Sunday, July 09, 2006


From June 11-17, 2006, Doug and I spent one unforgettable week in Germany, taking in the world's greatest sporting spectacle- the World Cup. Thousands of people from all across the world came to Germany to celebrate their countries, their teams, and the game of soccer, and we were lucky enough to be two of them.

We hope you enjoy this collection of memories, photos and anecdotes from our trip. Please feel free to share them with family, friends and fellow fans. While it is difficult to put in to words how incredible the experience was, hopefully this scrapbook will give you a good taste.

I re-arranged this site to make it a little more reader-friendly, so, although it's a blog, the stories are in chronological order from top to bottom.


Heading to Frankfurt

We left New Jersey the evening of Saturday, June 10th on a red eye flight to Frankfurt, having already watched the first two games of the day, including England's 1-0 win over Paraguay in Frankfurt. We figured many of their fans would still be nursing post-game hangovers by the time we joined them in Germany- and we were right.

There was no doubt that when our Lufthansa plane pulled up to the gate in Newark that we were on the right flight.

Meeting up with the Socceroos

We arrived in Frankfurt around 6:45 a.m. on the morning of Sunday, June 11. We headed down to the S-Bahn train station to travel to our hotel. (We stayed at the Hilton Frankfurt, which was on the house thanks to my Hilton HHonors frequent traveler points.)

The motto of the 2006 World Cup was "A Time to Make Friends" and waiting for the train we made our first- a group of fans from Australia. The Aussies, who go by the nickname "Socceroos," were making their first World Cup appearance since 1974, and their fans appeared ready to party. Already busy downing beers while waiting for the train, this group was in a rollicking, joyous mood, despite a long journey from Sydney to Hong Kong to Frankfurt. And we hope they had a good time, because one member of this group quit his job as a local broadcaster to make the trip.

Train Station for the World

One of our favorite aspects of the trip was the people and scenes each day inside the Frankfurt main train station, known in German as the Hauptbahnhof. Every time we passed through the station, the facility was bustling with different fans. Some were coming to Frankfurt for the day, others were on their way to one of the 11 other host cities throughout Germany. When we walked over to the train station at 10 a.m. Sunday to get our rail passes validated, we got our first taste of the international flavor of the event. There were English fans traveling home after the previous day's game; Mexican and Iranian supporters headed out to the match that day in Nuremberg; Japanese fans making their arrival for Monday's game in Kaiserslautern.

And kudos to the German organizing committee who had plenty of well-marked signs, helpful staff and useful guides all throughout each train station. When we needed help or direction, we didn't have to go far.

Well Worth the Wait

From the train station we made our way out to the ticket center at the stadium in Frankfurt. Since FIFA does not allow corporate sponsorships of stadiums during the World Cup, the venue, normally called Commerzbank Arena, is simply known as FIFA World Cup Stadium Frankfurt.

We already had our tickets in hand for Monday's USA-Czech Republic game, but needed to pick-up the tickets for Wednesday's game in Munich between Tunisia-Saudi Arabia. (When we told the Aussies we were going to this game, one of them simply asked "Why?")

We were also on a waiting list for Tuesday's game in Frankfurt between South Korea and World Cup debutant Togo, so we were hoping to find out about the status of those tickets as well.

Unfortunately, the line to pick-up tickets took as long as a soccer game, 90 minutes, although not without its entertainment. An Englishman behind us was being needled by his friends, including one with an Austin Powers-like accent who said: "Get out of this damn queue, mate. It's gonna take you five hours! We can be in Amsterdam in four hours!"

Our long wait was rewarded however, when we found out we got the Korea-Togo tickets. I'm sure few Americans have ever been as excited to get tickets to see Korea-Togo, but we left the ticket center delighted: three games in three days were coming up!

Fanfest in Frankfurt

Our next stop was the banks of the Main River and the Frankfurt Fanfest. Each of the 12 World Cup host cities put on its own Fanfest, and fans turned out by the thousands to watch the games on huge video boards. The atmosphere was the next best thing to being inside the stadiums.

In Frankfurt, 15,000 fans jammed both sides of the Main to watch games each day. We had arrived shortly before kickoff of the Holland-Serbia game, so we missed out on the coveted seats, but we did have a nice standing vantage point to watch the game and the endless parade of fans from around the world.
Holland won the game, 1-0. We were surprised that their fans were somewhat subdued, but we would find out later in the week that they definitely know how to celebrate a victory.

