A group of students is hoping to get Germans warmed up for the 2006 World Cup by piecing together a “National Pitch” made up of squares of turf from over 5,000 soccer fields. Location? Right in front of the Reichstag.
The project would bring soccer to the heart of Berlin.
It still may be three years to go until Germany hosts the World Cup, but preparations for soccer’s greatest event are already well underway. Stadiums are being refurbished and facilities upgraded. The sport’s governing body FIFA has even sent a giant soccer ball on tour around Germany’s main cities to get the public fired up.
But for a few enterprising Berlin students, the traveling FIFA ball and its exhibits isn’t enough to spread a good case of “football fever” around the country. Their idea? Create a so-called “National Pitch” consisting of 5,888 pieces of lawn from different German soccer fields.
The Nationalfeld, as the project is called in German, would then be assembled on the lawn right in front of the Reichstag on the Platz der Republik. “There’s no other so worthy place in Germany. It’s got to be there,” Marc Friedrich, one of the project’s organizers told DW-WORLD, explaining how the central location would help get people excited and feel involved in the country’s first World Cup since West Germany hosted the event in 1974.
The lawn wedged between the Reichstag -- Germany’s parliament building -- and the residence and office of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder actually has a history of being used for local soccer scrimmages. But unfortunately that may not necessarily bode well for Friedrich’s project, since the sports fans were evicted from the space in a row with Berlin city officials hoping to make it a well-kept green area at the heart of the capital.
Problems on the pitch
“We’re aware there were some problems in the past with soccer there, but we didn’t have anything to do with that,” Friedrich said, adding the project was meant to be of a temporary nature only for the World Cup. “After that it would be back to normal.”
Joachim Zeller, the local councilman in charge of Berlin’s Mitte district where the pitch would be built reportedly called the idea of bringing soccer back to the Platz der Republik a “bad joke.” But city spokeswoman Karin Rietz said his criticism was solely focused on the feasibility of the project.
“From what I understand you can’t really play on a pitch that’s made up of lots of separate pieces -- I believe that’s what Mr. Zeller was referring to,” said Rietz.
However, considering the pitch isn’t meant to be used for regulation matches, it’s doubtful many hobby soccer players would have objections to kicking the ball around a checkerboard field with grass from all corners of the nation.
Friedrich, a 31-year-old sports science major, said the pitch would be used for exhibition games and for other events designed to get normal people behind the ball. The project, estimated to cost around €2.5 million ($2.9 million), would include a steel and concrete structure framing the pitch.
Although the Nationalfeld hasn’t even been approved yet, at least three soccer clubs have already pledged a 1.22 meter by 1.22 meter square of turf for the field. The students have also received encouragement from high-profile soccer fans like ZDF television match commentator Johannes B. Kerner.
The nation’s top soccer aficionado -- Chancellor Schröder -- has yet to make his views on the Nationalfeld know. And his opinion could end up being key, especially since the project would end up being built in his front yard.