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Germany’s Cup Runneth Over From Essential Attractions To The Finest Local Brew
Here’s How To Get The Most From The Host Cities

If you just want a taste of Germany, you could go during the World Cup, which starts Friday. But after soccer’s supreme contest ends July 9, you might have an easier time drinking deeply of German culture — liquid and otherwise — in the dozen cities hosting games.

The host cities are ideally savored without hordes of international soccer fans (the World Cup motto is "A time to make friends," but try telling that to a drunken Englishman), nonstop kitsch (everything from yogurt to sex toys has a tie-in) and WM (Welt-Meisterschaft — World Cup) pricing.

Inside is a guide to the top eight cities for travelers, skipping Gelsenkirchen (an industrial city), Kaiserslautern (home to the largest American community — 34,000 people — outside the United States, thanks to the huge Ramstein air base), Dortmund (another industrial city) and Leipzig, in the former East Germany (a business center with a big stadium).

For the remaining eight cities, we offer a preview of the best sights to see, what the locals eat and drink, which soccer teams they root for and what festivals they celebrate when the World Cup isn’t in town. There are even a few extra "footie notes" for soccer enthusiasts.

Did you know?

- Hamburgers got their name from the Germans who brought them to the United States in the 19th century. But it’s thought the dish got its start in Mongolia as raw lamb scraps tucked under the saddle of Genghis Khan’s horsemen (Tartars), later adapted into a raw beef dish ("steak tartare") by Russians. Their traders brought it to Hamburg, where thankfully someone came up with the idea to cook the meat. The buns, however, are purely American.

- Hamburg’s Aalsuppe (eel soup) was originally eel-free. Aolsuppe, its name in the local northern dialect, meant "all soup" (i.e. anything can go in the broth), and its ingredients included bacon, fruit and vegetables — but never eel. According to the story, other Germans heard the words as "eel soup," and were disappointed with what they ordered until a local chef decided the customer is always right and dished it up with eel.

- The rearing black horse on Porsche’s logo represents a different kind of horsepower than you might expect. The image is also found on the coat of arms of Stuttgart, where the company is based — and which traces its origins to a 10th century stud farm, or Stutengarten.

- The blue and white design on BMW’s logo mimics the flag of Bavaria, which celebrates its 200th anniversary this year as a "free state" (one of only three of Germany’s 16 states to share that designation; Saxony and Thuringia are the others). BMW stands for Bayerische Motoren Werke ("Bavarian Motor Factory"), but a rude nickname plays on the region’s agricultural heritage: Bayerische Mistwagen, or "Bavarian manure cart."

- Under European Union rules, only ale brewed in Cologne may be called Kölsch, similar to the way sparkling wine labeled Champagne must come from that region of France. It’s reputedly the only beer out of 400-plus regional specialties with EU protection.

Nip American nostalgia in the bud and wait for a bit

"A great country forced to drink swill." That could have been the headline in a German newspaper when it was announced thirsty World Cup spectators would have no choice but to drink American Budweiser.

Anheuser-Busch, the manufacturer of Bud, is one of the Cup’s elite sponsors, which gives it sole "pouring rights" at World Cup venues. The problem is that Germans, with their long and respected brewing tradition, loathe American beer — especially Budweiser — which they deride as thin and tasteless.

When Germans learned of the Bud World Cup monopoly, the outcry was so loud and long that Anheuser-Busch agreed to allow limited sales of German Bitburger beer at the stadiums, in return for being able to advertise its brew as "Bud" — a nickname that Bitburger had previously blocked in court for being too similar to its own, "Bit."

If this all sounds a little like "Who’s on first," remember that Germans treat both beer and soccer with the utmost reverence. Technically, Budweiser isn’t even a beer in Germany, because it uses rice in the brewing process — a definite nein-nein.

Jeanne Cooper

San Francisco Chronicle - 5 June 2006
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