- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2006

HAMBURG, Germany — There is no escape from history at the World Cup. Take, for example, this city’s media center, which sits atop a massive World War II bunker.

“It was not the Americans that bombed this area but the British,” said Guido Neumann, a media relations man for the city, as he pointed down from the top of the massive concrete structure overlooking the city of Hamburg. “Seventy percent of the city was destroyed by the bombing.”

The bunker, which looks like a cross between a medieval fortress, the concrete esophagus that now covers the Chernobyl nuclear plant, and the cover of one of the Who’s early albums, is 125 feet tall — one of the taller buildings in the Hamburg skyline.

Allied bombers and fellow Germans failed to get rid of this reminder of the war, but it has a new life: It is called the Media Center and its five floors house the best guitar and drum-kit shops in all of Hamburg.

The bunker was built above ground during the war because the soil in the area was too wet because of the nearby River Elbe. Its walls are 8 feet thick and no matter how many bombs hit the structure, little damage was done. And it was a prime target for the Royal Air Force because of the large flak guns that were placed on its roof.

It stands in the St. Pauli area of Hamburg — near the famous Reeperbahn red light district and where the Beatles first cut their teeth at the Star Club — and housed more than 4,000 people in the air raids.

“My grandfather, who worked in the ship building, came here in the raids,” Neumann said. “He came out and found his house destroyed, but he rebuilt it.”

The bunker now overlooks the FC St. Pauli 1910 soccer stadium and the local World Cup Fan Fest area, where all the games are being shown live and where more than 60,000 Germans gather to watch the country’s soccer games on a giant screen. Throughout the World Cup, the roof of the building, covered by a fancy canopy, is renamed the VELUX Lounge, a working space for the media and a VIP area for World Cup sponsors.

The view is impressive and the beer and food are free, but tickets are hard to come by.

After the war, the citizens of Hamburg wanted to destroy the ugly-looking bunker, and they made several attempts. But the concrete was too thick.

Now at night, one can see the 195 bright blue illuminated “Blue Goals” soccer goal-shaped lights, created by a local artist, dotted on the roofs of buildings in the area.

“The word goal also means the word gate,” Neumann said, “and Hamburg, which is the number seven container harbor in Europe, is a gateway to the world.”

Notes — The U.S.-Italy match was only the fourth in World Cup history in which three players were ejected. …

No Saudi Arabian player can earn a man of the match award from FIFA, because the award is sponsored by the beer company Anheuser-Busch, and alcohol is forbidden in Saudi Arabia. …

The nine players on Angola’s 23-man roster who play club soccer in their country earned about $500 a month. Meanwhile, Oliver Kahn — the backup goalie for Germany — earns $400,000 a month. Angola goalie Joao Ricardo has no club affiliation and can’t even get a job for a club in Portugal’s lower divisions, despite starting in a World Cup and playing well.

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