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Football for purists

June 18, 2010

No one wants to watch World Cup matches at home, and there are thousands of places to go to see them. The trick is to find somewhere that's not completely irritating. Fortunately, Berlin still has some safe havens.

Scene in Berlin
Image: DW

The World Cup is a fantastic event for everybody - everybody, that is, except hardcore football fans.

Every four years - or two, if one counts the European Championship - the whole of Berlin suddenly takes an interest in the sport and infringes on the warm, smoky, beer-fume-fueled niche that we devotees have carved out for ourselves.

Suddenly, we're confronted with the prospect that our favorite bars may be filled to capacity with strangers who talk about day-care during matches and think catenaccio is a flavor of ice cream.

The list of no-go areas is long: anywhere designated as a public viewing area, anywhere that associates itself with the words "family-friendly," "multi-cultural" or indeed "culture," anywhere where a large beer costs more than 2.50 euros and people have trouble remembering whether they drink pilsner or wheat, and any place where the ratio of iPhones to betting slips exceeds 1:1.

Escape from hell

"Hell is other people," Jean-Paul Sartre famously remarked. What he meant to say was: "Hell is other people with vuvuzelas."

Fortunately, this is Berlin, and in Berlin there's always a rabbit hole to disappear down.

Case in point: last Tuesday. On my way back from work, I stopped off outside a corner store where the owner and a handful of patrons had set up a TV to watch the Cameroon-Japan match.

Nice folks, all from Cameroon, and I bought a beer in the shop and had a good time commiserating with them over the Indomitable Lions' utter failure to live up to their name.

That evening it was off to an Italian restaurant, not the posh sort you might find in the districts of Prenzlauer Berg or Mitte, where a prosciutto-and-melon costs an hour's wage, but an unassuming joint in family-unfriendly, proudly non-cultural Neukoelln.

That's the trick to enjoying the World Cup as a football fan. Go someplace you wouldn't ordinarily, where foreigners are likely to be screaming for one of the teams, and you'll minimize the number of people who want to make you punch them in the face.

Off the beaten path

The restaurant beer garden was packed with crazies, and the match was shown on Italian TV, meaning I didn't even have to put up with the inane commentary that German broadcasters feel compelled to inflict on anyone wishing to watch the action and get drunk in peace.

I didn't understand a word of anything of course, but cheered along when Italy got their goal against Paraguay - I'd predicted a 1-all in our office pool.

After De Rossi's late strike, the reaction of the two women sitting in front of me left no doubt that they were a couple. I have to admit, that forced me to revise my usual loathing of Italian football. Italy is, in many respects, a conservative country, but a nation where even lesbians can enjoy such a male bastion of entertainment can't be all bad.

Is that a multi-cultural experience? I don't know, and I don't care. My strategy for the World Cup worked, and so if you own a downscale Spanish tapas bar, Danish hotdog stand or Mexican taqueria in the German capital, you'd best be on your toes.

I'll be showing up soon.

Jefferson Chase has wasted years of his life watching football and plans to continue to do so.

Editor: Kate Bowen