Off the ball: Don't mention the war

4th 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.

Whoever lifts the World Cup on Sunday, German organizers can already pat themselves on the back. The stadiums have been full, the fan zones have turned the tournament into a month long street party, there has been no sign of any neo-Nazism and the success of the German team in getting to the final stages with flair and determination has all the pundits talking about a new German national identity.

Germany is also enjoying a new international image. For the first time in over 60 years most people don't automatically identify the country with the horrors of World War II, but rather with organizing what may be the most widely watched sports event in history.

What one colleague calls the "don't mention the war" syndrome appears to have been religiously followed by all the media, participants and politicians.

Thousands of English fans may have violated the dogma by singing football chants based on WWII songs and film themes, and waving inflatable models of Spitfire fighter planes, while Dutch supporters who wanted to cheer their team in the stands by wearing plastic orange hats in the shape of German WWII helmets were politely told to take them off.

But these were lone exceptions. The official line is that while Germans will forever recognise the heinous crimes of the Nazis, it is now time to move on and allow the country to define itself through its current values and its essential contributions to civilization over hundreds of years.

Few observers can have much argument with that desire. But after visiting the memorial at the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, the Jewish Museum and the Holocaust Memorial in recent days I was surprised at the scant number of visitors. Even more, I was disappointed that not one of the 32 teams that took part in the tournament had found an hour or two to visit sites that mark the most cataclysmic event of the 20th century.

How un-German

Given their reputation as superb organizers it is unsurprising that every facet of the World Cup is running like clockwork. But there is one factor that the World Cup bureaucrats failed to take into account: that when people consume litre after litre of alcohol they will need to get rid of all that liquid somehow.

On days when the fan zone in central Berlin is filled with 750,000 fans, experts reckon that spectators produce at least 200,000 litres of urine. Even if the 300 toilets in the zone were capable of handling the flow, so to speak, the fact is that many customers can't be bothered waiting in line, or paying the 50 cent fee that is customary in all German public conveniences.

This has turned the Germans into "world champions of public pissing" according to one local publication with tipsy Teutons making good use of plants, bushes, fences, subway stations and walls wherever they find them.

"The urea sinks into the ground as ammonia. In small quantities this is a good fertiliser, but too much acidity is bad for the soil and could damage or even kill the trees," warned Tilman Lamparter, a biologist at Berlin's Free University.

Bild does it again

The country's most popular tabloid Bild has always had a penchant for lavatory humour, and displayed its undoubted class with a unique take on the urine saga.

It gave prominent display to a series of photos of a woman it described only a "huebsche Susi" (pretty Susi) who was forced to squat near a fence at the fan mile along with the blokes to relieve herself.

Readers could not have been surprised at the tastelessness of this photo spread. The previous day the paper devoted its page three to a series of up-skirt photos of a female fan who revealed a little too much as she climbed over some seats at the last Germany game.

The green World Cup

With the tournament in its closing days visitors and Germans alike cannot get over their amazement at the balmy weather that has often been hotter than the conditions of the last tournament held in Japan and South Korea.

Scientists have no doubt been too busy watching the games to analyze the phenomenon, but no doubt they will shortly reveal that it is yet another proof of global warming, and a handy excuse for yet another abysmal performance by the England team.

All of which supports the prescience of the German planners who vowed to make this the greenest World Cup ever and according to the Environmental News Service have far surpassed their goals.

Over half the 3.2 million fans who went to the games have left their cars at home, walking, biking or taking public transport, including hydrogen-powered shuttle buses to the stadiums.

Inside the grounds themselves drinks are sold in reusable plastic cups, with a one euro deposit repayable on their return. Many of the stadiums have much of their power needs met by solar panels, and other eco-friendly features like water free urinals.

Some of these even feature little goals with a tiny red ball to help those fans whose aim may not be as deadly as that of top-scoring German striker Miroslave Klose.

4 July 2006


Subject: German news

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