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'Temple' to German football opens in Dortmund

Hyped as a pilgrimage site for football fans, Germany's DFM soccer museum opens amidst a sticky World Cup corruption scandal. Expect holograms, testosterone and a fairly quick trip, says DW's Milan Gagnon.

Dortmund, the municipal motto goes, "will surprise you" - a don't-overdo-it goal for a city that underdoes it.

Germany's soccer organization, DFB, even managed to live up to that motto, erecting a 36-million-euro ($41 million) temple to itself across from the city's main station without making it look overdone. The much-awaited museum opens on Sunday (25.10.2015).

About half the money to build the German Football Museum, known as DFM for short, came from the state of North Rhine-Westphalia; sponsors and income from the 2006 World Cup covered the balance. "The wish to preserve the memory of the once-in-a-lifetime experience in an attractive form was the clincher for giving football a permanent public space," representatives write of the DFM's origins in 2006. "With the earnings from the tournament, the DFB set out to create this museum."

Adding to the suspense ahead of the opening, newsmagazine "Der Spiegel" alleged last Friday that Germany had "bought" the opportunity to host the 2006 international soccer championship. At a press conference at DFM this week, DFB President Wolfgang Niersbach assured that Germany had not paid bribes to host the event: "There were no slush funds," he said. "No votes were bought." Then he left for Zurich to repeat that statement to FIFA officials.

Deutschland Wolfgang Niersbach Eröffnung Deutsches Fußballmuseum in Dortmund

'No votes were bought,' says Wolfgang Niersbach of the 2006 World Cup

Dortmund: The heart of German soccer

Not only are the corruption allegations behind its source of finding now stirring discussion, but the museum's location in Dortmund in the heart of the populous Ruhr Valley is also no coincidence.

Most of Germany's Ruhr region roots for Dortmund's BVB club, a perennial Bundesliga contender that watched celebrity coach Jürgen Klopp leave for Liverpool earlier this month. Fellow Champions Leaguers Schalke 04 play a 30-minute train ride away in Gelsenkirchen. Bundesliga teams Cologne, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Bayer Leverkusen are also fairly close, with second-league side VfL Bochum also in the neighborhood.

With Dortmund at the nexus of Germany's major east-west and north-south rail routes, many of the DFM's projected 270,000 annual pilgrims could visit on stopovers at the station across the street. The average German is a football fan, and the surprises of Dortmund are eventually on every German's way somewhere.

That was it?

Visitors will not only be surprised, as promised, by Dortmund - they'll be astonished by the DFM's 17-euro admission for adults who don't book online. Fork it over to ride an escalator meant to simulate the Sunday ascent to the tribune.

Speakers reproduce the hoots and chants one hears in the stands; caricatures, celebrity cameos among them, along the walls wear the kits of Germany's best-loved teams. Spoiler alert: A doodled Angela Merkel orders the national team to victory up top.

And then it's more or less the main event, what museum boss Manuel Neukirchner promises as a combination of "text and media, with sound and style, with light, with sound, with three-dimensional images."

The first room celebrates the paunchy white men who won Germany's 1954 World Cup - a stark contrast to the ultra-fit and multiethnic Mannschaft of 2014, whom we will see over and over again. Beyond a long dim hall iconizing game balls and artifacts lies the DFM's softly flaring orb, the clear focal point of the first level. Four meters (13 feet) in diameter and rather nifty, the glowing globe takes the form of a football when not offering cinema-in-the-sphere scenes from Germany's 2014 World Cup championship.

Study up before you go

After blowing its guests away, the DFM immediately offers another film, narrated by holograms of the 2014 team. The players, presumably recognizable on sight by the target demographic, are not labeled for the uninitiated, a choice that seems rather insular and anti-informative for a museum that aims to serve a broad general public. And why make two films about the same team, love them though Germans do, using highlight footage fans can find on YouTube?

Deutsches Fussball Museum in Dortmund, Copyright: DFM

How much do you know about football? Test your knowledge here

In the Schatzkammer, or treasure chamber, replicas of decades of men's trophies are individually encased. Next up, the training and tactics room, where consoles quiz visitors on, for example, whether their dietary habits leave them too feeble for football - the display directs the deficient to the supermarket Rewe, a DFM sponsor, to meet their nutritional needs.

In the penultimate hall, a carousel slowly spins, stadium seats faced out at blooper reels playing on the wall as the speakers sputter ragtime to drive home the slapstick.

A short history of how money ruined the game is almost optionally on the periphery of the large room dedicated to the Bundesliga. Ironically brief, considering the current World Cup scandal. And a display circling the carousel efficiently at once thanks Germany's fans for their cheers and chants, while discouraging hooliganism.

What about the women?

The last room, the Hall of Fame, arrives too quickly and seems too somber after the highlights and holograms; this cylindrical room commemorates more than celebrates, with black walls displaying German names with the reverence of a war memorial.

At the DFM, hours of footage, thousands of names and 1,600 pieces of evidence testify to Germany's football prowess. Beckoned by the pulsating planetoid on the first level, one could have walked right past the dainty women's section, which sits off to the right, under the ambient strip lighting we might otherwise associate with an airport toilet.

Rather than a Schatzkammer, Germany's girls get a single case for two World Cups and eight European Championships; men's football has videos every few meters, but the museum largely portrays its women's history in still photos (and not many of them). The official suitcase of the men's national team gets more prominent placement and better lighting.

The DFM saves its biggest - and most-skippable - exhibit for last: the retired bus of the (men's) team, an up-standard Mercedes city-to-city coach with WiFi and reasonable legroom. If there's time, it's worth hopping on, if only to fractionally increase the euro-per-minute ratio of one's visit. But if you have to catch the train just across the street, you might as well give the bus a pass.

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