When Italy won the World Cup in 2006, my father took me, then aged ten, to the Little Italy section of Manhattan to witness the celebrations. I thought it was the most electrifying experience, as I had never been to a celebratory parade before, but at the time I was too young to truly understand the significance of winning the World Cup. But tonight in Berlin gave me a whole new understanding as to what winning a World Cup can do to lift the spirits and unite a country, especially one that as recently as 25 years ago was divided in two. Seeing the joy on the German people’s faces and their emotional reactions at almost every play was something I will surely never forget.
My original plan was to attend the FIFA fan festival at the Brandenburg Gate, but upon my arrival to Berlin from Barcelona at 7 PM local time, I learned that the festival had reached capacity at approximately 5 PM, a full four hours before kickoff. Therefore they were not allowing anyone else in. So plan B had to be executed. So it was decided that watching the match at a place that would be occupied by local Germans and not foreign tourists was the best idea. Therefore, I asked the concierge at our hotel for a recommendation. He suggested a location called Kulturbrauerei in the gentrified Prenzlauer Berg district of Berlin and I hopped on the U-Bahn (Berlin’s subway system) and headed over there.
Kulturbrauerei is a brewery that encompasses a 25,000 square meter courtyard that’s made for prime World Cup viewing. Unfortunately, the pouring rain combined with the prevalence of cigarette smoke (something that I am not accustomed to at home in New York as smoking is banned in most places) was starting to bother me, so I decided to leave the public viewing space and find a nice restaurant to get dinner and watch some of the match.
Across the street from Kulturbrauerei was Pizza Nostra, a small pizza joint that was showing the match. After eating some of the most delicious pizza I have ever had, I sat down and watched the first half with about fifteen others. They were mostly quiet and only rose up at major chances, which the first half mostly failed to provide. The group held its collective breath when an errant German header sent Gonzalo Higuain through one on one with Manuel Neuer, but the group breathed a collective sigh of relief when his shot drifted wide. When Higuain’s goal was disallowed for offside in the 30th minute, the lone Argentina fan in the group revealed himself, opening himself up for some heckling for the rest of the half. The rest of the first half passed without any real incidents of note.
At halftime, the rain had stopped and I decided to make another attempt at watching at Kulturbrauerei and bid adieu to Pizza Nostra.
The atmosphere at Kulturbrauerei for the second half and extra time was very different from Pizza Nostra, and provided the most unforgettable atmosphere to watch a World Cup match that was distinctly German. The courtyard was extremely packed, and probably had around ten to fifteen thousand people at its peak. The vast majority of people had some kind of German apparel on, whether it be a jersey, face paint of draped in a German flag. The fans engaged in the typical round of German songs (which unfortunately I am not familiar with and did not understand) at various points throughout the second half. As the match went towards extra time, the faces of the people became more and more strained, hands started to be buried in faces, and the party atmosphere started to become very tense. Every scoring opportunity was met with more animated cheers or groans, as the vast majority realized that a goal before the full time interval would win the World Cup. When Miroslav Klose was substituted off in the 88th minute, it was greeted with a very sad, slow clap, as many realized this could be the last time they would see the World Cup’s all time leading scorer in a tournament match.
During the seemingly endless intermission between full time and the beginning of extra time, not a soul moved, a clear sign of the tension present. However, they did display a sense of humor by laughing when the video cameras showed Joachim Löw returning from what appeared to be a bathroom break at the end of the intermission. During the beginning of extra time, the emotions continued to escalate at almost every opportunity. The crowd screamed menacingly when they saw blood streaming down Schweinsteiger’s face. In the 111th minute, a group of ten to fifteen Argentinians situated at the front of the crowd decided to use that opportunity to reveal themselves and start waving their Argentinian flags. That would prove to be a mistake, given what would occur less than two minutes later.
It happened so quickly that I almost missed it, but André Schürrle crossed the ball into the are and it was chested down by Mario Götze who then ripped it into the back of the net.. At that moment, it felt as if the world was put on pause for a solid 30 seconds so the Germans could celebrate. Many threw their beer glasses in the air, and I was pelted by beer. A firework went off from one of the surrounding breweries as I got hugged by a stranger. At the same time I was trying to film the pandemonium unfolding before my eyes. People seemed to have forgotten that there was still another eight minutes plus stoppage time left to play and the opposition contained the most dangerous player in the world who could produce a moment of magic at any time.
Despite a free kick awarded in a relatively dangerous position deep into stoppage time, the Argentinians never looked capable of equalizing, and at the full time whistle, the celebrations really started. Couples started kissing, more fireworks were unleashed and even louder chants of “Deutschland” were sung. No one dared leave for a solid half hour, despite the pelting rain.
After the trophy presentation, I decided to make my way back to my hotel. On my way back, I witnessed more wild celebrations at the nearest U-Bahn station, as someone unleashed a firework from ten feet away from me. People were honking their cars in celebratory tunes, others were waving German flags from every possible location, and people were singing their praises of the team on the U-Bahn.