Summer Blog Post Seventeen

Oscar Wilde, trip to Paris in July 2014 with Molière's "Le Malade imaginaire"

Summer Blog Post Seventeen

Summer Blog Post Seventeen

Dear readers of my blog,

this being the last instalment of my World Cup Diary for 2014, I don't want to delay your reading of the final chapter by any current remarks other than that referring to the elimination of the German Women's Football Team from this year's World Cup in France at the hands of a strong Swedish side. The latter broke the deadlock after a series of defeats lasting more than twenty years. So it was their turn today, and from what I watched and read they well deserved it. The semifinals have now four physically strong sides facing each other: England vs. USA; Sweden vs. the Netherlands. Perhaps the US can be prevented from winning yet again or even reaching the final.

Leer, 29th June 2019

45

With just over two minutes’ delay we succeeded in leaving the apartment to find us half an hour later at the latter end of a not interminable queue of basically young and youngish people waiting for the “petit guichet” to open at 7.30 p.m. Only when we did arrive at the end of the queue and I discerned the figure of 95 seats with limited visibility was it clear after all that we would enter the Comédie française 1680 on the night. With tickets priced at 5 € per person you cannot complain if you have a wooden seat, half a seat or nothing at all to sit on while you try to bow across the railing to discover what is going on below. We are early, so that we can look leisurely at the gallery of busts of famous French dramatists which includes, of course, Molière and Voltaire.

The former’s last “comédie-ballet”, Le malade imaginaire, is on the play-bill tonight but I must admit that I have never read that play before, nor have I so much as attended the performance of a classical French play at such a prestigious venue. It is what the French call a “spectacle”, spectacular in the sense that everything seems calculated at achieving some effect but I’m not convinced of every single spectacular moment as a part and parcel of an organic whole.

What pleases everybody in the group, not least because linguistic understanding is less important are the musical and ballet passages which, like most other non-verbal elements, are performed on the spot. Not everything perfectly audible because of frequently too vociferous verbal exchanges on stage between the “malade imaginaire” and his servant Toinette who not only to me appears too much of a domineering as well as “rusée” woman. She could be domineering, no doubt about it, if she also behaved with as much refinement as the classical language she used required.

It was the inverse of what I had feared would come to pass when a man from the Comédie française had stepped on stage to tell the audience something about “fin de saison” problems. His voice was so flat, it didn’t carry at all, while most of the cast overdid it in shouting so much that in such a dry acoustics their syllables often arrived in the top gallery as a kind of indistinguishable chain of sounds. The only actors always present with all their performance were those who sang and danced as well as if they still were conscious of the effort it takes to make oneself heard and understood in that historical playhouse.

I don’t, however, regret having attended this performance since there is still so much to learn about the facts printed in Pariscope, for example: they give the postal address, 2, rue de Rivoli, which may date from an age long since past, whereas the queue stood outside on Place Colette. Moreover, it is only 65 seats that are going to be sold each night on a first come first served basis. Those in the know like us will forever profit from this piece of information for who would want to convince people at Pariscope that some important facts are wrong and reprinted every week?

The shop nearby where I acquired some inexpensive books seemed to be on leave already with the till being emptied three quarters of an hour before closing time. They did, however, go on selling things.

Paris, 16è, Saturday, 19th July 2014, 9.50 a.m.

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Back from my visit of the St. Germain quarter, walking past “Les Deux Magots”, “Le Café de Flore”, and “La Brasserie Lipp”, all of which full of people partaking of a late breakfast, I now take notes in the salon. The indications of Pariscope being imprecise once more, for neither Sèvres-Babylone, where I got off the Métro, nor Rue du Bac were closer than St. Germain-des-Prés where the Museum of Manuscripts had put fac-simili of their famous exhibits to whet visitors’ appetites. On the way through the quarter, I had had a glimpse of the Hôtel Lutétia, a complete block of houses at the corner of two streets where Jewish survivors from concentrations camps had been received on 25th August 1944.[1]

At a newspaper stand, I bought the latest issue of France Football with its cover of rejoicing German players. Today’s running title of Süddeutsche Zeitung in Munich announced Philipp Lahm’s decision to terminate his career as a German international. Admittedly, my account of attending a performance of Le malade imaginaire wouldn’t be complete if I failed to mention that to survive some moments when I neither understood anything of the French nor was gripped by the theatricality of the action I simply tried to recall all the matches of international tournaments I had watched on TV or followed otherwise since the Euro 2004 when Klose, Lahm, Podolski, Schweinsteiger first had been part of the German squad, with Lahm also playing all three matches at group stage.[2]

Since his debut in early 2004, Lahm hardly ever failed to make the first eleven, though it was him who had to make room in the German Cup Final two months ago owing to an injury incurred in the first half hour of the game. Having played in midfield for three and a half matches in this World Cup, while being of anything but superior form there, he returned to his position at right back which he may have occupied in only a minority of games he contested for Germany.

