MUNICH, Germany—Women in cultural costumes hung in midair. Young men in powder blue sweat suits spun on their heads. Scores of people in lederhosen oompah-pahed. And in the newly renamed FIFA World Cup Stadium here, the world's biggest sports tournament officially began.
There was a soccer game as well. Home team Germany played and beat Costa Rica, 4-2, giving most of the 60,000 World Cup spectators something to sing about on the way home. The tiny corner of the stadium populated by Costa Rica partisans didn't seem heartbroken. They chanted "ole, ole, ole, ole," even as their team fell behind.
Abundantly clear was that this city, the Oktoberfest capital of the world, was ready to have a good time—as was all Germany. Years of preparation, including new and revamped stadiums in a dozen cities, were finally over. The country seemed eager to set aside a host of issues, including a faltering economy and an upsurge in racial violence, during the month-long tournament.
"In the coming weeks you're going to find out Germany knows how to party," one warm-up speaker told the crowd, which shook the stadium with its roar of approval.
"In August, we go back to worrying about double-digit unemployment and a host of other problems," said Dan Stefanescu, a German soccer writer, as he watched the ceremony. "But for the next month, we're taking a break. We need a break."
German supermodel Claudia Schiffer and Brazilian soccer legend Pele carried the World Cup trophy into the stadium surrounded by members of winning teams from past World Cups. There was no one from North America, Africa, Asia or Australia: Teams from those continents have never won. In fact, only seven nations have been awarded the cup since competition began in 1930.
The projects undertaken for the games cost the German organizing committee more than $550 million, but actual costs were much higher. Stadiums were renovated and built, subway lines were reworked, new monuments were erected, and streets were spruced up.
Many of the new venues are striking; the official World Cup Web site describes Munich's stadium as "formed from translucent, lozenge-shaped cushions." It "glows in a variety of colors to imbue the structure with a shimmering, magical poetry."
Unlike other sporting events, a World Cup really does showcase a nation. Between this weekend and July 9th, when the final match is played, 63 soccer games will be held in 12 stadiums around Germany. Millions of people have come to Germany for the spectacle, and hundreds of millions more will watch it on television.
The party officially began when a blond girl in a German folk dress known as a dirndl skipped into the middle of the Munich stadium. She was followed by a young boy in traditional leather pants called lederhosen.
They were followed by hundreds of adults in similar costumes who played drums and banged cowbells and pulled a huge hay wagon—which folded out into a stage decorated to look like a soccer ball. About 1,400 people sang and danced around it for the next hour.
Such a performance never would have flown in more cosmopolitan Berlin. But in Munich, the crowd loved every second of it.
Friday's festivities weren't limited to the stadium. Across town, at the old Olympic Stadium, where Munich hosted the ill-fated 1972 Olympics, thousands more gathered, singing and dancing and drinking.
Tens of thousands of soccer fans packed into public viewing areas throughout the country to watch the opening game projected on huge screens.
Hours after the game, the streets were still crowded with laughing, singing fans.
"Berlin, here we come," they called, a reference to the July 9 final, which will be played in that city's Olympic Stadium, which was built for the 1936 Summer Olympics.
(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): SOC WCUP
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