It’s a party in the parks, city squares and anywhere

They came in their tens of thousands in the first week, and they continue to pour in. As a somewhat bewildered CNN describes it, "the mysterious fever that strikes millions worldwide" will bring some three million fans to Germany in the next weeks as the 2006 Football World Cup takes hold.

Fans at the Roemer, city square (above) and (inset left) the 40 feet high giant screen in the middle of the river

Germany has long prepared for it and the build up to the world's largest sporting event - estimated to overshadow even the Olympic in terms of its viewers - has been well worth the wait.

Shortly before the opening match ten days ago, the atmosphere in villages, towns and cities in Germany was reminiscent of Colombo after polls close on election days. The streets rapidly emptied as people rushed home to catch the news;buildings were festooned with banners and the air was thick with suppressed excitement and anticipation.

At night the party began and since then has been growing unabated. As word spreads of the carnival like feeling across the country, fans flock across the border, flooding flights, trains and roads to join in. In Frankfurt, some 50,000 fans spill onto the banks of the river Main each day where the hosts have done their best to keep up the tempo for the many without tickets. With the construction of stadium type seating, a giant screen, some 40 feet high hoisted in the middle of the river, beer stalls selling briskly at a wallet scorching four euros for half a litre, thanks in part to soaring temperatures of over 30 degrees Celsius, Frankfurt am, Main (FFM) is living up to its slogan, "Football and Fans on the Main".

The event, four years in the making, has seen millions of euros poured into construction and upgrading of public transport and stadiums in the 12 host cities. The benefits of this not insubstantial effort; from the overhaul of Frankfurt's Main station, to the banishment of the dreaded ticket controllers on the metro for the month - as explained by an official of the transport authority "fans from Togo have never seen a ticket machine before and we don't want to upset our visitors with our complicated systems", is helping to ease some of the famous German tendency to complain, brought on by traffic diversions and price hikes. For the usually reserved Germans, the revelry led by a colourful mix of its resident foreigners and tourists equipped with a noisy mix of bongos and bagpipes, it is also a chance to let loose, stop complaining and join the carnival.

It could even be a chance to feel some sense of national pride, as evident in the breakout of a patriotic burst of black, red and gold, a phenomenon not seen since reunification 16 years ago. It came tentatively at first, but with each passing day, the flags and banners hoisted on cars and windows are bursting forth as the nation modestly comes to terms with its long buried sense of patriotism. As 'Der Spiegel', Germany's top-selling journal said, "its ok to be German again", and as some analysts add, even the country's economic planners seem to have not much more than a world cup 'feel good' factor to boost the economy's prospects, in their bag.

Apart from a positive economic spillover, the World Cup presents a real chance for the Germans to re-brand themselves. The official slogans of this year's World Cup are: "A time to make friends" and "The world comes as guests to friends". This 'services and friendliness campaign' launched by the Federal Ministry of the Interior, while more reminiscent of straightjacket 'politeness and friendliness campaigns regularly launched by the paternalistic Governments of Singapore, seems to be filtering through.

The World Cup is a golden opportunity to chip away at the dour and somewhat fearsome image that clings stubbornly to Germany. The fact that the German football team is virtually a laughing stock at present, seems also, ironically, to help. As the Financial Times put it, "if the Germans really want to remove the last vestiges of fear of Germany, they know what to do: keep losing football matches".

What seems more certain, is that the festive mood will grow, and for the first time, not having a ticket to the actual game itself matters little, as football fever infects even the most determined of Agnosts' to head to beer gardens, parks, city squares or the river, take a seat and join in the fun.

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