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Germany Welcomes Fans to World Cup


It happens every four years, the biggest sporting event in the world. And today, in Munich, Germany, the 2006 World Cup kicks off. The first game is between the host country, Germany, and Costa Rica. Munich is teeming with fans from all over the world. NPR's Rachel Martin reports.

RACHEL MARTIN reporting:

For the past few days, soccer fans from around the world have been showing off their team colors and drinking a lot of German pilsner all over Munich. But there's arguably no better place to feel the pulsating energy of World Cup build-up than at Munich's famed beer hall the Hofbräuhaus.

Here, waitresses in Bavarian bustiers artfully dodge through the crowd carrying pints of beer, while the revelers, gathered around long wooden tables, start practicing their game time chants in a kind of primal call and response.

(Soundbite of crowd chanting)

First, the Brazilians. Next, the Poles. And then, as if to remind everyone of who's hosting this party, a Bavarian band kicks in a little oomph pa pa, which drowns out the chants.

(Soundbite of Bavarian music)

Maricruz Rimalo(ph) is here with a group of 30 friends from Costa Rica, who've come to watch their team take on Germany. Rimalo says that distinction has given the Costa Rican fans, in their matching red t-shirts, a kind of celebrity status.

Ms. MARICRUZ RIMALO: It's great. Everybody knows about Costa Rica because we are in the opening. Everybody looks at us and watches us with shirts and things like that and everybody screams Costa Rica, Costa Rica.

MARTIN: While the pre-game parties and fanfare help stir up the worldwide frenzy that is the World Cup, at its core this event is about soccer.

(Soundbite of whistle blowing)

(Soundbite of soccer players yelling)

MARTIN: A few blocks from the Hofbräuhaus in Munich's city center, two youth teams are battling it out on a short, makeshift soccer field covered in artificial turf and encased in green netting. Rutiger Hyde(ph), founded this so-called street league 10 years ago to help young African teens living in refugee camps outside Munich. Hyde says the World Cup is about the glory and defeat of global competition, but it's also about bringing people together across boundaries and cultures in a way nothing else can.

Mr. RUTIGER HYDE: (Through translator) Soccer has the ability to make differences melt away, to break down cultural barriers and to help us learn more about each other. There's no other mass phenomenon like soccer and the attraction or phenomenon of a soccer ball.

MARTIN: Sammy Subabi(ph) is one of the street league's star players, who came with his family as a refugee to Germany 14 years ago. He was born in the Ivory Coast, grew up in Togo, and now calls Germany home. And all three of those countries are in this year's tournament. Wearing a large rhinestone in each ear and a contagious grin, Subabi says, to have Togo making its debut in the World Cup this year in his adopted country of Germany is once in a lifetime.

Mr. SAMMY SUBABI: (Through translator) Whether or not they go to the final doesn't really matter, because for me they have won already by just making it here.

(Soundbite of soccer players yelling)

MARTIN: Thirty-two teams from six continents are competing in the 2006 World Cup, and hundreds of thousands of fans are expected to watch the opening game in Munich. Back at the Hofbräuhaus, 68-year-old Walter Ludwig(ph) is ready to welcome them all. It's always been said that God greets the world in Munich, and at the Hofbräuhaus he smiles a toothless grin and switches to English.

(Soundbite of music playing)

Mr. WALTER LUDWIG: Welcome to Munich.

MARTIN: Opening ceremonies will be held in the Allianz Arena before the first game of the month-long tournament.

Rachel Martin, NPR News, Munich. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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