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Last Updated: Monday, 29 May 2006, 14:58 GMT 15:58 UK
Germany's bid to be perfect hosts
By Ray Furlong
BBC Berlin correspondent

Berlin's Olympic Stadium
Germany says it is well prepared for the World Cup

The group of eight-year-olds danced awkwardly from side to side, clapping their hands over their heads to the rhythm.

In front of them, a crowd of several hundred children joined in for the English language chorus: "A time to make friends, a time to have fun..." They were singing about the World Cup.

Some 27,000 schoolchildren had come to Berlin's Olympic Stadium for one of the countless events being held in the run-up to the tournament.

"I think everybody's really excited and can't wait for it to begin. I think it's a great thing for Germany," says Manon Wienert, one of the teachers with a class at the event.

Christian Roffniedner, a teacher at a Berlin primary school, agrees.

"I've got a multi-cultural class and so we have Brazilians, Turks, Greeks, Germans, and Saudi Arabians. So they're talking about the World Cup every day," he says.

Advertising banner across dual carriageway
People have this urge to be the perfect hosts - and that's so German - this urge to be number one
Anke Engelke
German comedian

"We are very proud to play host to the world. I hope we make a good impression. Maybe we can finally clear up all the clichés about the Nazis and the war."

But not everyone in Germany is this positive. As one interior ministry official who was at the event told me: "It makes a nice change to speak to people who are actually looking forward to it."

Germany has all sorts of concerns ahead of the tournament: terrorism, hooligans and an influx of prostitutes have all been raised as potential problems.

Everything 'in hand'

There have also been doubts about the safety of the stadiums, and at the Olympic Stadium this led to changes being made.

One of the top celebrities at the children's event was Anke Engelke, Germany's leading comedienne. She says Germans are taking it all too seriously.

"There's so much pressure. People have this urge to be the perfect hosts - and that's so German - this urge to be number one."

So is it a good thing that Germany is hosting the tournament, I ask? "Yes. It's an opportunity for people to show they can relax. And they're really trying!"

Germany manager Juergen Klinsmann
Is manager Juergen Klinsmann worried about the strength of the team?

The official line is that everything is in hand. Security will be top notch without spoiling the atmosphere, the stadiums are safe, and the event will be a huge success.

"Football wakes the emotions all over the world, brings people of different cultures together, and supports important virtues like fairness, team spirit and tolerance," writes Chancellor Angela Merkel on the government's World Cup website.

"The World Cup is a unique opportunity for Germany to present itself to the world as a hospitable, cheerful, and modern land of ideas."

Changing perceptions

The "land of ideas" is also the name of an official campaign promoting Germany as a centre for learning and culture. All around Berlin giant sculptures have been exhibited to make the point.

There is an oversized aspirin pill by the Reichstag, to emphasise Germany's contribution to medical science, while elsewhere huge musical notes underscore the role of German composers.

It has got nothing to do with football, of course, but perhaps that reflects the changing perceptions of the game in Germany.

Director Soenke Wortmann made a film two years ago about West Germany's World Cup triumph in 1954, underlining its importance for an emerging post-war national identity.

"Football used to be a working class game, but this has changed," he says. "There are more and more fans. Lots of women like to be involved. Intellectuals are interested in it. They like to go to the stadiums."

Unfortunately, Germany also has what is widely described as its weakest team in years. Hardly anyone here expects them to win. But that, according to Soenke Wortmann, is OK too.

"In 1954 the people were really poor and had nothing else but football. Now, they have cinema, dance, television... and anyway - the team still has a chance of going a long way.

"They are playing at home, and that can be an advantage."

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