Maybe this is just the bit of frivolity that Europe needs
THE LAST time I was in one, the floor was so wet it resembled a lower deck of the Titanic as the great liner settled steadily into the waters of the Atlantic.
Mind you, this liquid certainly hadn’t come from the sea – even if women dressed more like mermaids had served it.
All human life, living and not so close to the real world, is to be found in a Munich beer hall.
Young ladies who had clearly climbed into outfits two sizes too small for their burgeoning talents had arrived beside the sodden wooden table armed with great jugs of German beer, like terrorist fighters wielding their weapons.
In this case, over a period of a few hours, the “weapons” – huge quarts of strong German lager – had much the same effect as the tools of the terrorists’ trade. Fit young men were reduced to wrecks of humanity.
Of course, this is a scene likely to be repeated across much of the European continent in the next four weeks.
In Germany, the beer halls will be awash with their product, sunk in copious amounts by the followers of the German national football team.
In Holland, the inns and bars will be bedecked in the national colour, orange, and the shareholders of the nation’s great brewing companies such as Heineken, Amstel and Grolsch will lick their lips in anticipation of the vast profits about to spill from a multitude of filled glasses.
In Italy, they tend to do it a little differently, in a little more style.
The small family trattorias, those Italian eating establishments which are less formal than a ristorante, but more formal than an osteria, will be filled with the noise, hubbub and buzz of excitement generated by a soccermad nation.
The bottles of Barolo, Chianti and, if they’re really struggling, Valpolicella, will be uncorked with due ceremony and laughter.
Few culinary experiences are more pleasant than finding such an establishment somewhere in Italy and settling down to home-made, well-cooked food with a decent glass.
And talking of food and fun, then there is France. On July 12, 1998, the year when France were the host nation, I watched the final they played in Paris in the unlikely environs of St Jean-de-Luz, a small fishing port on the Atlantic coast tucked away close to the Spanish border.
This was the Basque region, an area of fiercely partisan and proud people. Yet when the final whistle went in the final in Paris that night, it was as though the Basques themselves had beaten Brazil 3-0, not the French.
Suddenly, as if some conjuror had arrived, bottles of red wine appeared on the tables courtesy of Le Patron. We’d all but eaten our meals but the celebratory wine kept coming.
And when we’d had a decent chance to assess the merits of that particular vintage as, all the while, our ears were assailed by the sound of blaring car horns throughout the little town and giant tricolour flags being waved from the vehicles as they cruised around, a most extraordinary scene unfolded.
At something close to two o’clock in the morning, a giant, elongated snake was to be seen winding its way through the centre of St Jean-de-Luz; a human snake comprising hundreds of people, your correspondent – naturally full of bonhomie as befitted the occasion – among them.
Three very excited young English children were also somewhere in the line, shrieking their heads off, laughing and smiling, amid the fun.
In Greece, of course, they don’t have a whole lot to laugh about these days. Well, is it funny if your country is financially bankrupt?
But the country will look to its football team to help erase furrowed brows and, even if just briefly, lift the pall of gloom that has descended upon the likes of Piraeus and Patmos.
In England already, flags fly from cars and most other vehicles like bunting from ships.
The cross of Saint George is to be seen everywhere in a startling departure from the nation’s normal disinterest in patriotism.
Here, too, the pubs will be bursting at the seams on big match days, cockney cries of “Go on, my son” filling the London air.
Denmark, Portugal, Spain, Slovakia and Switzerland are the other European countries participating at this World Cup and in every city, town or village you can bet interest will be intense and, naturally, glasses fully charged. A soccer fiesta of fun and frivolity? Maybe it’s just what financially broken Europe needs at this particular moment.