There is a wall on Köpernikerstraße that had written upon it for many years the legend “Die Grenze verläuft nicht zwischen oben und untern sondern zwischen dir und mir” – the border doesn’t run between top and bottom but between you and me. This was a redux, an updated take on an old slogan that was painted up by the same spot 30 years before. That one was flipped around though. The border on the original was not between you and me (den Völkern), but the top and the bottom.
These two, hastily knocked-up slogans towered over both the Berlin Wall and afterwards the space where the Wall used to be for a full two generations. At first they had commented on the failings of a state that needed to build bricks and mortar around it to survive and for whom equality was a lot more equal for some than for others. They then commented on the failings of a state that, despite all of its trumpeting about freedom, has increasing amounts of poverty and that is allowing neighbourhoods like the one it is in, Kreuzberg, to be torn asunder and flogged off to the highest bidder.
Those two slogans in that one spot, at different times, overlooking the Wall or overlooking the gap where it used to be were important. They reminded us where we were and how far we had, or hadn’t, come.
But now they are gone. Nike aren’t known for their subtlety – they didn’t become the behemoths that they are by shying away from making a statement – so of course for the World Cup the city is covered with their murals again. Now, overlooking the gap where the Wall used to be is an advert the size of a planet. It looms over Köpernikerstraße and is of two Brazilian footballers, toe to toe. Colours vibrate off the walls, and it stinks. It stinks up the whole district with enforced jollity, with the idea that merely gazing upon the stereotypes of Brazilian football as summed up by those platitudes you will be hearing a million and one times over the next few weeks, by imagining the samba rhythms, by letting your brain swoon at the thought of a bicycle kick and a push up bra, you can be as free as the next man.
As long as you buy the right t-shirt.
Now, normally one can ignore them easily enough, but this one, this gushing mountainside full of clichés that embodies everything that football shouldn’t be about, stinks. The lack of awareness of what they were covering over is staggering. The simple failure to comprehend that this plot of land once stood on the borders of the world, it stood on the ideological fault lines of a city where families were divided and where the follies of power were, and still are, writ large, is staggering.
We (and the Sportsdesk acknowledges that it is fully complicit in this conceit) have allowed football to be taken away from us, as we have allowed the walls of Berlin to be taken away from us. FIFA have sold the game of the people to the highest bidder and Nike have brokered the deal. This is hardly new, but to do so whilst doing a hobnail booted, foot-stomping samba all over the ideas of a city as represented by the expressions on its walls they have taken this idea ever further, and into ugly new extremes.
And Nike couldn’t give two fucks about it. The borders run ever higher between the top and the bottom as well as between the people. So I hope someone finds the paint and the time to remind us all of this, in letters 10 feet high, all over the top of this screaming paean to the corruption of football, and I hope that the legend will stay there for another lifetime, overlooking the space where the Berlin Wall used to be.
Socrates, the most beautiful footballer to have graced the earth, would back you up on it because he knew to whom the game really belonged. He’d be there for you, holding the ladder whilst smoking a fag and, with his eyes in the back of his head, keeping a look out. He’d hold the can of paint for you and clean your brushes. He’d then say to you by way of encouragement. “Go on, paint all over this bastard advert… Just do it.”