Ghost Town

Okay, I surrender. Only two days into the madness, and I realize that if I’m going to write about Berlin for the next month, I have to include the World Cup. Not that I want to, but it’s really all that’s happening here, all anyone talks or thinks about. Of course, as someone who knows exactly zero about the subject, I’m both at an advantage and a disadvantage. The disadvantage is obvious: I can’t talk about the game, or the players or anything like that. I can’t have an opinion about the sport. The advantage is, all I can really attend to is the ephemera around the thing, the epiphenomena, if that’s the right word. I’m trapped inside it without being at all interested.

For instance, today. A friend asked me to join her at a church, where a friend of hers, a soprano, was giving a recital with something called the Berliner Ensemble for Old Music. So I figured sure, this would be one venue where there was sure not to be a big-screen television showing the day’s games. To get there, I walked, since nobody has paid me recently, and two Euros is too much to invest in a trip I can walk in an hour. Anyway, the weather’s gotten much nicer, and the sun was out, so why not?

The route was pretty straightforward: down Friedrichstr. to the end. (Actually, on the way down, I took a detour which added ten minutes to the walk, but that’s neither here nor there). It was pretty amazing: I left at 3, which is when the day’s first game started. The streets were largely deserted, but not entirely: there were scores of Brazilians walking around. They were there yesterday, too, when I took another shorter trip down Friedrichstr., but the ones I saw yesterday were hyping some sort of Brazilian outdoor bar with a big-screen TV, and handing out little ribbons that they said were “Brazilian good-luck charms.” Today’s Brazilians, though, were fans, singing songs, wearing stupid hats and t-shirts, and generally ogling Berlin. (And yes, it’s true: Brazilian women are impressively good-looking, even the ones who are football fans.) But the Germans — and, I guess, all the other nationalities — were inside, watching television. Or outside watching it at a sidewalk cafe. Or outdoors watching it on a huge screen in Potsdamer Platz. Friedrichstr., the part of it not talking Portugese, was deserted. Auto traffic was a fraction of normal, although many of the cars that were out were flying German flags.

Which is interesting, because 90% of the shops were open. One salutary side-effect of the WM (Weltmeisterschaft, an abbreviation I’m going to use because it’s quicker to type than World Cup, and yes, I’ll call it football because most of the world does) is that shops have been given the option of staying open until 10pm on weekdays, and opening from 2-8pm on Sunday. I’m waiting to see what the fallout from this will be. The stringent opening-hours laws are on the books because the shopkeepers’ union insists that they preserve the German family by giving workers time to spend with their spouses and kids. When closing time on weekdays was extended from 7pm (but everyone closed at 6) to 8, there were posters all over town screaming that this would mean the end of the German family as we know it. Further, family-owned businesses were allowed to stay open until 10, a boon for your average Turkish family running the little corner shop. But if the upsurge in business is big enough, and the German family doesn’t dissolve in a month (and I want it noted that Dad is probably out in a bar watching football), this temporary measure may re-surface, particularly as Christmas comes.

At any rate, the concert was so-so, but the venue was one of these huge brick churches built at the turn of the last century, so the Berliner Ensemble for Old Music sounded like they were performing in a tunnel, or as if they had been produced by Phil Spector. The sonic environment swallowed up the Baroque music, so I left at the break and walked back home. It was there that I saw, in a boutique, the so-far most hideous bit of WMsploitation I’ve seen (although this contest has a whole month to run, folks!): a dress, in black and white, little footballs sewn to its skirt, and, at the bust, two half-footballs for the breasts. This is a perfect illustration of why the words “fashion” and “Berlin” rarely appear in the same sentence, and no, I do not want to meet the woman who buys this. The dress beat out yesterday’s entry, the heads of iceberg lettuce at my local supermarket, wrapped in cellophane with a pentagon pattern on it, so they resemble green footballs. I was thinking of kicking one around until I realized that this was a game I’d never played and likely was very bad at.

And the stupid slogans continue apace, too. Memo to Esprit: “The World Is Our Culture” is a phrase utterly without meaning, and sticking a football on it doesn’t make it make any more sense.

Oh, and today, when I was reading the forum at The Languedoc Page, people were commenting that the French were being fairly subdued about the whole thing; no flags flying, no overt show of interest. I commented that that sounded good after Berlin, and someone responded that France hosts the WM in 2007, with games in, among other places, Toulouse, Marseille, and…Montpellier.

Nooooooo!

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