The Patriotism Of Your Average War

Party Time at the Berlin Fan Fest

After two and a half days, some very late nights (seriously, Berlin doesn’t really close), and an extremely good time, we have departed Berlin. We’re en route to Nuremberg, where we’ll take in tomorrow’s USA-Ghana match. Two thumbs enthusiastically up for Berlin – gorgeous city, lots to do, lots to soak up. Very glad we made it there.

Going to try to drop a little seriousness on you, and forgive my World Cup naivete. I’m American; we’re new to this.

We’ve been chatting a bit of late about the identity/ nationalism/ tribalism question here at the World Cup. I suppose the conversation started before the USA-Italy game, when we figured out we’d be sitting in the Italian section. A couple of us are half-Italian, and still have a bunch of family who live there. In other World Cups I’ve found myself pulling for the Italians, but it was clear that if they were playing against the USA, my allegiances were solidly with the Stars and Stripes. It doesn’t mean I don’t like Italia as a place, people, or culture; just a football match (“Solo calcio!”), and I was rooting for the team in white over the team in blue.

Of course, in the wake of that match, I will never root for an Italian team again. They were a disgrace, and I will cheer their eventual defeat at this tournament. But again, those are just sports feelings. And I’m a lot more comfortable with this whole thing remaining sports-focused.

I think we all had a little anxiety about being Americans at this event and having to absorb the occasional politically motivated taunt. So far, we haven’t heard a peep. Not a word. And for that, we’re very grateful.

But if politics have mostly been absent from the event, there’s still the odd undercurrent of tribalism that pervades the whole thing. When we shout our songs and chants, what are we rooting for? Are we rooting for teams, or are we rooting for nations? Or is it a culture that we’re rooting for? A people? Or even a corporation? We met some German girls last night who were enthusiastically rooting for Sweden (outfits and face paint included) – because they worked at Ikea. As for the German team, they only seemed interested in Klose and Podolski – because they are both ethnically Polish, like these girls.

How seriously do we have to take the group of drunk Aussies at the Irish Pub in Europa Center in Berlin last night who were singing songs about how they hate the English? That’s different from us hating the Italian team for cheating, right? Or from me harboring resentments against the German team for eliminating us four years ago – despite the fact that almost everyone we’ve met in Germany has been kind, friendly and welcoming, and I hope I can repay their hospitality at some point? But at the same time, we’ve also heard (from Germans) that they fel a bit awkward being so openly patriotic in public; for a while, that had been frowned upon here. And what of the obvious kinship we felt with the Irish dudes we met last night, who are probably the only folks in Europe whose default isn’t to hate America? With pro sports, it’s all a bit easier: hating the Cowboys as characters in the sports drama doesn’t mean I wish ill on the people of Dallas. But when nations are involved, it all gets a bit dicier.

We all want it to be only about the games (“Solo calcio!”), but it obviously isn’t. (I think the line of choice here is that these games “contain the patriotism of your average war.”) As Americans, though, it almost has to be, and it actually feels pretty liberating to be able to express yourself as an American in a nonpolitical context. We actually are underdogs at this event, and that feels nice; when we chant “U-S-A! U-S-A!” it doesn’t have the phony triumphalism that it sometimes does at other sporting events (especially Olympic Games held in the continental US). And mercifully we haven’t caught anyone chanting “G-D-P! G-D-P!” at any of our opponents. Just the games, please.

Be careful riding in the sunroof

Kids And Grown Ups Love It So

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Good times here in Berlin. Germany are playing Ecuador across town in a few minutes, and I think we’re planning to head to one of the giganto Fan Fest locations. Some quick hits:

–The pre-game atmosphere, hours before the game, was pretty impressive. People were banging drums on top of buses, and they were playing Wagner at the mall. And these are Germans we’re talking about here – not usually given to this sort of display. Pretty good stuff.

–In terms of World Cup fashion, it’s apparently become completely acceptable to walk around wearing your team’s flag as a cape, even if they’re not actually playing that day. It’s all the rage.

–I’ll admit that even I was shocked by how late this town stays open. Shocked. It’s like Vegas with clocks. And it was a Monday.

–After poking around for a couple days, we finally located a gigantic Haribo stand. Gummy fruit salad, anyone?

