This post is a guest post written by Isaiah. He traveled to Berlin for the 2015 Champions League final and this is how he experienced it. He can be found on Twitter as @rockofthune.
The sanctuary is a contemporary building, its interior cooler than the broiling sun outside. I’m sitting in a chair in the back row, looking up at the giant, hanging statue of Jesus. It is a modern take on the millennium-old concept of crucifixion: there is no cross, just a floating Jesus. Maybe he’s ascending to heaven or just looking out over his flock, I don’t know, but he looks peaceful, his face longer than ordinary depictions, his hands and feet oversized. What’s truly impressive about this space, however, are the walls; from the outside it’s just a drab, gray building, it’s octagonal shape rising out of a triangular patch of ground between 4 lane roads near Berlin, Germany’s Zoologischer Garten, but inside, it is a vibrant blue, a thousand squares of color glass pouring light in.
I am not a religious man, so it is not prayer that has brought me here, though the calm and cool of the sanctuary is a welcome respite from the heat of this early June day. I’m seated in the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church and while I breathe in this gorgeous space, Barcelona fans are nearby at an officially sanctioned Fan Zone. This is June 6, 2015 and in just over 5 hours, the Champions League Final will kick off in Berlin’s Olympiastadion, a few metro stops away. The fan zone is in front of the original church steeple, its former beauty reduced to an oddly elegant ruin, the victim of multiple direct hits in the bombing campaigns of World War Two. Many of the fans have tickets to the match itself, but several us are not so lucky and have to make do with the sense of camaraderie, the legality of drinking alcohol freely on the street, and finding a place showing the game.
My companion for the day, CJ, a good friend of mine from back in the States who happens to be in Berlin writing her dissertation and provided me with a ready made reason to ditch my domestic duties over a weekend and take a train 400 miles to the capital, ushers me out of the church and back into the masses of sweaty cules; senyeras and esteladas wave over their heads on long poles, scarves are balled up around fists and pumped in the air, and a circle of drums forms the nucleus and loudest point of this raucous crowd. The energy is infectious, even if the area itself is a drab affair, the only bits of Champions League merchandise on display is over-priced Heineken (though arguably any price whatsoever is too high) under an umbrella. There are some portapotties and a single FC Barcelona stand where they’re giving out keychains and flashing LED team crest pins. Fans stream in throughout the four or so hours we stay there, all-in-all maybe 500 have made the journey to this momentary Catalan outpost.
There are Juventus fans heading away from the area, maybe to their own fan zone at Alexanderplatz on the other side of the city or to the stadium, but there is no animosity on display. Indeed, the Berlin police reported afterward that there were 0 incidents involving fans over the entire weekend. While black and white jerseys dotted the city, they were routinely consumed by oceans of blaugrana; the similar ticket allocation suggested there were just as many Juve fans there and anecdotal evidence from those in attendance suggested Juve may even have had more fans actually in the stadium, but any quick glance around the city revealed far more Catalans than northern Italians. Both sets of fans though, were happy to pose together under antimadridista scarves or chant a variety of anti Real Madrid songs, the enemy of my enemy concept being a powerful dispeller of animosity on this occasion.
And suddenly it was time to cross Berlin to take our spots in the movie-theater-turned-bar that houses the Berlin Penya throughout the year and which was hosting a blowout viewing party. The site is a rambling building with sand out front, bare stone walls inside, and the feeling of a rundown arthouse. They had set up 3 large screens and, according to one of the members running the show, nearly 700 people attended when they were expecting 600. 2 of the screens were outside, but CJ and I grabbed prime seats inside, where the screen was not only the biggest, but also not affected by the sun, which wouldn’t be setting until after halftime. The downside is that there is no air conditioning and it was hotter than a coal furnace in there.
We saved our seats by placing my hat and my undershirt on the long wooden benches that made up the seating. And then we naturally turned to grilled sausage, dark beer, and meeting the variety of fans that had made the trip. A single mother whose life had taken her from her hometown in Colombia to Catalunya and ultimately to Berlin and her 7 year old daughter whose ended with the inevitable tears of a tired youngster overwhelmed by the delirious scenes around her. A pair of high school buddies from Burgos who are now living together in Poland. A crew of Swiss and Catalan Redditors meeting in person for the first time, their mishmash of languages an enjoyable challenge at times and a fun way of learning about their countries. A pair of honeymooning Californians on fast tour of the country that fortuitously involved their favorite team. We sat in one of the bar areas and chatted and drank with a pair of divorced Catalans who had nevertheless traveled together. CJ and I flooded our friends Whatsapps with pictures of flags, selfies, and videos of chants; we stuffed our faces and talked some more.
Eventually the whole reason for being in Berlin in the first place had to take place. We piled into the theater, excitement coursing through the crowd, the chants resuming. El Cant was shouted out by the whole crowd and then the game got under way. And we all know how it went after that. We also all know how I’ve proclaimed myself beyond the grasp of fear, but at 1-2 and in the 85th minute or so, I got down on my knees and stayed there until the final whistle. I could see how that might be misinterpreted as some sort of nervous prayer to the footballing gods, but I wasn’t worried. Instead, I was reveling in this team, these moments, and, in the end, the third goal.
After the match, when we were all beside ourselves with joy, in between flag wavings and chanting, I was telling everyone that would listen that I never expected to see another triplete in my lifetime. It’s a one time deal, a thing that you tell your children and grandchildren about while you show them the souvenir shirts and commemorative hats you got. Of all the teams in the world, yours was one of a handful that had been capable of pulling off such a great feat.
But then, suddenly, it was happening again. It was Xavi’s sendoff (cue the Xaaaavi, Xaaaavi chants) and what better way for one of the greatest players the team has ever seen to go out. While he did not play a starring role, he still lifted the cup and there were big smiles everywhere I looked. Whatever political chicanery is coming our way this summer, for those minutes, they were all gone. We were all in love again and we couldn’t wait to let everyone know it.
As I sit in the Kaiser Wilhelm church, surrounded by the blue light and the clicks of visitor’s cameras, I can hear a slow rumble of voices coming through the church’s doors. The noise swells from time-to-time, the words coming in clearly suddenly: I si tots animen, i si tots animen, i si tots animen, guanyarem, lo, lo-lo, lo, lo, loooo. I stand and follow CJ out the door, to do my part for the team I love, win or lose. I’m doing that now, just like I will be again in August, just like I will be in June of next year, whatever the stakes.
Thank you, Berlin.