Deutschland in Chicago? Watching the World Cup at a German bar
You could tell the real fans from the fake ones rather easily. The real fans sprinkled in German phrases, sentences, or even paragraphs through conversation. The fake ones wore backwards hats, tanks tops and said, “dude” a lot. The real fans showed up at the early morning hours to see Die Mannschaft, or to Americans, the German National Soccer Team. The fake fans showed up to see the bottom of a stein of beer at 11 a.m.
I showed up to Prost, a German beer hall on the North Side of Chicago well before the 11:30 a.m. kickoff time—Germany vs. France, World Cup quarterfinals, stakes incredibly high. Winner moved on, loser went home and two teams that are rivals in every sense of the word.
Prost is full-on German. As the lead up to the game continued, more people packed in. My friend and me got the last two seats, underneath one of many large televisions playing the game. Long wooden beer hall style tables and benches fill most of the restaurant and we sat on the very border of the bar area. German flags draped all around us. Sausages and drooping massive soft pretzels. HB and Warsteiner on tap. People donned the jerseys of famous German footballers: Ballack, Schweinsteiger, Müller.
As I settled into this din the players took the field for the pregame festivities and efficient applause prattled about the bar. The German national anthem played loudly. One guy belted German lyrics in praise of Deutschland, while many others respectfully mouthed the words. Or the real fans did, at least.
About this time, after the pregame procession finished, I noticed the type of crowd around the bar. The North Side of Chicago is an area full of young people with money, and they were the main population of the bar area. They wore the bro uniform: backwards hats, wild shirt (in this case, usually a USA soccer jersey) and some kind of pastel accessory (in this case usually shorts or sunglasses). When the game started they nodded a bit in recognition, but mostly laughed about with one another. The real German section, sat at long wooden tables because they arrived early, saw the players take the field and they roared.
“You want to have fans to cheer with,” bar-goer and German national Drews Gossel told me over the noise. “Otherwise, watch it at home.”
But the right fans and atmosphere matter, Gossel pointed out. Gossel was at the sprawling Soldier Field rally to cheer his adopted nation on against Belgium in the round of 16. He called it “awful.” The chants were missing, no unison, it was a mess. Prost is an all-German atmosphere, unified for Die Mannschaft, with the odd annex of bros kind of minding their own business.
The game kicked off and not much happened for the ten minutes. The real fans twisted nervously in their seats; the fake fans were drinking and laughing and cheering.
At 11:59 the Germans got a free kick on the left side of the field, not far out. Midfielder Toni Kroos swung a tightly bending ball into the box. Defender Mats Hummels darted to the ball and met it with his forehead, slicing it into the upper right corner of the goal. It was exactly how Germany would engineer a free kick: precise, unstoppable, exacting. Like that, Die Mannschaft were ahead 1-0 on France.
At this moment, the divide between the fans became abundantly clear. Prost rumbled in celebration. The patrons stomped. The largest bank of beer hall tables erupted, folks skyrocketing off benches. The friend I brought along was raised in England, where they know football fandom. He looked over at me and said, “Great cheer!” Really, it was less excitement and more relief.
The bros at the bar cheered loudly, already a bit tipsy. But they didn’t feel that relief. To them, the goal was an excuse to be loud. The hardcore fans sitting at the table didn’t even pick up their heads to look at these kids—theirs eyes fixated on the screen. If you looked in every direction but one, it felt like Germany.
Before the 30-minute mark, the tide of the game shifted, German goalie Manuel Neuer sprawled to make a great save to keep the lead at the 33rd minute. There was a young woman in the real fan section. Over her back draped a German flag, her hands both intertwined and pulling at her hair, as her eyes darted with the pinging ball. France pressed but Germany weathered it. Another sigh of relief from the Germans, another drink ordered for the bros. Halftime.
The game continued carefully, neither team wanting to lose the game. Midway through the second half I talked with a young guy named Max. It was loud (obviously) and there was a language barrier. He was a German tourist, with a group, just in at midnight from seeing Omaha, Nebraska. He humored me and spoke for a bit but was apprehensive to talk as the ball bounced between the rival squads.
My notes got more sparse and chicken-scratched as the game went on. Here’s a few sample notes:
80th minute: CLOSE, for FRA.
80th minute: Breaking down.
81st minute: So freaking LOUD.
83rd minute: Indecipherable GER chanting.
At the 84th minute, the game completely on the line, a young bro chugged a boot shaped glass of beer. His buddies took shots.
But those bros faded from my attention as the game wound down. I was in the beer hall bubble of focus. 94th minute, last chance for France to tie. Striker Karim Benzema pushes to the left, inside the box, and rips a ball destined to bulge the back of the net. Neuer throws up a hand and pushes the ball away. Germany win.
Prost trebles and swells with Deutschland, Deutschland, Deutschland. I talked with some people. Max, the German tourist, was already gone. He had repeatedly told me, in broken English, they he was going to see “downtown.” After all, we were in Chicago, even if just for a moment, it didn’t feel like it.
Most of the real fans stayed to celebrate. I filed out with my friend and so did the bros at the bar. Their hazy eyes struggled to adjust to daylight as they marched on to the next stop of the day.