That time I went to Germany for a couple of weeks

I never did get around to posting the entire story of the World Cup in Germany in 2006. This is the original trip report, and, except for some dead links and a little clarification, hasn’t been retroactively edited. The text below is what I ran up in July of 2006.

NB: No team/game discussion. Sore subject, don’t ask. I will say it is wicked rad that the one player on the US who was flawless every second he saw the field was Demps, and that Jimmy Conrad was shockingly good. Other than that, I got no comment.

Photos from the trip are here

Now then…

“Dear Prairie Clayton,

Congratulations! You have been allocated tickets for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany (TM). Your order of 24.08.2005 has been assigned the order number 1001517010.”

That was August 24, 2005. Mike and I both got our WC tickets that day, as part of a weird individual sale; we netted US TST-3s, tickets that would admit us into all three US group stage games. We’d vowed four years ago when we decided to go to this WC that we’d go regardless of tickets, but as it turned out, the game tickets wound up being the first things officially booked.

From there, it was ten months of anticipation: finding a rental house, plane tickets, and train passes, getting banners, stickers, masks, and all that other fan gimmick stuff together, poring over team preparations, and having at least one conversation per day that involved “omg we’re going to Germany” with other local buddies who were making the trip.

June 9, 2006: Just as the opening game was set to begin, we hopped a cab to the airport to fly to Germany. About halfway to the airport, Mike realized he forgot his rail pass. The cabdriver went back to our place and waited while Mike looked for it, but to no avail, so Mike just bought a new one upon arrival and was told to mail the unused one back for a refund. The flight to Germany wasn’t that great–crying babies, they didn’t get my meal request (but one of the regular entrees was vegetarian, so it worked out), we were held up for an hour before takeoff, and our luggage didn’t make the connection with us, so we had to arrange with Lufthansa to deliver it later to our rental house. Then we forgot you have to open the doors yourself on German trains, so we missed our stop on the way to our rental house.

The end result of all that was we wound up in our rental house in the middle of fuckin’ nowhere southwest Germany on Saturday afternoon, too tired and frustrated to do much of anything besides sleep it off. Which we did, only we then woke up too late to get into town to get money or groceries or such, so we spent the entire first weekend sleeping and playing video games, with no food in the house.

Our rental house was really nice, if a bit remote; we were in a village called Bärenbach, outside of Kirn, about an hour’s walk from the train station. We were in the middle of the Nahe wine country, set along the bike trails, and boy did I wish it wasn’t such a hassle to import my bike for the trip. I would also like to know why window screens don’t exist in Germany.

Monday, the 12th, was the first US matchday. On the train, I hung out in the cafe car and chatted with a couple of American Blackburn fans, the first time I’d ever met other actual Rovers fans except that guy who was handing out cheese samples at Whole Foods that one time. The train was filled with match-bound Americans and irritated Germans, plus two guys in Germany gimmick fan gear who I think were corporate plants. We got off the train and immediately ran into damn near every single person we were supposed to meet there at the US rally, including internet buddy NattyBo and all the New England people. We hung out and yelled real loud for a while, and then it was off to the game, on a crowded tram where a couple Czech guys would weakly yell “okay US fans get off here” at every stop. The Czech fans were nice guys, and, honestly, I can’t think of a bad thing to say about them or their team. They played clean, and, even if it was from row 903592, I did indeed yell lame come-ons at Petr Cech and chant “BRING OUT YOUR DEAD” at Koller.

The US fans at the game, though, I don’t know if it was jet lag or what, but that crowd was dead. I came away from that game thinking one thing: On the field and in the stands, this shit don’t fly come Saturday. Even really basic US chants would go nowhere, and all the New England people were scattered across several sections. I should point out that among the NE patrol is one guy who’s very, very loud and has a habit of being wherever the team goes, and so he tends to wind up as capo/bandleader/etc. from Foxboro to Korea to Columbus to Germany. Sadly, nothing could come up from this one. I did, however, meet a girl who went to high school with my brother, sitting right in front of me. On the way out, we saw Gooch’s family, and I’m regretting not handing them the Obey banner right there. (German stadiums, it turns out, don’t really work the same way ours do for railings from which to hang banners, so I ended up leaving all but the Sam’s Army New England banner at home for the next two games).

