WOITALLA: A Tabloid Trip

By Mike Woitalla
in Munich

Even the Germans who would never admit to reading the Bild newspaper can't escape its giant headlines. They jump out from the newsstands and can be easily spotted if someone's reading the tabloid at the far end of a subway  car.

When German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was anointed head of the Catholic Church last year, Bild's famous headline was, "We are Pope!"

When Italy eliminated Germany from this World Cup, the front-page headlines  read, "We're crying with you!" and "You're still heroes!" and "World champions of the heart."

While English tabloids put their soft-core porn on Page 3, Bild places its shots of topless women on the cover. Celebrity scandals are standard fare, but its sports coverage is also credited for it being the best-selling newspaper in Germany and Europe's highest-circulation daily.

The articles are brief, the photos large, and star columnists include Franz Beckenbauer, Guenter Netzer and Paul Breitner. Headlines are often word play: "Ja-wolski" greeted the win over Poland.

At 60 Euro cents, Bild is a third less expensive than the more respected German newspapers.

Before the World Cup, Bild ruthlessly attacked Germany coach Juergen Klinsmann, who once sued the newspaper for libel and won. But as the team embarked on its World Cup win streak, Bild became a Klinsmann booster. Not to do so would have seemed unpatriotic, and Bild, more than any German media, is nationalistic. Before every German game it printed the lyrics to the national anthem.

While the Germans in general have been hailed for their friendliness and support of visiting teams, Bild has mocked many of them. When England ("The PK fools") was eliminated on penalty kicks, it published a drawing of a ball  ("This is the Ball"), an empty goal ("This is the Tor") and a goal with a ball in it ("The ball must go into the Tor.").

Before Italy-Germany game, it accused the Italians of orchestrating the suspension of defensive midfielder Torsten Frings, who was caught punching Argentine Julio Cruz by Italian television cameras. Although the Italian federation had not instigated the investigation, Bild blasted the "hypocritical" Italians, running photos of Italian fouls and citing their "mafioso" game-fixing scandal.

Headlines read, "Now you're really gonna get it!" and "Arrivederci Pizza."

Bild's list of suspended players for the semifinals read, De Rossi (red) Italy; Petit (two yellows) Portugal; Frings (scandalous decision) Germany.

Bild treated the Americans generously, its regional inset in Hamburg referring to them as "Our Americans," and applauded the players for exploring the city.

Its paparazzi photos of U.S. players about town included a shot of Claudio Reyna carrying his son on his shoulders. The boy's face was shaded to make him unrecognizable as per Bild's policy of not showing photos of minors without permission, unless they're David Beckham's children.

Bild's paparazzi crew was keen on catching players' wives in bikinis at swimming pools and tracking England's "WAGS" (Wives and Girlfriends) through nightclubs while its reporters gave accounts of what and how much they drank.

Thanks to a telephoto lens, bath-robe-clad goalkeeper Fabien Barthez was caught puffing a cigarette by his hotel-room window.

One of Bild's leading sports columnists apologized for his pre-tournament criticism of Klinsmann, who was skewered by Bild for refusing to leave his Southern California home after being appointed coach two years ago.

Two days after Germany's semifinal elimination, Bild's frontpage headline read: "Dry your tears, We'll rise again!"

It was followed by a list of "50 Reasons Why We're still the Best." They included, "Only we have a coach who doesn't mind commuting 5,800 miles to work."

The other reasons included:

"Because we got farther than Brazil."

"Because we have lots of women who know lots about soccer." (This was accompanied by a photo of blond women wearing nothing on top but black, red and gold body paint.)

"Because we'll always be better than the Dutch."

"Because we play like men, not like cleaning ladies who fall down whenever they're touched (like the Italians)."

"Because 80 percent of all television viewers watched the Germany-Italy game."

"Because our players aren't sniveling pretty boys like, for example, David Beckham."

"Because we'll be good hosts until the end."
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