It was to the land of the perfect sausage that we travelled in search of game 17 ! Berlin is the second most populous city in the EU behind London (3.6 Million), but you would never guess it. With its broad streets and low buildings, the city gives you space and reassures you that there's no need to rush and push. Despite its many beautiful, historical landmarks and structures, you get a sense of a young, evolving city which makes no attempt to hide the horrors of its recent past ( Visit the Topography of Terror Museum or the Holocaust Memorial as proof of this).
Paul, Alex and Richard were my companions for this trip. We arrived to find a city dressed for Christmas ! Every time we climbed the steps from the reassuringly scruffy, but always on time, U-Bahn, we seemed to emerge near to a Christmas market. The stalls were fit to burst with pretzels, schnitzels and bratwurst, all washed down, if you so wished, with gluhwein, weissbeer and the local Berliner draft...or a right good hot chocolate ! Happy glowing shoppers smiled at wooden jumping jacks, merry-go-rounds, mobiles and matryoshka dolls, before wandering on past decorative chocolate hearts, polished stones, woolly hats and wooden cats for sale. Storybook stuff.
It would have been easy just to get lost in the magic of it all, but on a mission we were !
The Brandenburg Gate is Berlin's most famous landmark. Situated to the west of the city, this 18th Century neoclassical monument now symbolises, to many, the reunification of Germany after the fall of the wall in 1989. Many daft world leaders have given spectacularly pointless speeches here ever since; anything for a free sausage
What better place for a game ? Passing through its 15 metre high doric columns, we found ourselves in a perfect pedestrianised place for a game. Plonking the jumpers down, Richard and I had a kick-a-bout whilst Paul checked for German "No ball games" signs and Alex began taking photos. Paul quickly joined us and we set about trying to cajole players from amongst the many tourists on this chilly lunchtime. First to join us were partners Miriom Dietworst, a policy advisor, and Ron Mengelers, a systems analyst from near Maastricht, Holland.
Josh, from England, joined us and we had a 3 v3 on our hands. Ron was very light on his loafers and determined to score; so determined that he lost his footing at high speed at one point and nearly ended up in Poland ! It was then that the big friendly bear of a security guard came over. Pretending to be grumpy, he started to remove our jumpers and asked us to move on. We did...about 5 feet to the right and carried on. Josh left us and a bunch of Spanish chaps from Valencia and Madrid joined in. An international 5 v 5 in the shadow of this great symbol of peace. Marvelous.
I was in the nets for our side, leaping like a teenage jaguar to keep out these young whippersnappers (well, more like Bagpuss with a cracked rib!). It wasn't long before we raced into a 3 goal lead, with the hardworking Paul claiming a hat-trick, much to Richard's (who was in their nets) disbelief. The game cracked on at a furious pace despite gobbling up groups of tourists from time to time. Alex, by this time, was weaving in and out like a Time magazine photographer, taking some brilliant action snaps. A sizeable crowd had gathered too.
After the big security chap had moved us on the third time we called it a day. 3-0 to us with Paul taking home the match ball for a couple of cheeky chips and a nutmeg.
I can't thank Paul, Richard and Alex enough for coming on the trip and for all their amazing efforts to help get a game going and document it. Vielen dank, meine freunde !
A great game at a great time of year in a fantastic city ! Onwards !!