Yes, food and cooking and eating are important to me. But so is football, the real football (which is also known as soccer). And even if you are not a fan of the beautiful game, you are possibly aware that the World Cup kicked off today in Brazil, the birthplace of Pelé, the greatest player ever.
It promises to be an outstanding tournament, Sepp Blatter notwithstanding. I am looking forward to it, as the Cup has been a ritual for me for a long time. It is the grandest and most beautiful sporting event known to man. It moves me, infuriates me, brings tears of pride and joy to my eyes, and inspires me. It is integral to life. (That also describes my relationship to food.)
I am lucky, because I support two teams: Germany and the United States of America. I went to high school in Germany, and watching Die Mannschaft has been a religious experience for me ever since. Beckenbauer, Briegel, Brehme, Walter, Klinsmann, Breitner, Klose, Mueller, Schumacher .. those names, and others, are part of my education and history.
The first time I saw the team play, their opponent was Brazil. I was at the Kehl family’s home for dinner, and Frau Kehl made delicious stuffed cabbage. We drank beer and wine and watched the match. Herr Kehl was my trainer at TSG Kaiserslautern, and he was the best coach I ever had. He died several years ago, and I miss him dearly. I spent some time with Frau Kehl in 2012, and I look forward to seeing her again soon. The Kehls live a stone’s throw away from the Betzenberg, my favorite stadium. It is the home to my club team, 1. FC Kaiserslautern. I am an American, but my blood runs the colors of Deutschland where football is concerned. In my brain is the profound memory of an all-white ball, a warm, late-spring day, the odor of the grass on the training field at TSG. We played as if our lives depended on that ball. Perhaps it did. I climbed the hill to the Betzenberg twice a month to see my beloved FCK, and return there every chance I get. It was a great time of my life. It changed me for the better.
The US is another matter. I started playing soccer in Florida, but I learned to play Fussball in Germany, through the hands and spirit and mind of Herr Kehl, and with my teammates at TSG, including Holger Westing, still one of my closest friends. (I also played for my American high school team in Kaiserslautern, under a German coach, Herr Konrad. The dual training regimens and match schedule benefitted my fitness.) At that time, the US national team was a nonentity. Sure, they defeated England at the 1950 tournament, 1-0, but it would be 40 years before the Yanks qualified for another World Cup. I did not follow the team, I did not know much about it, and what I saw of it was not worth seeing. That has, of course, changed. In 2002, the US defeated Portugal twice, with aplomb, and beat Mexico with flair on the way to a quarterfinal meeting with Germany. Yes, that Germany. It was a 1-0 result, Germany moved on, but the US had arrived. The American program has continued to improve. In 2010 the team finished first in its group, ahead of England (the team I love to hate; more on that later). In my opinion, the caliber of the 2014 squad is inferior to that 2002 side, and they drew a Group of Death for Brazil: Ghana, Portugal, and Germany. Smart money would bet on Portugal and Germany going through to the next round, but I am hoping for a Germany – US 1-2 finish.
The ball continues to roll. Here’s to Germany’s fourth World Championship, great Fussball, and some fine food. I am happy to be alive.