In Brazil, however, he greatly helped his team both in defence and on the attack, and he may well have decided beforehand to step down once he had lifted the most coveted cup at Maracanã – or even once the team had finished their last match of the competition. What can’t be bettered is the movement he had had from four bitter defeats suffered in spring and summer 2012 to a triple of triumphs on club level in spring 2013 and a national double one year later plus the World Cup last Sunday. People may have constantly underestimated him, as some analysts confirm in France Football, but as opposed to some bearers of great names in world football he can now claim to have been on the pitch in most of the finest moments the German national team has created since their elimination from the Euro in June 2004.

His young man’s goal scored as a left back provided the momentum for Germany’s win by four goals to two over Costa Rice in the opening game of the 2006 World Cup. Also, he made good a defensive mistake committed as left back in the 2008 Euro semi-final by scoring the winner before the final whistle was blown. As the selection’s Captain since 2010, he didn’t fail to speak for his team, becoming nervous only lately when all was not well with him as a central midfield player. I didn’t hear him speak after they won the World Cup but I daresay, on the authority of having read his book from 2012 that he’d projected all along to resign once his ultimate goal outlined there had been reached. I wonder whether others will follow suit, so that different master plans will have to be developed by Löw in the years to come.

In 2011, I had dreamed of an important game of Brazil vs. Germany after the latter, fielding Schweinsteiger, Götze, and Schürrle, had beaten the Seleçaõ at Stuttgart by three goals to two. All three were of importance in Sunday’s Final, too, while Götze was the only one to be left out on 8th July. The two strikers can look forward to playing further tournaments, while Schweinsteiger may either follow Lahm’s example or become his successor as Captain.

Paris, 16è, 19th July 2014, 3.54 p.m.

47

Returned both from Paris and a painful visit to the dentist’s, I could turn my attention to finishing this journal kept in the first place for myself but also for those who’d like to read an individual record not limited to either match statistics or fan observations in Brazil as regards the prices for accommodation or soup. Of course, being tied up at home, I could only write about how people reacted in Germany or pick up and pass on information about the World Cup not everyone can or would lay his or her hands on.

There are, for example, people in Germany who have already stopped thinking about this year’s World Cup, saying they cannot live without watching Bundesliga. Others would be gladly rid of the subject for four years, quipping icily “you don’t need to watch the Euro in 2016, do you?” Others again cannot stand enthusiasm on the part of football fans if that means a sustained silence in terms of other subjects.

All these are reasons for me to have started keeping this journal, as a dialogue also with those who can fancy discussing the World Cup when “it’s all over”, which may mean as well to provide them with food for thought. No, I tell a friend from York, there’s no reason at all to be smug, to react in a blasé manner. She insists, adding the German team had played so well deserving to win the cup so much.

Wembley had witnessed the all-German Champions League Final in 2013, and now many of the same players formed the backbone of the squad for the World Cup. Forty years of Bayern Munich’s domination of Bundesliga are reflected by four players who either play or played for the club all to have scored a goal in the three finals Germany has won since 1974. There’s a rhythm, too, both in terms of names with two syllables and in terms of the way they scored: penalty, Breitner, goal by Müller into the left-hand corner, resulting from a move across the complete pitch in 1974; penalty, Brehme, in 1990; goal by Götze into the right-hand corner after a move across three quarters of the pitch, in 2014.

In recounting all the first-ever things that needed to happen, should Germany win the World Cup this year, I forgot to mention that la Mannschaft was the first to win the trophy created for the 1974 tournament. In 1990, the German side became the second to have won it twice, following Argentina. Since 2006, there had been four countries with two wins each, including Brazil and Italy. And now it is Germany leading that contest with three titles won. Having closed the gap separating them from Italy, the Germans have more in common with them than just the number of victories.

Both achieved their fourth success after a break lasting 24 years. Both had to face final defeat after twelve years, Italy losing on penalties to Brazil in 1994 after a dreary goalless draw, and Germany was beaten by Brazil in 2002. Three is company. Brazil, too, had had to wait 24 years after thrashing Italy by four goals to one at Mexico City, and defeated by the Squadra Azzurra, that is. The latter in turn had waited 44 years since defeating Hungary in the 1938 Final in Paris. It was Germany who lost by three goals to one in July 1982, just as it was la Mannschaft who allowed Spain to clinch their first Euro title after 44 years in Vienna in 2008.

