Sunday, July 09, 2006

"Temperatures rise as you see the whites of their eyes..."

Among the standard pre-season friendlies against the local likes of Stevenage, and such glamorous, unusual opponents as, er, only-recently-relegated Birmingham, Spurs have lined up a foreign jaunt that may just seem tempting: an August 5 match at Borussia Dortmund.

This evening, the Olympiastadion Berlin will become the tenth of the 12 German World Cup stadia I'll have visited for a match this summer (Hamburg and Leipzig are the two missing from my collection). Berlin may change my mind, but so far by far my favourite has been Dortmund.

The official Fifa guide to the tournament describes the Westfalenstadion as "the Bundesliga's Opera House". A nice description, but not really suitable, I would say. Maybe save that one for the imperious Munich or Stuttgart.

It's funny - or not, actually - to think about how the World Cup final tonight was 'supposed' to kick off at Wembley. Six years and £757million after England’s bid was rejected, Wembley still looks little more ready to stage the Brent WI’s summer fete.

For £213million more, Germany has kitted out 12 spectacular stadia fit indeed for this wunderbar World Cup – including Hanover’s ahead of schedule. Most expensive, £193million Munich is coated in “lozenge-shaped cushions’ that appear as an extra-terrestrial landing – or a giant gift with the wrapping left on.

In stark contrast, the steep banks of the Dortmund and Cologne terraces resemble old-fashioned Subbuteo-style grandstand constructions - only with more animation in the spectators, unless, perhaps, Switzerland are playing.

Like several, Dortmund's stadium has been temporarily stripped of standing areas – reducing capacity to a mere 65,000. But those sheer inclines, the sturdy right-angled roof contours, and the proximity of pitch to seats at least suggest all prawn sandwiches should be scoffed elsewhere. An anxious goalkeeper can almost feel the fans’ hot Bratwurst-scented breath upon his shoulders.

Greece’s German coach Otto Rehhagel has rued the trend for modern stadia to all roll off the same computer programme, sacrificing unique appeal. But there are quirks here to admire – from the five-star Gelsenkirchen’s retractable roof and pitch, to the Palatinate city vistas from Kaiserslautern’s lofty setting.

Stuttgart’s Gottlieb-Daimler-Stadion – wisely renamed from the Adolf Hitler Arena – offers rounded open, crisp-bowl terraces, rolling back from a pitch-distancing athletics track – plus Europe’s largest video screens. Perhaps these widest of wide-screen TVs are a response to Frankfurt’s 30-ton video cube, now with added dent courtesy of Paul Robinson.

Argentina’s urban choir, relentlessly chanting their ‘Vamos, Vamos’ anthem while pogo-hopping and flag-twirling, could still fire the emotions on a wet Wednesday at Underhill. But these 12 German Wembleys have done their bit beautifully. As even Phil Daniels could now concede: there might just be something to your Vorsprung durch Technik, you know.

But still, Dortmund - "the Bundesliga's Opera House"?
Not quite: the Bundesliga's Bear Pit, more like.

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