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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 April 2006, 06:14 GMT 07:14 UK
Berlin gets into World Cup mode
The Reichstag
A football theme park is being built in front of Berlin's iconic parliament

By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News, Berlin

Germany has set out to prove at the World Cup it can be a charming host. So with two months to go, how is the warm welcome shaping up?

By adopting "A time to make friends" as the tournament slogan, World Cup organisers want national stereotypes lingering since World War II to be smothered under a friendly embrace.

Much of this responsibility will fall on Berlin, which is to host five matches plus the final in its remodelled Olympiastadion, the venue for the 1936 Nazi-era Olympics.

The tournament's opening ceremony is on 7 June at the Brandenburg Gate - the symbol of the city and its divided past.

Football merchandise
Brandenburg Gate souvenirs are joined by football memorabilia

And with weeks to go, traditional Berlin souvenirs have fresh competition in the shape of T-shirts, caps, cushions and even umbrellas for the participating football teams.

But on the city streets, there are few signs one of the world's biggest tournaments is on the horizon.

"They don't go mad about football like they do in England. It's a typical Berlin thing," says Gary Taylor, 35, who has lived in Berlin for five years and works in a souvenir shop on Unter den Linden, near the Gate.

"They don't get very excited about anything. It's a very laid-back city so they don't go over-the-top like in Cologne or Munich."

We can be a little bit rude but we have big hearts
Berliner Martina Fampel
Taxi drivers, arguably the best barometer of a city's sensibilities, explain the muted atmosphere by saying there are fears amongst Berliners about the impending arrival of hundreds of thousands of people.

Recalling conversations with passengers, Martina Fampel, 44, says: "Some of them are worried about all the people coming here, the hooligans or the people drinking too much and making difficulties.

"For me it's not interesting who the winner is, but I think it will be a big party and just about having fun.

"Berlin will do a great job. We think we are a little bit special, we can be a little bit rude, but we have big hearts."

Germany's image is not that good and we want to show we're not as bad as people think
Julia Kienbaum
Berlin tourism

Another taxi driver said he was planning to leave the city for a month to get away from the crowds. He added that restrictions on how close taxis could drive to the stadiums on match days would affect business.

There are a few hints of the party ahead, such as a 32-metre football which adorns the city's highest building, the Fernsehturm, and a giant "kicker" football game in the city centre.

There is also plenty going on behind the scenes, as organisers strive to fulfil their friendly pledge.

'Prussian discipline'

Julia Kienbaum, a Berlin tourism marketing spokeswoman, says: "Germany's image is not that good and we want to show we're not as bad as people think.

The Fernsehturm
Berlin's highest tower gets a makeover

"People think of Germans as very serious and they still have a bad impression because of the Second World War, brutal Prussian discipline and the idea we want to be the leaders of the world."

With this in mind, tournament organisers have taken the unusual step of encouraging fans without tickets to travel to Germany and watch the matches on dozens of big screens around the country, including nine screens in Berlin.

The capital is well used to hosting large numbers of people - it has 600 hotels accommodating nearly two million foreign visitors a year.

For young people who cannot get a bed, there is a "fan camp" in the capital with 2,000 tent spaces, and the city's shops are permitted to trade for longer throughout the tournament.

There is also a mile of activities planned from the Kulturforum to the Reichstag (parliament building), where a football theme park including a replica Olympic stadium is being built.

Tabloid hype

The test for whether the tournament's mission statement succeeds may lie with Germany's biggest rivals, England, who are thought to be bringing one of the largest contingents of fans, an estimated 100,000.
Table football in Berlin
Table football with a big difference

The majority will be coming to the country for the first time, a fact travel experts in the UK blame on negative imagery about the war.

This perception is intensified by British tabloid newspapers eager to portray any match between England and Germany as World War III.

But a happy experience in Germany for so many English people could begin to change attitudes. The hosts have even hired their former nemesis, England's 1966 World Cup hero Geoff Hurst, to front a campaign to entice tourists from the UK.

Christoph Biermann, football writer at Munich's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, is amazed that events 60 years ago could still shape people's thinking. All the same, he believes Germany will welcome England because the two cultures have a lot in common.

"In Germany the image of England football supporters has changed. I saw how well-behaved they were in Portugal.

"Sun protection seems to be an alien concept for a lot of them and they like to drink at 10 o'clock in the morning, but that's OK if they don't hit passers-by.

"That's what a lot of people in Germany understand. They also drink a lot and sing, so in that respect Germany and England are very close, and different from France, Italy or Spain."




SEE ALSO:
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01 Mar 06 |  Magazine


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