Euro 2012 – Day Two

So, German match night in Hamburg – a bit of an uncomfortable situation for an Englishman to be in. But an experience not to be forgotten. The atmosphere was building all day, especially in the party area of St Pauli. Even early in the afternoon, the atmosphere was building. An area at the centre of the Reeperbahn was set out with kiosk bars and food stalls, all with their own televisions, while the park around the stadium of FC St Pauli – Hamburg’s famously anarchic second club, whose skull and crossbones logo is everywhere – was designated as a fan park. As it happens, jetlag, five hours of walking around the city and concern about being recognised as an Englishman forced me to reconsider a plan to return there in the evening and settle for a seat in the hotel bar. As it happens, I don’t think the nationality issue would’ve been a problem – a noisy group of Dutch fans marched towards the Reeperbahn in full colours and shouting Hup Holland Hup with nobody challenging them. Speaking of the Dutch …

Who are you and what’ve you done with Robin van Persie?
The Dutch bottled it. Simple as. Twice, Robin van Persie is presented with the ball with a sight of goal, twice he ‘controls’ it further than some people can pass it. What is going on with the Arsenal striker, normally technically perfect? The rest of the Dutch side huffed and puffed without actually creating very much. The Danes took their chance well and looked assured in possession, without ever being particularly threatening. The fact Dennis Rommedahl is still in their team – and still as painfully average as he was in his Charlton days – is telling. But a draw against Portugal may yet be enough to see them out of the ‘Group of Death’ while Holland must get results – and at least one win – from their tough games against Germany and Portugal.

Riding their luck – again
This was supposed to be a different kind f German side – with flair, rather than efficiency, the watchword. Yet they rode their luck just as their predecessors have done at so many major tournaments (see the incredibly mediocre outfit propelled to the 2002 World Cup final by the brilliance of Oliver Kahn and Michael Ballack). The Germans created little, while Portugal often looked dangerous on the break. Mario Gomez was unfortunate to see his goal chalked off but there were plenty of anxious faces around the bar before Sami Khedira’s cross took a wicked deflection to fall perfectly for the Brazilian-born frontman to head home. The cheers were a sign of relief as much as anything.

Hamburg’s cultural melting pot

The anarchist spirit lives on in St Pauli

A quick stroll around the hotel yields restaurants offering cuisine from Vietnam, Thailand, India, Italy, Turkey, Syria, Afghanistan and no fewer than three Portugese restaurants – all, strangely, called Vasco da Gama. In fact the Portugese flag was a fairly common sight through the day, often sold alongside the German flag. Besides that, the St Georg district is also the heart of Hamburg’s gay community and has a plethora of churches and mosques.
‘Thug Life’ with the famous skull badge associated with the St Pauli area and St Pauli FC in particular

Meanwhile St Pauli, the heart of the anarchist community in the 1970s, feels like a place that’s trying to fight off gentrification and, on the whole, winning. The graffiti and street art give the place a very unique ambiance. While the Reeperbahn is best known for being the heart of the red light district (some nearby sidestreets are shielded by barriers, covered in signs barring entry to men aged under 18 and to women – except, presumably, those who are ‘working’) it’s also the place where the Beatles made their name and honed their skills. While it undoubtedly has its seedy corners, the Reeperbahn yesterday was full of families, out either for the football or to attend one of the many theatres that line the road.
Anarcho-communist art in St Pauli. The sign in the background reads ‘do not piss here’. The smell says it is widely ignored

Now, on to Berlin ….
Voting is still open in the ‘who will win’ poll on yesterday’s post

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Euro 2012 – Day One reflections

Hamburg’s Rathaus, or town hall

Guten tag from the beautiful city of Hamburg, for the first blog of a person Euro 2012 journey that will take in three cities, two countries, a couple of live matches, a bit of culture and (undoubtedly) a lot of beer. And probably not all that many blog posts.

Day One of Euro 2012 was observed through the smog of jetlag, so please take this into account!

The Russians are coming
Undoubtedly the day belonged to Russia, who tore to pieces a Czech Republic side not known for being flakey in major tournaments. Their passing and movement was a joy to behold and it’s not too hard to believe that they could win this tournament – or certainly be the best ever team to come out of Russia (remember that the Soviet Union’s Euro 88 finalists were almost all Ukrainians). Certainly the many who tipped Alan Dzagoev to be the breakout star of the tournament can afford to feel a little smug this morning.

Poles apart
A successful home nation (or two) is handy for any tournament, and the way Poland started their opening game gave plenty of cause for optimism. They really got at the Greeks, with wingers targeting the area between the full back and central defender in a manner somewhat reminiscent of England. Their dominance in the first half was absolute, but there was a nagging doubt that the one goal would be enough, and so it proved as the Greeks scored a fortuitous equaliser and would have had a somewhat undeserved victory had it not been for Przemyslaw Tyton’s penalty save after Wojciech Szczesny was sent off. Poland rallied late on, but you couldn’t help but feel that what they really needed was two versions of the superb Robert Lewandowski – one to make the chances, the other to finish ’em off.

Aren’t Germans nice?

This is how to tastefully integrate old buildings and modern shops. Take note HK!

Coming from the cool, keep-your-distance world of Hong Kong, the warmth of the German people is a joy to behold – as is the fact that they manage to install shops in old buildings tastefully and manage to preserve their heritage without sacrificing their old buildings. One thing I’m wondering is – why does every German greet me in English? Do I give off a vibe of Englishness? If so, how do I make it stop?

Purely for Lolz, here’s a quick poll