A funny thing happened to me this month. I found myself cheering for Germany, and not just against Argentina. I know this goes against the grain of every Englishman, and if my dad, a Lancaster bomber pilot, were alive he would be appalled, but let me explain.
Germany's slogan for the World Cup was "a time to make friends". They did. The nation was utterly infected with fussballfieber, and the people went out of their way to be welcoming. The matches were on everywhere. And everyone, men and women, young and old, was watching.
Smart Berlin hotels erected screens at their swish pavement cafés; in the suburb of Kreuzberg there was a screen at the fire station: people stood on the pavement watching, moving aside when an engine was called out on a job. Even the newsagent near my base in the capital watched the game on a portable television, breaking off to serve customers. Most of all, Weltmeisterschaft 2006 was watched on giant video walls - by fans of all nations, for Germany has changed the way major sporting events are hosted, probably for ever. For the first time supporters were invited to travel without tickets, to come regardless. This after years in which fans were told that if they did not have a ticket, they were not wanted. They should stay at home and watch on television, or travel and be treated with the utmost suspicion.
Germany, being at the crossroads of Europe, realised fans would travel anyway and decided to turn a negative into a positive. They created " Fan Fests" in every host city, and others. The biggest, Berlin's Fan Mile, was filled by more than a million fans for the host nation's semi-final with Italy. These had huge screens, food and drink stalls (selling real beer, not low-alcohol or alcohol-free versions), and entertainments. Hamburg erected a tent for each of the 32 nations. On my visit the Brazilian and Ghanaian tents were bouncing (literally, given the floorboard construction). Both teams had had good days but the Costa Rican tent was also pounding out a joyous beat despite their team having already gone home.
Supporters of many nations watched Australia v Croatia on two huge screens while televisions in every tent showed Brazil v Japan. Elsewhere there were showground and arcade-style stands and amusements. The English tent, incidentally, was modelled on a pub. There was no trouble whatsoever, with the police presence very low-key.
In response to this welcome, fans came in unprecedented numbers. It was billed, without irony, as the biggest peacetime invasion of Germany in history. The English have travelled for some years and came in staggering numbers, with all but a tiny minority getting into the spirit of things.
But this time they were joined by many, many others. The Poles, Dutch, Swedes, Czechs and Croats arrived en masse. The 55,000 Swedes who flooded the Olympic stadium when they beat Paraguay in Berlin were estimated to have made up the largest gathering of Swedes at a football match anywhere - no Swedish ground is that big.
Maybe this influx was not that surprising: these are all European nations. But where did the huge swathes of South Koreans and Japanese come from, or the Mexicans, Americans, Australians and Argentinians, or the African nations? One answer is the ease of modern jet travel, another is the growing migration of people, especially to Germany which, post-war, has absorbed a lot of immigrants and refugees. Many of the Italian fans are immigrants.
The corporate aspect is a factor: many blocks of fans were flown in by sponsor companies. Then there is the adoption of teams. Brazil's support was drawn from many nations, there appeared to be hundreds of Scots following Sweden (the Henrik Larsson factor), and the Germans took teams like Trinidad & Tobago and Ghana to their hearts. And apart from a few incidents involving Poles and Germans, or English and Germans, there was no trouble.
Fans were treated like adults and behaved like them. In Berlin, at the artificial beach constructed by the Spree, complete with big screens, beer was sold in glasses, not plastic. In Leipzig a porcelain shop was even selling its wares to Dutch and Serbian fans from a roadside stall.
There is a subtext to all this. The Germans are conscious that they are probably the most unpopular nation in Europe, for obvious historical reasons. Jürgen Klinsmann said that, along with winning the competition, his "goal" was to "show a completely new German face to the world."
He added: "It is a completely different country after reunification. This is the biggest chance we have had for decades to show our different face. When I was travelling the world with Franz Beckenbauer in the bidding process we had one wish: to have people see and experience Germany and show it is not like people said before."
After the defeat to Italy he said: "There were two major objectives for the German team: to progress as far as possible; and to be good hosts, to present Germany as an open-minded, welcoming country".
They have. In Gelsenkirchen, after England lost, BBC radio found that many fans would switch allegiance to Germany in recognition of the welcome they had received. The effects may soon be seen in your local bookshop. At present the travel sections have whole shelves devoted to France, Italy, Greece and Spain, while the German section measures a few inches. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many of the World Cup visitors will now consider Germany as a holiday destination. Stereotypes have been confounded. Germany has been revealed to be a green, very wooded country, more multicultural than perceived, with excellent summertime weather and friendly people.
Of course, it helped that Klinsmann's young side exceeded expectations. But long before that bandwagon got into second gear Germany had fallen under the World Cup spell.
At the 1974 World Cup, hosted by West Germany, some crowds were as low at 12,000. This time grounds have been full. In Munich 3,000 spare tickets went on sale for Tunisia v Saudi Arabia. They were taken in half an hour.
In Berlin the green in front of the Reichstag was occupied by a 10,000-seat temporary arena and mini-football pitches. In Hanover a football was attached to the statue of Martin Luther. In Hamburg hundreds of "blue goals" made with blue fluorescent lights were erected on roofs and in lakes.
To an Englishman it whets the appetite for the 2012 Olympics. But will we embrace the occasion with 'blue rings', and an arena in Parliament Square?Reuse content