Euro 2012 Day Five – there was a Checkpoint Charlie

And, frankly, it’s become a bit of a tourist trap. In fact probably Berlin’s most outrageous tourist trap. Guards gurn in vintage uniforms and offer ‘visa stamps’ and photographs – for a price, of course. Every building within half a kilometre seemed to incorporate ‘checkpoint’ into its name somewhere – I lost count of the number of ‘Checkpoint Currywurst’ kiosks. Somewhat better was the adjacent Checkpoint Charlie museum – although at 12 euros a pop it was by some way the most expensive museum I saw. And while its collection of material relating to escape attempts and informative displays on wall life is impressive, the presence of a gallery devoted to a hagiography of German publisher Axel Springer and a vast display on the current and former role of Nato perhaps offers a clue to the fact that the excessive entrance fees aren’t the only place this private museum gets its funding from.

From the Checkpoint Charlie museum
There’s nothing wrong with that, and there was no sign of an agenda apart from a pointed dedication to freedom, a message that should resonate everywhere. But it does make you wonder what might have been left out.

The in-situ stretch of the Berlin Wall

Better was the nearby Topography of Terror exhibition, set beneath one of the last remaining in-situ pieces of the Berlin Wall and on the site of the former gestapo headquarters. It sets out in detail how the Nazis came to power and the consequences. But … and this is one way in which the Checkpoint Charlie museum does better than many others in Berlin – the story is told in geopolitical terms. It would have been interesting to read, hear and see what ordinary Germans had to say about the rise to power of the Third Reich and its impact. It’s too easy to see that tragic era in terms of broad strokes of history – it should never be forgotten that millions or ordinary people, through stupidity, greed, desperation or … and this bit has contemporary resonance … disillusionment with what was on offer from the ‘old’ parties turned to the Nazis as a solution.

The Olympic Stadium – still going strong after 75 years

Grounds for concern
And another thing – Berlin’s Olympic Stadium was built in broadly the same era as London’s Wembley stadium. Why is it London’s iconic stadium had to be bulldozed to make way for a concrete bowl with all the character of a Tesco store, while Berlin could refit the stadium to host the World Cup final?

Czechs bounce, Greece weeps
The Czechs were well beaten by Russia but came back strongly against the Greeks, who rode their luck a bit to grab a draw with co-hosts Poland. While they retain an outside chance of going through, it looks like Greece will be leaving the Euros even before it leaves the euro.

Political football
Euro 2012 isn’t exactly short of politically charged clashes – see also Netherlands against Germany last night – but they don’t come much stormier than Poland’s game with Russia. The street violence earlier in the day was sadly all too predictable, but the game itself was a cracker as the Poles played above themselves to get a draw that could so easily have been a victory. They now need to lift themselves and play as well again against the Czech to set up a potential quarter-final epic against the Germans. Which, happily, would be the game I’m going to a week on Friday!

Advertisements

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

End of the world?

The tension is building – there are just a few hours left before England finds out it has blown its chance of hosting the 2018 World Cup.

OK, perhaps it’s a bit hasty to dismiss the bid already – after all, I do have previous for making duff predictions on such matters (although World Cup draw guesses have a more favourable record on this blog).

But, undeterred as always this is my take on the fields for 2018 and 2022

2018
Russia

Russia must host the World Cup one day. It’s one of the world’s most populous countries, football-loving (if not to the football-mad level of the three other bidders), cash-rich and with a plethora of large, international cities. But now? Ridiculous visa rules, limited transport infrastructure to link the disparate cities, complete lack of stadiums . . . after South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014, Russia is surely a gamble too far for Fifa. The fact Vladimir Putin has chickened out has been given a significance it perhaps doesn’t warrant. He was only going to be there if his country was nailed on to win – and it’s not. Verdict; second

Belgium/Holland
What’s not to like? Football-mad people, great cities, superb beer, it’s really hard to see why this bid hasn’t gained more traction. OK, the stadiums aren’t all there yet and some of the cities scheduled to host games are on the diminutive side, but it seems that co-hosting is counting against the BeneLux pair more than it is against Spain-Portugal which, when you consider how small the countries in question are, is hard to fathom. Verdict; fourth

Spain/Portugal
Seems to have stolen England’s thunder as the ‘safe’ choice. But it’s hard to see why. The countries are on the verge of bankrutcy, not all the stadiums are ready and one of the partners held a World Cup as recently as 1982. Still, the fabulous football of the Spaniards and positive memories of Euro 2004, not to mention the sound political connections of the Latin diaspora, seem to be putting them into contention. Still, the fact that one bookies was offering odds of 6/1 against them leaves a few doubts. Verdict; Winner

England
Should be a no-brainer. The most-watched league, the best stadia, first-rate commercial connections, very little needing to be done. OK, so the selection of Milton Keynes as one of the host cities stuck in the craw of some fans (including me). But the farcical way the bid had been managed by the FA, not to mention a complete failure to cut the right deals with the Fifa powerbrokers, has left the England bid team scrambling to stay in the race. David Cameron, Prince William and David Beckham might be the the most persuasive line-up of right-wingers this side of the 2012 Republican primaries, but they’ve got it all to do. Still, odds are shortening and perhaps there’s one lasty twist in this sordid tale yet to come. Verdict; third

2022 comments follow