It's what every tourist in Hamburg has to do: go down to the fish market early on a Sunday morning, when the street vendors of smoked eel, herring and other fish are starting to work the crowd and the last of the all-night revelers are looking for a liquid breakfast. A bright-eyed young foreigner who's neither vendor nor reveler is doing just that. He says to his friends, "The last time I was here, there was a foot of snow and I couldn't see a thing."
He speaks in English, and a couple of heads turn, and then turn again. "Der Ami!" says one in recognition—and the nearest vendor, of a comic bent like all his tribe, sees an opportunity for a little free publicity. "Hey, Ami," he shouts, holding up a prize eel, "bet you couldn't keep a hold on this one!" The Ami's German is spotty, but he gets the drift. "If I can manage a wet fussball," he yells back, "I can handle a wet fish!"
"Better stick to soccer, Ami!" the eel man teases, but there's warmth in his voice. After all, this Ami is the city's favorite and most famous Ami, which is short for Amerikaner. He is Paul Caligari, 23, of Walnut, Calif. When he arrived in Hamburg on Jan. 7, he was met by every West German TV network and national newspaper.
That's the sort of turnout you might expect for a young man who has made sports history, even if pitifully few of his countrymen are aware of it. Caligari is the first American to break into the highest level of international professional soccer. Equally significant, he is the first player with world-class potential to come out of the U.S.'s huge youth soccer movement. He first learned of the game as a seven-year-old, when he was riding his bike along a suburban road outside Walnut and saw a sign posted by the American Youth Soccer Organization.
Now, 16 years later, he has signed a contract with Hamburg, one of the most prestigious soccer clubs in the world. Hamburg has won the West German Bundesliga three times and was club champion of Europe in 1983. Of course, Caligari still has much to prove. Because he joined Hamburg after the current season's signing deadline, he will not be permitted to play in Bundesliga games that count for the championship until this summer. He trains with the pros and has played in some exhibition games with them, but he has to get his match practice with the club's amateurs, a situation that frustrates him. "Oh, how I look forward to the changeover," he says, "to that first Bundesliga game."
In the meantime he reacts to Germany the way many an American might. He views autobahn driving with terror ("All those older men in Jaguars out in the left lane doing 110 mph, flashing their lights from a mile behind you," he says.) He deplores the near absence of Tex-Mex food and the seeming impossibility of buying a pair of Reeboks. Even though his girlfriend, Deanne Hager, a model from Los Angeles, mails Levi's to him, and an old Walnut High School pal, Jeff Lovoy, is paying him a visit, an outsider quickly detects an element of loneliness, accentuated by Hamburg's harsh winter climate.
All the same, Caligari has no serious doubts about where his future lies. "I am in a foreign country chasing a dream," he says, "and I have made sacrifices for that dream. I have left behind my girl and a close-knit family that I love, and an easy life in general. I won't be slowing down."
Caligari was speaking after practice one afternoon at the Ochsenzoll Training Centre, which the Hamburg club maintains on the outskirts of the city. Though he had been working out with the pros, the big boys, and had made three goals in a practice game, he was the one his teammates selected to retrieve the spare soccer shoes left at the far end zone. But after Caligari went to shower, Ditmar Jakobs, 33, West Germany's sweeper in last year's World Cup, spoke about the Ami's courage.
"He relishes the Zweikampf, the duel," said Jakobs, whose scarred face attests to a seven year career in the Bundesliga, one of the world's most physical leagues. "He plays the English style, very physical, the körperbetontes Spiel. That is good. Maybe at the moment he misses the total physical conditioning that comes with much play at the highest level. That will change as he continues to work with us."
Another player made an often repeated comment: "People here were astonished when they heard Hamburg had signed an Ami. No, not astonished, astounded. Nevertheless, we all know that young American sportsmen are hard fighters, all serious workers. He is a serious fighter, and he is intelligent. He will be in the first team in maybe half a year. It is a new thing in Germany and in the world, good for the game here and in America."