2014-07-07

This day in my history: The 1974 World Cup Final as seen from Beirut, Lebanon

Today exactly 40 years ago, on May 7, 1974, my family and I watched the Football World Cup Final between Netherlands and West Germany on a tiny TV in Beirut, Lebanon.  1974 was the last year before the civil war broke out, and Beirut was still a wonderful post-colonial middle-east city with clear Western (and mostly French) influence; it also was a major tourist destination for Westeners.  I remember Beirut as chic, white and golden, the Beeqaa Valley as green and incredibly fertile, and the Roman temples of Baalbek as white and green – it was about the first time my then nine-year old self fully realized the beauty of landscapes and architecture.  All the charms and beauty of Beirut would get lost in the 16 years of civil war that would ignite only a few months later, and well-armed soldiers on every major crossing were a sign of things to come.

How would we get to Beirut, you may ask?  At the time, my father was a German teacher in Bangui, Central African Republic, and we lived there in a nice house with a lavish garden; every Summer, we would return to Europe, though, and on some of these return trips, we would include stopovers in locations on the way.  At the time, the Western and Eastern blocks were still fighting for dominance in Africa, and consequently, the Central African Republic was well-connected – both by Western Airlines (UTA and Air Afrique), as well by Soviet Airlines (Aeroflot).  With Aeroflot being cheaper than the others, we would use the saved money for stopovers, which is how we ended up for short trips to Moscow, Russia; Cairo, Egypt; and, in 1974, Beirut, Lebanon.

The flight crew and us were in the same hotel, and my father and the crew had already made acquaintances during the trip from Africa.  It turned out that this very day was the finals of the 1974 Soccer World Cup in Munich, with the Netherlands playing against West Germany.  The crew also knew that we were Germans – and one of their rooms had a TV!  So at breakfast in the restaurant, they approached us and told us that they wanted to watch the finals later today.  Would we like to join them?  Of course, my parents gladly accepted.

So my sister and I found ourselves in a stuffy Beirut hotel room with our parents and a Russian flight crew, in front of a tiny, blurry, black and white TV screen with the audio in a language I did not understand (Arabic? Russian?).  It was even hard to distinguish the teams, although the light grey team seemed to be the Germans, and the darker grey team seemed to be the Dutch.  And I occasionally got the words "Beckenbauer" and "Cruyff", whom I identified as the main protagonists of their respective teams.  On every goal shot, vodka bottles were passed, and the crew's eyes got more and more watery.  The game lasted for 90 minutes, and at the end, the Germans won.

At this time, I was a nine-year old boy, and you might think I would have been super enthusiastic about watching the World Cup Final, captured by the game, and knowing each single player in the team.  Unfortunately, this wasn't the case.  Having spent the past year in Africa, I knew nothing about German football, its teams, or its players; nor did I know how the world cup went so far.  All the news we had were a weekly news magazine, Der Spiegel, which normally would arrive one to three weeks late; occasional short-wave radio news; and French Newsreels, to be shown in the local cinemas.

Still, I was glued to the screen, like my parents, like the crew with their wide open, bright blue eyes.  But in this moment, what I found thrilling was not so much that Germany was just about to win the World Cup.  It also wasn't that I was in a hotel room in Beirut with a bunch of Russians on my way back from Africa.  It was that I was looking at real live TV.

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