The German football team has returned to Berlin, with the World Cup in tow. The players and coach Joachim Löw took to the stage at the Brandenburg Gate, letting their hair down at home after their Maracana triumph.
Bastian Schweinsteiger, draped all day in a German flag, thanked the crowd at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate on Tuesday, recalling his memories of the atmosphere after Germany hosted the 2006 World Cup. "But now we've come back with the trophy," the vice-captain grinned.
Captain Philipp Lahm, with the trophy in hand, told the crowd: "I've dreamed of this since I was a little kid. My first World Cup memory was 1990, of course when [then-captain] Lothar Matthäus lifted the trophy at the end."
Several players took to the mic for brief and often amusing chants or messages to the crowd - including several displays of inter-club unity, with players from rival Bundesliga sides often demonstratively walking out arm-in-arm.
Some of the fans in Berlin who were interviewed on national television showed off their new German replica jerseys, complete with a fourth star to include the 2014 victory. Not wanting to "tempt fate," only a small contingent of the jerseys were pre-produced ahead of the World Cup final - and the national supply immediately sold out on Monday. However, jersey-makers Adidas have announced that they placed a post-haste order for more than 10 million more of the replicas, which are made in China.
Löw: 'Your title too'
"Without you, we wouldn't be here at all. We are all world champions," coach Joachim Löw said from the main stage, to rapturous applause. "It was a long way to the title, and a tough one too, but we're delighted to be here with our fans."
Players then came onto the stage in groups, kicking footballs and other memorabilia into the crowd. They led rounds of cheers and took their turns in the spotlight. Fan favorite Lukas Podolski was first on the microphone, before his Arsenal teammate Per Mertesacker.
"We are simply hugely proud of this performance," Mertesacker said, adding they were also proud of their fans. "Everybody tried to do their part to motivate the team. The atmosphere this year [in the squad] was really special, and I think that's why we deserved it."
Bayern Munich defender Jerome Boateng's appearance was brief as he shouted "Hello Berlin!" in English, then "I can't hear you" in German, before finally adding: "I'm proud to be from Berlin."
Arrival at the Fan Mile
The national team arrived at the Brandenburg Gate at around 12.30 p.m. local time (1030 UTC), after a slow cruise through the city center. Players stopped to sign autographs and chat to each other, on their way to the main stage where tens of thousands had also gathered to watch every German World Cup game.
Julian Draxler and "BFG" Per Mertesacker - Arsenal fans have become rather fond of calling the lofty defender the Big Friendly German, a nod to children's writer Roald Dahl - were among the first to step out onto the balcony and wave to the masses. Lukas Podolski and five-time scorer Thomas Müller also waved as they grabbed a bite to eat.
All of the players were greeted by Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit, and were asked to sign their names into Berlin's "golden book" of honor as 2014 World Cup winners. This last formality was the final step before the start of the main event on stage.
"They have now also signed their names into the golden book. Now things can soon get started on stage," broadcaster ZDF wrote in the above Tweet.
Stopping traffic on trip through Berlin
Germany boarded an open-top truck in Berlin on Tuesday for their tour into the capital, having returned from Brazil as World Cup winners. Coach Joachim Löw cut a satisfied figure, having claimed a major title at the fourth attempt as Germany's top tactician. The 54-year-old wore a pair of silver aviator shades, chatting with various players on board. Jerome Boateng was amongst the revellers, sharing a shot of himself and Mesut Özil taking in the atmosphere on Twitter.
Lukas Podolski, meanwhile, shared a shot of the Jules Rimet replica on German soil.
Even the River Spree suffered something of a traffic jam as the boats slowed, seeking a look at the slow-moving procession on the waterfront. A regional train, happening to go over an overpass as the team drove past below, must have suffered a short delay as the driver stopped to give his passengers a quick look.
According to police in Berlin, a capacity crowd of around half a million people flocked to the "Fan Mile" at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, with people queuing up at dawn. Fans there watched the team's approach on a big screen, as they had Germany's seven World Cup games.
"The interest was so great that we and the organizers collectively decided to open up earlier," police spokesman Jens Berger said of the decision to start letting people in two hours ahead of schedule. "This is a really special operation for my colleagues. Of course they are also hoping to catch a glimpse of the freshly-crowned World Champions."
Sporting shades, smiles, black t-shirts with "1" in the colors of the German jersey emblazoned across their chests and even the odd bottle of beer, the team cruised towards the Fan Mile. Fans rushed or cycled alongside the slow-moving vehicle. Mats Hummels offered an onboard view via Twitter, captioning it: "Off we go!"
Touch-down in Tegel
A special staircase with four stars - for Germany's four World Cup wins - was rolled up to the plane to meet the triumphant squad. Having departed with a slight delay, the team touched down at around 10:15 a.m local time.
Captain Philipp Lahm was first off the plane, carrying the replica of the long-lost Jules Rimet trophy, with his Bayern teammate and deputy Bastian Schweinsteiger next in line, draped in the German flag.
A television reporter for ZDF asked Lahm as he disembarked if it was good to be back in Germany: "Absolutely, above all with this thing here," Lahm beamed, nodding to the World Cup. Schweinsteiger said that the whole team was "looking forward" to getting to the city center and starting the celebrations.
Lukas Podolski and Manuel Neuer both took to Twitter during the flight, enjoying some time up in the captain's cabin in a throwback to 20th-century onboard safety regulations for passengers: Podolski even sat in the business seat, albeit prior to takeoff.
Golden Glove keeper Manuel Neuer took the trophy up into the cockpit late in the flight, saying in German: "Berlin, we're coming! Just flying over Paris. It won't be long now!"
Once on the Tegel tarmac, the players boarded a bus with "1954, 1974, 1990, 2014" painted on the side, a reference to Germany's four World Cup-winning years. The German team beat Argentina 1-0 in Sunday's final, with a Mario Götze volley breaking the deadlock in extra time.
Götze, sat next to former Borussia Dortmund teammate Erik Durm, posted a "selfie" from the team bus on his way towards the Berlin "Fan Mile" at the Brandenburg Gate.
Late arrivals, however, faced disappointment as Berlin turned out in force to welcome back the players.
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