–On the topic of food, our crew caved last night and ate vegetables. I think we were actually kind of desperate for something green. Salads all around. (Though I did manage to eat some fried pork cutlet with my salad.)

–In the random coincidence department, the guy sitting across from us on the train yesterday was wearing a t-shirt from Linda’s Tavern, which is the name of my rec league team in C@L. Hilarious.

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Wilkommen To Berlin

More from Saturday

We made it to Berlin, which is gorgeous. Very cool city; makes me wish I knew more about architecture. The Fan Fest thing here is gigantic. It’s connected to the Brandenburg Gate and stretches for at least a kilometer into the Tiergarten. Very very cool.

Had some snafus finding our hotel last night. Apparently it had been torn down. THANK YOU VERY MUCH Fodor’s 2006. I think someone’s getting an indignant letter.

Checked out the sites and whatnot. The Jewish museum is pretty impressive, though we could have done with 12 percent less of wall placards telling us what Daniel Liebskind wanted us to feel.

Things are calm here today, but we expect fireworks tomorrow, since Germany is playing Ecuador in town.

More tomorrow.

Still Stewing About The Draw; K-Town Repruhzent!

Trust us, it was even more ridiculous in person

(I wrote this on the train yesterday; it took a while to find puters with USB. Apologies if it’s dated.)

The dust has settled a bit for our crew. We’ve given our one-armed man hugs to K-Town and ridden the ICE five hours to Berlin, where we expect to spend the next couple days.

We’re still stewing a little about the game. Unable to find an English newspaper at any of the various rail stations where we’ve spent most of the day and cut off from the Internet, the only coverage we’ve been able to digest has been German TV highlights and a copy of today’s La Gazzetta Sportiva. (Shockingly, while the Italian paper thought that Lippi should be blamed for this disastrous result, there was hardly an account that fit with what we had all observed in the stadium: that we had completely outplayed the Italians and stood proudly even when it was 10 v 9.)

You don’t get any sorts of replays in the stadium, so we didn’t know until today how badly McBride had been cut up. We also still don’t have an answer in re: what the call was on the disallowed Beasley goal. I assume our next connection with the Internet will answer some of those questions.

What you need to know about the atmosphere at the game:

–When we arrived in K-Town at 2 in the afternoon, I was pretty concerned about the levels of American support. The Italians were already there, drunk and singing. There seemed to be lots of them and a distinct minority looked like criminals and low lives, and were doing things like calling 12-year-old German girls whores. In all fairness, most were pretty mellow, but there was definitely a group who qualified as the sorts of hooligans the alarmist press is always warning you about. But as the day went on, more and more Americans arrived, and by 5 the scene on the Marktstrasse was loud and charmingly pro-USA. Overall, relations between the USA supporters and the tifosi were pretty chill (with one notable exception, to be discussed at a later date). Just a lot of singing and shouting from both sides.

–The Italians definitely had a much deeper catalog of songs than we did. Our supporters relied way too heavily on “When The [Yanks] Go Marchin’ In,” though I did appreciate the ongoing “America,” “%$&* Yeah!” call-and-response routine. The Italians kept doing this thing where they’d sing opening riff from the first White Stripes record, and it was pretty compelling. Overall, though, the whole thing could have used a bit more things sung to the tune of “Hail To The Victors.” In the interests of good taste, we managed to hold back on the E-A-G-L-E-S chants (though we did sneak one in).

–K-Town was a lovely venue for the pre-game nonsense. It was just small enough to have a festive village feel, but there was still plenty of places and things to check out.

–Though it should go without saying, I went another day without a vegetable. Pork sandwich in the afternoon, kabob at 3 am. Luckily I had plenty of beer in between.

–I was blown away by the fact that almost everyone at the match (especially the USA supporters) had a silly costume on. It was hilarious. Like soccer Mardi Gras. I particularly enjoyed the Italian gladiator dudes, and the guy who was a cross between Captain America and a Viking. Also, these Italian guys had a shopping cart and two gigantic jugs of wine, and were making random people chug. Also, this woman was walking through the Fan Fest in nothing but USA body paint and a g-string.

–All that said, one of the folks in our groups has the best hair we’ve seen yet. Seriously. People stare. And they are right to stare.

