Last Sunday I was returning on the last flight to Frankfurt, scheduled to leave Stockholm at 6:40. Normally, I would have booked the 5:05 SAS flight, but at the last minute Betty Lou decided to attend the International Reading Association Conference, also being held in Stockholm the same week, and the cheapest round trip still available was via Lufthansa. Having checked in an hour early, we arrived at Gate 17 ten minutes before scheduled boarding time and found fewer than 20 people waiting. I wondered if we had the wrong gate but the monitor clearly said Frankfurt – then I heard an announcement that a Swissair flight to Zurich had been canceled and those passengers were also to go to Gate 17.
Soon, about 45 sweaty people arrived from the other wing and more delays resulted while they were checked in and their luggage, and meals, loaded. We later heard that the Swissair flight had been canceled because of "technical problems," but it seemed obvious to me that a deal had been arranged – I guess we were lucky that it hadnít been arranged the other way, because there werenít many Germans traveling at an hour when they would miss even a part of the World Cup Finals! (Although I had found out several weeks ago during a Berlitz lesson that the instructor knew even less than I did about the various teamís chances.)
I canít say that I had noticed any fanatic German interest during the preceding weeks. In fact, the most noise in our neighborhood (shouting and horns honking) had originated from a pizza shop after Italy won an early game. One day a local "Trinkhalle" had enterprisingly set up a TV and several chairs out front. (Trinkhalles are interesting institutions, unlike anything in the U.S. – or at least legally, in most parts of the U.S. At their simplest, they are sort of a hole in a wall, where you can buy a beer, wine or schnapps, chips and other snacks, magazines and cigarettes. Some people stand around and talk while drinking their beer; for others itís a convenient, although relatively expensive, way to buy beer when the stores are closed – I did mention the short shopping hours.) I wouldnít be surprised if there is a German law about such an open air theater, at least without a permit, because it wasnít there during later, presumably more exciting, matches.
One night while walking back from our favorite "local" restaurant, our favorite "local" restaurant (the quotes are because itís the type of people – the restaurant IS a mile and a half away) occasional simultaneous outbursts of cheering from different directions signaled German goals. And a colleague one evening located a cellar pub in his neighborhood previously unknown to him by using his ears. (One of the disadvantages of his not having been there previously was that he was bypassed by the attractive fan who kissed all around him after every goal.) Also, I did notice that our meetings in Stockholm, which in the past had sometimes gone on until 8 – even 10 – this time ended in plenty of time for BFS personnel to return to the hotel to view the matches!
The preceding was written on the plane. With delays in departure and in getting our luggage – we were beginning to think it had also gone to Zurich – the taxi had just turned up our street when the game ended. We made it with minutes to spare – soon the streets were filled with honking cars and flag-waving people, heading for the Alte Oper a few blocks away. We took the camcorder and joined the throng. There were lots of whistles, cheering, flags, horns, trumpets and fireworks set off from within the crowd. It was a little like a disorganized Junkanoo. Theater-goers exiting the opera house into the midst of this had a big surprise – the less pleasant part came as they tried to get their cars out of the parking garage into the jammed streets. The crowd peaked within a couple of hours and although the number of drunks increased, it was still a happy group. There were a few German cities, notably Hamburg, where "fans" battled the police.
Here, the few police in evidence were in the intersections, turning around traffic on the main streets leading to the Oper. However they did let them parade: people hanging out windows and sun roofs of packed cars, honking horns and waving flags, some with the German flag colors painted on their faces – some had a neat flag-like rectangle on the forehead, others looked more like Indians, with three broad swatches of color covering the entire face. I spotted one tall blonde weaving her way through the traffic with a big flag, a bottle of champagne – and a long-barreled pistol! The next day I saw many empty blank cartridges in the street. Funny the way your cultural background colors your perceptions – since people donít have access to guns in Germany, except for rifles through carefully controlled hunting clubs, anything that looks like a pistol must be an imitation.