Our weary faces told a story - the same story. "It's been fun, but much more of this will certainly mean the death of us". One final time we crammed 5 to a room, argued over bedding arrangements, commented on how huge Snags was, and debated our plan of attack for a city offering so much. United by the same passion we had descended on Germany from all over the world, with the simple goal of following the Socceroos into their place in history. 1st goal in a World Cup. 1st win in a World Cup. 1st time progressing through to the Round of 16. Our team had achieved these goals with the help of our one-eyed support, and it was a great feeling of accomplishment to know I can always say "I was there". With the adventure rapidly coming to its conclusion however, my mind was elsewhere. Not pondering what might have been or what was next, but instead wishing I could once again strap myself into the rollercoaster and do it all again! I thank the members of Vinny Grella's Mum's Van Van Van for this...
Brettski: decidedly moody at times, wearer of silly hats, spewed on a castle and tried to burn down the van, and would change his clothes if you "accidentally" wore the same colours as him. Drove us through a park along a pedestrian path, and decked a 12-year-old during one of our exhibition football matches.
Mark: the primary instigator of games such as "dice" and "get Snags to say something". The only member to be so shit at driving that he was banned. Got on German radio saying "David Boon is an attacking midfielder", and also gave his two cents in a street-side TV interview. Always kept the tunes coming. The only member to damage the van in a way we couldn't possibly cover it up (that's why we called it "Lock Down", Mark).
Snags: after seeing our skills, took it upon himself to do most of the driving. King Snorer, and able to wake the rest of us up simply by rolling over. Always seemed to be feeling "hot" or "cold" much to our bemusal. Contacted a relative he had never met, and got us a great place to stay with hot showers and an awesome family. Scratched his balls entirely too much for the limited space we were operating in. Ran into a lot of stuff and was always falling over things. Record holder for 5-pattie Whopper and fastest pint-of-beer skull. A top bloke and a good sport.
Me: not sure if the others will agree, but here goes. Was most lazy member of the team. Invented the "Easyrider Position", and then used it constantly. Was most likely member to vanish during the night, only to reappear the next morning around 10am. As a result I would say I hold the records for drinking the most overall, for getting the most action, and for taking myself the closest to death any of us got.
We actually did some sight seeing...
While Berlin is a fantastic city, I only wish I could have arrived there with a little more energy and willingness to see the sights. I had essentially reached critical mass, brought about by more than a month of meat, salt and beer. You'd be crazy to say I don't like kebabs, but too much of a good thing... To make matters worse, kebabs were an unprecedented 1.50 Euros in Berlin - by far the cheapest we'd seen.
Following our arrest and thus negative first impressions of Berlin, we were determined not to leave without at least giving it a chance to redeem itself. We started by heading to the Adidas World of Football display found next to the Reichstag (German Parliament). Aside from once again having my plastic water bottle confiscated in 38 degree heat (a policy I will never understand), the display included some fun interaction such as bending a free kick around a wall of cutouts and of course 5-aside football games. After waiting about an hour for our game, we faced some pretty serious-looking Turks who managed to stomp their football boots all over our bare feet.
While we toyed with the idea of watching the Final amongst the throngs of the Fan Mile, we ended up finding a local abandoned hall with a projector which meant we actually got to see some of the game. Rather than pressing up against 1,000,000 other people in the heat of the day, we got to sit down at our own table and have beers delivered to us without getting up. A nearby table even accommodated us for a couple of spliffs. In an uninspired match, Italy eventually won in a penalty shoot-out after Zidane had lost his mind and been sent off for headbutting. Not very deserving winners if you ask me, but that's life.
With that, the World Cup was officially over and the clean-up had already begun. We had fulfilled our mission to watch every game, and my football-watching quota for the next few years was already full. 64 games, 5380 minutes watched, 2898 kilometres driven. We were "all footballed out"!
The next day we did the right thing and bought an all day train ticket between the four of us. I say we did the right thing, because damn ticket inspectors got on at our stop! After checking our ticket, the carriage was alive with plentiful high fives all over the place as we revelled in our loss of rebellion. You simply can't risk free-riding in Berlin it seems.
The Berlin Wall, The Goddess of Victory, the Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial and the Reichstag all got a visit. As you can imagine the Berlin Wall is not overly interesting in itself, but standing in the "death strip" between East and West it was easy to relive the amazing TV images of 1989. Only a few select sections of the original 155km wall remain, and the part we visited was decorated with murals of peace or political messages.
The Goddess of Victory was not much more than a big golden statue. The short climb up the tower gave a very distant view of the Brandenburg Gate, as well as of the extensive clean-up operation taking place along the Fan Mile. The small museum on the bottom floor was not worth even slowing down for. Overall I was glad I had once again managed to scam a reduced ticket on the strength of my fake student ID.
Situated somewhere in between the Brandenburg Gate and Hitler's bunker is the relatively new Holocaust Memorial, designed by architect Peter Eisenman and opened in 2005. According to Eisenman's project text, the stelae (ie. concrete slabs) are "designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason"
. For me, the "uneasy, confusing atmosphere" was more as a result of trying to fathom how on Earth 2,711 concrete slabs cost 25 million Euros to produce. That's more than 9000 Euros per concrete slab. Perhaps more perplexing is the realisation that the anti-graffiti protective coating was initially to be supplied by Degussa, whose subsidiary company Degesch even produced the Zyklon B used to poison people in the gas chambers. Goodbye Germany, and thanks for all the fish!
When Berlin emerged and swelled off the bonnet of our 200km/h turbo-charged Audi, it represented our hard-earned Mecca. Not only a culmination of more than a month's worth of dedicated obsession to Football, but also a very deserving means to an end for a country always looking to move forward. History seeps out of every building, street and conscience - an ever-present reminder to the stigma the German people are so badly trying to shake off. In a place where so often "pride in country" is persecuted, I can only hope that such a well organised and successful international event can provide a platform for the next generation to build on rather than to eternally pay for the mistakes of others.