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High-alert, low-threat: A report from Cologne

German authorities and football teams have warned for days of increased security at Bundesliga matches after attacks in Paris. In Cologne on Saturday, that meant a lot of waiting to get patted down. Milan Gagnon reports.

For three minutes two hours before Cologne played Mainz Saturday, it looked like something had happened. Traffic pulled to the side on Cologne's Alter Militärring street and pedestrians skipped through crosswalks as police in minivans, hatchbacks and unmarked cars tore up the road, sirens blaring, blue lights swirling. But false alarm, or at least nothing to be alarmed about: It was just the visiting fans showing up en masse and the police looking to head off any trouble. "This is nothing new," said a Mainz fan who had slunk off to a nearby bench, not wanting to stand in line to get his ID checked by the officers on foot and horseback.

Cologne had told visitors to expect something, something new, at Saturday's Carnival derby match between the Rhineland rivals. Three days before, the team had issued a "Notice to the Mainz Match," warning that Cologne would "significantly raise the presence of law enforcement for the upcoming fixture." The team encouraged "every citizen to take responsibility for himself and his fellow man, and to report anything significant to the police." In different words, the same admonishment was given by teams across the Bundesliga; the attacks in Paris had happened just last week and the national team had come under threat in Hanover Tuesday. German football would return on Saturday but might never be the same.

From the looks of it, that meant that you could still BYO up to the gates, find relief in nearby bushes and puff a joint on the periphery, but you would eventually be fairly thoroughly patted down and your selfie stick would not be allowed. Oh, and you would wait forever for that pat down.


Two weeks ago, before 130 people were killed in Paris, including several outside a match between the French and German national teams, fans could show up at the gates 30 minutes before kickoff and have time to grab a beer before the coin flip. Several thousand of the 46,700 people in official attendance on Saturday seemed to count on that still being the case. They would have missed a lot, shouldering one another cozily but uncomfortably on their left and right, and smooshed even less comfortably crotch-to-bum from the back and front. They breathed their neighbors' nicotine in clouds of secondhand smoke, caught contact buzzes off one another's breath. Neck-nibblingly near, they shouted "Wir wollen rein!" (We want in!) as those who had heeded the club's advice to come early were observing a moment of silence for the Paris attacks inside.

An American from North Carolina at the game with his son, a budding footballer himself, didn't disagree with the measures, though he found their implementation disagreeable. He said friends just north in the more reliably Bundesliga city of Gelsenkirchen had decided not to go to Saturday's main-event matchup between Schalke 04 and Munich because they felt it too high-profile. He could endure the security line, he said, he'd brought a beer.

The "presence of law enforcement" seemed confined to perimeters. Private security policed the stadium, administering brisk frisks, directing fans to seats; there were rented sniffer dogs, and uniformed guards in the toilets. Bundesliga clubs had asked fans not to bring pyrotechnics and it appeared that no one had in Cologne. For a couple of minutes in Saturday's second half, it seemed like the guards would have been better off frisking the Mainz 05 players for bad intentions before they laid a couple members of the home team flat; Yoshinori Muto even earned a yellow card for his rough play. But, other than that, not even a goal was scored, in stark contrast to the 21 combined in five other Bundesliga games Saturday. For 90-some minutes, the Rhein-Energie stadium was the safest place in Germany, for goalkeepers and football fans alike.

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