With no interviews or games to occupy my time, I decided to relax by venturing to the small, quiet lakeside town of Hallstatt. Located about 80 kilometers southeast of Salzburg, this picturesque town was the perfect place to take a break from the hullabaloo of the tournament. However, even in this seemingly isolated town, I could not escape the issue of racism in European soccer.
I arrived two days ago around lunchtime. I stepped off the train and made my way down the hill to the lake where a ferry awaited the four of us.
The short ride across the lake was the first of many scenic sights that will be forever in my mind. It was like nothing I had seen before.
I spent the afternoon exploring the town. It was like the town was behind the rest of the world, a bit slower. Not just the architecture – as anyone who has been to Europe will tell you, old buildings can be found in almost any city there – but the lifestyle was just a step behind in pace and sophistication. For the short time I was there, it was wonderful.
The next morning, I woke up early to tour the oldest salt mine in the world before hiking the paths through the mountains. Unfortunately, when I arrived at the salt mine, I was already behind three school buses full of children. Apparently the local schools also decided they would beat the crowds by catching the first tour of the day. So I reversed the order of my day.
The mountain trails were beautiful. It had rained last night so the springs and waterfalls were in full force. And the view of the town and lake below were not bad either.
Before I knew it, it was three o???clock. I was near the top of the mountain and the last tour of the day left at five. I ran most of the way down the mountain, which is harder than I imagined. It was more of a controlled fall than anything. I rode the funicular up the mountain and ran the rest of the way to the mine. I was one minute late according to my clock, but I wouldn’t be denied. I walked right up to the main desk and told them I ran all the way down the mountain to make this tour. “Please let me go.”
Sorry, they said in many more words. “You can go on the next one though.” I was stunned and relieved … and boy did I need more water.
I Wish They All Could Be European Girls
Thirty minutes later, the official last tour left. Since I was still trying to cool off with the help of the cool, mountain air, Daniela, the tour guide came to get me. Wow, she’s hot, I remember thinking. Should I ask her out for a drink? Naw, I’m just another tourist. I’m sure it would be weird.
After putting on a ridiculously ugly jump suit, I entered the mine along with the rest of the poorly dressed tour group, led by Daniela.
We learned the history of the mine as we made our way deeper and deeper into the mountain, using a fun and practical slide system. Deep in the mountain we stopped at an underground lake and watched a laser and smoke presentation over the eerily placid water. (I looked for Golam before remembering he perished in Mount Doom years earlier).
“Are you alone?” asked Daniela quietly, the presentation still entertaining the group.
I was a little curt with her at the start (the presentation was really interesting), but I soon figured out what was going on.
We talked throughout the rest of the tour during video presentations and when walking between our various stops. She was pretty, she spoke good English, it was time to make my move.
But what if she’s just being nice? I thought. It is sort of her job. Come on, even if she says no, you’ll never see her again. What’s the harm? But do I really want to be the story all the other tourists tell their friends back home? The guy who tried to ask the tour guide on a date.
“Are you, uh, how do you say …” Daniela searched her mind for the correct translation. I knew from her body language and demeanor exactly what she was trying to say, but I was so stunned that I couldn’t even finish the sentence for her. “…Doing something tonight?”
I said “No” immediately, followed by a quick “Yes, I???d love to meet up for coffee later.”
I met Daniela a few hours later at the base of the mountain. She lived in the neighboring town, so I got in her car and we headed off to her favorite coffee shop.
We talked about general things for a while: our college experiences, teenage life, and American politics (Europeans are enraptured by this year’s presidential race), and American television and music.
Soon, however, since she wondered why I was traveling by myself, the conversation turned to racism in soccer.
No Place Untouched
Since Austria (or Oesterreich, as she kept insisting) is almost never competitive in major competitions, Daniela admitted many of her friends often root for Germany (though not those old enough to remember Nazi occupation).
Lately, Turkish immigrants have flooded into Western Europe, most notably Germany. This has led to growing resentment between citizens and immigrants. And the result has spilled onto the soccer fields.
The games themselves become outlets for frustration and anger (as expressed in How Soccer Explains the World and Soccer Against the Enemy). And as of late, the bitterness and rivalry of the fans have reached new heights.
She contended that people often brush it aside as merely fans being fans, but it is often more than that. The term auslaenders raus (foreigners out) has been yelled, chanted, and displayed enough times that it cannot be passed off as the lamentable actions of a wayward few.
“Do you understand?” she said.
“I do,” I responded. “I believe we have a very similar situation stateside.”
The next day I ate lunch at a doener stand by the dock, waiting for the ferry to take me back across the lake to the train. I was excited for the restart of the tournament. Tonight, Germany versus Turkey. It should be interesting, maybe eventful.
A new man soon took over the shift at the doener stand. He changed the radio to play country music, “Rhinestone Cowboy” to be more specific. We began talking.
He had emigrated from Turkey. He liked country music and the television show DALLAS. He disliked President Bush. And he was willing to talk extensively about his own experiences and those of his friends and family as foreigners in an unreceptive land.
Even in this small town, he has faced hardships, he claimed. And he hoped his country’s soccer team could pull off another miracle tonight.
I went to Hallstatt to try to remove myself from the tournament and give my mind a break from thinking and analyzing the various aspects of racism in soccer. However I found that the nature of this blight is not so easily escapable. Its reach is immense.