Around the globe more than a million fans attended the 16 FIFA Fan Fest venues during the first week of the World Cup. Berlin’s ‘fan mile’ -- first at the Olympic Stadium and now in the heart of town along the Straße des 17. Juni – attracted more than 100,000 of them, to sing, to cheer and above all to watch the matches on huge television screens.
Last Wednesday marked the key Germany – Ghana match, which die Mannschaft had to win to avoid elimination. But even though living only a few minute’s cycle ride away, I didn’t join the crowd at Germany’s biggest public viewing event. I stayed at home to watch the match on our small television set. As kick off drew near, Mrs. Cat served supper and we settled down on the sofa to watch the game. I reached for the hand control, flicked the ‘on’ button and ... nothing happened. The screen stayed blank. The speaker – and me – were silent.
I fell onto my knees and began fiddling with the set. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I ran onto the balcony. Our neighbours were away in Hamburg. Our local restaurant was deserted as they had no television. The match was starting in seconds. I didn’t know what to do.
‘Thank goodness,’ said Mrs. Cat, before making a totally unreasonable suggestion. ‘Do you think that tonight we could enjoy our supper in peace, without watching the football?’
I’ve always considered thrift to be a virtue, and try to buy the things that I need rather than want. I take pride in my ability to repair broken devices, even if they – and I -- end up covered with glue, emitting sparks and looking like hell. When we lived in the UK, I had given Mrs. Cat a television set for her birthday (lucky girl). Naturally when we moved to Germany it had come with us. But when I first plugged it in here, the damn machine hadn’t made a sound.
As the screen had worked, I’d assumed that the speaker had been damaged in transit. I replaced it but to no avail. Next I changed all the settings but again without success. Only after a week of fiddling did I finally discover that – despite the tireless efforts of Brussels’ devoted compliance bureaucrats – British and German television sound is broadcast at different frequencies. The only way to operate a British television in Germany – apart from buying an expensive converter – is to use an old German VCR as the tuner. I bought one in a flea market for €5. Problem solved. Money saved.
But on that fateful Wednesday night, as Germany battled to move into the last-16 of the World Cup, I stared at the now-broken VCR and incompatible British television and decided to throw the whole damn mess of wires and diodes out on the street.
Luckily Mrs. Cat stopped me. She took me in hand, led me back onto the balcony and handed me my supper. It was delicious. And as we ate, looking out over our corner of Berlin, we realized that the streets – usually so busy in the early evening – were deserted. There was neither traffic or pedestrians. Silence filled the air, as the blue light of unnumbered working TV screens flickered in apartment after apartment, building after building.
Most movingly, we didn’t have to worry about not being able to follow the game. The silence of the streets told us that the score was still nil-nil at halftime. The cacophony of cries, air horns and vuvuzelas confirmed that Germany broke the deadlock early in the second half. The deep quiet which followed told us that Ghana almost scored an equalizer. Finally, thirty hushed minutes later, with cries so loud that birds flapped out of their nests and our retriever barked at the night, we knew that – 5,500 miles away in Johannesburg -- Germany had the win it needed to top Group D.
Next up in our household will be the Germany – England game. In light of this, I wonder if Mrs. Cat would like an early birthday present...in time for that last-16 match? I’m pretty sure she’d be delighted, especially as when the final whistle blew she shouted out ‘Deutschland!’.
(scary stat for England: the last time Germany got knocked out of World Cup Finals before the quarter-finals was 1938 – thanks to the BBC for this information).