For fans in America football is a big deal, for fans in Europe football is culture, pride, and passion inextricable from life, and in fact, a totally different game. I may not be let back into my country for saying this, but, the World Cup Finals kick Superbowl Sunday right in its huge butt pads.
I started following the final four teams on my trip through Europe and was completely thrown into the whirlwind excitement taking over the continent. I watched Germany brutally beat Brazil in the comfort of my hotel room in the Italian alps afraid that I might embarrass myself among the hardcore Germany fans downstairs at the bar. The fans below went wild and I found myself getting really into the action.
My train arrived in Berlin, and immediately it was obvious that this town was ready for the final game: fans were already decked out and singing at the station stumbling out into taxis, flags decorated virtually every building edifice, and most of the restaurants in town were closed in anticipation of being a late night haven for spectators. The streets were filled with black, red, and yellow fan swag available for purchase in every imaginable form; fake mowhawks, face paint, flags, jerseys, sweatbands, whistles, shirts, scarves, all the essentials. I ended up rocking a Deutschland futbol shirt and German flag-themed sweatbands, keeping it old-school.
We were advised to get to a biergarten and essentially camp out for four to five hours before the game to ensure a seat. So we headed out at four o’ clock in anticipation of the nine o’clock showdown between Germany and Argentina. The biergarten was essentially an outdoor cafeteria: picnic tables filled the park-like space situated around flat screen televisions mounted on trees poised to deliver the football madness. Kiosks surrounded the fan filled biergarten of eden selling pretzels, sausages, snacks, and obviously tasty German beer. It was bliss.
We joined the growing crowd in chowing, chatting, drinking, and playing cards to pass the time in anticipation. Rain came down on our little pre-parade and so did the regret of not buying the Germany themed umbrellas at the fan store. It weeded out some of the less committed though and sent them to the cushy warm comfort of their sofas (suckers), but we sat tight (like, really tight, huddling together for warmth) and watched Shakira and Santana Samba it up in the opening ceremony through the sea of umbrellas and falling drops.
Miraculously, the moment the game started, the rain stopped and for the next two hours I was as nervous as I would be if I was actually on a date with one of the players (Mueller #13 would be my pick by the way). The little white ball soared across the screen in high definition while players kicked, headed, and chased it around the field to no avail. I screamed, I sighed, I cheered, and got pumped up with the fans as the game raged on into overtime. My heart raced and my utter anxiousness escalated to levels unknown previously as I hoped that the little white ball would just soar into the corner of Argentina’s net just once.
If you weren’t aware, or hadn’t already googled who won sometime in the course of reading this; Germany won. They got one very momentous point in overtime all the fans jumped to their feet and the biergarten roared with happiness, hugs, and people knocking their plastic cups of beer together in celebration creating a foamy, joyous, cacophony. The amplitude of the noise seemed out of ratio with the number of spectators in the garden and I realized that in fact, the entire city’s lungs were occupied with shouts of celebration.
The streets lit up with bursting fireworks and flooded with people waving flags and singing. The city was illuminated gold with people’s excitement, street lights, and beer, so vividly that I imagine the celebrations could be seen from space. National Deutschland songs resonated from every corner husky baritones. I’ve never been so ecstatic to see a team win any game (sorry Super Bowl, I only watch you for the food). The sheer awesomeness of the entire evening from five hours before the game until tumbling into bed after is totally unforgettable.
I can really only leave you with this travel tip: get really into a sport abroad and experience it with fans.