Sunday, July 02, 2006

World Cup


So the big news here is that Germany beat Argentina the other night in the semi finals. I’ve never been a sports fan. Perhaps because I never understood what I was watching, I always thought it was a pointless waste of time. Solely because of the interests of the men in my life, I’ve watched mostly baseball, basketball and football. By this statement I am obviously American. Why is it that the entire world has a love affair with soccer but in the U.S. it is not quite so popular?

I’ve never watched a soccer match until a couple weeks ago when I arrived in Germany at the advent of the World Cup. I’ve been completely hooked since Germany played Poland in the group play. Soccer is easy to watch. 1. I can follow the ball. 2. There are a lot of fine young men in shorts. Girls, why watch a sport whose male players are buried under so much equipment (like U.S. football) you can’t even see them?

Germany is hosting the 2006 World Cup. The logo is “A time to make friends”. 2006 is no longer a time to gas Jews and conquer the world. I think that’s what they’re trying to say.

Last week Jurij and I biked into town to our favorite bar Julep’s for the Germany-Poland soccer match. The place was packed for the game. Soccer was projected onto large screens and TVs through out the NYC themed restaurant and its large Bavarian beer garden. We found a seat inside with a fairly good view when the German soccer players were singing the national anthem.

Jurij said to me that the soccer players were just recently taught the words as nationalist songs were not taught in school. Three women sat at a nearby table painting flags on each other’s faces but first we overheard them asking what the order of the black, red, and gold stripes were. Then the giant world cup hamburger that I ordered arrived with a German party flag on it, only the colors were upside down making it look closer to a Belgian flag. These were signs of Germany’s discomfort with patriotism and I was comfortable with that.

The big story here (by now its an old story) is flag waving. 6 months ago or even 3 months ago it was an activity looked down upon and associated with nationalist right wingers. By the time the German team won the match Augsburg erupted into a sea of black, red, and gold. Biking home was disconcerting. The streets were crowded. People wrapped in flags were shouting and waving flags. Cars with flags on the sides of their windows were honking their horns. In my mind I was biking as fast as I could away from the Nazi’s. Jurij was uncomfortable with this exaggerated display of patriotism. He said its ok for young kids to wave the flag, but it really makes you think when those over 65 are waving the flag!

The next day we watched USA vs. Italy. The Italians were expected to win but instead the game ended in a tie. USA played aggressively and 3 of their players were eliminated because of fouls. This has only happened a few other times in world cup history. Jurij said it was a strange match. At the end of a game I heard a nearby American voice saying. They tied? What’s next? That’s it? Ah yes another clueless American besides me watching an unfamiliar sport. Who ties in American sports? There is always a winner.

After a couple weeks of unabashed German patriotism, I think I’ve come to terms with it (to some degree anyway).
It’s in the spirit of the games. After all every other country is waving their flags. In my German language class all the students were decked out in their countries colors and team jerseys. Although it still makes him uneasy I can tell by the flags painted on his face by the nurses on his ward that Jurij has come to terms with it too (to some degree!).

Last night at Julep’s (and I’m glad I’m literate or I would have thought it was Jew lips) I routed along with Jurij and the crowd for Germany. I kinda felt weird about it but what the hell I’m here and the U.S. team is out. Anyway I felt better about that when during half time I went around the corner to synagogue!

I became friendly with Gili, a Russian Jewish guy in his 60’s or so, in my German language class. He told me to meet him there at 6. Services were at 7 but he wanted me to meet some people. When I arrived I got a nice private tour of the building and then Gili ushered me into a room where many members sat watching the TV. Well, he said in his broken Germlish, today is not a good day to meet people. I looked around me and saw many yamalka-ed heads all engrossed in the game. They cheered when Germany scored. Why not, they are German. The children and teens waved German flags (in the temple!). You’ve come a long way baby!

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