Emmet Ryan didn’t go to the arena on Thursday. Instead he hit Berlin to see if he could find an impact made by the tournament on the 3 million people here
In the Mercedes-Benz Arena, EuroBasket was everything. In that bubble of basketball, the idea that these games weren’t the most important thing in the city right now felt crazy. Every time Dirk and Dennis took the floor they were greeted by a full house of Deutschland fans. Yet in my previous 8 days in Kreuzberg, just over the river, I only came across hints of what was happening in the arena twice. Once when telling a barmaid here and on Wednesday night when some downbeat German fans were sipping beers in Voegelchen. The local hacks had told me the city didn’t care, that Alba rarely filled this barn, and that any effort to find a bar showing the game would come up short. Well, it’s one thing to hear it. I had to see it.
13.00 – A mattress in Wranglestrasse
There are two reasons I’ve hardly seen my AirBnB host. One, she is busy working on three different projects as an actress. The other is that I got up pretty late. I woke up to messages from Kremena Mladenova of Gong in Bulgaria asking what was happening in the gym. I’m groggy at the best of times but it turned out the whole arena had been evacuated. Someone saw smoke, the fire brigade was called, and this was the day I decided to not be there? I had to suit up and head right there…oh
According to sources, Arena in Berlin was evacuated because the cook forgot a chicken in the oven
— Sportando (@sportando) September 10, 2015
“It’s not the game, it’s basketball in general. There’s just not much interest in it. More people play competitive badminton in Germany than basketball,” said Jannes Schaefer of court-side.de
“The football team obviously is big, and anyone would go watch them if they played Spain but [with basketball] most people hardly know Dirk,. If they don’t know one of the greatest players of all time, how would they have heard of Karsten Tadda?” said Schaefer.
“Alba seldom sells this place out before the Finals. And even then, only when it’s Bayern and Saturday night. It’s a big arena but it’s also by far the biggest city in Germany. Not even 14.500 out of 3 million want to see Alba in the playoffs. There’s too much competition. The football team is not the greatest but it is an old team and has a lot of fans. There’s first division hockey, handball, and volleyball, too.
15.00 – Koffaein, Kreuzberg
It was my last chance to visit the world famous coffee shop and my first shot at actually relaxing there. There was some work for my day job to do and carrot cake to eat. This wasn’t where I expected to find the game atmosphere but it was a good starting point for hitting the city. I spend an hour there and in this part of town you were more likely to see a poster for Sharknado 3, yes they really had those, than any advertisment for the games. Even in Bilbao, where the game was way out of town and interest was low enough at the World Cup last year, there were banners everywhere. If you wanted to watch a game, the fanzone had you covered. Here, across the city, I saw no promotion. Nothing to make you think there was anything major happening in Friedrichschain.
“There’s no interest in basketball in general. many of my friends think that basketball is too complicated. Germany is a nation of football fans,” said Marcel Lubasch of Give and Go
16.15 – Warschauer Strasse station
The U-Bahn and S-Bahn stations here aren’t attached, to change trains I have to walk along an overpass. To my left is the arena, the first time I’ve seen it from this side in over 5 years. Ahead of me and going against me as I hit the S-Bahn are fans. Lots of them. It’s still 90 minutes to tip and almost uniformly they look tired. It’s not stress, no-one bar the lone Serbian fan on the platform is emotional, I head to the heart of Berlin at least as far as us outsiders know it.
“Unless it’s soccer the typical German sports fan is only interested when Germany is in play to win it all. They got into Tennis with Steffi Graf and Boris Becker and into Formula 1 with Michael Schumacher. Fighting for fourth place in group phase in a minor sport is just not getting any attention,” said TwoWayGame*
“I met a friend on Tuesday, who lives in Berlin and didn’t even know that Eurobasket is here.”
*BiE respects his desire for anonymity but from our own experiences he knows German hoops well.
