Half an hour until the kick-off of the opening game of the German footballers at the World Cup in Qatar. On the lawn of the Khalifa International Stadium, Bastian Schweinsteiger, who has matured from a national player to an expert, and the TV presenter Esther Sedlaczek talk warmly to the national coach Hansi Flick, in front of the giant screen in the backstage area in Munich, the first visitors glow. A few helpers set up more beer tables and benches, while there is still enough free space on the existing ones. There is generally still a lot of space in the large hall of the cultural center; the football technical term of “depth of space” is clearly illustrated here. There won’t be much more than 60 fans, the equivalent of two World Cup squads including coaching staff, before the game against Japan kicks off.
Admittedly, a Wednesday afternoon at 2am would not be the best time to watch mass football, even in summer. Directly after the lunch break, bosses prefer to see their people at work. But in winter, in the run-up to Christmas, there’s definitely no atmosphere like you’ve only experienced backstage at previous major tournaments. Football fever when you’re almost shivering outside? If you’d rather drink mulled wine than a cool beer? Brrrrr.
Backstage, at least some fans are wearing the usual devotional items, black, red and gold knit hats, black or white national jerseys, mostly the number 13, the dress of the tireless FC Bayern professional Thomas Müller. Michael from near Kaltenberg also wears one, he took a day off to go from Pilsensee to the west of Munich with his friend Erwin to watch football here. All the debates raging around this tournament didn’t stop them. “I experienced my first World Cup in 1982, when I was seven, and have followed every World Cup since then,” says Erwin. “I’m a sports fan, not a Qatar fan.” Of course, the political background to this World Cup is “madness,” says Michael: “It’s crazy that Fifa is so corrupt.” Nevertheless, he is just “an absolute football fan”; he used to play himself and also acted as a referee, he explains.
With his ambivalent attitude, he is in line with the backstage manager Hans-Georg Stocker, who, despite many concerns, has decided to broadcast World Cup games from the German team. “We reject the World Cup in Qatar – but not football,” he says. In any case, he thinks it is better to take a critical look than simply look the other way, which is why he also organized a photo exhibition on the edge of the arena. In cooperation with Amnesty International, impressions of the Nepalese who worked as construction workers for the World Cup stadiums can be seen there.
Even in Munich’s most well-known football bar, in the stadium on Schleißheimer Strasse, they only decided after some deliberation to broadcast the World Cup games. After all the corona-related restrictions and losses, one simply “couldn’t afford to close down for a month” from an economic point of view, explained the managing directors Holger Britzius and Michael Jachan. But the two go into the tournament defensively and keep the ball low: “We have decided not to do any media work before or during the World Cup. We don’t want to support the tournament in any way, nor do we want to advertise ourselves in any way.” So there’s football for those who want to see it, and unlike the stadiums in Qatar, even a beer.
Backstage, Erwin and Michael also toast one more time before kick-off. “We actually like socializing too,” says Erwin, “that’s why the best World Cup for me was 2006”, the summer fairy tale, the tournament in Germany. In terms of socializing, he would probably have been in better hands elsewhere this Wednesday, for example at Sax, a pub on Hans-Sachs-Strasse that is known for football broadcasts. There, too, beer tables and benches were opened – but in addition to the usual furniture.
A lot was going on before the game started and the atmosphere was excited, reports a guest. Many fans don’t even notice that the German players put their hands in front of their mouths during the usual team photo as a gesture against Fifa, which has forbidden the teams from wearing the One Love bandage. In the sax, the guests concentrate on the last bit of shop talk, on food and, above all, on drinks. During the game it’s hardly possible to get through, it’s so crowded, but you don’t find euphoria and ecstasy there either.
This can of course be due to the game that the Germans lose 1:2 in the end. But judging by the first impression, the Munich fans generally started this tournament rather cautiously. It is striking that only a few in Germany jerseys sit in the restaurants where the game is on the screen. And with black, red and gold paintwork or flags, as has been the norm since 2006, nobody walks around the streets.