When Germany scored during extra time last night, boisterous cheers erupted from the thousands gathered at a huge outdoor public viewing in Berlin. Illegal fireworks boomed. When the victory over Argentina in the World Cup final was official, tears of joy streamed down the faces of happy fans, smearing the German flags painted on their cheeks. Hugs and high-fives were exchanged all around. In unison, the crowd started up German songs and chants. People waved black, red, and gold flags and tossed pom-poms in the air. The streets became a giant party, blocking traffic and sending street trams back in the direction from which they came.
It was something like a combination of the Red Sox winning the World Series and the Fourth of July in Boston, but with a lot fewer police barriers.
Prior to this summer, I’d never paid any attention to soccer. But for the duration of the World Cup this year, I was in Berlin and traveling around Europe. Walking around German cities the last few weeks, I could sense the superfandom of the general public. Posters, advertisements and Coke bottles featured German team members. People wore black, red, and gold luaus and facepaint on the game days. After Germany won a match, I heard teenage girls screaming in the subways while strangers high-fived me on the streets. I heard fireworks even after the first game of the Cup. I learned that people in Germany drive to Poland to buy fireworks for World Cup celebrations, the same way people in Massachusetts drive to New Hampshire before the Fourth of July.
I wasn’t planning to watch any of the matches, and I tried to avoid it at first, but I quickly realized this would be almost impossible. It seemed that each and every business in Berlin had at least one TV showing the games. Restaurants and bars with patio seating put TVs outside, too, so patrons could view the games outside and passersby could check the score at all times. Numerous outdoor public viewings were put on with giant projector screens. At some of these events, people BYOB and watch the game for free. The place I went for the final was called Kulturbrauerei and they charged a three-Euro entry fee and checked bags for outside drinks.
At another public viewing location, which I didn’t get the chance to see in person, Berliners brought their own sofas to set up a massive “outdoor living room’’ in an old stadium filled with more than 850 couches in front of a big screen. There’s a place in Berlin known as “the fan mile’’ at Brandenburg Gate, which accommodates hundreds of thousands of Germany superfans watching a game — and it often fills up well before the games start.
The first public viewing I went to was at a bar in Berlin, where I sat at an outdoor table next to a group of middle-aged guys who were honking a plastic horn at the TV and screaming and hollering as if it were the final championship game. Of course not everyone is a soccer fan, but many of those who don’t normally watch it come out for some World Cup games. I watched the 7-1 game against Brazil in Hamburg. Neighbors set off fireworks for the first four or five goals. When they didn’t set off any more, my host told me they probably had more, but they would be saving them for Sunday. That’s when I first made a joke that I should come back to Berlin for the final. I never thought I actually would. I was supposed to take a train from Amsterdam to Prague, arriving on Sunday morning. One day before my trip, I decided I would get off the train in Berlin, in part because I wanted to watch the final game there.
Yes, I got sucked in to German soccer fandom, the same way I get really into playoff baseball and hockey at home when the Red Sox or Bruins are doing well.
From what I understand, people back home also caught World Cup fever, but I wasn’t there to witness it. I heard about Mayor Walsh setting up public viewings at City Hall Plaza and read enough Facebook statuses to get a sense of the excitement. I Skyped with a friend back home a few days after the US was eliminated, and I laughed when she said, “I don’t care about soccer anymore.’’ Now that the Cup is over, I probably don’t care about soccer anymore either. But I do care about “Fussball,’’ as they call it here.