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Mar 23, 2005

A public inconvenience?

Don't know if you've heard about this, but there's going to be a World Cup in this country next year.

If, like me, you live in or near one of the host cities, you can't help but notice the harbingers. Unfortunately these don't include growing cases of football fever, sudden surges of cosmopolitan feelings, or an increasing interest in foreign cultures. No, the main harbingers are the building sites. Lots of them.

One of the two main thoroughfares that lead from Dortmund city centre to the ground, called the High Street, has been a giant mess for months now. They are trying to make it into a four- or even six-lane avenue or something, I was told by one of the many shop-owners there who have been cut off from the world. Cut off physically, that is, as no customer stands a realistic chance of making it to the store unless he is a parachutist.

Aurally, those owners are still very much connected to the outside world, but thankfully the noise dies down during late afternoon, when the workers go home.

That's not the case around the main crossroads down at Hamburg Street. You have to know the city pretty well to avoid this intersection when trying to reach downtown Dortmund coming from the east, and most drivers either don't have this knowledge or are beyond the point of caring, so that place looks like an Italian roundabout during the day. Only this is Germany, and this isn't supposed to be a roundabout.

They are meant to build a new subway station there, but I can't corroborate this theory, as you hardly see any workers - until the sun sets. (Maybe they have enlisted the help of vampires to circumvent union rules.) Then, abruptly, the hammering and drilling starts and sparks flying from welding torches illuminate the place.

If there's somebody who owns a store at High Street and lives down Hamburg Street, he's surely a dangerously neurotic psychopath by now.

These are the two building sites I know best because before I got wiser I once or twice got stuck in traffic jams there trying to get to our favourite pool parlour. I then found a new route, and everything was fine - until the day in December when three new building sites sprang up, two of which made it nearly impossible for me to even leave the cozy suburb we're living in.

The third, of course, blocked my new route to the pool parlour.

But I'm not bitching. Or rather, I would have been bitching if we wouldn't have at long last gotten the first manifest proof the World Cup will come to town that doesn't involve excavators, bulldozers, tarring machines and a six-pack of beer at eight o'clock in the morning. I am talking about the Football Globe.

The Football Globe was the brainchild of the artist André Heller, who helped Franz Beckenbauer win the World Cup bid by presenting both the Kaiser and his country in a self-ironic, slighty tongue-in-cheek way that seems to have taken those pople by surprise who considered Germans dour and humour-free. (Heller is Austrian.)

The main room itself is primarily loud and a bit confusing for people rapidly approaching middle age, but I guess we aren't the target audience.
Heller's Globe is a giant football, or rather - I quote from the official leaflet - 'a mobile pavilion' that 'symbolizes the fascination of football', travelling from venue to venue. Since February 21st, this thingie is standing on one of the main squares in Dortmund.

Considering it costs you two Euros to get inside, you have to say there must have been better ways to symbolise the fascination of football. There are a few artefacts on the first landing, such as an official match ball from the 1954 World Cup, and two adidas Predator boots (one from Zinedine Zidane, one from the inevitable David Beckham).

The main room itself is primarily loud and a bit confusing for people rapidly approaching middle age, but I guess we aren't the target audience.

The target audience must be kids who don't want to look at boring old pictures or whatever it is I thought would be inside this Globe. Instead it's full of interactive computer gimmicks that range from the inane to the halfway interesting.

The only thing I really tried out was watching reruns of controversial scenes from past World Cups and then judging whether I had just seen a dive or a genuine foul. Bizarrely, I got it right every time - or rather, I correctly predicted the ref's call, which of course isn't the same thing.

A bunch of schoolkids much preferred shooting a virtual ball (as in 'there really was no ball, you just kicked at a speck of light') past a keeper from outer space on a video screen.

Sometimes the kids scored, sometimes the goalie saved with one of his many arms or simply gobbled the ball up. The children could also, on another screen, help this goalie's team-mates back into a match by touching certain parts of their, uh, unusual bodies where they had been injured. (No, the kids couldn't figure that out, either, which is why nobody helped the poor creatures.)

That huge ball is the scene of Heller's Football Globe - promoting Germany 2006 to the public of Dortmund.
That huge ball is the scene of Heller's Football Globe - promoting Germany 2006 to the public of Dortmund.

Maybe I should point out that this, well, exhibition isn't the true point of the Globe.

It closes at 6pm for some reshuffling and rebuilding, because - on most evenings - it will open again at 8.30pm for special events. I bought tickets for a Tim Parks reading on April 14, and there will also be a showcase of the best 'Tipp Kick' players (the German variant of 'Subbuteo'), a debate featuring Bayer Leverkusen's Argentinian Diego Placente on the 'integration of foreign players', a few concerts and theatre shows, or a music-psychologist elaborating on the origins and meanings of fans' chants.

On March 15, a grand master of illusion will present conjuring tricks, some of which seem to involve footballs - others not. He will let 'bonds disappear and money bills rain down' says the programme.

Gosh, this is the man Dortmund's football club definitely needs - though most people living here would praise him more if he could also make building sites disappear.


  • Uli's seminal history of German football, Tor!, is available online.

  • Any thoughts on this article? Email us.