There are more important things than Football… just not right now.
––Bumper sticker in Berlin
Go on. Try to find a single American sport even halfway commensurate in its ability to draw its citizenry nation-wide into the streets, shouting triumphantly over each and every win, with that quaint form of ball-kicking in Europe known as football (a.k.a. soccer). Simply put, there is nothing like it.
And this year was different. The World Cup in 2006 was perhaps the first to inspire this nationalist sentiment, to persuade the Bavarian, the Schwabian, the Saxon, the Saarlander, and so on, of their German identity above all. This year’s European Championship (EM) bore witness to this effect. It was the first time that the average German across the country draped his windows with the German flag, hooked mini-flags to the doors of his car, and wore the German colors painted on his cheeks to every game.
Of course, they were not the only ones. Our own Swissman was just as bad: the white cross of the Swiss flag was prominently displayed from his window over-looking Blumenstrasse, and every time we went to a public viewing of a Swiss game (at one of Fleur, Potato Island, or the Congress Hall), he carried his mammoth cowbell. I also carried it once, on the handle of my bike on our way to the Saar for the opening of the EM. The sound of it could be heard changing and chiming all through the streets of Saarbrücken as we rode past.
You wouldn’t think it now, but for three long weeks in June, there was no sleeping at night for the sound of honking horns and rabble-rousers shouting down in the streets. If you had the unfortunate luck of bussing it home from the university, you were in for a long ride as celebrating drivers crowded the streets and blocked all routes. Because someone would always win each and every night. The Turkish, the Czechs, the Croatians… not all of them would last each round, but every time a country won a game, their nationals would hit the streets with their horns and flags. From the din, I now know that Turks make up the largest minority population in Saarbrücken.
Nevertheless, I heartily enjoyed watching the (German) games, and often listened in on talk of scores for other countries I supported (Sweden, France, etc). I knew what an amazing experience it could be to be present in the country that won the final game. I was living with my host family in France when they won the EM in 2000, and sadly, I had to go to bed early while the cheering went on in the streets. This time, as luck would have it, we would be attending a linguistic conference in Potsdam, not far from Berlin, and would be in the capital on the night of the final game.
And as luck would have it again, Germany made it to the final round and was to play against Spain. We therefore decided to watch the game in a Spanish cafe somewhere in Berlin. Well, what can I say? The ride was fun, but the destination left much to be desired. Spain won, and deservingly. And I’ll have another two years before the next opportunity.