Tale of two cities – Chelsea edge meets Munich stodge for big final
Today's game is not just about football. John Walsh looks forward to an epic clash of off-field lifestyles
Prolific writer and commentator John Walsh contributes columns to the paper as well as writing features, interviews and restaurant reviews. He has been editor of The Independent Magazine, literary editor of the Sunday Times and features editor of the London Evening Standard.
Saturday 19 May 2012
As Chelsea fans pour into the Allianz Arena this afternoon for the Champions League final against Bayern Munich, a lot more is at stake than football. The match embodies a clash between two ways of life, almost two civilisations. One side represent a city – the third largest in Germany – and the other a smallish district of London; but when it comes to cultural importance, it's just no contest.
Think of Munich and your mind fills with beer halls, Bavarian monks, Baroque music and bubonic plague. It's where the Nazis first appeared (in a "Beer Hall Putsch" in 1923). Its name is synonymous with the failure of appeasement in 1938 and the assassination of Israeli athletes in 1972. Modern Munich is a city of sturdy workers, stolid economic sense and sausage-based cuisine. Weighed down by weisswurst (white sausage) in the morning and leberknödel soup (bread-dumpling soup with liver and onions) around lunchtime, Munich dwellers are not – by modern German standards – a chic, well-dressed or light-footed bunch. They enjoy a quiet life: the crime rate is so low in comparison with Berlin and Hamburg, the city is known as "Toytown" by English-speaking citizens.
Chelsea, by comparison, is all edge and swagger; it's where money, fashion and arty novelty meet and swan about the place, eating Portuguese custard tarts. Think of Chelsea, and you're overwhelmed with images of the buns, the stacked-heel boots, the Arts Club, the Flower Show and Bridge, the (now sadly defunct) Drugstore and the Pensioners. It's maintained royal connections down the centuries: the King's Road, the home of Swinging London in 1966 and of punk a decade later, originally ran from Fulham to Charles II's home at St James's Palace. Arty royalty has always lived here: the Pre-Raphaelites, Oscar Wilde, George Eliot, Algernon Swinburne and Mick Jagger. Its modern inhabitants are well-coiffed, sophisticated and dressed by Reiss or Zadig and Voltaire.
The difference between the places is the difference between convention and daring, between ordinary and sublime. Munich has a keen-to-please city motto, "München mag dich" ("Munich likes you"); Chelsea has no motto, but if it did it would be: "Chelsea thinks you're a bit naff, darling, quite frankly."
Munich likes to call itself "Millionendorf" or "village of a million people". Chelsea was historically known as "a village of palaces". There's the essential difference, right there. Munich-dwellers dream of a gemütlich existence in a huge community of like-minded citizens. Chelsea-ites just want their friends, whom they visit all the time in their rarely lovely homes in Draycott Place and Flood Street.
I mean, where would you rather live?
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