Say Hello to Goleo

The official World Cup mascot is Goleo VI, a lion, who's accompanied by his soccer ball friend, Pille. We had our first run in with Goleo on our way out of the Fanfest.

The Romerberg

Frankfurt's historic main gathering place, the Romerberg, was our final stop for the day. Fans from England had gathered and were certainly enjoying themselves.

After 27 straight hours awake, it was time for bed.

The Road to Gelsenkirchen

On the morning of Monday, June 12, we were on our way to Gelsenkirchen, where the United States was playing its first game against the Czech Republic. Gelsenkirchen is about a two-hour train ride from Frankfurt via the Deutsche Bahn, Germany's very efficient and enjoyable rail system. We had a five-day first class rail pass for the week and, as you can see, first class is definitely the way to ride.

Pregame in Gelsenkirchen

Gelsenkirchen was the smallest of the German cities hosting World Cup games, but that made for a great pregame atmosphere along the downtown area that begins just outside the train station. The local shops and street vendors were doing brisk business. While the Czech fans outnumbered the USA supporters, American fans were eager and ready to support their team.

"I'd smother myself in brown mustard..."

If you've ever seen the Saturday Night Live skit where Will Ferrell plays Harry Carey, you'll enjoy this next picture from the streets of Gelsenkirchen.

In the words of Will/Harry: "If you were a hot dog, would you eat yourself? I know I would. I'd smother myself in brown mustard. I'd be so tasty!"

Real Men of Genius

After strolling down and back the main boulevard, we came across the best deal in town: 99 cent 20 oz. beers! (Roughly $1.45 US.) And the beer, Warsteiner, is good stuff; we're not talking about a German version of Olde English here.

Needless to say we were immediately popular with the group of U.S. fans who had gathered on the southern edge of downtown. While it was fascinating to meet people from all over the world during the course of the World Cup, it was equally interesting to meet different U.S. soccer fans and hear their stories. And we met a lot of them pretty quickly once we pointed them in the direction of the cheap beer.

During our time on the streets of Gelsenkirchen we were also approached by Newark Star-Ledger soccer writer Frank Giase, who was happy to find a pair of Jersey boys in Germany. He included mention of us in his World Cup blog.

A Fanfest Without Fans is Just a Fest

Fueled up with plenty of Warsteiner and American enthusiasm, we made our way towards the stadium around 1:30, stopping off at the Gelsenkirchen Fanfest along the way. The Gluckauf-Kampfbahn was the home of the local side, FC Schalke 04, until the 1970s. We'll give them the benefit of the doubt, since the U.S. game was still five hours from kickoff, but it was not the most happening of the Fanfests, the Red Hot Chili Peppers cover band not withstanding.

"Can we get in now?"

We were told that it would be a good idea to get to the stadium early, and getting there four hours before kickoff certainly qualifies as early. But it did give us the chance to mill around the outside of the stadium and check things out. The Arena Aufschalke was built in 2001, and is an impressive looking stadium from both the inside and out. Since it's inception it's hosted a European Champions League Final and now the World Cup.

No Ninjas, No Nazis

One of the nice aspects of the World Cup is that you've got a fair amount of leeway with what you can bring in to the stadium. For us, that meant a backpack, which you normally wouldn't be allowed to bring into most American facilities. You can also bring in huge flags, samba drums, trombones, elaborate Aztec headpieces, stuff like that. Two things that are prohibited, as we found out, are ninjas and Nazis (see the left column.) Officially those are bans on wearing masks and making any racist remarks, which I suppose cover ninjas and Nazis.

Gelsenkirchen Rocks!

Among the U.S. fans making the trip to Gelsenkirchen was Drew Carey, who was in Germany filming a show for the Travel Channel. We caught Drew on his way out of the hotel located adjacent to the stadium while we were killing time. While he didn't seem to care that Sharon is from the Cleveland area, he was kind enough to stop for a photo.

Countdown to Kickoff

Many European teams create clever patters in the stands using different colored seats, Arena AufSchalke being no exception. An advantage to being among the first in the stadium is you get a chance to appreciate the layout. In case you are wondering, the noise is from the broadcast of the Australia-Japan game which is being shown on the video board.

Red, White and Very Blue

I won't spend too much time recapping the USA-Czech Republic game, as it was easily the lowlight of an otherwise great trip. The smiles you see on our faces here were wiped off pretty quickly after kickoff.