In both matches, Italy and Spain largely deserved to win, while Germany’s three clashes with Argentina in as many World Cup Finals have been tight games with the exception perhaps of the Final in Rome which participants and spectators recall to have been as one-sided as I thought it was when watching it from behind one of the goals.

Thursday, 24th July 2014, on the train to Norden

48

Whatever you read on the four World Cup tournaments won by Germany, there’s always a surprise to be found in statements made by eye-witnesses. About 1954, for example, I learned that the team was given lunch by a chef in a restaurant which was famous even then. As a kind of thanks, the skipper, Fritz Walter, promised to be godfather to the cook’s child. His son was born in 1957, and for some years he has been President of SC Freiburg, a club in Bundesliga. Sepp Maier, goalie of the 1974 side, which like their 1954 predecessor had nobody substituted – which in 1954 hadn’t been allowed anyway – recounts the trip back through GDR from their opening match in Berlin with many people standing in stations and elsewhere waving and clapping. They’d been touched by that, Maier added, given that the historical first-ever clash between the selections of the two German states still lay ahead. At the time, West Germany played the next two group games in Hamburg, so it is quite something to imagine whether as many people would have stood there to wave after a defeat at the hands of the GDR side.

15 years on, in June 1989, I took part in a trip to the Cup Final held in Berlin since 1985. In a mini bus, we drove past many posters hanging from bridges on which Borussia Dortmund was welcomed by well-wishing fans. Other less timorous supporters were standing on bridges waving their hands to the cars racing past with black and yellow scarves showing their affinity for Dortmund. I wondered then whether these fans weren’t transgressing in assembling outside. But there may also have been a GDR side with the same colours as Borussia. In fact, there was and still is Dynamo Dresden, now in Bundesliga 2.

Thursday, 24th July 2014, on the train to Emden

49

More than two weeks after the Final, I still cannot let go the World Cup. Whenever there’s a new magazine in the station bookshop I go and browse, while friends I haven’t talked to or communicated with for some time share their impressions with me.

One of them was born and bred in Essen, the heart of the Ruhr area, where the first scorer of a goal winning the World Cup for Germany, Helmut Rahn, had played for the club of Rot-Weiß, now in the fourth division, the only German to date to have scored two goals in a single Final. My friend had been looking forward to seeing further Ruhr area players making an impact. Indeed, they did: Neuer, Höwedes, Hummels, Özil as well as Draxler and Kramer and Großkreutz were born and bred in and around that area, five of them also playing in the Final, whereas Götze grew up in Dortmund.

My friend also mentioned that most viewers had left the room where he watched after full-time of the Germany vs. Algeria match, with most people losing interest after about twenty minutes of France vs. Germany had passed, so that he found those like him who still sought to pay serious attention to the game were deemed a nuisance by the huge majority. For the place I went to watch most matches for I can only say that the numbers of little boys and girls running about clamouring for another Bratwurst or a soft drink diminished as the German team rose through the ranks. The number of serious fans, however, increased, while “success fans” who must have been there for the sake of being seen like the Mayor-elect, who admitted to me to be indifferent to the results of football, tended to be visible only. They made themselves heard when the World Cup was over, some women even lamenting the lack of sleep, since to them it must have been a social must they felt they could not fail to fulfil in order not to become an outsider.

By chance, with the weather being so hot, I have been able to go swimming four times in the morning since last Wednesday, cycling past Logabirum Lutheran Church on the way out and using the main road on the way home. Each time I felt like retracing my steps, for on 16th, 22nd, 26th, and 30th June as well as on 4th and on 13th July I had taken the same routes. It was not superstition, it was my World Cup ritual which to relive now provides me with a kind of final relief. This was confirmed this morning when on the way home to a breakfast of “Weltmeister” rolls – which you can but at any time in East Frisia – we met the younger daughter and son of the Lutheran incumbent, both cycling to Leer for the penultimate day at school this year. As for drinks, I had always ordered apple juice with mineral water, “Schorrle”, that is. Invariably, she had served me, which meant that this habit of mine had soon become a ritual, too, like my coming to watch the German games there since 2006.

