TV makes it seem as though for each UEFA Euro 2012 match, everyone in Berlin heads to some massive public-viewing area. But DW’s Jefferson Chase is finding that the best spots are sometimes just around the corner.
This edition of the European Football Championship did not begin well for me.
Dental work wiped out the opening day, and following a mate's advice for Germany's first match against Portugal, I found myself at one of the large, touristy beach bars on the Spree River. There, a 3.50-euro bottle of Corona in hand, I waited 20 minutes in vain for a Bratwurst (were they raising the pig?) and was battered from both sides by a conversation between two teenage girls about a guy who may or may not have been the child star of a soap opera they once had a crush on.
This was not working out. So I told mate #1 I had developed a rare nervous condition and would be heading to the hospital. Then I called mate #2 to find out where he was watching the game.
“In the restaurant downstairs in your building,” he told me. “And you better hurry ‘cause it's getting full.”
I'd never been in the bistro that opened in my house last year. It always seemed too empty, too French, too…I don't know. Any port in a storm, though. I cycled home.
There I quickly got a spot right in front of the TV screen and a pile of pretty decent oysters. The crowd was a mix of locals and Americans from a nearby hostel, both of whom seemed to understand enough about soccer not to ask why the players didn't just pick up the ball and throw it into the goal. No one screeched about soap-opera stars of yesteryear.
Germanywon. Everyone cheered. It was fun.
My evening was saved, and a plan was born. For this tournament, I was going to try out some new places. And I was going to do that without traveling more than six blocks from my building.
Home sweet home
I've lived at the same address since 1999 and generally believe I know my neighborhood, where the districts of Neukölln and Kreuzberg come together, like the back of my hand. But having been to various locations to view later matches, I now realize that there was a lot I simply didn't see.
For starters, there are roughly twice as many restaurants and bars as I thought there were, and some of them are very different from what I would have expected.
For instance, for Germany's second match against the Netherlands, I visited the bar across the street from my regular local, a newer place that I always avoided under the assumption it was only there to cash in on the area's recently acquired hipness. In fact, it's run by a Turkish father and his son and catered that night to a mixed-age and largely German public, including a 50-year-old woman sitting behind me, whose voice was an aural Doppelgänger of the provincial south-western German twang of Germany national coach Joachim Löw.
Germanywon. Everyone cheered. It was fun.
But Germany don't need to be playing, and you don't even need a bar to have a good time at this year's Euro. I had an equally good time watching the Sunday afternoon Spain-Italy match at a canal-side café that also rents out kayaks.
There are, of course, no official statistics on this, but surely Berlin is one of the few places on earth where you can get a latte macchiato and rent a kayak in one go. And why not, considering the city has 197 kilometers of waterways - something we locals often forget about.
Getting Some Fresh Air
Since all the Euro 2012 matches are shown on public television rather than private sport networks, there's no actual need to go anywhere to watch them. But Germany's strong start and some lovely summer weather during the first week of the tournament has more and more people thinking that there's no reason not to get out and join the fun.
For the Russia-Poland match, I parked myself in front of an after-hours shop that sells alcohol, newspapers, toilet paper and other necessities. There was no bar. When you needed a beer, you just went into the shop, bought one and took it back outside.
The crowd consisted of Germans, some Eastern Europeans, a couple of Turks and an African, who were content to cheer first for one side, then the other and were sharing a long and sweet smelling cigarette I suspect may not have only contained tobacco.
The whole vibe flashed me back to the mid-1990s, the heady years after the fall of the Wall and German reunification, when unlicensed bars and clubs were tolerated, and some of the best nightspots were literally holes in the ground or derelict buildings.
Minor violations of the law in public build camaraderie, and as I chatted about the match with my newfound mates-for-ninety-minutes-plus-added-time, I was very, very happy not to be packed in with tens of thousands of others, gradually getting a neck cramp from staring up from an acute angle at some monster Jumbotron screen. The beer cost nowhere near 3.50 euros, and I could choose my brand instead of having to settle for whatever brewery was the official sponsor.
What more could you want?
Small is beautiful
The number of people who avoid public viewing areas in favor of small neighborhood locations is another one of those phenomena they don't keep statistics on, so I have no way of knowing whether I'm part of a trend or not. But I don't know anyone who's heading down to the Brandenburg Gate to meld into the masses.
Obviously, lots of others are doing precisely that, and if they're having fun, more power to them. Still, I suspect just as many, if not more people all over the city, are scoping out spots that are far more chilled out.
Ahead of the Germany-Netherlands match a friend of mine from another neighborhood rang for some advice about where she and a group of friends should go to watch the game.
“You're a sports journalist,” she said. “So I thought I'd call an expert.”
I told her to stay close to home, set out with plenty of time left before kick-off and just see where the city leads her.
I hope she took my advice and had a good time. In my experience, the great thing about Euro 2012 in Berlin has been getting to see a city I know so well with a fresh pair of eyes.
Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Kate Bowen