The Czechs scored five minutes in, took a 2-0 lead before halftime, and won 3-0 over a U.S. squad that looked intimidated and scared. When I was eight and playing soccer, my dad once shouted at me "Stop being so tentative!" It's pretty funny in retrospect, because the other parents wondered how an eight-year old was supposed to know what "tentative" meant. Anyway, I kept thinking about that watching the U.S. play.

The best part of the game? The introductions.

American Bummer

It's a good thing we had four more days ahead of us, because the U.S. game certainly put us in a foul mood. Just look at this poor chap bummin' on the streets of Gelsenkirchen as we waited for the train back to Frankfurt.

Despite the game, there are plenty of fond memories of Gelsenkirchen.

Bouncing Back With Some Schnitzel

The next morning (Tuesday, June 13) in Frankfurt we were determined to put the U.S. loss behind us and enjoy the rest of the trip. And what better way to enjoy Germany than starting your day off with a hearty, authentic brunch? The cafe at Frankfurt's Hauptwache was located just a block from our hotel. Togo and Korea fans were getting ready for game day as well.

"You guys Togo fans?"

This picture, taken inside the Frankfurt train station, needs little explanation- it's Doug's first encounter with Togo fans. That's a great hat.

Der Miracle on Ice

The Koreans seemed to be recruiting fans at the train station, as they were giving out free t-shirts just outside the tram platform to the stadium. My friend Greg Lee, he being of Korean heritage, will be getting mine.

We took a tram to the game and talked with an American from Miami, who was having a hard time finding any place to watch the NBA Finals, and a native of Frankfurt who we dubbed "German Mike Eruzione," because of his loose resemblance to the captain of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team. GME was in his early 20s and a lifelong resident of Frankfurt, and he discussed how exciting it was to have the World Cup in his hometown and see fans from all over the world come to Germany.

The guy from Miami and GME started talking about the World Cup policy on tickets, as both were trying to get scalper tickets for today's game. Each World Cup ticket has the holder's name printed on it, and if you want to legally exchange them with someone, you're suppose to pay a fee and fill out paperwork with FIFA. It's pretty well known, however, that ticket takers rarely, if ever, check the names, although we were told spot checks do occur. GME had a tip for the Miami guy on how to beat the system, which he was at first reluctant to disclose.

GME: "If you get checked, you just say, 'I work for World Cup sponsor and I just got these tickets from colleague yesterday."
MG: "Oh, right. We work for Yahoo!"
GME: "You work for Yahoo?"
MG: "No."
GME: "Us neither!" (laughter)

I hope that story was as funny as it was in person. Probably not.

View From the Top

Our seats for the Togo-Korea game were in the very top row of the stadium, but still gave us a pretty good view of the action. We also had a nice panoramic of the Frankfurt skyline directly behind us.

Of the three games we saw in person, this was the most entertaining. Togo struck first, but Korea, spurred on by their incredibly vocal fan base, answered with two goals for a 2-1 win.

Togo was a bit of a mess during the World Cup. Their coach resigned days before the start and then was talked into coming back. Their players almost boycotted a game over a pay dispute. The head of the federation accused the coach of being a drunk. And they lost three games by a combined score of 6-1. Other than that, it looked like they were having a helluva time.

Rough Around the Edges

On the tram back from the game, we were talking to an Englishman from Coventry traveling alone. A nice guy, in his early 30s, and from the sounds of it, he enjoyed the freedom of traveling by himself quite regularly. Indulge me, because this is probably another one of those stories that was funnier in person.

We talked about his travels abroad in America, and he had come over twice for concerts- once to see the band Boston in Camden, N.J., and once to see Chicago in Hershey, Pa. If you're like Doug and I and have ever seen Camden, you're probably wondering why anyone would ever go there for a concert. Not exactly America's safest city. So when Doug asked how he liked it, he said in a very soft tone "Yeah, Camden's a little rough around the edges. Je--s Ch---t."

Well, like I said, maybe you had to be there. We're just glad he made it out of Camden alive.

Tossing Back Some Applewine

After the game, we toured Frankfurt's Applewine District, a collection of restaurants and taverns set along cobblestone streets just south of the Main River. We had this stereotypical vision of what certain parts of Germany might look like, constructed in large part by our numerous trips to Epcot, but certain areas really did look much as we had imagined them. The Applewine District fit the mold.

