Fifteen minutes ago, Germany had won its fourth World Cup – their first one since 1990. We had hopped onto the U7 from Südstern, switched to the U6 at Mehringdamm, and walked south from the Friedrichstraße Bahnhof until we came across Unter den Linden and the Brandenburger Tor.
“Let’s go to Brandenburger Tor,” my dad had suggested at the brauhaus where we watched the World Cup finale. The packed crowd at the restaurant, mainly consisting of old farts and Americans, were a flaccid bunch who wouldn’t even get up to clap when substitutions were made by Germany. Right before the game went into extra time, I had told my dad what they were:
“Complete wankers. They don’t watch football for shit.”
I had directed us to the brauhaus because I heard their food was fantastic and they brewed their own equally-fantastic beer. After several glasses and a sizzling plate of dinner, we had concluded that the hefeweizen was lecker, and the wienerschnitzel tasted even better. Still, they weren’t enough to make up for the piss-poor atmosphere, and atmosphere is everything when watching a football match.
Hence, Brandenburger Tor. Public viewing is where the real fans are – the drunks, the crazies, and the chanters clad in red, black, and gold. The game had finished, but we intended to see the real reaction of Berlin, and the large area the city had sectioned off for the public viewing at Brandenburger Tor was sure to be the site of chaotic euphoria.
Unter den Linden, the main street leading to Brandenburger Tor, had been closed off to automobiles, so we walked right down the middle of the street with the famed architecture in front of us, purple lights shining from behind its pillars and firecrackers shooting off in the distance. Clouds hid the moon and the chilly air nipped at my exposed arms, but the rain from earlier in the evening had stopped long ago. The night felt fresh, and brown, broken beer bottles crunched like cockroaches underneath our shoes.
“Oleeee, oleeee, ole, ole, oleee,” an incoming pack of young fans sang, clapping and stomping to keep the rhythm. “Super Deutschland, super Deutschland, super Deutschland, hey, oleee!” Another group wrapped in the German Bundesadler flag joined in on the singing, and soon a ragtag procession of drunken strangers passed by us jumping in joy and letting someone else worry about singing in pitch.
Dad, in his black Deutscher Fußball-Bund t-shirt and SPY Optics hat, marveled at the scene. Müllers and Götzes and Schweinsteigers filled our visions waving flags, beer cans, and anything else that fit in their hands. An Özil who couldn’t have been older than three-years-old and fast falling asleep on his father’s shoulders teetered this way and that before his father, a Kroos, brought him down and placed him on his back. If people weren’t wearing jerseys with the names of Die Nationalmannschaft’s players, they wore shirts with “Deutschland” and “Jogi” on the back. What was important, it seemed, was that you had the color scheme down.
We took pictures of Brandenburger Tor. We also took a selfie. We then headed down to Potsdamer Platz.
“What do you think?” I asked Dad with a grin. It was impossible not to be infected by the raucous and unadulterated elation of the other fans. Before he could answer, a man wearing a green German jersey stopped my dad and pointed at his t-shirt.
“There’s a mistake on your shirt, there’s a mistake on your shirt!” He shouted in German. My dad cocked his head, not knowing what the stranger meant.
“Why, there’s only three stars, when there should be four stars!” He and his friends hooted and hollered and managed to get a big laugh out of my dad as well. Three bicycles zipped past us on the street with large flags attached to them. The bicyclists rang their bells as obnoxiously as possible, and the roaming crowd of fans showered them with shouts of camaraderie and “Deutschland! Weltmeister!” When we arrived soon thereafter at Potsdamer Platz, ten minutes away from my dad’s hotel, our brisk walk turned into a crawl.
The first thing I noticed was the smell; the regularly sedate and bland Potsdamer Platz smelled of firecrackers. A witch’s brew of shouting fans, whizzing rockets, and honking horns greeted us, and a mass congregation of ecstatic people whooping, hugging, singing, and drinking had taken over the entire area. Piles of fans hopped onto a public display showcasing the history of Potsdamer Platz pulling more and more fans onto the small, carefully constructed structure. It’s unlikely that the display was designed with such use in mind.
All semblance of Germans’ sense of order had dissipated because of a twenty-three year-old’s 113th minute goal. Cars driving through Potsdamer Platz were stopped, and their passengers –standing on top of the cars, hanging out of the windows, or simply walking out of the car– high-fived fans that wouldn’t let them pass through without treating the car’s passengers as if they were the Weltmeisters themselves. A firework shot past my dad’s head, but he was too preoccupied to have noticed.
“Ooooooooo wie ist das schön…” A man began. Soon, twenty others had joined. “Ooooooo wie ist das schön… Sowas hat man lange nicht gesehen, SO SCHÖN, SO SCHÖÖÖN!”
“I actually have seen something similar to this,” my Dad blurted out, “to answer your earlier question about what I think.”
“When the Berlin Wall came down, and my buddy and I tried to drive out from Bonn to Berlin to witness the scene, you know, people were running onto the Autobahn.” Somewhere in front of us, I heard a beer bottle shatter and cheers accompany it. “The reaction that I saw in 1989? I thought I’d never see something quite like it. Of course, this—“ he waved to the celebration taking place around us “—is nowhere near as emotional as what transpired twenty-five years ago. Families were being reunited then and a country was coming together. Although—“ A trio of men, huddled together in a circle, began shouting something too slurred to be understood by either of us.
“Let’s start walking toward the hotel,” I suggested. My dad consented, and we stopped in front of a green Volkswagen being christened by kisses and beer as the driver of the car rolled down his window to wave his miniature German flag.
“When the cars came through from East Germany to West Germany, people – that is, the West Germans – would christen the Trabis – you know, the piece of shit Eastern German cars – that the East Germans had driven in to the checkpoint by pouring beer all over them.” He stared as more cars stopped and were christened. “I thought I’d never see anything like it again,” he repeated. The stoplight turned green, but neither the cars nor the pedestrians were in a hurry.
As we walked away from Potsdamer Platz and towards his hotel on Anhalterstraße, cars and scooters displaying flags honked with glee. “Müüüüüller!” A driver on a white motorcycle shouted at me in reference to the jersey I wore. I obliged him with an “Ole Superdeutschland,” and he repaid me with a handful of toots on his horn. Behind us, we could still hear the noise emanating from Potsdamer Platz, and we felt the first drops of a meaningless late-night rain shower.