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Last Updated: Friday, 9 June 2006, 09:11 GMT 10:11 UK
World Cup fans bring Munich alive
By Laura Smith-Spark
BBC News, Munich

Munich' Olympic Park
Munich's Olympic Park will show live games on a giant screen

There is a truly international buzz in Munich ahead of the opening game of the World Cup finals.

Everywhere dotted about the crowds gathered in Marienplatz, the central square of Germany's third largest city, are the bright colours of football shirts.

Costa Ricans in red and blue wave their flags for the many television cameras, visibly excited at the prospect of the "Ticos" taking on the host team in just a few hours.

On the other side of the square, groups of Mexicans in green and red periodically burst into noisy rounds of "Ole, ole, ole, ole".

We want to help, to meet new people, to make friends, to show people that all are welcome
Philipp Koller

Meanwhile a dozen teenagers in blue Brazil tracksuits take in the sights. Over the next few days they will take part in an international five-a-side football tournament designed to bring together local sides and teams from all over the world.

And everywhere the message coming across is the same: the Germans are a friendly people and they want their visitors to feel welcome.

Home of the Oktoberfest

Bicycle taxi driver Ulrich Voight said: "At the moment there are a lot of people from Latin America - Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil, Guatemala, and the English and Australians.

Fans' excitement ahead of World Cup opener

"Business is not so good - people prefer to go by car 95% of the time - but there are a lot of nice people here who want to party."

Munich, capital of Germany's southern state of Bavaria and a traditionally cosmopolitan city where one in four residents is of foreign origin, is certainly used to putting on a show.

It is perhaps best known to foreigners as the home of the annual Oktoberfest beer festival - and, of course, the Bayern Munich soccer team.

But the night before the opening ceremony, visitors could take in the more unusual sight of a calypso band from Trinidad and Tobago giving it their all in the Olympic Park.

This is the venue where some 20,000 fans without tickets are expected to gather to watch Germany take on Costa Rica. Others will watch at dozens of big screens set up in squares, beer gardens and restaurants.

Police operation

Of course, policing a spectacle on such a grand scale and over a month-long period, is a logistical nightmare for security forces.

It is not a question of long-term preparations because with SMS messaging they [the hooligans] can organise confrontation in just a day or a few hours
Wilhelm Schmidbauer
Munich police chief

But the head of Munich's police, Dr Wilhelm Schmidbauer, told the BBC he was confident his force was well prepared for the "biggest and longest operation in Bavarian police history".

Some 7,000 officers will be deployed in Munich during the tournament, with 1,000 of those operating undercover.

But, Dr Schmidbauer acknowledged, it could still prove difficult to prevent hooligans from countries including Germany, England, Poland, Serbia, Croatia and the Netherlands arranging to fight away from the main stadiums.

"It is very difficult to foresee what will happen," he said. "It is not a question of long-term preparations because with SMS messaging they [the hooligans] can organise confrontation in just a day or a few hours."

Police will aim to tackle minor disturbances "through communication", he said, but "will proceed against those ready to use violence or hooligans with total determination".

Lending a hand

The need to prevent any potential terror attack has also been at the forefront of officers' minds during the two-year planning process for the World Cup.

Model of lion holding a football
The World Cup theme is everywhere in the city

The airspace above Munich's stadium will be closed for a 30-mile radius while matches are played, with helicopters and fighter planes on standby to be deployed if needed.

The city has "a very bitter memory" of the 1972 Munich Olympics, when Palestinian militants kidnapped and killed 11 Israeli athletes, Dr Schmidbauer said.

"At that time we were very surprised by this real shocking, inhuman mentality... but now we are prepared."

Of course, the vast majority hope that Munich's biggest policing challenge will be the more mundane one created by sheer numbers of fans converging on an unfamiliar city and sampling more of its famous beer than is wise.

And to help the lost and confused, Munich has recruited a 500-strong army of unpaid volunteers, most of them students aged 16 to 25, who have given up a month to lend a hand.

"We want to help, to meet new people, to make friends, to show people that all are welcome," said volunteer Philipp Koller.

"It's a great atmosphere. Munich is the best city in the world but now it's even better."

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