Applewine is the alcoholic beverage of choice in Frankfurt. It's somewhere between hard cider and vinegar, but you get used to the taste. We actually ran into German Mike Eruzione again at our restaurant, (a good sign when the locals are eating at the place you randomly picked out for dinner) and heard him explaining it to a visitor. "Remember first time when you were little kid and you tried beer? Did you like it? No. Same thing with Applewine."

We both downed a hearty sausage plate with our Applewine while watching France-Switzerland, with Doug eventually switching over to beer. The chef was a French fan and we were glad we got our food before he spent the last ten minutes of the game out of the kitchen and watching TV. The game ended in a 0-0 draw.

Kourageous Korean

From the Applewine District, we walked back over to the Romerberg, passing by the Fanfest where a capacity crowd had gathered along the banks of the Main for the Croatia-Brazil game.

Over at the Romerberg, the jubilant Koreans were celebrating their win with loud but festive cheers and songs. Many looked like they'd be spending the night there, as sleeping bags and blankets were spread out around the plaza. One particularly brave, shirtless soul decided to scale the Fountain of Justice, South Korean flag in hand. Fortunately he made it up and down without incident. I think the other Koreans thought he was crazy as well, because no one seemed all that excited when he got to the top. It was more like an "Ok, buddy, you go do that," reaction.

Wrapping up the Day in Frankfurt

The last stop on the night was another street festival, this one located just a block from our hotel. It was amazing to see huge crowds gathered for each and every game everywhere you went throughout Germany. The street festival had some pretty good crepes as well.

Clash of Titans in Munich

We were up early on Wednesday, June 14, to make the 3 1/2 hour train ride to Munich for our third game in as many days, Tunisia-Saudi Arabia. This game was billed as one of the least attractive match-ups of the opening round, which explains why we were able to get tickets. And while they may not have been the most skilled teams in Germany, their fans weren't lacking in spirit. We took the U-Bahn (subway) from the central train station to the Marienplatz, Munich's historic city center. Upon exiting the station, we were immediately greeted with a cacophony of drums, horns, cheers and chants from both nations.


Thirteen hours isn't nearly enough time for two first-time visitors to see all the sights in Munich, but you can probably guess where we headed for lunch. Of course, it was Germany's most famous beer garden, the Hofbrauhaus. The Hofbrauhaus is an enormous facility, so getting a table was no problem. And while I'm sure many locals consider it a tourist trap, the food was good, and the beers were even better.

Oddly enough, two men sat down next to us, one of whom grew up in Chicago about a mile from where I live now. Small world. He was wearing a German armband that was a thank you from a West German fencer who competed in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, where our tablemate had been a volunteer.

Football in the Garden

We made a trip through Munich's English Garden on our way up to the stadium. The English Garden is much like New York's Central Park, and our destination was the iconic Chinese Tower, which includes an adjacent beer garden. Unbeknownst to us, we were just about to miss the path that leads to the tower, when the roar of the crowd celebrating a goal in the Spain-Ukraine game told us where we needed to go.

We spent a half-hour watching the game with hundreds of others who had gathered to do the same. And we were pleased with the result, as Ukraine's 4-0 loss meant they had topped the U.S. for worst showing in the tournament to date.

U-Bahn Overflow

We did our best to avoid any potentially dangerous situations during our time in Germany, but we both agree that the scariest 20 minutes of the trip was taking the U-Bahn up to the stadium for the Tunisia-Saudi Arabia game. Each train that stopped on its way up to the stadium was PACKED with almost no room for additional passengers. After watching four full trains go by, we were finally able to wedge our way onto one.

Fortunately the train ride was uneventful, although when we were stopped underground between stations for about four minutes I did start to have my worries. As we arrived at the stadium station and climbed the stairs, we looked back at a sea of people still exiting the train.

Don't Believe the Hype

Our main motivation for going to the Saudi-Arabia-Tunisia match was to see a game at the new Allianz Arena or, as it was known for this tournament, FIFA World Cup Stadium Munich. The stadium is being heralded as one of the finest facilities in Europe, and while the exterior is impressive (check out this link to see how they illuminate it with different colors at night), we were rather under whelmed once we entered.

The interior features drab, gray concrete and all the seats are the same shade of gray. Worst of all, we were in the third level and our only option to head up to the top were stairs. No ramps, no escalators- just stairs.

The view from the upper deck was pretty good and it's nice and clean and all that; just not quite as impressive as we had expected and in need of some character on the inside.

