|With just days to go before the World Cup kicks off in Germany, preparations have entered the final stages. Twelve German cities will host 63 football matches, and more than four million fans are expected to visit Germany during the month-long event.|
Workers are putting the finishing touches on a $300 million facelift at Berlin's stadium, for its biggest sporting event since the 1936 Olympic Games.
Up to 60,000 fans will see each match live, including the World Cup final on July 9.
Berlin, as with other German cities, is hosting a three-week-long football party. The government has set aside many viewing areas where supporters without tickets can gather to cheer on their teams.
Other private enterprises will host fan parties for the duration of the championship, featuring live music from the countries of the competing teams. Bjorn Doring is one of the party organizers.
“Football itself is more than football; everywhere it's cool to go out and watch the games and celebrate the culture,” Doring said.
Of course, fans must be suitably attired, and store manager Eva Prokop has some suggestions.
"We have glasses and sweet things, t-shirts, back packs, bags for shopping,” Prokop said. “I didn't even think there were so many things to promote the World Cup.”
Berlin is preparing for hundreds of thousands of visitors, and transportation planners say they are well prepared. The train, trolley and bus networks are monitored and controlled around the clock. Officials say they can move up to 50,000 people to the stadium each hour.
Hartmut Reupke, who heads the main control center, says visitors will get help navigating the system.
“We have a lot of information in English, Spanish, German; we have city volunteers at station, to explain how to get there, how to get a ticket, we hope we have good information for the visitors and the fans,” Reupke said.
Berlin is football-crazy. The city's old TV tower -- now a restaurant -- has been newly redecorated, becoming a soccer ball you can visit for a drink. For those with no head for heights, there's another just outside the historic Brandenburg Gate. If fans want to delve into history while in the city, Berlin is a perfect place to learn about the old divisions of Europe. Memorabilia from the Soviet days of East Germany is still available and Checkpoint Charlie, the most famous border crossing of the Berlin Wall, is a tourist attraction.
Normal life for Berliners will certainly be put on hold to the regret of some.
“I'm not the biggest fan of football… I think I am interested in the World Cup, but I think it is exaggerated,” said one Berlin resident. “I will observe it. I will not be with football everyday.”
Another resident said, “It's something special, I'm not a fan who watches every week but it happens in Germany and I have to take part.”
Whether you're a football fan or not, the waiting will soon be over, and the fun -- or frustrations -- of the 2006 World Cup, will begin.