–I’ll be curious to hear how it sounded on TV, but the American supporters were louder in the stadium than the Italians. We were sitting in the Italian section (more on that later) and even we were able to shout down the Italians at times. Of course, it helped that our team was playing with heart and pride and their team was playing like a bunch of cheating cowards; I imagine the thrill of cheering for diving and simulation eventually wears off.

–A bunch of English guys were chanting “Same Old Eye-Ties, Always Cheating” to the tune of…I dunno, the little thing that clocks play when they chime the time. Said chant, um, resonated.

–For the avoidance of doubt, this Italian team was complete crap. Before minute 75 (when our guys completely ran out of gas), their offense consisted entirely of lobbing the ball towards Toni and Toni trying to fall down. I remain shocked the game didn’t end on a dubious penalty in the 89th minute. They’ll likely advance, but they will beat no one of consequence. There’s just no there there. And yes, it seriously upsets my sports feelings to have to root for them on Thursday.

–The post-game scene at the USA bars was pretty solid. People were cheesed off about not winning the game, but everyone was pretty ecstatic about how we’d played. After the Czech game, I think everyone was a little worried we’d turn in another stinker. And when you’ve made the effort to fly across the ocean to support your team, that’s not a comfortable feeling. For a lot of people, I think the result last night justified the entire trip.

–Of the course, the absolute best part of the post-game scene was the band playing at the main Fan Fest: Bon Jovi tribute band BONGIOVIO. Uh huh. That’s right. Bongiovio. Tough not to believe that was an omen.

This crew rolled tight

I Don’t Know The Italian Word For “Diving”

I couldn’t be more proud of USA.

That Italian team was a disgrace. Their supporters should be ashamed.

A proper response is coming tomorrow, but from where we were sitting, it really didn’t look like we didn’t win that game.

It’s really late here. We just spent the last hour and a half at the train station. We got really lucky with a cab.

Also: I can’t believe I have to root for the Italians in the next game. It’s wrong on so many levels.

How Much For That Sausage In The Window?

Party Time in K-Town

And we are live from the ground in K-Town.

Admittedly, most of our party has been here all week, but we finally caught up with them last night. The atmosphere in Kaiserslautern was fantastic last night. Tons of people — locals as well as US and Italian supporters — were on the streets drinking beer, dancing, and eating sausage. (I know it’s been mentioned in other places, but I really can’t stress this enough: there are delicious sausage stands like every three feet over here. I’ll estimate my daily sausage consumption average for this trip is going to be around 1.8 sausages. That’s probably not “good for me.”)

Relations between the USA folks and the tifosi up from Italy were good last night, mostly because I get the sense that they don’t take our team very seriously. Also, most of the tifosi we ran into were about 20 years old.

Some quick hits from last night:

–It turns out that I wasn’t the only one who thought that “America, $%&# Yeah!” would make for a good soccer cheer. Sam’s Army was definitely marching through K-Town shouting it at the top of their lungs. So we got that going for us. Which is nice.

–The locals have come up with a brilliant system to keep their towns relatively tidy (which, with hordes of drunken foreigners roaming the streets, is no small task): one-Euro deposit on all beers. If you bring your cup back, you get a Euro back. It works. No empties on the ground. And it’s environmentally friendly!

–Good for Angola holding on to draw with Mexiko (German TV spells Mexico with a K!). No love lost for the Mexicans. And yes, I remain jealous of their group. That Angola keeper was a complete hero.

–We met these two friendly Italian kids on the train home last night who were just dying to talk to us about WWE. Hearing them say “Do you know…Smackdown?” in their most imploring broken English was one of the highlights of the night.

–I really need to resist the temptation to think I speak German by saying English words with a German accent and adding German-sounding suffixes (-aben, -einen, -meister). It really isn’t polite.

–Jose (+10) and Pedro (+10) are everywhere over here. Luckily, I haven’t gotten tired of them yet. Especially that little Pedro. “Beckenbauer?”

Anyhoo, we have a long one ahead of us. We’re the late game (9 pm start, local time), so we’re going to need to keep our eyes on the prize today. Can’t get ahead of ourselves, otherwise this thing could really get unwieldy. I think the key is going to be “occasionally drinking water.”