Archive for Thursday, July 13, 2006

Guest column: World Cup trip worldly experience for De Soto pair

July 13, 2006

Early Saturday afternoon found us wandering the streets of Munich surrounding the main train station. In typical tourist fashion, I was taking pictures, mostly of the architecture, with my son Duncan complaining every time I tried to include him.

The train station itself was an unbelievable flurry of activity. In Munich that afternoon at 4 p.m., Germany was playing Sweden in the first match of the second round, and there was a non-stop parade of fans going to the big game. The proverbial electricity was in the air, to put it mildly.

The yellow and blue of Sweden was well represented, but they were literally drowned out by a sea of black and red and yellow. Throngs of the Deutschland faithful just kept coming, and I think most of them were blowing horns and whistles and merrily singing. Quite a few of them appeared to have gotten a pretty good start on consuming large quantities of their favorite lagers and pilsners, but everyone was in a festive mood and making the most of it.

I was mesmerized by the ordeal. This was definitely part of the ambience I was seeking. Noticing these vast quantities of alcoholic beverages being consumed, I do recall thinking at the time, "Boy, I sure hope Germany wins!"

Everything was right in the world because Germany did win that Saturday afternoon, and all those drunken German fans just kept singing. We watched the game in the lobby of our hotel, a nice little area just off the street.

With Duncan and I representing the good ol' U.S. of A., there were also two Canadians, one German, two English guys, two older Italian gents and three hotel employees (I assume German) all watching the game together. People walking by outside would stop and peer through the glass or poke their head in to see what the score was.

The atmosphere there in the hotel lobby was pretty relaxed, because most of us didn't really care who won. We were just enjoying the show. But it was hard not to be rooting for Germany, because after four days in their country, I felt very welcome and comfortable. People really were being friendly.

The pilsner I was sampling was quite good so I must have had two, and after the match a nap seemed to be in order so we headed up to our room. I came to Germany for the atmosphere and like it or not, that meant a complete lack of air conditioning, except in the most modern of buildings and five star hotels.

I believe ours was rated a three. But the windows did swing wide open, it was bug free and it had started to cool off pretty nicely.

I woke up about 8:45 p.m. ready for something to eat, and to watch Argentina square off with Mexico at the top of the hour. Duncan however, was not to be bothered. He simply was not going to get up.

As I flipped channels, only actually understanding the BBC, I could hear a kind of din or clamor going on outside, albeit fairly subdued because of the fact our window was overlooking an enclosed courtyard. With 9 o'clock quickly approaching, I decided to go out and get us some food and let Duncan sleep. I wrote him a note on the unlikely event he would actually wake up.

I walked up to the train station, bought some sandwiches and walked back. Gone maybe 15 minutes, I could have spent hours. The sounds and sights of the streets were almost magical. Cars were honk-honk-honking everywhere, with nine out of 10 of them decked out with their black, red and yellow flags. Many of the Germans were still singing, seemingly lost in the obliviousness of their happiness.

Almost every block had at least one, if not two, outdoor sidewalk cafes. The proprietors had run power cords out and had set up TV screens under umbrellas.

In addition to the sidewalk cafes, each block was lined with multiple small shops offering food or haircuts or internet services, etc., all of which had their TVs tuned into Argentina versus Mexico, which had just started.

I could literally walk along the street and follow the game, shop by shop. Somehow I did miss Marquez score for Mexico five minutes in, but I heard it loud and clear from the cheers and shouts which immediately sprang forth. I hurried up to the next sidewalk cafe to watch the replay.

I noticed that at each of the sidewalk cafes, there was not a seat to be had, with many people, like myself, standing and watching. I moved on across the street and trolley tracks to the main train station. Here people were hanging out, waiting for their trains I suppose, but the atmosphere was still a generally euphoric feeling that Germany had won. You could definitely sense the nationalistic pride and they certainly had every reason to celebrate.

As I ordered our sandwiches, I "heard" rather than saw Argentina equalize, scoring the tying goal only 10 minutes into the game. Again there was a sudden, collective yell that rose from the groups following the game on the various televisions scattered throughout the concession area. I grabbed the food and headed back for the room. The same street scenes were repeated as I meandered slowly back, taking it all in, watching the game shop by shop.

I ducked past the lobby with only an obligatory glance at the screen, still 1-1. Duncan didn't budge when I came in, nor did he budge when I told him to get up and eat.

I let him sleep. I finished my meal and settled in, making myself comfy, and continued watching what was proving to be a pretty good game. I was rooting for Mexico, who was playing tough against the favorite, and it was a hard fought match that remained tied until the end of regulation.

It was of course dark out by now, and I had turned the lights out, and there was a nice breeze that was making it quite comfortable. Looking out over the courtyard, I could see the flickering light of TV sets through some of the windows, and it wasn't very difficult to imagine what they were watching, especially as I could hear a collective cry or gasp arise from throughout the neighborhood after every close play.

Although the reality was that I was alone in my hotel room watching a soccer match -- unless you count the person snoring -- my slowly evolving perception was that I was not alone, but connected to something much larger, something much more significant.

It wasn't just me watching from my lonely hotel room. It was the entire neighborhood.

It was the entire city, and the entire nation. It was -- almost -- the entire world.

It was kind of an eerie feeling.

What happened next completely cemented the feeling and perhaps gave me a small shred of understanding.

About 11:15 p.m. or so, and maybe eight minutes into overtime, Argentina scored what can arguably be called the best goal of the 2006 World Cup.

Maxi Rodriguez took about a 30-yard pass out of the air with his chest, and then one-time volleyed it left footed over the outstretched goal keeper's fingers into the far upper 90.

All that really means is that it was truly unbelievable, especially considering the timing and circumstances. But what will always remain etched in my memories is the incredible sound that arose in that downtown Munich neighborhood and came crashing through my fifth-floor window.

I jumped to my feet, yelling in excitement.

I imagined the Argentina faithful jumping for joy and going crazy with exhilaration.

I could sense the Mexicans painfully extracting the knife blade that had just been cruelly plunged into their collective hearts. And I knew there were millions more, just like me, who were just making noise having witnessed a magical moment.

Whether of joy, or pain or just amazement, it was a cry that I know circled the globe like a giant tidal wave. Maybe it was one of those things where you just had to be there, but in this case, you were. It truly was the entire planet.

With the match over and Argentina advancing, Duncan finally woke up and asked what happened.

He ate his sandwich and five minutes later was back asleep. I watched TV for a short while, but still couldn't understand the language.

I read my book for awhile, but my thoughts kept drifting as the still discernable sounds of horns honking and the distinctly European wailing of polizei sirens wafted in along with the breeze through the open window.

Perhaps I was dreaming by this point, but somewhere, out there in the night, along with the other slowly dying sounds, a happy German was still singing.

Doug Henderson and his son, Duncan, attended the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Doug, a local soccer enthusiast, offered to share his experience with The Explorer.

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