Go behind the scenes with SI.com's Arash Markazi whoâs âOn The Scene,â writing a regular journal from anywhere and everywhere about anything and everything.
6/19/2006 12:27:00 PM
Weekend in Germany
Physical play dominated Saturday's U.S.-Italy match.
Photo by AP
MUNICH, Germany -- First of all, allow me to welcome you to "On The Scene," a regular journal of my various travels, assignments and nonsensical rants and raves where we'll be able talk about anything and everything from sports to pop culture and beyond. In the coming weeks I'll be on the road quite a bit, doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that at various sporting events, concerts and parties and I hope to take you with me every step of the way via this journal. We begin in Germany where the World Cup has engulfed the country since the tournament kicked off nearly two weeks ago.
I arrived in Cologne on Friday night and attended two matches over the weekend -- USA-Italy in Kaiserslautern on Saturday and Brazil-Australia in Munich on Sunday -- and kept a diary throughout, so without any further adieu let's get to it.
Saturday, June 17: USA-Italy
- I get my first taste of how religious soccer is in Germany when I walk through the train station in Cologne and look up to find a giant Sistine Chapel-like painting of soccer stars David Beckham, Zinadine Zidane, Michael Ballak and others on the ceiling of the station which is adjacent to the famous Cologne Cathedral.
- Before heading to Kaiserslautern, I walk down old town Cologne and grab a quick lunch from one of the dozens of cafes and restaurants that line the cobble stoned streets. It's interesting that the large bratwursts, knockwursts, liverwursts and any other kind of wursts you can think of are heated and placed tiny rolls so both ends stick out. It's almost as if the bread is simply there so you don't burn your hands holding the meet. The piping hot sausages are so tasty though that the lack of accompanying bread quickly becomes a non-factor. It is also interesting to note that when ordering beer in most German establishments you simply ask for a beer instead of requesting a specific brand as most places only serve their own local beer as opposed to having a dozen different types of brew on tap.
- After satisfying my need for German brats and beer, I begin the three-hour trip to southwest Germany and arrive in the small town of Kaiserslautern around 6 p.m., three hours before the USA-Italy game. It isn't long before I discover that Kaiserslautern is located in Germany's largest forest area, and that Fritz Walter Stadium, which seats 46,000, is one of the smaller venues in the World Cup. The newly renovated stadium is located 40 meters above the city on Betzenberg Hill and fans are forced to hike up forest trails and weave through residential streets to get to the stadium from the center of the city. Despite the loss of breath from the up hill journey, the atmosphere in around the stadium on this night is amazing as American fans are making their presence known and making far more noise than the Italian contingent.
- Sitting nine rows from the field near Sam's Army, the physicality of the game, which featured three red cards and three stitches for a bloodied Brian McBride, was far more evident early on than it probably showed on television. The heated U.S. section was as loud and energetic as any other fan base at the World Cup and even turned ugly after DaMarcus Beasley slotted in a goal in the 66th minute to give the U.S. an apparent 2-1. After the goal was waived of for McBride being offside, fans in the corner of the stadium, behind goalkeeper Kasey Keller, began throwing cups, bottles and other trash from their seats toward the field and screaming obscenities at the officials and the Italians.
- While Team USA looked to be the better side throughout the match and probably deserved to win, it was still impressive to gain a 1-1 draw against one of the better teams in the tournament,down two men. After the game, a joyous Keller pumped his fists and raised his hands and clapped up Sam's Army, which was chanting "Ka-sey, Kel-ler" throughout the second half as he made save after save to earn the yanks their first-ever World Cup point in Europe.
Sunday, June 18: Brazil-Australia
The man known as "Fred" celebrates his goal against Australia on Sunday.
Photo by AP
- My stay in Munich begins somewhat ominously when I get to my room at the Four Points Olympiapark, and open my window to find that I have a sweeping view of the Olympic Village and the unmistakable balconies of the rooms we've seen countless times whenever the Munich massacre at the 1972 Olympics is documented. A marble plaque is placed in front of the door of the building the eleven Israeli athletes were brutally killed on Sept. 5, 1972. After recently watching One Day in September and Munich it was a somber sight that was cause for some serious reflection on what really matters in life.
- Before heading to the Munich Stadium, I stop by the Munich English Garden along the River Isar, which is the largest city park in Europe, and check out Chinesischer Turm's beer garden (the second largest beer garden in Germany) near the Chinese Tower where they are serving up liters of lager, oversized pretzels and endless links of brats to about 7,000 patrons while showing the Croatia-Japan game on a big screen television.
- After overstuffing myself again on beer and brats, I walk past some topless sunbathers in the park and make my way to the train station and into a jam-packed car of Brazilian and Australian fans. In the middle of the tightly packed section, I find myself standing next to Mia Hamm and her lovely sister as they make their way to the game as well. While Mia was being lauded as the best women's soccer player by some Aussies nearby, she shakes her head and offers a modest smile, "No, I'm not," she says. "I don't even play anymore." When we ask who's taken the mantle as best women's soccer player then, she lists some players from Germany none of us had ever heard of. "Yeah, well you're still the best," said one Aussie. When I bring up the U.S.-Italy game from the previous night, Mia raises her eyebrows and said, "They played great. It was real hard fought game." She turned down the chance to chastise the officials for the three red cards and the disallowed U.S. goal. "That's soccer. I thought they played great." Mia then looked up and started her own little chant when she saw we were only one stop away from the stadium. "One more stop, one more stop, one more stop."
- The newly built Munich Stadium with its futuristic design thanks to its 2,760 diamond-shaped air cushions which shape the outside of the stadium is one of the nicest sports venues I've ever seen. While the bubbles can light up at night -- usually red and blue for German Bundesliga games -- they were never illuminated since the game began at 6 p.m. and the sun didn't set in Munich for another three hours, long after the match had already ended. It's a shame since it would have been quite a sight. You'd think they would only play night games in a facility, which shines so brightly, figuratively and literally, at night.
- I doubt I will ever see as much yellow and green as I'm seeing in the sold-out, 66,000-seat Munich Stadium where both Brazil and Australia sport the bright yellow and green colors. There are certainly more Brazil fans in the crowd, but both teams must feel at home as they make their way onto the super hot pitch.
- It is an absolute thing of beauty to watch Brazil play soccer. While they haven't shown what they are truly capable yet in this World Cup, to see the top players in the world like Ronaldinho, Adriano, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo, Kaka and Cafu playing on the same side is pretty special. At some points in the match it appeared as if they were simply toying with the Aussies, never quite putting it in fifth gear because they didn't need to come out of the game with a 2-0 win. Of all the exotic names though, my favorite on the Brazilian team is Fred, who scored a late goal. You have to love a guy who takes the road less traveled and doesn't rename himself Fredinho or something more unique.
After a late night of partying with the Brazilians, I'll be spending most of Monday in Munich before heading to Amsterdam. You know I'll have plenty to write about from that trip tomorrow. Until then, take it easy.