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Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Back in the U.S.A.

By Michael Davies
Special to Page 2

Editor's Note: Michael Davies, who spent 2002 looking for a stick of deodorant in Japan and South Korea, is back to blog the 2006 World Cup for Page 2. Each day throughout the monthlong tournament, he will file multiple reports from Germany. Check back for more updates.

The Greenwich Street Tavern, Tribeca, New York, 3:05 p.m, July 13
It's Tuesday, I'm back in New York for about 75 hours, and here's what I'm for and against today (fly the imaginary graphic and cue the imaginary music):

For (chanted by Croatian fans): Privately owned and operated autobahn restroom facilities, German words like "Flughafen," Lufthansa's in-flight entertainment and communications system, American guys in suits who leave work at 3 in the afternoon to watch football in bars.

Against (ditto): The Frankfurt Airport Sheraton, ugly German towns like Gelsenkirchen, Frankfurt airport security, late-night German TV, American guys in suits who watch football in bars but try to avoid purchasing anything.

Can't believe that Monday evening I was in Gelsenkirchen and am now just around the corner from my house, in my local, the Greenwich Street Tavern (more free beer, please) with about 70 young men and women in business attire playing hooky from the Traveler's Life building across the street. I'm enjoying a Becks and we're all enjoying Brazil vs. Croatia on ESPNHD via five flat-screen plasmas. This had better be better than France and Switzerland: boooooooooooriiiinnnnnnnngggggggggg.

Brazil are playing in their traditional blue and yellow. Croatia are playing in their traditional pajamas.

It's been a roller coaster of a 24 hours. The U.S. loss against the Czech Republic still hurts. And I'm not even American. But I want so much for football to grow in this country, and believe so passionately that America is so close to cracking the association football code that it's left a bad taste in dem alten Mund. I've scanned the U.S. media coverage today on Monday's game and by and large agree. It was somewhere between a thumping, a hard lesson in the ability of a top team to punish every mistake, and a game heavily influenced by Koller's early goal. Arena was hard on his players after the game and though I'm never a fan of the naming of names by coaches, he knows his team and cannot be faulted for his record in getting performances out of them. But he really is going to have to cheer up on the bench. Who would want to look over from the pitch and see that miserable "Arena Face"? It's not awe-inspiring anger written on it -- it's more like the kind of prissy pout that uptight churchgoers make when someone farts in the middle of service.

Croatia
No, Croatia isn't playing in pajamas -- those are actual uniforms.

Not unlike the look on my face when I returned to the parking garage in Gelsenkirchen and found out my car was locked in. Fortunately there was a sign which some Czech dude helped me translate and we dialed the Rhein-Ruhr Wachsdienst (security service) who deal with Geschlossene Waegen (locked-in cars). By the time three guys in a security car arrived, armed to the hilt, there were about 15 of us in the same situation. We rustled together the 35 Euro fine between us and were pointed with a flashlight towards the down ramp into the completely dark underground parking lot and ordered, quite sternly to "Zetrieve Ze Autoz." As we were halfway down I turned to my Czech friend and we shared a wry smile -- it was a bit like one of those scenes in the war movies where a bunch of English and American soldiers are ordered to march into a clearing in the woods and …

The only nice thing I can think of saying about Gelsenkirchen is that I do quite like saying "Gelsenkirchen." But mostly with a question mark at the end -- "Gelsenkirchen"?

The drive to Frankfurt Airport for my flight back to New York was mostly uneventful, save for my wonder at the magic of the autobahn and a truly sensational restroom stop. It's not just the real-life, high-speed, German-car showcase of the whole perfectly organized network, or the fact that you can drive so fast that your cheeks start going all G-forcey, or the perfect driving, lane changing and etiquette of the drivers -- it's also the quality of the road surfaces, the clear-as-day signage that warns you of traffic congestion and gives you accurate information, and the assortment of synchronized and cycling lights that signify lane closures well in advance and safely switch you into new, freshly painted traffic patterns featuring superb temporary road dividers. Not those awful slabs of concrete I constantly see on the Long Island Expressway. In fact, to compare the L.I.E. in any way to the autobahn is absurd. It's like comparing an Oscar Mayer wiener to the king of all sausages, a highest quality Sud Deutschen Bockwurst.

Greenwich St. tavern
The comforts of home ... wide toilet paper and the local bar.

