I'm not the Sportsdesk and I'm only sort of half German, but out of sheer luck – and thanks to my brother – I managed to score a ticket to Germany's first Euro 2012 match against Portugal in Lviv, Ukraine this past Saturday. I spent the last three days embedded in a troupe of German fans. What a trip it was. Most of it spent consuming beer, vodka and more beer at ridiculously low prices in the western corner of a country I knew practically nothing about. Chernobyl, Orange Revolution, Timoshenko were the keywords running through my head on the flight there, but once we arrived we were swept away by the irresistible buzz of the giant sports spectacle that had taken over Lviv – a charming old Habsburg gem of a city surrounded by an infinite number of run–down Soviet tower blocks.
Before the match we roamed the city centre – populated by thousands of Germans and Portuguese, as well as locals and a ton of Poles, all getting into the mood in the "Fan Zone". Everyone was peaceful, with not a hint of aggression - despite all the reports of racism coming out of Ukraine. The euro crisis and all the media-fabricated animosity between Germans and southern Europeans seemed a million miles away. Drunk Germans, who realised that I vaguely resembled Dortmund manager Jürgen Klopp took photos with me shouting "Der Kloppo ist da!"
The most cringeworthy thing I heard over three days was probably a song sung by a pot–bellied blabbermouth superfan from Mannheim (who had spent a total €1000 for tickets to every Germany match) in the bus to the stadium: "Dort obe ufm Berg da steht a Fabrik, da were die Fraue elektrisch gefickt (Up on the mountain there is a factory – where women are fucked electrically)." He fit the sex tourist profile perfectly, but I didn't even get a glimpse of anything suggesting sex for sale while in Lviv. The closest was stories about a dodgy table dance club visited by the N24 camera crew staying in our hotel. Our visit to a touristy bar themed around Lviv native Leopold von Sacher–Masoch in which each guest is whipped by the waitresses was pretty harmless compared to what goes on in Berlin any day of the week.
Everything in Ukraine had the impression of being finished just on time or simply not finished at all: the airport, the roads, and the stadium car park for example, meaning we had to walk about five kilometres to get there from a provisional lot in front of a Skoda dealership. In the stadium itself, the ticket scanners malfunctioned. I couldn't get it with mine and the pressure of hundreds of human bodies began to build up as frustration mounted. People started climbing over the fence until they finally opened a small gate to the side. And when they got inside, there wasn't enough beer to go around!
Before the match: warm–up, local children swirling around a giant football to some cheesy techno. Karaoke national athems. Decked in a borrowed Schweini jersey and a red-black-gold garland, I was ready for my first Germany match. And you thought the Germans were incapable of enjoying life!
It wasn't much of a game – the goalless first half a real downer – lacklustre performances from the Germans and Portuguese alike – with the Germans regressing to the plodding football of yesteryear and the world's most expensive footballer Ronaldo unable to summon any magic. Several times the announcer told off German fans for chucking balls of scrunched up paper at Portuguese players. Only when Germany's Gomez produced a beautiful header out of nowhere did the stadium atmosphere ignite. And the eerie sound of 5000 Germans roaring "Sieg!" (without the "heil" and with two arms instead of one stretched out) is enough to intimidate anyone. A cloud of smoke arose from the Teutonic corner. Addressing the German rowdies, the announcer warned: "You can support your team with applause, not fireworks." It was clear the match was over by then – despite a few tense moments like Nani's crossbar–teasing shot into nowhere.
We shook hands with melancholic Portuguese supporters who'd driven 3500 kilometres to get there, got high–fives from pro-German Poles and then spent an hour trying to find our bus on a seemingly endless trek along a brand-new yet totally unlit road. As we trudged along, dozens of empty busses sped through the hordes of disoriented fans, horns blaring. Miraculously, no one was killed. We made it to our tour bus – after I narrowly escaped a run-in with two dark–clad policemen who emerged from the woods and shouted at me as I was peeing against a tree.
I dozed to the sound of tired shouts of "Deutschland, Deutschland" on the way back to the hotel. My hangover from the night before returned. Total come-down. It was over. At least we won. And even I, neither much of a football fan nor German patriot, was glad of that.