The streets were devoid of vehicles. Views of the people of Mainz were few and far between as we walked the cobblestone streets. My friend and I were anxious to get to dinner. This was not because we were especially hungry, though I reasoned after a mile or so that my near empty stomach would begin to roar with the fury of a thousand lions if I was not fed soon. This anxiety was caused by the fact that we were two of only twenty people in Germany who were not watching the Deutsches Fussball Bund play for the first time in FIFA’s World Cup against Portugal.
And, apparently, out of those twenty people, we were the only two who cared.
As we walked past empty streets and closed-for-the-moment shops, I began to notice just how important soccer was to Germans. This notion was solidified by the occasional shouting we heard as we passed restaurants that took advantage of the time and season and made sure that they had televisions that broadcasted the game, thus packing their tables and their four walls full of customers who were hungry…but for a different type of sustenance.
The faster we got to dinner, the sooner we got to see the game that we were missing. The sooner we got to see the game that we were missing, the faster my friend and I could join the German people in a new kind of nail-biting, heart-racing anxiety.
We had just come from Heidelberg, a tourist town with shops and the Rhein River. Our small group of travelers that day looked odd when we got off our train back in Mainz that afternoon on our week long trip in Germany. The German people were like soldiers, with faces painted with the camouflage of their nationalism—red, black, and gold. German flags were in the hands of signalmen at the frontlines. The backs of whole families were clothed with the jerseys of their favorite players. Names and numbers acted as a dog collar for a temporary identity, signaling “this is who we are; we are German, and proud”.
Not since our arrival in Frankfurt did I feel so foreign.
We had arrived at a small square with bistros and restaurants all around us. My friend and I had picked a small little Italian restaurant that seemed to have pulled out a large flat screen television just for the occasion of the soccer game. Other students had followed us inside while others who weren’t too interested in the game sat outside or went someplace else. Germany had scored a goal. Portugal did not.
Eventually, Thomas Müller scored three of Germany’s four goals and won their first match in the Cup. The German people were electrified. Walking back to the Königshof Hotel was magical. The Mainzer people cheered in the streets. Drinking, which my classmates and I already knew was a German pastime, was the traditional mode of celebration for many people. Smiles plastered the faces of everyone we encountered and slurred, broken songs were shouted from the streets, sung by voices that were either too sharp or too flat. Teens hung dangerously out of moving cars, holding flags or other things. Maybe the easy win made them feel unstoppable, too.
As night turned into morning, outside of our hotel window continued a cacophony of sounds produced by those same shrill voices and the clarion call of plastic vuvuzelas–beckoning everyone to join in the festivities.
This night was the highlight of my trip, which will be forever remembered by the sights and sounds of contagious German nationalism.
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