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Euro 2024: German efficiency exposed as a myth

Tom Gennoy Gelsenkirchen
June 21, 2024

Football fans visiting Euro 2024 host cities have been shocked by the difficulties and delays in getting to and from matches in Germany. Some describe the situation as a "nightmare".

Fans wait for a train after a match in Gelsenkirchen
Italian and Spanish fans had to wait for hours to get out of Gelsenkirchen after the matchImage: Thomas Gennoy/DW

It's approaching midnight on Thursday evening and tens of thousands of Spanish and Italian supporters are filing meekly over a footbridge towards the Arena AufSchalke tram station. The Italians are in the downcast mood you'd expect them to be, having spent the evening watching their team be pinned back, outplayed and shown up. Oddly though, the victorious Spanish seem miserable too.

Beneath them, every five minutes or so, a tram sidles along and loads before heading off, at a snail's pace, towards the city center. Occasionally, from a ground-level section of the station so far removed and so poorly signposted that few here even realize it's an option, a parked bus shows sudden signs of life, huffs open its doors, fills up with fans and rumbles off to join a nearby traffic jam.

At these irregular and infrequent intervals, the crowd shuffles forward a few meters, barely diminished, before resuming what feels like it could be an interminable wait. Why are there so few vehicles? Why is this taking so long? Why is it happening all over again?

General sense of disorder

The first fans to be subjected to this ordeal were those who watched England against Serbia last Sunday, the first of four Euros matches to be hosted at this ground. Many spent over an hour packed into tight crowds on the footbridge approaching the station. Hundreds opted to walk for miles back into the city center or neighboring towns rather than face the wait, or the crush. Further problems awaited at Gelsenkirchen's central station, with overcrowding on platforms and miscommunication from operators adding to the overall sense of disorder. 

DW spoke to employees of local transit company Bogestra, who were proud of the progress they'd made since Sunday. DW also spoke to supporters who, on hearing that organizers considered Thursday's showing an improvement, were left aghast.

 Alvaro Morata of celebrates following Spain's win
Spain have won both of their Euro 2024 matches so farImage: JESPER ZERMAN/BILDBYRÅN/picture alliance

"Improvements to what?" asked Finn, a young Scottish supporter who'd just made it back to Gelsenkirchen central station at 1 a.m., a full two hours after the fulltime whistle.

"Up on that footbridge it was so narrow, we were packed in there like sardines," he said.

Empty car park

Two hours earlier, groups of supporters could be seen scrambling up steep muddy banks to the footbridge in question, having taken a wrong turn upon leaving the ground. They were then forced to clamber over railings to access the walkway, which is overlooked by a vast multistory car park. The car park was almost entirely empty on Sunday as well as on Thursday.

"When Schalke play, lots of people come with their cars," a police officer pointed out to DW on Sunday. But while the car might be a viable mode of transport for supporters arriving from nearby places like Wattenscheid or Herne, it hardly makes sense for those who call Milan or Madrid home.

Extra trams little comfort for frustrated fans

A spokesperson for the city of Gelsenkirchen told DW that for the match between Serbia and England, twice as many trams were in service as there would be for a Schalke home game. English and Serbian fans who were caught in the chaos will take little comfort from this assertion.

Given the tram network's limited overall capacity, and the obvious dependence of visiting supporters at the Euros on public transport, 9 p.m. has proven to be a problematic kickoff time for matches at this stadium. On two occasions, 50,000 fans seeking to leave simultaneously have highlighted the inability of the infrastructure to cope, causing no shortage of anguish or discomfort to weary supporters.

Questions might be raised about the choice of Gelsenkirchen as a host city. Cities like Nuremberg, Bremen or Hanover all have large, modern stadiums, but were overlooked.

But fans have faced issues in other locations as well. DW has spoken to Scottish supporters who experienced chaotic travel conditions in Munich, Cologne and elsewhere since their arrival in Germany, with unexpected and unexplained train delays the main source of frustration.

"The atmosphere has been fantastic, but the transport system has been a nightmare," said Davey, who regularly attends Scotland's away matches around Europe.

"Every train seems to be running late."

The myth of German efficiency

Germany's reputation for efficiency has suffered over the past week. Visiting fans have been frequently disappointed, while foreign press outlets including the "New York Times" have drawn attention to shortcomings, disabusing their audiences of outdated stereotypes about the country. If it weren't for the riveting football and the explosive atmosphere that Euro 2024 has seen so far, transport failures and poor organization might have dogged the tournament's image more severely.

Gelsenkirchen, however, is yet to host a classic. Few scenes from England's labored victory over Serbia will feature prominently in the tournament's highlight reels, and Spain versus Italy failed to measure up to its billing. Portugal and Georgia have some heavy lifting to do if the Arena AufSchalke is to stage any standout moments before the group stage is complete. After that, only a single round-of-16 fixture remains. This may well be a relief for fans and organizers alike.

The football has failed to shine here in the heart of the Ruhr Valley, and so too has the organization. Problems have abounded in plenty of cities around the country, but nowhere has been the epicenter of more chaos than here. The myth of German efficiency is being buried, and Gelsenkirchen is the graveyard.

Edited by: Matt Pearson