- The Washington Times - Friday, June 9, 2006

MUNICH — In the cavernous back room of Munich’s famous Augustiner beer hall, Heiko Hofrichter sits at one of the long wooden tables, takes a sip of his thick brew, and explains why German soccer fans just can’t swallow the fact that America’s Budweiser is the official beer at World Cup stadiums.

“For Germans, Bud tastes like watered down beer. It’s not beer,” complained Mr. Hofrichter, 24, a graduate student from the city of Nuremberg.

“It’s Spuelwasser!” cried Robert Paustian, 32, from another table in the boisterous beer hall, using the German word for dishwater.

Other Germans haven’t reacted so politely.

Since Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser paid $40 million for the “pouring rights” at the 12 World Cup stadiums across the country, anti-Bud Web sites have flourished on the Internet, calling for solidarity in boycotting the American brew.

Chat rooms for German soccer fans have been flooded with complaints about the prospect of having to replace a local pilsner with a Budweiser draft.

“If it’s a German World Cup, the beer sponsors should be German,” said Harald Paustian, 30, who was drinking a beer with his brother on a recent evening.

It’s no secret that Germans love their beer — they are the second-largest per capita beer consumers in the world, behind the Czechs. Beer halls like this one in Munich’s central district are popular spots for all generations.

It’s not uncommon to see a family of four sharing a wooden bench with a rowdy group of post-game fans. Summer beer gardens can be found in almost every city and village across the country.

Most Germans can recall from memory the differences in the size and shape of the glasses in which regional beers are served. Schoolchildren can recite the historical date — 1516 — when Bavarian Duke Wilhelm IV introduced the Beer Purity Law, which set the standards for how beer was to be brewed and still is followed today.

“We respect the German’s pride in their beer,” said Tony Ponturo, vice president of global media and sports marketing for Anheuser-Busch. “But we are proud of Budweiser and what it’s about. We think this is about giving consumers a choice.”

But perhaps nowhere is the disappointment over Bud’s presence stronger than in Munich, where Germany defeated Costa Rica 4-2 yesterday in the opening match.

This is the Bavarian city famous for its Hofbrauhaus and yearly Oktoberfest. Beer drinking songs have been written about the city’s historic beer halls.

Making matters worse, locals here say, is the other big American sponsor in the stadium.

McDonald’s will be the main food vendor of the World Cup. Some German ticket holders say it’s bad enough they will be sipping Budweiser at kickoff. But instead of pretzels, sausages and mustard, fans fear they’ll only have French fries and Big Macs.

“It’s like going to an American basketball game and having Nuremberg sausages. It’s just not right,” Mr. Hofrichter said.

The decision on Budweiser’s corporate sponsorships for the World Cup was made long ago, before Germany was named the host country, according to the tournament organizer, the Federation Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA. Each of the 12 stadiums may serve local and regional specialties in addition to McDonald’s food, FIFA said.

Aside from the beer debate, the larger concern is the commercialization of the World Cup, which many here see as detracting from the sport.

Many Germans say their country has become yet another victim of globalization, where money speaks louder than local loyalty.

The debate over Budweiser at the World Cup isn’t simply more anti-Americanism. It’s just a matter of taste.

And many here say they just can’t understand why anyone would want to drink Budweiser while in Germany.

“We don’t make anything that you can compare it to. We just don’t make that kind of beer. Why would we, when you can drink this?” Mr. Hofrichter said as he raised his glass of local weissbier (wheat beer) in a toast.

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