Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Fußball in Amerika

I took time out today from my extremely busy schedule to watch a World Cup game between Deutschland and Ghana. I'm not much of a sports fan, but it's hard not to become involved in Fußball if you spend any time in Germany. I was a Yankee fan when I was 5, 6, and 7 years old, played football (very badly) in high school, and since 1994, I'm a periodic Fußball fan.

Isenberger Platz, Essen

My interest typically peaks every four years at the time of the World Cup and I believe what I find attractive about soccer at that time, is the intense excitement and camaraderie that surrounds the game. When I'm in Germany, I prefer to watch the games in Isenberger Platz, a small plaza not far from the center of downtown Essen. It's a tree-filled square with a children's playground at its center and a combination of apartment buildings, second hand stores and cafes and bars on the margins. For some reason, there is a distinct Dutch slant to a lot of the businesses and one pub in particular, De Prins, recreates the atmosphere of the Netherlands as far as they are able. When World Cup games are being televised, they mount a large screen facing the square at De Prins and a friendly crowd packs in, sitting on parked cars and folding chairs. I find the vibe there particularly gemütlich.

The vibe at the White Owl in Logan this afternoon was decidedly different. The game was on one of five different wide screen TV's with the sound down. Serbia vs Australia was playing just three feet to the left moving down the bar and some American baseball team was playing on another channel. My companion and I were essentially the only patrons at the bar, so the bartender had no problem turning the sound up for us.

The soccer crowd at the White Owl

In 2006 Ghana beat the US team in a game I watched at De Prins, but the German team dominated Ghana in today's game. The German team controlled the ball for most of the game but scored only once. Ghana was obviously frustrated by the uncanny ability Germany demonstrated to work as an organized unit, but Ghana players could really take advantage of a slip-up on the German side and they came close to scoring several times. Philipp Lahm made a couple of great saves and prevented Ghana from scoring, but the hero of the game for Deutschland will certainly be seen as Mesut Özil, who scored Germany's lone goal. I've got a soft spot in my heart for Özil, who came up through the Rot/Weiss Essen team† and now plays for Bremen.

The German win was exciting, but something seemed to be lacking at The White Owl. I listened to hear the bar patrons begin singing "Finale, whoa ooooo ooooo oooo!" a traditional response to a win back in Isenberger Platz, but the only sound was the bartender listlessly shifting glasses on the back bar. A couple of distracted customers wondered aloud if this win would be good or bad for the US: a rhetorical question not worth answering. I'm ready for Germany gegen England now, but I'll keep my expectations low regarding the team spirit evidenced by the tired rummies at the Owl. I'll either bring my own vuvuzela, or just keep a low profile. Either way, I'm hoping to be back in Essen for 2014.

†Essen's premiere soccer team, Rot/Weiss Essen has had another bad year and it's very existence is threatened now. On my recent visit to Essen, I was able ask the Bürgermeister what the future might hold for this club: "Sie müssen schon wieder in der Fünfte Liga absteigen. Sie müssen mühsam und Schritt für Schritt wieder aufsteigen." It's a sad day for an illustrious club with appparently no support coming from the Mayor's office.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Airport Culture

The difference between Germany and the US is nowhere so clear as in the airport terminal building. The German airport is quiet and calming. Video monitors are set to news channels, but without sound. At the Düsseldorf Flughafen, acoustics are set up to deaden sound with high ceilings that are painted black in the boarding lounges. While waiting for your flight, you can listen to the murmured conversations of people across the room. The only exceptions to the uniform dress-code of black alternating with gray, are blue jeans (which several Germans told me recently, don't count) and the Americans heading home in brightly colored T-shirts.

In American war films, the Germans were always shouting things like, "RAUS, RAUS!" to American POWs. But there's no shouting today at the German airport, not even in the usually intense security screening area. At American airports, the security screening crew always includes a few young men whose only job seems to be banging those gray tubs together while shouting "LAPTOPSOUTLAPTOPSOUT!" At the German airport, a well mannered employee asked me if I had any fluids in my bag, seeming to suggest that maybe my word would be enough to satisfy him.

On my arrival in Atlanta, I entered the large passport control room, prepared to navigate the maze of retractable belt stanchions. Huge signs in English gave conflicting instructions about which lines passengers should go into, but the signs were superfluous. An older woman who looked as though she was ready for a costume party dressed as a charwoman stood directly in front of the largest sign, waving her arms and repeatedly shouting,


The sound echoed in the cavernous space and I wondered how the non-native speakers could possibly understand her. I wondered, in fact, how the native speakers could understand her. I decided the waving arms were designed to encourage me to continue on past her and the big sign that read All Passengers with an arrow pointing to the right. Somehow we all managed to jump the hoops and continue on, into the pandemonium that reigns in the rest of the terminal.

During my four hour lay over in Atlanta, I decided to go into a restaurant where I could sit down. The cacophony was off the scale in this hole in the wall place of about 100 sq. meters. There were three huge TV screens, each tuned to a different channel. The one closest to me was less than eight feet away and an old guy was on, blaring at me about a new way to treat diabetes. But in spite of the volume, I couldn't hear a word he was saying. I was surrounded by single men in their early forties jabbering into their Blackberries. The wooden chairs in the restaurant were built with a sounding board Stradivarius would die for. Each time a customer pulled back away from the table, a deep rumble resonated from his or her chair, drowning out even the incessant beeping from those golf carts US airport employees drive around all day.

I ordered a beer from my waitress and she immediately responded with a counter offer: if I add a shot to that order, I can get it for only $3 more. I had already been up for twelve hours, but for the good people of Georgia, it wasn't yet noon: and they're already pushing boilermakers? I declined the bump, and then the waitress asked to see my ID. It seems Atlanta has a liquor control policy that rivals even the surreal code of the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. But maybe they know what they're doing. In a German airport, a beer is certainly enough to smooth over any anxiety or tension. But clearly, the American airport requires stronger stuff.