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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

World Cup Deutschland 2006 - a Red Perspective by Nigel A

I'm as patriotic as the next Anglo Saxon Englishman but from a personal point of view Manchester United has always been more important than my national team. Given the choice of whether I could go the rest of my lifetime without United winning another European Cup, Champions League or whatever you want to call it, or England not winning, well, anything, and I'll settle for the latter every time. I have watched England on a number of occasions over the years when it suited me but have never been to an overseas international or for that matter an international tournament. I don't count Euro 96 which I did attend as that was on my bloody door step!!!

So, with 4 of my mates being 50 this year we wanted to go somewhere for a few days R&R (rest and recuperation), oh okay then, 3 or 4 days on the piss!! So it was decided we'd do Berlin while the World Cup was on. What a great decision, as it turned out to be an absolutely fan-tastic and unforgettable experience.

And so it was then that 14 intrepid explorers (pissheads) gathered at Liver...... - the other North West airport, to prepare for the short EasyJet hop to Berlin. One had flown in from Australia for the occasion and we were to meet an old pal over there who was travelling down by train from Sweden where he has lived for the past 20 years or so. Out of the assembled crowd there was only myself and one other who regularly travel abroad watching football so we became, by default, the "tour leaders". Not that that involved much other than finding the next bar, which wasn't difficult as there were that many!!

From the moment we landed in Berlin we were welcomed with open arms by everyone, and it was apparent that this was going to be one long party. For those who know Berlin's layout the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag (the German Parliament Building) formed the city's focal point for the tournament. Outside the Gate you will have seen a huge football (just under the BBC studio) and on the other side a massive screen with loads of temporary bars dotted around. This was to be our first experience of the global party as we watched (sic) Italy v Ghana whilst drinking copious amounts of beer with people from all points of the compass, but most noticeably Swedes and Croatians.

Away from the Brandenburg Gate runs a mile long boulevard which was chocca with people just partying and having a great time!! This boulevard we learned later, had half a million people on it watching Germany and Poland the following night. The German people were 100% behind their team despite their reservations about manager Klinsmann and I think if they get any real momentum going they could prove difficult to stop.

Outside the Reichstag is a huge park, that for the World Cup has been taken over by the Adidas Arena, an 8,500 mini stadium with a screen at each end in which people could watch all the games for a cost of 3 Euros, with beer and food on tap. Surrounding this were 5-a-side pitches and more plasmas than you could shake a stick at.

We decided that this might be a good spot to watch the Germany v Poland match but, as you might guess, it was sold out, so we ended up buying some briefs from a tout for 10 Euros each. Nice earner for him but well worth it for the crazy, manic, surreal atmosphere we found ourselves in. Lots of Poles there too and no trouble despite the obvious potential. It is difficult to explain the wierdness of it, buying a brief from a tout to watch a game on a big screen surrounded by people from every point of the compass!! Unreal.

Also around Berlin the organisers of the "party" had set up beach areas, yes I said beach areas, with tons of sand, temporary bars and lots of chilled out sounds. Again, totally out of context with being in the middle of a huge, bustling metropolis!! Then again they must have had a good long range forecast as for the three days we were in Berlin it was officially the hottest city in Europe, hotter than the Costa's and the Greek Islands, with temperatures peaking at around 33C. Good excuse for another beer I thought!!

Add to all this fun was the cost of living, okay food & drink then, with average beer prices being about 2.5 Euros for a half litre of beer with 4 Euros being the most we paid anywhere. Food was equally affordable and none of us broke the Bank. That could have happened had any of us fallen prey to one of the many ladies of the night drafted (trafficked??) into Germany for the tournament. As with any other city there were certain streets with a liberal sprinkling of available ladies offering their wares for, I believe, not unreasonable prices. But I can't say that the place was swarming with them, despite what you may have read in the press over here. One of the funniest things we saw was a huge traffic jam caused by people just abandoning cars to join a throng of people outside a bar to watch a couple of young, naked Germans (one of each sex!) "showing off" with some very physical, almost sadistic behaviour on the pavement!! Never seen that on Deansgate!!

Overall then my verdict has to be that it was an experience to match no other I've ever had and a totally different experience to watching United abroad. We must have seen fans, and had drinks with most, from upwards of 20 different competing countries, together with several countries like the Welsh, Irish and Scots who hadn't even qualified. And not a bad word spoken in anger!! Absolutely great 3 days that, to a degree, restored my faith in humanity and showed that to be proud of your nationality and patriotic you don't have to be an aggressor!! Football was certainly the winner and proved that it can be "the global language". Fan-tastic!!!!


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