“You must be out of your mind.” “Are you sure you wanna do that?” Those are just some of the various questions my friends confront me with when they hear the news: I will go to the Euro 2012 to see Germany facing Portugal in the city of Lviv. First of all, what you have to understand is that Europe is crazy about football (no, it’s not soccer). Especially, when the best teams within the continent are competing.
All of a sudden, Ireland and England rediscover their old rivalry, the economically strong Germanyis all at once intimidated by the crisis-shaken Spain and French people forget about their fondness for Italian pizza. The habitual dominance of politics on the front pages of newspapers vanishes and people start caring about whether their favorite player may or may not have been injured on the game last night. Houses are covered with the gleaming colors of the ensign and during match time you’ll find yourself wandering the streets on your own. It’s pretty much like on Super Bowl night inAmerica– only that it lasts for one month.
Now, one might say that the Ukraine is only a stone throw away from Germany (Yeah, the flag on my house is black-red-gold) and admittedly, it’s only around 700 miles. Yet, when travelling from say NYC to Chicago, you’re still in the same country – in Europe, you arrive to a whole different culture.
Having endured the never-ending border control, the Ukrainian countryside welcomes you with all its characteristics. While trying to get ahead of carriages with your car, you can watch others trying to tame their horses even though there is plenty of work to be done on their potato field.
Approaching the cities, you catch yourself staring at the extensively raised orthodox churches, the ancient-seeming streetcars or simply the wandering people. But after a while you do realize: It’s not you who is staring at the people, it’s them who are gazing at you attentively.
Unlike usually, a lot of the European sovereigns refuse to attend any of the matches. They want to take a symbolic stand against the political conditions in the Ukraine. However, for the populace it is all about celebrating football and their home country. Equipped with the right jersey, a flag and the obligatory fuss, people are strolling the beautiful streets of Lviv. Taking a picture here and there in the humid and sunny atmosphere, everyone seems to be looking for shady spots where they could wipe away their sweat. Eventually, all of them come to a halt in front of the Lviv Theatre of Opera and Ballet, where the UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) installed a huge fan-zone.
Sheltered by oak trees, fans can be heard arguing about who is going to win the game that night. Locals are waving to all the fans, a mass of young volunteers are helping with directions (or the deciphering of the Cyrillic writing), restaurants and hotels are jam-packed – It’s the typical picture of a host city being “occupied” by all the soccer fans around the globe.
Now, going back a bit, the assignment of big soccer competitions is often based on economical and/or political interests. Being able to hold a European Soccer Championship, provides a country with the chance to enhance the infrastructure or build new sites. In the case of the Ukraine, people also saw a possibility to illustrate the political situation to the whole world.
On my way to the stadium, located a little distance outside of town, I get to see the other picture of the former member of the Soviet Union. Just a few meters from the stadium there’s a roadblock – the construction of the site hasn’t been completed. Unfortunately, the policemen are neither able to speak English nor would they be able to provide an alternative route. Great! After taking several detours and ending up parking my car in the parking garage of a large building center, I finally arrive at the Arena.
But before the match can start, I still have to fight my way through the extensive security check and struggle at the food stall to keep my cool (30 minutes after the opening of the stadium, sandwiches are out of stock and the staff doesn’t have change anymore).
Luckily, the game is about to start and my mood will soon be much better. After an exhausting, thrilling victory in an atmospheric arena, I find myself in a cheering crowd. I start thinking that my friend was right after all. It really brought me out of my mind.