The privately owned and operated restrooms at the autobahn rest stops are so impressive that they deserve their own column. I'm thinking of live blogging from one on my next visit (I return Friday to Germany for 10 days). Run by "SaniFair," it costs 50 Eurocents to enter, but that is redeemable in the rest stop shop for snacks, drinks or even gas. You could literally eat off of any of the surfaces in the men's room. Though you wouldn't. Faucets, flushing, soap and towel dispensers are all automatically controlled by motion sensors and all work. In fact, it's such an attractive environment that advertisers (mostly for home furnishings) buy space in the bathrooms where they can display ads and interested consumers can pick up catalogs. This is by the side of a freeway, people!

So here are the Davies Diary Seven Best Non-Football Related Things About Germany So Far:

(1) The autobahn -- autobahntastic.

(2) "Sanifair" autobahn restrooms -- a good place to enjoy …

(3) High-quality sausage. Personal favorite? Bockwurst.

(4) The KaiserGarten in Munich -- just a great, neighborhood Bierkeller meets a cool, local bar and an effortlessly hip restaurant.

(5) Lufthansa Airlines -- or more specifically, the in-flight entertainment system that allowed me to spend my entire transatlantic flight watching three sports films ("Glory Road," "The Greatest Game Ever Played" and "The Miracle Of Bern," which by far was the best of the three, the story of the 1954 World Cup finals told from the dual point of view of an 11-year-old boy from Essen and a Munich-based sportswriter) with perfect audio through perfect headphones. I also could have surfed the Internet and checked my e-mail through an on-board wireless network. It's kind of like a flying Man Cave.

(6) The build quality of steel and glass doors -- flush, tight and satisfying. They're rarely so good in the U.S.

(7) Mercedes station wagon taxis -- everywhere in German towns. Unfortunately, they sometimes contain drivers who want to let you know that they're really musicians.

And The Seven Worst:

Previous Entries
Day 4: Welcome, America
Day 3: Clarity at 190 kph
Day 2: England are pants
Day 1: I kiss football
Complete World Cup coverage

(1) Narrow toilet paper. It's ubiquitous and just weird.

(2) The Frankfurt Airport Sheraton. Past midnight, you can only get in if you wait by the door until someone leaves. I waited for an hour and a half at 2 a.m.. Got to bed at 4. Wake up call at 7. I'm yummy.

(3) The bored look on most German women's faces. I swear it's not just me, because some German women have been lovely. But mostly the ones on Lufthansa and at the KaiserGarten.

(4) Frankfurt Airport security. I had my passport checked five times, my ticket four times, went through three sets of X-ray machines and got patted down, a little too enthusiastically, twice.

(5) German World Cup ennui. Maybe it's unfair to compare the Germans to the Japanese and Koreans in 2002. But a big part of the wonder of those finals was how excited the Japanese and Koreans were to be staging the finals. The Germans only seem really interested in the fate of the German Fussball team.

(6) Heat wave. Coupled with the rarity of air conditioning and everyone smells.

(7) Cyclists. All German towns have bikepaths on the sidewalks where cyclists can go either direction, very fast and have little regard for foreigners on foot. I actually have tread marks on my Hugo Boss Brazil limited-edition sneakers.


The atmosphere at the Greenwich Street Tavern is really strong -- I was so worried that I wouldn't find any evidence of World Cup fever outside the big "soccer pubs" when I got back to New York. But this place is just a local hangout, a good solid oak long bar where they serve a good variety of classic bar food almost verging on Gastropub territory (mussels anyone?) and they show plenty of sport. Mike the barman tells me that it was packed for the U.S. game Monday afternoon. I hear the ratings are up considerably on ESPN and ABC from last time -- and I can't help thinking, as I look around the bar, that what other sporting event could ever bring so many guys in suits out of the office at 3 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon?

Brazil win 1-0 on a cracker of a Kaka goal. And I think they look human.

But I'm not thinking about Brazil. I'm thinking about how important Saturday's game against Italy is going to be for the reputations of a whole group of U.S. players, their coach, and, for the next few years, U.S. soccer. I'll be back in Germany for the game in Kaiserslautern. You should make your way to the Greenwich Street Tavern, or somewhere just like it in your hometown.

Michael Davies is a British-born television producer whose forthcoming projects for ESPN include the World Series of Darts and the documentary film "Once In A Lifetime" about the New York Cosmos, which will air on ESPN in October after being released theatrically by Miramax in July.