My article on the WC in: tiscalieurope

Germany Rebrands for World Cup Invasion

A spectator’s view of football fever

From my first steps off the airplane it was clear that this Germany, the World Cup Germany, is different. First of all it was hot as blazes, which clashed sharply with my notions of Central and Eastern Europe. Secondly, though efficiency and discipline were still firmly in place, over-reaching helpfulness, and almost aggressive hospitality had taken pride of place, at least where the World Cup festivities were concerned.

Asking a red Adidas suited volunteer for directions from the airport elicited a guided tour of the S-Bahn station and step-by-step handholding in terms of buying my train ticket. A time to make friends indeed. I managed to get from the shiny brand-new Berlin Hauptbahnhof (with sign proclaiming it the newest Hauptbahnhof in the world!) to the fanzone. This required getting more directions.

I offended a helper by suggesting I would take a train to the festival, rather than walk through the historic and dynamic government district. In the end, it’s a good thing I walked because I saw some pieces from the “Germany Land of Ideas” exhibit.

Part of Germany’s rebranding includes showcasing not just the hospitality of the people, but also significant innovations spanning all disciplines over the centuries. Germany: Land of Ideas: “The wording expresses a wealth of positive arguments associated with Germany.” See for more information on this campaign. I myself was too football feverish to give much time to German innovations, other than a cameraphone picture of myself with the giant silver plastic football boots.

The fanzone was pleasantly busy, not socked full of the summer festival wall-to-wall drunkenness I had anticipated. The crowds were well-behaved and festive with many a flag-cape or flag-skirt to be found. There were also flags on flag poles. Fervent festive nationalism.

I also enjoyed the budget worthy nourishment. Sausages (or Chinese food) =delicious and cheap. Beer=delicious and cheap as well. The family oriented festival had tight but friendly security, plenty of space and sunshine and beer enough for even the thirstiest of festival goers.

Getting into the football match was another matter. As a ticket holder for the Brazil-Croatia match I was entitled to free transit on the day. That’s an organizational sound and efficient policy. Yet the trains were slow and impossibly crowded, both to the stadium and back, and the security at the stadium gates was overly fussy.

Once inside the stadium the fervour of the fans stoked my fever anew. The Olympischstadion was beautiful; brand new renovations to the old Nazi Olympic stadium spliced together new and old, as well as showing a Germany looking to the future, while acknowledging it’s past. The fans were out in full force with many more flag capes, wigs, face paint and other accoutrements of the truly zealous.

The match we witnessed, between Brazil and Croatia actually gave the Croatians more to be pleased about. The Brazilians, though 1-0 winners, looked less than convincing. However, with a side that talented it’s perhaps unsurprising that they seem determined to phone it in for the first round. The World Cup begins for Brazil in the second round.

After cramming into another sweaty train and heading back to the city I witnessed the changing of the guard: the Brazil gold jerseys already seemed to be giving way to Sweden’s yellow. I unfortunately wouldn’t be in Berlin for that, I had a plane to catch.

Germany’s ideas have not all been good for mankind. But their decision to host the World Cup in an atmosphere of fun, respect and carefully controlled harmless channelling of nationalism into sport has been beautiful. Actually, they really didn’t come up with the idea of channelling nationalism into football, that just happened, and not just this year.

However, for this Canadian that wasn’t an issue. Canada is 85th in the FIFA rankings, and not a World cup contender. But that small detail didn’t interfere with my time at the World Cup because no matter where people came from we were all celebrating football.

Ryan Millar,
18 June 2006