- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 13, 2006

I arrived at the heart of the industrial Ruhr Valley with a horde of Sam’s Army — the U.S. team’s colorful traveling fan club. They seemed to have taken over one of the small streets just outside the station, waving flags and chanting “U.S.A, U.S.A.” They look a whole lot friendlier than the English supporters. Maybe they drink weaker beer.

Gelsenkirchen, a city of 250,000, used to be one of Europe’s biggest coal mining centers — a “city of a thousand furnaces” — but now it’s home to the nation’s largest solar energy plant. Al Gore would love this place. The coal mines are now gone — some turned into nightclubs and discos — and the slag heaps are sports parks.

On the train ride down, there are plenty of giant windmills dotting the landscape and generating energy. The folks at Martha’s Vineyard could learn something from them.

• The stadium here is amazing. The roof is retractable, and the field can be rolled up for concerts. It’s sponsored by a beer company, and all the beer in the stadium is pumped in from a giant central vat a mile away. The stadium even has its own chapel not far from the locker rooms. But the chapel is closed on game days — that’s when the prayers are meant to be answered.

The stadium is home to the FC Schalke 04, a blue-collar team that draws more 50,000 a game but rarely wins.

John Haydon

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