Postgame, we hung out with some of our buddies for a while and grabbed a light meal, after posing for a wicked pissah photo in front of the Dunks in the train station. One of our pals came up and was all excited for getting a deal on a cheap case of beer…or so she thought, until it was pointed out that the reason it was dirt cheap was that she’d just bought a case of Malta Goya. “Alcoholischfrei” was not something our buddies wanted to read on the label. Mike and I wound up not getting any trains back to Kirn that night. We got as far as Frankfurt, going via Dusseldorf, and on the train to Dusseldorf, some sunburnt, drunk English guys from the next car tried to goad our car (full of grouchy Americans and two Czech guys who just didn’t care) into singing. They were met with blank stares. Soccer fandom has led me to do some things I never expected to do in my life, like driving a rented Dodge around suburban Dallas at 1 am trying to find dinner, or picking up my underwear off the floor of the Meadowlands. That night, it would lead me to sleep on the Sam’s Army New England banner on the floor of the Frankfurt airport.

The next day, we went to Frankfurt to watch the Korea-Togo game. This was the first time FIFA had set up official viewing parties in the venue cities, and I gotta say it was a fantastic idea. It was a great way for people who came without tickets to meet up with other fans, even if only as bandwagoners for the day. Frankfurt’s involved giant TV screens on barges in the river. We ended up missing most of the game because we arrived late and had to take care of some errands first, but we arrived just in time for the second Korea goal. If you want a place to pick up Korean chicks, a Korea game would be it–most of their fans seemed to be chicks. If you want a place to meet pasty white monkeys trying to pick up Korean girls, that would also be it. We skipped France-Switzerland in favor of dinner and watching the Korean party in the town square, which involved an Ecuadorean guy leading the Dae Han Min Guk chants and a demonstration by a church-sponsored Tae Kwan Do team.

Wednesday the 14th we spent hanging around Kirn, getting groceries and figuring out our way around town, which was not terribly much. If you can imagine staying in Rutland, Vermont, and being able to take a train every day that would get you to Boston in an hour, NY in two, and DC in four, that’s about what we had. German grocery shopping was not that great of a culture shock, except that their concept of “ice cold” and ours is quite different, much to Toole’s dismay. We learned our way around German TV, which seems to consist of soccer, Spongebob, porn, shitty action movies, Kim Possible, and thirty home shopping channels. German Spongebob sounds just like American Spongebob, it’s uncanny.

Watching German TV is also when we invented a drinking game. If you drink every time you see Michael “Baron von Überbeiht” Ballack endorsing something, you’ve got a good slant on for the whole tournament. Or if you see Maradona at a game. Or if you see Beckenbauer at a game or in a commercial. If you add all those conditions together, you are looking at spending July in rehab.

Thursday we went to Cologne, only to discover it was a holiday, so a lot of stuff was closed, although many places that would otherwise be shuttered on Sundays and holidays in venue cities remained open for gamedays. We weren’t there to see any particular game, just to hang out and people watch. This is where we got stopped by a group of guys having a bachelor party and trying to take photos of themselves with random people (“Hey, that guy kinda looks like Michael Ballack, let’s get him!”) for spare change, so we obliged. Photos with random people off the street is what the World Cup is all about.

Friday was another bandwagoner day, this time for the Netherlands in Stuttgart. This was my favorite of the Fan Fests. Nuremburg was in a gravel field with no place to sit, and Frankfurt was kind of set up to encourage you to watch one game and get out. Stuttgart, though, they clearly wanted you to camp out all day. We had some tasty German food, watched a woman in a Germany jersey get booed by a train car full of orange-clad Dutch, and saw more than one marching band. The city was a sea of orange, and if you were a burglar in Amsterdam you probably cleaned up that night ’cause it sure looked like the whole country had come in for the day. The Dutch fans were the friendliest, and the ones most eager to engage other fans in banter, rivalry or otherwise. Mike walked around the square with a US flag and an orange shirt and had many conversations about US imports to the Eredivisie.

On the way home from that, though, our train was delayed. Post-game trains between big cities kept getting way off schedule, which was especially inconvenient considering the smaller regional ones didn’t, thus we would miss our connection to get back home. In this case, we got stuck at the Frankfurt main station, with no connections to Kirn for the rest of the night, so the rail service paid for us to take a cab from Mainz to Kirn (about 100 Euros). We shared the cab with a dad and his daughter from Kirn, who were baffled as to why a couple of Americans would visit such a small town. Also, I got carsick on the Autobahn, thus fulfilling one of the things I did expect to do at some point in my life.

Saturday, the 17th: Off to Kaiserslautern, the closest venue city to where we were staying. Got off the train and ran into the group of doughy white guys with Afro wigs and a boom box playing “Sweet Georgia Brown” who were dressed as the Harlem Globetrotters. See, the World Cup is all about Your Dumbass National Stereotype. You had Dutch guys in wooden shoes and milkmaid outfits, Spaniards in matador and bull costumes, Mexicans with giant sombreros (my favorite was the baseball cap someone had with the team crest on the front and a tiny sombrero and serape on the back), Swedes with viking helmets. The Americans get Harlem Globetrotters, Elvis impersonators, giant foam cowboy hats, the Justice League, multiple Captain Americas, and, although I didn’t see him, a guy in a Richard Nixon mask.