Ready, Set, Draw

The Tunisia-Saudi Arabia game was billed as the weakest match-up of the 48 opening round games, and in that sense it lived up to the advanced billing. There was a noticeable difference in skill between these two teams and the others we had seen throughout the week. Someone told us earlier in the week that if we had enough to drink at the Hofbrauhaus, the game would look just like Barcelona vs. Real Madrid. I wish we had remembered that advice.

But the game still had its moments. The Tunisian crowd was a lively bunch and celebrated the first goal of the game with a traditional, albeit illegal celebration- the lighting of a flare.

This happens quite regularly at soccer matches in Europe, but orange jacket-clad security were still quick to move in once the pyrotechnics were ignited. The Tunisians also quieted down considerably once the Saudis tied the game at one.

Since tickets were relatively easy to come by for this game, there were a large number of Germans in the crowd who saw this as their best chance to see a game in person. There were so many, in fact, that they were able to get some German chants and cheers going at halftime. And with the Germany-Poland game scheduled to kickoff in Dortmund an hour after the end of this match, we, along with the majority of the Germans, headed for the exits early. Unfortunately, we left a 1-1 match and missed two goals in the last ten minutes (the game ended 2-2,) but considering the throng we saw on the way into the game, this was definitely a smart move.

Off to the Olympiapark

Our postgame plan was to take the U-Bahn to the Olympiapark, the location of many of the venues from the 1972 Summer Olympics, as well as the Munich Fanfest. On our way out of the stadium, however, we were told by a local that the Olympiapark would most likely be closed due to crowds, and we'd be better off watching the game elsewhere. Signs at the U-Bahn station also indicated that the Fanfest was full to capacity.

But, we figured it was worth the trip over their just to see if we could walk around and get a glimpse of the place, one of the more unique facilities in the history of sports architecture.

Luck was on our side, however, as upon our arrival there were no crowds at the entrance, and we had no problems entering. We arrived about 20 minutes before kickoff of the Germany-Poland game, and a large, enthusiastic crowd of Germans was gathered and ready.

We spent some time exploring the Olympiapark before the game. The basketball arena where the U.S. got hosed in the '72 gold medal game against the Soviets and the swimming venue where Mark Spitz won seven gold medals still stand and are in use today. But our favorite attraction was a working merry-go-round that's been turned into a bar.

Germany vs. Poland: Much More Peaceful This Time

The crowds gathered for the Germany-Poland match were in a festive mood from the opening kickoff, although cheers and flag waving gave way to moans and groans as time went on and the Germans missed out on countless scoring opportunities. The jumbotron was situated on a small lake, surrounded by a grassy slope where about 20,000 fans enjoyed the best view. But even those of us who had to stand had a pretty good view of the action.

The end of the game approached and the match remained scoreless. We had hoped to see a German goal and the outburst from the crowd that would accompany it, but with time winding down, we decided to make our way back to the U-Bahn station and beat the rush. We were about a 1/4 mile from the center of the action and just a few yards from the station when we heard a tremendous roar that could mean only one thing: Germany had scored! We scrambled over to the U-Bahn security office, where we saw the guards celebrating and caught the replay on their small TV. The game ended seconds later and Germany had defeated Poland, 1-0, to secure their place in the second round.

Bavarian Partytime

We had learned on the trip that World Cup enthusiasm knows no bounds, especially when it comes to celebrating your national team. But having won three World Cups, we figured the Germans would take an "act like you've been there before" attitude towards a 1-0 win over Poland and qualification for the Final 16. We were quite wrong.

Upon returning to the Marienplatz, the celebration was already underway. Drivers were blaring their car horns, fans were dancing, cheering, chanting, climbing centuries-old statues, waving German flags. We had never seen a celebration anything close to this in person, and the closest thing we could compare it to was Boston after the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series. Keep in mind, though, this was only a first round game and it was played six hours north of Munich. Best of all, though, it was a very joyful and peaceful party. No one seemed intent on causing any problems.

We walked over to the train station to wait for our train back to Frankfurt: a 12:30 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. red eye. We only had the opportunity to spend 13 hours in Munich, but we certainly squeezed in a lot of action.

The Long Train Home

Although we did have a first class cabin all to ourselves, we still didn't get much sleep in during the five hour train ride back to Munich. After arriving back at our hotel at 6 a.m., we slept till about 11:30, before bouncing back for another day of World Cup action. (To continue reading, click on "Older Posts" below.)