Bicultural Urbanite Brianna On the Ball: World Cup Fever and AFL

Watching the World Cup final in a beer garden at Tempelhofer Feld, a former airport that is now a massive park.
Watching the World Cup final in a beer garden at Tempelhofer Feld, a former airport that is now a massive park. | © Brianna Summers

I don’t really get soccer. Instead of growing up watching ‘The World Game’ on SBS, I spent my youth listening to the dulcet tones of Richie Benaud’s cricket commentary.

Yet despite being somewhat dumbfounded by the extreme popularity of a 90-minute game in which it is possible for absolutely no points to be scored, I can appreciate that soccer – like cricket – must be full of captivating subtleties that are apparent only to the trained eye. This year’s World Cup got me reminiscing about my relationship with the world’s most popular sport. 

Given that I lack the necessary cultural grooming, being invited along to watch Bundesliga or Champions League games is always a bit of a chore. So much so, that at some point, an Australian friend and I decided turn the tables on our soccer-loving friends and host an AFL football night. We got hold of a DVD of the nail-biting 2005 Grand Final between the Sydney Swans and the West Coast Eagles, in which Sydney gets over the line by four points in the dying minutes of the fourth quarter. Our guests were randomly assigned a team and told to come dressed in either white and red or yellow and blue to ensure we had two dedicated cheer squads. My friend and I wrote the rules of AFL on butcher paper, stuck them on the walls and served up meat pies and sausage rolls with lashings of tomato sauce.

AFL for Germans: watching the 2005 Grand Final on DVD. AFL for Germans: watching the 2005 Grand Final on DVD. | © Brianna Summers After firing up the DVD, we all stood for the national anthem before the barracking began. Our German mates seemed to enjoy the experience, although some were shocked by the brutality of the tackling, while others often lost track of the direction of play. The choppy editing and numerous camera angles combined with an oval-shaped pitch and an oval-shaped ball makes AFL rather difficult to follow, particularly if you’re used to a rectangular pitch and left-to-right soccer coverage.

THE PUBLIC VIEWING PHENOMENON

A TV set up in the boot of a car. A TV set up in the boot of a car. | © Brianna Summers Cultural exchange complete, we all reverted to our preferred sports. With one exception. Every four years, Berlin embraces the World Cup with such intensity that I find myself wilfully tuning in. The public viewing phenomenon is pretty hard to ignore, with TV screens popping up in bars, restaurants and cafes all over the city. Crowds mill around ad hoc screens balancing on flimsy tables outside of corner shops and beer gardens heave with sloshed punters while a two-kilometre public viewing Fanmeile is set up at the Brandenburg Gate to accommodate the really hardcore fans. Those with absolutely no interest in soccer also enjoy a win during the tournament, as match times provide an excellent opportunity to get your grocery shopping done in peace.

RED, BLACK AND GOLD

World Cup public viewing at the Prater Biergarten. World Cup public viewing at the Prater Biergarten. | © Brianna Summers For four weeks the whole city is in holiday mode and there’s a surge in pseudo diplomats driving around with cheap miniature German flags wedged into their electric windows. Although this summer, there was a lot less flag-waving than in previous years. For the first time since 1938, the German team did not progress to the quarter finals. This was a blow for Jogis Jungs – German coach Jogi Löw and his boys – not to mention the millions of football fans around the country. Another big loser of this year’s tournament was the manufacturers of German World Cup tat. Berlin’s supermarkets and One Euro shops were packed to the gunnels with fanwear and merchandise that was instantly rendered redundant about halfway through the competition. That’s a lot of red, black and gold memorabilia most likely headed for landfill. We can only hope that novelty wigs and large inflatable clapping sticks will still be popular in four years’ time and manufacturers have the foresight to squirrel them away until 2022. After all, as the saying goes: Nach der WM ist vor der WM! (after the World Cup is before the World Cup!)