Jacob Sweetman on how to take back this month’s European football championships (June 10-July 10) from Berlin’s opportunistic politicians.
We are living in tumultuous times. Hell, you know that things are getting weird when even Frank Henkel, Berlin’s sports and interior minister (and a man for whom the word party is never used as a verb but as an order spat out through tightly gritted teeth) says that the good people of this city can stay up a little past their collective bedtimes to enjoy the Euro championships this summer.
Our somewhat less than avuncular would-be-mayor has decided that it is the perfect opportunity to show that he is truly a man of the people by relaxing the law on outside noise at night to allow the tournament to be celebrated and watched all over the city. So for a month, the streets will become a communal living room. TVs will blare outside of bars as people from all over the continent jabber and argue and clutch on to each other. Henkel knows that, for many, Berlin is at its happiest when it is distracted, when there is a game on.
It is a time-worn technique for politicians to hitch their coattails to a populist football wagon – every other summer, you’ll see Angela Merkel on the arm of a half-naked, half-cut, victorious national player. Henkel knows football’s power as well as anyone as he continues his campaign to become mayor in September, especially having alienated the fans of Hertha BSC by watching their rent at the Olympic Stadium double. And with the Brexit referendum taking place two days after Germany plays Northern Ireland, it will be impossible to find a politician not using the tournament’s perceived successes or failures for political capital. But they’ll all tell you how much they love the game, anyway. It gives them the common touch, they think.
It is a time-worn technique for politicians to hitch their coattails to a populist football wagon – every other summer, you’ll see Angela Merkel on the arm of a half-naked, half-cut, victorious national player.
The European Championships will be far from common, though. They’ll be big and gaudy and shining and expensive. People will be told to buy Dutch beer whilst giving their last cash left over for the electricity to an Irish bookmaker. It is the pan-European capitalist’s wet dream, everything that many try to block out, to keep their noses closed to whilst still defending the European convention of human rights.
As a tournament it is made for the likes of Henkel, but he won’t be alone and he serves merely as the punchline to this hoary old gag. The final sentence in a sorry tale that stretches back to the break with rugby and the rise of professionalism.
The official celebrations are, of course, focused on the “fan mile”, where hundreds of thousands of people will clog up the Straße des 17. Juni in a garish sea of overpriced beer and enforced schwarzrotgelb jollity, but for actual football fans the real fun will be found in the strangest of places – in the Russian bars, the Polish restaurants, wherever it is that the Welsh or the Icelanders or the Albanians go to alleviate their homesickness. It is here where the game represents, not what Henkel thinks it should with its expensive branding, cheap messages and clumsy flag waving, but a means of bringing the people of Europe together in a fashion that is all too rare. The best places to watch the games will be those you least expected to find: the darkest corners, the windiest Ufers, the crappiest and ugliest boozers where, once every couple of years, we all have something in common to talk about.
Naturally, Henkel will be stood at the door with a rolling pin twitching in his hand to tell you when the party is over like a pissed-off neighbour complaining about the dogs barking, so you should get out there and enjoy it while you can. You’ll be with friends, after all.
WHERE TO WATCH
AstraStube, Neukölln: Berlin’s best football bar (and only dedicated FC St. Pauli Fankneipe) will be showing every match.
Astra, Lido, Bi Nuu, Friedrichshain / Kreuzberg: Football mag 11 Freunde returns with their immensely popular “EM-Quartier”, featuring giant screens, special guests and even a “football street art market”.
Prater Garden, Prenzlauer Berg: The oldest beer garden in Berlin isn’t just for tourists. An appealing mix of humanity will congregate there to watch the games en plein air, pretzels optional.