Kaiserslautern has a huge US presence thanks to military bases, and boy did it show in the city and at the game. Massive, massive turnout. I had a couple “hey, that’s a Friedel jersey” (while I still had it on) and a couple more “that flag only has 48 stars” (“I’ll be deep in the cold, cold ground before I recognize Missourah!”) comments while walking around. I also joined a singalong of “Country Roads” with a bunch of Germans and Italians, which, as a West Virginia native, was just damn strange. The Red, White, and Brew party was absolutely jammed, and for every group of Italians trying to start a chant (they seemed awful fond of the bassline to “7 Nation Army,” which we couldn’t figure out), there was a group of Americans to answer back. The Italian fans were, like the Czechs, pretty good sports about that kinda thing.

The game itself was straight up the greatest game I’ve ever seen, in person or on TV, and being in the stadium, even in the last goddamned row, to see it, was the best part of the trip. The entire trip existed to get me to that game. Completely different, on the field or in the stands, from the Czech game, from the opening minute. To get into it any more would be breaking my rule on game discussion, so I’ll stop there.

Afterwards, we crashed a live Italian TV broadcast and met Marcus Hahnemann’s family; I gave his sister the Navy Jack scarf I’d been wearing. It is always rad to run into players’ families. We did an all-nighter that night, taking the train to Nuremburg for the games the next day, and in our compartment on the way to Stuttgart we were seated with a German family who were eager to talk about US soccer. You may or may not have gathered that “explaining the quirks of the US game to confused Europeans” is one of my favorite conversational topics, so that was a neat train ride. Mike gave them his Brucesliga scarf, and the family, who worked for a TV station there, invited us back to Stuttgart in the winter to take in a club game. I’d like to see more of Stuttgart–my buddy who went there reports the Mercedes museum is nothing short of stunning–so we just might take them up on that.

At about 6 or so that morning we rolled into Nuremburg, fresh as daisies to watch the Japan-Croatia game. No, wait. I came in ready to see the game, but Mike was pretty wiped out. So he took a short nap in a park, which is where some Australians came up to us and congratulated us on our team having played a great game the previous night. (Australians were everywhere we went, and none of them female.) “Oh, you been up drinking all night? No? Well, my hotel’s around the corner, you go there and have yourself a good kip and I’ll keep drinking for both of us. And say hi to the missus!” “I am the missus!”, I piped up.

Spent the day taking in the street fair set up in the center of Nuremburg, which was not the same site as the fan fest. Fried cauliflower with garlic sauce and pretzels the size of car tires are my idea of a good time. What was not my idea of a good time was standing out in an unshaded gravel parking lot to watch the game, so we wound up leaving at HT, to catch a train that was delayed enough we might as well have stayed for the whole thing. The Japanese fans were strong in number, but relatively quiet; I wonder if it’s a cultural thing where they won’t really get into singing or noisemaking unless led by a capo. The Croatian fans all seemed like drunken fratboys, like they were a couple minutes from starting fights with each other.

The next day was another rest and Kirn hang-out day. Tuesday, the 20th, we took a tourist day and went to Trier, the oldest city in Germany. That was a great side trip. We spent the day checking out the cool Roman ruins and scenic town center, where some German kids sang “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” to us. It helped that this was a Germany match day, where everyone came out to see the game and party. On the way back, we took a roundabout route through the Mosel valley that would’ve been great had we not been delayed such that we were making razor thin connections. Some German teenagers applauded us as we sprinted to our connection in Mainz, it was that close.

Wednesday, we went back to Frankfurt just to hang out for the day. This was the day of, and the venue city for, Holland-Argentina, although there was no way we were sticking around to watch the late game. We mostly walked around and went souvenir shopping, irritated at the lack of official merch for the US. See, most of the other big deal teams all had t-shirts, hats, scarves, etc. that was officially licensed and branded for souvenirs; we really didn’t want to buy generic “USA” stuff since we can get that anywhere. The only US stuff, though, were lame flag t-shirts. (It’s not about licensing, either, as Adidas made official WC souvenir gear for teams for whom they do not have the kit supply contract, like Holland, Italy, and Mexico). This was especially annoying considering that more US fans went to this World Cup than have traveled to all the previous ones combined (for which we qualified but did not host). Besides, this was the fifth in a row for the US; it’s not like we’re first timers. You’d think we could at least get a scarf or something out of it, or, more importantly, one of those horrible Goleo dolls wearing a US themed kit.

