“It will take a while until I fully realize what just happened here”, said Bastian Schweinsteiger into the microphones, and I’m sure a lot of people all around the world felt the same way.
I for one had a hard time understanding at all what I just had witnessed. Only a hundred meters away from me the German players were still giving interviews, hugging each other, celebrating with the fans, posing for the cameras with the world cup trophy in their hands and big smiles on their faces.
I looked around in the tradition-rich Maracana. The stadium was more than half-empty already, most of the Brazilian and Argentinian fans had gone home by then. Golden confetti was scattered across the football field, leftovers of the victory ceremony. In the distance, Christ the Redeemer was looking over Rio at night, illuminated in Black-Red-Golden. I tried to remember every last detail of that moment, knowing that this 13th of July 2014 was a day that I would still tell my children and grandchildren about, decades from now. The day when 24 years of waiting came to an end. The day when the dream of an entire country finally came true. The day when Germany won the World Cup.
Four weeks earlier. After 12 hours of flight I climbed out of the plane, together with 300 other German fans, all of them decorated with flags and scarfs, eager to explore Brazil, experience the multi-cultural party that every World Cup is, and watch Germany play and hopefully win.
After security check I got my passport handed back to me with the words: “Welcome to Brazil, and good luck to your team”. Then, with a smile, the woman added “I like Muller!”
It was the first of countless moments in which I got to experience the incredible hospitality of the Brazilian people. For four weeks me and my buddy Lars travelled the country, stayed in four different cities (Brasilia, Belo Horizonte, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro), mingled with the locals and everywhere we went it was the same: People wanted to take pictures with us, people talked with us even if they couldn’t understand a word of English, people excitedly supported Germany and congratulated us on every progress our team made. We were not treated as guests, but as friends.
It was also amazing to see how football not only united the fans from different countries all over the world, but also the Brazilian people itself. As intensely as the World Cup was discussed about and protested against beforehand- rightfully claiming that the invested money could instead have been used for causes that would benefit a broader range of people than just the rich and corrupt upper class- as unbiased and passionate did every Brazilian support their Selecao through each match once the World Cup had started.
Every week the excitement grew further and every win was celebrated frenetically by hundreds of thousands of people on the streets, playing music, drinking beer, smoking weed and dancing the night away. Football really reunites everyone in Brazil, which cannot be taken for granted in a society where it seems like you either live in the Favellas or in a house with a high fence around.
All the more heartbreaking was it to see the Brazilian dreams end in that memorable semi-final against Germany. In just 30 minutes the German team crushed the hopes of an entire nation, and we witnessed first-hand how 20.000 Brazilians at the Copa Cabana tried to cope with what turned into the highest loss for their team at a World Cup, ever. Admittedly, some of them had a hard time hiding their anger and disappointment. After the 5:0 had just been scored, a Brazilian woman in front of us turned around and threw a handful of sand right into our faces.
But during the half time we were already approached by people who wanted pictures of them taken wrapped in the German flag and after the match was over, a great deal of people congratulated us, fairer and more sincere than you can possibly expect after a devastating loss like this. They only had one requirement: “You have to beat Argentina in the final! Please don’t let them win in our country!”
The rest is history. Three days after the final I caught my plane back home to Germany. Before takeoff, the captain announced: “We would like to congratulate all our German passengers on their team’s World Cup victory. We hope that you had a pleasant stay and would like to welcome you back in Brazil soon.”
I gotta say, pleasant is an understatement! From arrival to departure four weeks later it was the perfect stay! And about coming back? Well, in two years Rio is hosting the Olympics, right…?