German Team Greets Fans in Berlin "You're Simply the Best"

The German soccer team flew in to Berlin Sunday to thank hundreds of thousands of fans for their phenomenal support. For the fans, it was a chance to see their heroes in the flesh.

By Chris Bryant in Berlin

It's 8 a.m. the morning after the night before: a night when Germany had beaten Portugal in a thrilling play-off to secure the third spot in the World Cup. The whole country had rejoiced as if national team coach Jürgen Klinsmann's men had won the final itself: there were fireworks, hugs, smiles and lots and lots of beer. Nevertheless, a half-million devoted fans struggled out of bed on Sunday morning to make one final pilgrimage. They came from far and wide to descend on the Brandenburg Gate where the team would greet their fans at 12 p.m. to say a fond thank you for the unwavering support they were given during the tournament.

"It's a fitting conclusion," says fan Oliver Posorske. "We've suffered along with the team for four weeks. They deserve it."

The fans queued patiently in lines hundreds deep to make their way into Berlin's Fan Fest, decked out in black, red and gold for once last hurrah. Many appeared to have had little sleep: others had clearly been drinking and celebrating all through the night. Yet spirits were high and impatient cries of "We want to get in!" rang out from some fans, desperate to get near the front of the stage to greet their heroes.

The air of anticipation was akin to a Rolling Stones gig: only, as the presenter pointed out, Mick Jagger & Co. have had 40 years to generate such adulation -- the German football team have become heroes in just four short weeks. The crowd was entertained by a series of bands, one of which had clearly spent the previous night penning a new tune. The refrain -- "Klinsi, you must stay" -- was greeted with howls of agreement by the crowd. Another, the popular German pop group Sportfreund Stiller even changed the lyrics of its popular World Cup anthem "54, 74, 90, 2006" to "2010," referring to the years that Germany has won the world football championship. Klinsmann sang along, offering at least some hope that he may stay on and, hopefully, lead the German team to victory in Johannesburg.

"Klinsi, don't go!"

Countless banners told the same story: this party was a mass demonstration, a plea for trainer Jürgen Klinsmann to keep his job. The coach often found himself at odds with the German Football Association over his training methods and the fact that he lives in California rather than Germany, and Klinsmann has said he needs time to reflect before coming to any decision. Another group sang an amusing, if tuneless version of Bob Marley's "Jammin", with the line "I hope you like Germans too." Drunk on the euphoria of the Saturday night third-place win, that was easy to do on this beautiful sunny morning.

As the minutes counted down to the team's arrival, fans desperately held aloft messages of support to be relayed on huge television screens to hundreds of thousands of eager viewers lining the Fan Mile. There seemed to be at least one placard for every man in the squad: this is a football side with few stars -- it's a team, and every fan has their favorite player, from the understated Per Mertesacker, right up to captain Michael Ballack.

Finally the team arrived, and loud cheers rang out as the big screens broadcast images of the team disembarking their bus. One or two looked a little worse for wear after Saturday night's celebrations: Bastian Schweinsteiger kept his sunglasses on for the duration of the festivities, perhaps in an effort to hide his heavy eyes.

The players took to the stage in their respective groups: goalies, defenders, midfield and attack, to be lauded with a deafening roar of approval by the crowd. Top scorer Miroslav Klose told the adoring masses, "You are simply the best," while captain Michael Ballack offered up a similarly reticent "You're the coolest! Thank you!" The biggest cheers were reserved for trainer Jürgen Klinsmann who looked overcome by half a million fans chanting his name. "For four weeks we've experienced a party, the likes of which there has never been in Germany," he said. So, the presenter asked him: does this mean you're going to stay? A pause -- would this be the moment Klinsmann would answer the prayers of millions of Germans and commit himself to staying Germany's coach? Sadly not: Klinsmann asked the crowd for time to think. Right now, Germans would give "Klinsi" the moon on a stick if he asked for it: they carried on cheering.

Not all were optimistic the coach would stay. "I don't think he'll stay," says Berlin fan Mike Sabrowki. "What can he still achieve? He's already unleashed more euphoria than anyone could have dreamed. Besides, he's different than all the others and that's why he will reach the decision that everyone fears."

But, today was all about the fans. The team wore T-shirts bearing the message "Thank you Germany" on the front and "Team spirit, 82 million" on the back -- a small but well appreciated tribute to the extraordinary support the German team has received. Pop star Xavier Naidoo joined the team on stage for one last rousing chorus of his World Cup song. The team linked arms and sang along, as a sea of flags waved in sync with the music, stretching all the way down the Fan Mile, from the Brandenburg Gate to the Victory Column. The World Cup is over for Germany, but the memories will remain. And the third-place victory was a sweet and fitting reward for Klinsmann's team.

As one fan, Bjork Köhler put it, after the team had left the stage: "Is there another game today?" For many Germans, the final has already come and gone. And, though the top prize eluded them, German fans are triumphant all the same: it's been an unforgettable few weeks.


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