Off the ball: A restaurant divided

5th July 2006, Comments 0 comments

In his irreverent World Cup column Off the Ball, Andy Goldberg looks at the lighter side of the football championship. This time he shares Germany's pain after it gets knocked out of the World Cup, and reflects that there's nothing worse than an angry dentist.

Since the start of the World Cup, the Italian restaurant Cinque (apparently one of Merkel's favourite hangouts - Ed.) has drawn a regular band of journalists, politicians and lesser mortals to watch the football on two flat screen TVs in its tree-shaded and cobble-stoned courtyard, just a stone's throw from the pandemonium of Berlin's massive public viewing zone.

For Tuesday night's game restaurant owner Manfredo, aka Big Tony, brought in two more flat screens and set out extra rows of tables. It was a scene that played out hundreds of times in the German capital where there's an Italian restaurant on almost every corner - a reflection not just of the popularity of Italian food, but also of the fact that Italian labourers were the first mass immigrants into the country.

The party started hours before the game as families, friends and other groups rolled up with their flags, banners and hooters. Kids kicked a ball around on a patch of grass, while their parents drank beer and waited for the start.

There were probably 200 people there - 80 per cent had little German flags tattooed on their cheeks, the rest were dressed in Italian colours, including Big Tony who continued frantically serving as the national anthem played, carrying beer with his left hand as his right hand rested dramatically over his heart.

The atmosphere was tense, but always friendly. When an Italian player performed an overhead kick, all the patrons applauded, but as anyone who watched the game can testify there was little real action to shout about until extra time.

One little girl fell asleep on her father's lap, and for a while it seemed that older customers might copy her example.

That all changed when the traditionally defensive Italians brought on two attackers and the Azzurri began to dominate. But when the Italians hit the bar twice in two minutes you began to feel that this was not going to be their night, and that once again the Germans would scrape through on penalties.

Then defender Fabio Grosso, the supposed weakest link in the Italian team, curled an exquisite shot into the German goal with two minutes to go. The Italian supporters exploded with joy, jumping up, pumping the air with their fists and setting off firecrackers.

But their noise could not fill the vacuum of the German shock and denial. Their once-unfancied team were finally set to lose after galvanising the usually grim nation with a rare sense of hope. Impeccably made-up women opened their mouths wide to protest in disbelief, but no sounds came out, men held their heads in shock, and the little girl woke up with tears in her eyes.

Then Italy scored a second and it was finally, irrevocably over. "We need some schnapps," said a stout and sensible short-haired blonde woman to her friend. But here too they were to be disappointed. Big Tony was already behind the bar uncorking four bottles of his best grappa. "Grappa for everyone," he enthused. "On the house."

The dam bursts

On the nearby fan zone about a million people had gathered to cheer Germany on. But when Italy popped in the two goals, they couldn't get out of there fast enough. "It was like a dam bursting," said an American teenager who spent the day in central Berlin experiencing the unique atmosphere.

His take was that the Germans had been really friendly and that even after their defeat they were gracious and generous hosts. He spent the evening taking photos of the pretty German girls and the tough-looking but jovial German police, for whom he had nothing but praise. "Getting a million people out of one place can't be easy, especially when most of them are drunk," he said. "Those cops know what they're doing."

The scattering crowd was subdued rather than defiant: sporadic but plaintive chants of "Deutschland Deutschland" still pierced the warm night air, but their thousands of ear-splitting air horns were quiet and their flags were folded and tucked away.

There were minor instances of violence: three Germans were arrested for giving the Hitler salute and in the Friedrichstrasse train station a group of supporters vented their frustration by burning the Italian flag.

World Cup pain at the dentist

Wednesday morning saw Berlin quieter than ever, and grumpier than it has been since the start of the tournament.

A local colleague who regularly bikes to work said he was nearly run over three times as drivers threw their good manners out the window.

Another colleague had a dentist's appointment and was terrified throughout as the clearly annoyed dentist and nurse never stopped complaining about the Italians and the ref. "My last appointment was on my birthday but this was even worse," he said. "There is nothing worse than an angry dentist."

Paper tears

The national papers did their best to deepen the sadness, with a string of headlines about tears.

"Don't cry. For us you're still heroes," said the Berliner Kurier, with a picture of tearful players splashed on its front page. The Berliner Zeitung said it was "A night of tears" while the Bild tabloid proclaimed "We're Crying With You."

5 July 2006


Subject: German news, World Cup 2006, Off the ball

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