it to the German populace, used to a more calculating style of play, and media unfriendly veterans.

After its early wins, something occurred that hadn't in more than 60 years. The Germans embraced their flag.

Soccer fans, of course, had always carried flags to games, but the black, red and gold began appearing on car antennas and hanging from home windows.

''At first, I'd see a flag hanging from a building and would think it must be a government office and dignitaries were about to show up,'' said a 25-year-old German woman. ''That's the only time we'd see flags hanging from a building. And then it would be accompanied by the European Union flag.''

Because of Germany's World War II atrocities, nationalism and patriotism are always controversial subjects in this country. According to surveys by Spiegel magazine, only about 25 percent of Germans say they are ''very proud'' of their country, compared to 80 percent of Americans and 52 percent of Britons.

Early in the tournament, the cover of the Hamburger Morgenpost consisted of the black-red-gold German flag covered with the headline, ''We're no longer embarrassed by these colors,'' while mass-circulation Bild announced, ''Black, Red and Gold is Cool.''

Newspapers addressed the flag-waving daily, sometimes with two or three editorials, as did television and radio talk shows. Nobel prize-winning author Guenter Grass chimed in, saying it was fine as long as politicians ''didn't try to ride the wave.''

The general view was that, as long as the past was not forgotten, the ''new Germany patriotism'' was a good thing for the nation.

The German edition of the Financial Times wrote: ''The Germans learned a lot during this World Cup. In addition to the tremendous atmosphere, they embraced a new German patriotism without slipping into the right-wing penalty area. They celebrated through the night with foreigners.''

The Hamburger Abendblatt called the flag-waving, ''The New German Partytism.''

INVESTMENT PAYS OFF. Although the soccer at the 2006 World Cup will be remembered for its dearth of goals, the off-the-field success had many sources.

Germany invested nearly $2 billion in new stadiums and renovating old ones, $740 million coming from public funds. The seats had roofs covering the seats, which amplified the cheering.

Fans were searched upon entry, but there were so many checkpoints and turnstiles that they streamed in without long waits. Security did not check IDs to match the names on the tickets as organizers had threatened, instead they made random checks of a few hundred per game.

The tournament was sold out long before its kickoff, but more impressively, there were hardly ever empty seats. In past tournaments, tickets distributed through sponsors often went unused.

Germany's small size, roughly equal to the state of Montana, and excellent railway system made travel convenient. The government had spent $4.6 billion on transportation infrastructure improvements before the tournament.

The Deutsche Bahn had expected an extra 10 million passengers during the tournament, but it turned out to be 15 million. It added 10,000 short-distance trains and 400 long-distance trains during the tournament.

The weather during nearly entire tournament was pleasantly warm and sunny, a fact former German national team player Hansi Mueller attributed to German organizing committee chief Franz Beckenbauer, ''because everything he wants turns out right.''

Beckenbauer's campaigning is credited for landing the tournament in Germany. ''That so many people from different nations, of different cultures, different races and different religions celebrated together happily, day after day, was truly something special,'' he said.

And the hosts succeeded in their main goal.

''I think Germans sincerely wanted to show the visitors how friendly and cheerful they can be,'' said a 30-year-old Berliner. ''But I think they were also trying to prove it to themselves.''

(This article originally appeared in the August 2006 issue of Soccer America Magazine.)

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