Monday, March 24, 2008

World Cup Celebration

In the 30 minutes it took us to check into our hotel and get situated, Munich went from a ghost town to a carnival.

Game One of the 2006 World Cup had just been won by the Germans in Munich, and everyone was out to celebrate.

Two blocks from my quiet hotel near the English Garden the crowds swarmed the thoroughfares, which had all been shut down for the occasion. Soccer jerseys and national flags shone brilliantly under the streetlights. It was like they had come out of the woodwork – everyone was represented.

American sports teams can't win a championship without a riot breaking out, and that was what I expected. But the opposite occurred. I watched Brazilians loosely marching past Germans, French, Costa Ricans, Americans, English and a host of other nationalities. But everyone was more interested in sharing a drink than throwing a punch.

Standing with my back to a small park, I heard a noise behind me and whirled around. A young German man staggered toward me, a German flag painted on his cheek. He held two of the wonderful 1-liter glass beer steins. He made it a few steps past me and looked around, as if he was supposed to meet someone. He apparently gave up, because he simply shouted “Prost!” and banged the steins together. One shattered, so he shrugged, dropped it and took a hit from the one that was still intact before walking on.

I saw the Mexican fans and mingled with them for a bit, happy to use my Spanish. I paraded around with them, watching German cops showing themselves to keep the peace, but not having to do anything. Someone had started one of the European soccer songs and a fan kicked a ball to one of the cops. He gamely juggled it a few times before another fan took it away and dribbled down the center of the six-lane street.

It occurred to me that something was wrong. I was at what I imagined was the biggest party Munich had seen in some time (I could hear the sounds of revelry from blocks away), and I was without beverage. Fortunately, the Germans are ever close to their excellent beer, so I bought a Lagerbier Hell because I thought the name was funny and joined the crowd again.

Out of the corner of my eye, I heard a bunch of shouting and saw people running around in circles. Was this the fight I had been wary of earlier?

No. It was about 30 German students who had spilled out of a bar touting “exotische drinks” and now stood in the middle of one of the tiny alleys – which were the only vehicle routes open at the time. The ringleader raised his beer, and they all knelt down. He shouted what I took to be a soccer cheer in German, then counted ein, zwei, drei. Then his followers jumped up and danced around, chugging their beers.

And they let one car through. Then they repeated the process. I moved closer and saw that they all laughed hysterically, their cheeks glowing from the alcohol. They repeated the revolution several times before a carload of Portuguese were stopped. In the middle of the chant, a huge Portuguese flag appeared out of one of the car’s windows. The Germans laughed as they finally let the car go and shouted, “We’ll see you in the semifinals!”

All good things must come to an end, and as two columns of Polizei in green combat uniforms and black vests marched toward the impromptu roadblock, I stuck around to see if it would end peacefully or in teargas.

Using the logic the human brain unleashes only after considerable alcohol consumption, the ringleader calmly explained why it was absolutely necessary that they continue. Caught up in the festive mood, the police officer allowed them to continue, but kept most of the partiers on the sidewalk and ensured that about 10 cars could bass between songs.

The party started to break up after another hour or so, and I headed back to my room. Soccer fans now sat at outdoor tables, finishing the last of the night’s beers. Someone had thrown confetti all over. Broken glass lay everywhere along with the other evidence of partying.

I saw a couple of guys in lederhosen helping an almost-unconscious comrade into the backseat of a car before I stepped into my hotel and dropped into bed.

And by 10 the next morning, the streets were spotless, with only the most stubborn piece of confetti attesting to the fact that the previous night had been real. That’s German efficiency.

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