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Soccer steals the show in Frankfurt


Visit the Photo Place
Date published: 8/20/2002

By DAVE SMALLEY

ON THE STREETS OF FRANKFURT, bedlam reigned. Turkey had just won its quarter- final match in the World Cup, and tens of thousands of Turks poured out onto the streets- horns blaring, Turkish flags waving, people dancing. Traffic was at a standstill. Turkish music blasted from a thousand car stereos, audible only when the horns had ceased their triumphant blasts for a quick second.

Who were all these people, I wondered. Were they Turks first or Germans? I asked a German if they had gone as absolutely bananas when Germany had won its matches and he smiled bitterly. “Of course not,” he said. “They are Turkish first, and we Germans don’t forget this.” Geopolitics came into human form before my very eyes.

It’s hard to escape the feeling that the many thousands of Turkish people here, and their German counterparts, are not big fans of the word “assimilation.” Not once have I seen a mixed group of Germans and Turks. One German kid at a show of ours told me that, “If Turkey had reached the finals against Germany, it would have been civil war.” There was no smile on his face when he said it, either.

Some days later, and now Germany has lost the championship match of the World Cup, to the Brazilians. We drive into Bremen just as the match is over. Germans walk out of pubs and restaurants with grim, even stunned looks on their faces. But then, something happens. People begin to honk their horns in celebration of their team taking it this far. German flags wave, and people shout out in support of their team.

It’s like the scene in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” when the Grinch steals all the presents from the Whos, but fails to conquer the spirit of Whoville’s residents. The Germans might have lost the brass ring, but they are proud of their players.

That night at the concert, the mood in the audience is somber but not abjectly depressed. One drunken German man corners me and insists on talking at length about soccer-er, sorry, football, as they call it here.

“Man,” he says in a boozy breath, “you Americans got to the quarter finals this year. You played really good football.”

I nod in agreement, looking subtly for the security guard and wondering how this guy got in the dressing room.

“Before this, I thought America was just [expletive deleted]. Now I think your country is OK,” he slurs. “Germany was lucky to beat the U.S. this time. And in four years, we will win this championship. That is all that matters, man.”

Football, apparently, is the socio-political guideline for the modern era.

Forget the politicians, forget Marx or capitalism-it all comes down to how one’s team does on the soccer field. Maybe the politicians should take notice. All the theory in the world means nothing to the average person.

What the masses want, as the ancient Romans found out long ago, is bread and circus.

-D.S.