Postcard from Berlin: The Champions League Final
The timing wasn't deliberate. Only when the travel tickets and accommodation were booked did I notice that the Champions League Final would be taking place while BestMate and I were in Berlin, and thus that our time in the city would be shared with supporters, sponsors and das schöne Spiel. Things kicked off on arrival at Tegel airport the afternoon before, where grinning girls with placards stood beyond the exit gates waiting to direct guests of the various sponsors towards their weekend of diverse corporate entertainment. MasterCard guests this way. Willkommen aus Nissan. "Are you with Heineken, Sir?"
Berlin's football takeover had two unfortunate impacts on our visit, the first being that the famous Olympiastadion was out of commission to ordinary visitors. Germany's largest stadium was built for the 1936 Olympic Games, hence comes complete with an awkwardly Third Reich backstory, but (after much debate) was fully renovated (not restored) in 2004. I took the train over at dusk the evening before the final, arriving at the austere U-bahn station (complete with, damn, rarely-open subwaymuseum). Approaching the stadium through its surrounding parkland I passed various party zones in the process of erection, and a handful of Polizei keeping a watchful eye. The main arena was barriered off, the two towers bearing the Olympic rings ablaze in golden twilight, while those few tourists present preoccupied themselves with grabbing a photo of the stadium (or more likely themselves beaming in front of it). I'd have liked to go on the tour inside but that was impossible, so instead headed back to town via the S-bahn station (eight of whose platforms are used only on event days).
The other unfortunate Fußball-related intruder was the UEFA Champions Festival. This bloated fanfest had taken over several acres at the eastern end of the Tiergarten, Berlin's massive (and very woody) central park. A string of stages and sponsor pavilions lined Straße des 17. Juni, while a temporary football pitch had been laid out on Platz des 18. März (they have a way with streetnames, these Germans). Plenty of fun for the fans, assuming beer, freestyling and partner events were their thing, but a right pain for anyone attempting to take the city's mosticonicphotograph. The Brandenburg Gate was hemmed in on both sides, to the west by a climactic Ultimate Champions Match and to the east (ironically enough) by a merchandising emporium. I'd waited 25 years to visit the site where the Berlin Wall was pulled down, but alas a temporary wall of crowd control barriers marked almost the precise same line.
For the entire weekend a minor horde of fans swarmed across the city resplendent in their team colours. Barcelona's fans were by far the more numerous, in their Qatar-sponsored stripy tops, while Juventus's black and white army were curiously outnumbered. Occasionally they poured onto the trains and sang loud songs they evidently enjoyed, but generally they wandered between hotel and biergarten, ticking off several of the city's sights on their way. Many could be seen holding up homemade "Ticket please?" signs, suggesting they'd travelled halfway across Europe with no guaranteed seat, while less fanatical guests of the sponsors wafted in for free. And on Saturday night these nomadic fans could be seen gathered at tables outside bars across the city, eyes trained on hastily installed widescreens, cheering loudly and raising another glass when their team prevailed. All that way just to watch the game on TV, and, for Juventus's defeated supporters, essentially for nothing.