Tuesday, 29th July 2014, on the train to Norden

Postscript, 17th July 2018

This time round, I didn’t go and watch a single Germany game outside our home, so I only once went there in the car to see whether the set-up at Logabirum had been prepared. In fact, they had put up the marquee for public viewing of Germany matches, but for family reasons there was no chance of going there. Typing up the rest of this journal four years later showed me, too, how ideal that campaign had been for the German side. As did my team statistics I had scribbled into my notebook back in 2014, which showed how often head coach Löw had had the core of his Final team on the pitch between August 2011 and July 2013.

Some months after the Final when the DVD of all German matches was on sale I did buy a copy but only sat down to watch any games immediately before the 2018 World Cup started. I was confirmed in my intention to write about failure this time after I had realized the way good luck and commitment as well as experience and youthful vigour had combined in 2014 to allow the German squad a perfect World Cup in Brazil when nobody had expected them to do well.

Following the triumph on 7th July 1974, the German side has failed three times in 1984, in 1994, and in 2004 to meet the high expectations of their fans. It had already become a tradition to fail in the year ending in a figure four, so that when the time came to prepare for Brazil it wasn’t such a big public relations deal to tone down people’s hopes enough to make any success seem all the more miraculous.

In 1954, however, any such methods were, if at all present, in their first innings in America. Certainly, they hadn’t reached the Federal Republic of Germany that was still trying to come to terms with the aftermath of the Second World War and the effects of partition. So people who could afford to own their private TV were really well off, whereas those who were able to watch it in a public house or outside of the rare shops putting one up formed quite a small minority.

More often than not it was through the radio that people learned of the dramatic match at Berne with four goals scored in the opening twenty minutes. A former Cabinet Minister told the story of having been on a train with people putting up the changed result at each station he passed through. It was a bit like that when Bayern Munich faced Chelsea in the Champions League Final in 2012 and whenever I changed the S-Bahn on the night I found the result being shown where normally the next train is announced.

Usually, it is the winning goal by Helmut Rahn that is focused on but I recall having listened to the complete recording of the radio reportage on 4th July 2004, the fiftieth anniversary of that match, and to have realized that the whole reversal of Hungary’s fortunes that afternoon is worth looking at. They led Germany by two goals to nil after very few minutes, so that everybody, the reporter, Herbert Zimmermann included, may have had forebodings relative to the first meeting of both teams at group stage when Hungary had won by eight goals to three.

While in 2014 Löw camouflaged his defensive strategy before the beginning of the World Cup and all but deceived the public about the fitness of Neuer, Schweinsteiger, Khedira, and Lahm, all of whom had joined the squad in an uncertain state, his famous predecessor, Sepp Herberger, also from Southern Germany, had fielded a B-team for the first clash with Hungary. At the time, the two seeded teams of any group, Hungary and Turkey, used to play the two unseeded ones: Germany and South Korea. The latter didn’t play each other. There wasn’t yet any rule about goal difference if two sides were level after two games each. So Germany having beaten Turkey and been beaten by Hungary knew they would have to replay Turkey. First they beat them by four goals to one, and in the replay it was by seven goals to two.

The press, however, chastised Herberger savagely for having selected a B-team for the match with Hungary. With hindsight, of course, Herberger had done the right thing, and when it rained on Final Day, the skipper Fritz Walter was glad, for this was his own preferred weather, and the Hungarians wouldn’t be able to excel as they would have done on a dry pitch. It was also a matter of foot-ware, since the Germans were the first to use shoes the studs of which could be changed according to the weather conditions of the day.

Whoever I talked to and who recalled this match was mostly able to tell where he or she had been. Some had returned from a bus trip to the countryside and formed a captive audience in the late afternoon. These people were pooled, just as the whole country was made one again by the result and the aftermath, a triumphant train ride back in a special train from Switzerland which, compared to today’s arrival at an airport, had the advantage that many more people in different places had the chance to see and perhaps meet their new “heroes”.

The southern parts of Germany at least actually shared the celebrations with the squad. It was the first time that a German football team had won an international title, and since it was only nine years after the capitulation on all fronts it was also the first time any pride in German achievements was again part of public life.

So barely three weeks after the third stanza of the national anthem had officially become the new anthem it was no accident that at Berne after the match had been won both the first – prohibited – and the third stanza were being sung simultaneously. The scandal that erupted immediately may have been one reason for playing both anthems before kick-off rather than the winning team’s after the match. In 2014, however, politics only shared the triumph by watching the match at Maracana and leaving the celebrations to the team and the fans in Berlin two days later.

 

[1] Cf. Pierre Assouline, Lutetia, Paris: Folio 2008 (2005).

[2] https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philipp_Lahm (Accessed: 17th July 2018).

 

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