WOITALLA: The Kaiser's Cup

By Mike Woitalla
in Munich

The German media often report on the VIPs at World Cup games like this:

"German Chancellor Angela Merkel, German President Horst Koehler and Franz Beckenbauer attended last night's game."

They see no need to introduce Beckenbauer.

His campaigning is credited with landing this World Cup in Germany, the country he led to a World Cup victory in 1974 as captain and in 1990 as coach.

Beckenbauer attended 19 of the first 21 games of this tournament, often appearing at three matches in three different cities on the same day. He plans to attend 48 of the 64 games.

He zooms around in an Agusta 109 Power E helicopter, which flies at 190 mph, 650 yards off the ground.

"I love it because at that height you can really see the beautiful country we live in," he says.

When Beckenbauer isn't sitting next to the German heads of state, he's accompanied by the likes of Britain's Prince William, Ghana's President John Kufuor and Spain's Crown Prince couple Felipe and Letizia.

The in-stadium giant screens often beam shots of VIP visitors to the crowd. When they catch Diego Maradona, Argentine fans erupt in wild cheers. The German fans, however, hardly react when Beckenbauer appears. The Kaiser, as he's been known since early in his playing days when he was photographed next to a bust of Austrian emperor Franz-Joseph, is respected but not loved.

"He's not a 'man of the people,'" says Thomas Haeberlein of the German news agency SID. "He was always the elegant one, a player who never got his uniform dirty, not a working-class hero like Rudi Voeller or Uwe Seeler. Consider the nicknames. He's the Kaiser. Voeller was 'Aunt Kathe' and they called Seeler, 'Our Uwe.'"

In Hamburg's bohemian neighborhood of St. Pauli, a clothing store on Marktstrasse has a life-size poster of Beckenbauer in its window with the words, "The dumbest farmers harvest the biggest potatoes."

"That's a very harsh way of saying that Beckenbauer has a Midas touch," Haeberlein says. "True, it seems that everything he touches turns to gold and that it comes easy to him. But what people don't see is that he works
very hard. There's another German saying, 'Only the diligent get lucky.'"

But Beckenbauer's admiration by Germans does run deep. To be so successful yet to always appear relaxed is what they find so impressive, wrote Die Welt am Sonntag.

In the middle of the tournament he wed Heidi Burmeister, 39, at a secret ceremony. The German media celebrated a new Empress and hailed the fact that their honeymoon would be spent in soccer stadiums. Burmeister was a secretary at Bayern Munich, where Beckenbauer served as president, when she gave birth to Beckenbauer's fourth child. Beckenbauer, a Catholic, was married to his second wife at a time.

"The good Lord is happy about every newborn child," said Beckenbauer, who was spared the onslaught of scandal-mode coverage German media would have launched at other celebrities.

Franz Josef Wagner, a columnist for Bild, compared Beckenabuer to former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who orchestrated the merger of East and West Germany, because this World Cup has "reunified Germany a second time."

"He could found a political party 14 days before the election and become Chancellor," said Rudi Assauer, a former pro player and Bundesliga club administrator.

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