A Stadium Away From the Stadium

About 800 fans packed the Austrian Embassy in Northwest Washington to watch Spain edge Germany, 1-0, in the European Soccer Championship.
About 800 fans packed the Austrian Embassy in Northwest Washington to watch Spain edge Germany, 1-0, in the European Soccer Championship. (By Sven Bannuscher)
By Kameel Stanley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 30, 2008

The Austrian Embassy hosts more than 100 cultural events every year, but it was yesterday's European Soccer Championship that proved to be this year's most popular gathering.

Nearly 800 European and American fans packed the embassy in Northwest Washington to watch Spain edge Germany 1-0. "In Europe, you have to be interested in soccer," said Thomas Winkler, a visiting researcher from Hanover, Germany, who brought his wife, Imke, and their twin daughters, Charlotte and Pauline. "It's like the Super Bowl here."

The 4-year-old girls, with German flags painted on their cheeks, waved flags and cheered along with the rest of the crowd, many of them also decked out in red, black and yellow.

It was the first time the championship had been played in Vienna, and the get-together was prompted by public inquiries about the soccer series, said Wolfgang Renezeder, director of press and information services. In early June, the embassy posted a notice about the gathering on its Web site.

"What we didn't know was that there was going to be so much interest," he said. "Within a few days, we had so many people we had to close it."

It took about 10 staff members who arrived at 10 a.m. yesterday to pull off the free event. Technicians set up three large flat-screen TVs, and organizers laid out 1,500 sausages, 100 gallons of beer and platters of bread and potato salad. Upon entering, each person also got a red hat and matching miniature soft soccer ball emblazoned with "EURO 2008."

The Swiss and German embassies have hosted soccer gatherings in the past, Renezeder said, but yesterday's was the largest thus far.

More sedate concerts, held often at the Austrian Embassy, usually draw 100 to 200 people, he said. Receptions can draw up to 500, and the annual Red Bull party, thrown by an Austrian company, usually draws no more than 600. At game time yesterday afternoon, there was still a line of people waiting patiently to pass through security. "For an embassy, this is a very large number," Renezeder said.

The soccer fans represented a mix of cultures, but the common thread was their love of the game.

Laura Morante, a native of Venice on vacation in the Washington area, said she didn't expect so many Americans to turn out for the event.

"It's not their sport," she said. "In Europeans' minds, the U.S. is basketball, football, baseball."

Morante was one of a few people in the crowd rooting for Spain, although she said she transferred her allegiances only after Italy failed to make the finals.

Many Americans in the crowd said they had been following the series closely.

For Georgina Jones and Lucas Suzuki, both 23, watching the game brought back memories of their year abroad at the University of Tubingen in Germany, where they met. There, they watched the 2006 World Cup.

"You can't share the joy of a goal by yourself," Jones said. "The fact that you have a lot of people of different nationalities . . . it's like a big festival party."

That helped prompt Malvine Sobin of Silver Spring to bring her 21-year-old grandson Mark to yesterday's event.

Sobin, who said she was born in Vienna "before World War II," said soccer was always big when she was growing up.

"I'm not rooting for anybody," she said. "I'm just seeing. It's amazing. I didn't expect so many people."

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