Speaking of souvenirs I couldn’t find: They had dolls and mini-figures of all the German national team except the one I really like, which is to say Jens Lehmann. Damnit, I want a little plastic Lehmann!

While in Frankfurt, we heard what sounded like an oompah band playing “Stars and Stripes Forever,” so we went to check it out, only to discover the music coming from a Dutch beer garden. We ordered drinks and that’s where we ran into our photographer pal Andy, whose hotel was right in the neighborhood. Went to another beer garden with him and watched the second half of Mexico-Portugal (because there just hadn’t been enough Simpsons jokes repeated on this trip), then had a great Indian dinner before heading back to Kirn.

Thursday, the 22nd, we got up early and headed to Nuremburg, after learning the hard way that the taxi service in Kirn doesn’t answer the phone at 6:30am. We did, however, flag down the city bus, which we’d never otherwise seen the whole trip and which seemed to circle the town empty the whole time. Seriously, the driver seemed shocked to have passengers. I didn’t reserve seats on the train to Nuremburg in advance, which was a mistake, because it wound up totally jammed. So instead, we took seats in the dining car, ate scrambled eggs, and nursed coffee for three hours rather than camping in the train hallways. We circled the town square a bit before finding the pregame party, where our buddy Jon regaled us with the story of how he found out playing jump rope with an industrial sprinkler is a bad idea.

The walk to and through the train station that day was incredible. Hundreds of us, taking over city traffic, which included Jon shouting “YEAH! WE’RE THE DEVILS!” at every taxi we passed. (Gotta support the team). We packed multiple trains to the stadium, singing the whole way. Pregame rallies, btw, were really the only occasion we could trot out more than a couple songs; in the stadium, it was hard to get much more than standard “USA!” chants together. It was also hard to get everyone wearing the same color. While US fans in the know wear red and try to get everyone else to come along, the problem is twofold: The men’s team does not routinely wear a red jersey (the red away kit belongs to the women’s team), and “screw you guys I’ll wear what I want” honestly is the American way. I will say this, though: If you’re gonna wear a club jersey, could you at least make sure it’s red/white/blue if not straight up red, and if it’s got a name and number, have it be a US player’s name and number?

On the way into the game, we ran into Mr. “If I Haven’t Ruined Your Team Yet, Press F5″ himself, Thomas Rongen. He was wearing this fucking rad Bearbrick US Soccer t-shirt I have got to have, and took a photo with us. My pal Evan kept running into Heydude, and gave him scarves. The World Cup is all about running into people like that.

Then it was gametime, and after the game HEY LOOK THAT DOG HAS A PUFFY TAIL

We shared a compartment on the train on the way back to Frankfurt that night with a couple of guys from Tampa, one of whom now lives in Boston, and whose girlfriend lives across the street from us. We got back to Kirn around midnight, and spent the next day packing up and sleeping it off.

Saturday, we decided to do one more round of souvenir shopping in Köln, which turned out to be a great plan. Everything that wasn’t open the first time we were there was, and the streets were packed because it was the day of the Germany/Sweden game. We had an early dinner at a restaurant right at the foot of the town Fan Fest, and could follow the game by the crowd noise. It was here that we realized that Kirn/Barenbach had a very charming quality that can best be described as “lack of air horns and whistles.” Being able to go home every night to the darkness and relative silence of the countryside was quite nice. That night, our train back to Kirn was packed, so naturally a couple gutter punks with a Vaio decided to treat their fellow passsengers to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass’s Whipped Cream and Other Delights. Seriously, it was hysterical–you just sat there thinking “is this someone’s ringtone? No, wait, it’s not stopping…hey, wait, that’s ‘Spanish Flea,’ what the hell?”

Sunday, the 25th, it was time to pack up and get the hell back to Boston. We flew via Montreal, on a very nice Air Canada 767, good seats, plenty of food, wouldn’t hesitate to take those guys again. However, having to go through both Canadian and US Customs and recheck our bags in Montreal was kind of a drag; had our flight to Boston not been delayed, we probably would have missed it. At least we knew our bags had the time to make the connection. We got stuck in the airport in Montreal for three hours thanks to weather on the east coast fucking up all the air traffic, but at least we rated better than the guys going to Newark, whose plane was so delayed they had to find another one to use, plus, well, they were going to Newark. We got back to Boston around 11, got dinner, and got home just about midnight, too wiped to do much besides feed the cat and the fish before going straight to bed.

So that was my World Cup trip. Damn right I’m headed to South Africa in 2010. This trip has Mike and I thinking that if Ireland (his dad’s a dual citizen) qualify for Euro 2008, we just might go. In the meantime, it’s back to the Revs and back to watching how our boys tune up over the next four years, because we want to be in that number when the Yanks go marching in.

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