The long walk towards the one place I’m semi-confident will show the game begins, across the Spree and past a whole heap of museums. There’s construction here and restoration, thankfully more of the latter. The modernisation of Friedrichschain, where the arena is located, has taken a bit of the soul out of the area. Kreuzberg remains an island, almost barricading itself from gentrification but the cracks there are starting to show. Down Unter den Linden there’s a Mercedes-Benz themed restaurant called Daimler’s, it doesn’t have any screens. Actually pretty much none of the cafés or bars here do. Eventually I hit the Brandenburg Gate.
“There’s not really a built up German national team following. the basketball fans will care but it’s still not that big in Germany. Why is it hard…one word: football,” said David Hein of heinnews
“More people care about 4th division football than basketball.”
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17.04 Höpfingerbräu am Brandenburger Tor
This is my only real shot. When I visited the Brandenburg Gate the other day I stopped for dinner here. The currywurst wasn’t great but they had big screens showing football, lots of football. I asked the first barman for a small beer (hey it was early) and if he could change the channel for the game. He answered “One small beer yes” or “One small beer, yes” it was hard to be sure. Given the currywurst issues the other night I opted for something different.
That’s Svetislav Pesic being interviewed on Sky Sports News about the game. Some Finnish tourists saw Pesic and one said “Ah EuroBasket [he turned to me] how are Finalnd doing?” I told them they had progressed already. “Guten abend,” yeah. I’m pretty sure he thought I was German.
A different server came with the food, I asked her to change the channel. She then got a third person, this was starting to get a little stressful but TwoWayGame had said it was on Das Erste aka ARD which is free to air channel. He struggled through the sports channels before I shouted over to him again “A R D, Das Erste” and he got it. Whatever about the bubble keeping us from seeing the rest of Berlin, it kept us from some stuff in the actual tournament. Well it kept me at least. Schroeder had criticised Chris Fleming’s tactics and subsequently apologised on social media.
As soon as the channel changed an elderly couple came over to sit beside me. The gent was well into it and his wife seemed happy enough to let him enjoy it. The bar, save for the reserved seats right under the big screen, was packed but only the odd head here and there otherwise paying attention. The rain starts hitting pretty heavy outside and the bar is still stuffed by half-time. Germany are in it but you feel Spain are going to break away.
In the third quarter they do, a 12 point lead with 10 minutes to go and with the final frame just under way, the elderly couple leave. The gent seems a little sad to go but he doesn’t put up much of a fight. He missed one hell of an ending. With the bar nearly empty, the early rush is gone, the group with the reservation come in. They have “business negotionas” to do but are happy to keep the game on so long as they kill the volume. Now there’s me and a younger couple behind me watching. The home team starts chipping away but Spain still look safe until Maodo Lo hits that three and the three of us who care erupt. During the next stoppage I turn and talk to the couple. They were there for the Italy game on Wednesday. A heart-breaker, just like the Serbia game on Sunday. Now, Germany had one last shot to save this.
Schroeder played smart, he was clearly fouled but took the shot and the refs called it a shooting foul on the three. The first goes down, Spain lead by two. The second, the gap is one. Schroeder has been the heart of this team. Even if Spain would have likely won in overtime, he didn’t deserve what came next. Spain win by 1. THe hosts are out. It’s Danke Dirk time.
20.00 Maxim Gorki Theater
Turkey and Iceland had yet to play but my part with basketball in this town was done. Berlin, after all, hadn’t really let it affect it. Die Ungehaltenen, a play in the intimate Studio R (well the backwards Russian R but I have no idea how to type that) was my last shot at this town’s defiant culture. It’s a play about a young Turkish-German from Kreuzberg dealing with the loss of his father, infatuation with a doctor, and the changes in his life. I’ll do a review for another site later but it was great to see this side of Berlin one last time. Now, it’s back to Voegelchen for a couple of beers, then onwards to Lille for the insanity of the last 16.