Page last updated at 11:59 GMT, Wednesday, 28 May 2008 12:59 UK

Football fever sits oddly with Vienna

Vienna's Hofburg Palace lit up at night (file image)

By Jonny Dymond
BBC News, Vienna

Clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop go the horses around Stephansplatz in Vienna, as tourists gaze at both the cathedral and the naff street shows.

Around the ring-road loom the great buildings of Habsburg Vienna, towering over the roads.

And across the city the big wheel turns over the legendary Prater fun-fair.

This is Vienna - formal, mannered, bourgeois, and perhaps - though don't get me wrong, I love the place - a little bit cold.

Missing from the postcard are crowds of football fans spilling through the streets - singing, chanting, dancing and possibly having the odd drink.

Comedian Dirk Sterman
If you live in a beautiful town you don't need football
Dirk Sterman

Somehow, football and Vienna do not really go together in the say way as they do in Munich, Manchester or Madrid.

Austria, which is girding its lederhosen for an onslaught of Euro 2008 fans in a week or so, has a naughty little secret - it is terrible at football.

It currently languishes 101st in the Fifa world rankings.

A petition from fans begging the national team not to participate in the coming competition, for fear of terrible humiliation, gathered 10,000 signatures.

Far from reality

German-born Viennese resident and comedian Dirk Sterman has a theory about this.

"If you live in a beautiful town you don't need football," he suggests.

"If you live in an ugly town, like Hanover or... there are so many ugly towns in Germany... you need football more if you live in an ugly town, there's nothing else to do."

Your body is so hot it drives me crazy!
Viennese fans' guide

To be fair to Dirk, he does immediately demolish this haphazard theory of footballing greatness by ruminating on the success of Real Madrid, AS Roma and FC Barcelona.

The language guide produced by cleaning products company Henkel for Euro 2008 at first sight seems similarly confused.

The novelty - and it may be thought to be a thin one - is that the guide is in German, English, and the Viennese dialect, which may have, up until now, escaped some scrutiny.

The guide is not without its usefulness. But it lurches away from reality in a startling way. Who needs to know how to ask for a "sugared sliced pancake with plum compote"?

Who asks: "Show me your beer belly"?

Who chats people up with the phrase: "Your body is so hot it is making me crazy"? (Single people, presumably).

'Deep Viennese'

I ask Henkel's Viennese PR man, Michael Sgiarovello, about the chances of the average Austrian uttering the line, maybe whilst wearing lederhosen and drinking a foaming tankard of ale, "Your body is so hot it drives me crazy!"

"Yes, it could happen," he says, laughing. "We are a very passionate nation!"

And what about the pancake with the plum compote - is it popular with the fans of Rapid Vienna?

"No," Mr Sgiaravello admits. "Maybe it's part of the programme for the women who accompany the football fans."

A football-inspired display in central Vienna
Football fever is starting to saturate the commercial landscape

The ones with the hot bodies, presumably.

It was only when I consulted some uber-Viennese that I got to the truth.

I showed the pamphlet to professional Viennese-person Erich Zib, who plays an accordion, and his "kontragitarre"-playing partner Franz Pelz.

Within minutes they were chuckling over the chat up lines.

"Hot bodies!" exclaimed one. Guffaw, went the other.

So might one use such a line, in a public house, discotheque or nightclub?

"It's possible," says Erich. "These words in this book are very deep Viennese. And there's a difference between [the language used by] a street worker, a salesman and a manager."

Leaving aside the tangled translation of street worker, it is clear that the divisions of language will remain, perhaps even deepen, whatever the best efforts of phrasebooks writers.

Thank goodness, then, that three glorious weeks of euro-fussball is coming to unite us all again.

10 things to do during Euro 2008
23 Nov 07 |  Magazine


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