Have you heard that the regular refs are back to work in the NFL (National Football League)? If you aren't in the United States or an American abroad - you probably haven't. Why would you? While the love between Americans and their football is well documented, the sport is less well represented around the world. But here in Berlin, just hearing the iconic theme music of Monday night football gives me goosebumps.
Not that I've heard it often since we moved to Germany. When my husband and I arrived in this foreign land, we were determined to make German friends. Without a permanent place to live or jobs, we set those serious problems aside to address the work of being sociable. We chatted up people in bars. We contacted people in internet forums. We smiled at our stern faced neighbors. The Germans were not having it. After about 2 months of staring at each other, we realized we had a problem during a Skype call with my mom.
"Is Ian there?" She asked.
"He's here. He's always here." Was my unenthusiastic answer.
It was time to do something different. In desperation, we searched for somewhere showing football and we found Salamas sports bar. It is definitely not the best bar in Berlin. It is a dive bar that specializes in leaving your hair smoky and your eyes rummy from one too many beers. It does, however, faithfully show American football every Sunday. As we came to find out from our regular visits, it's other greatest attribute is it's owner and namesake, Salama, a truly welcoming Egyptian expat that his made his home and business in Germany for decades.
While Salama was welcoming, the crowd was...less so. The first week, the cherished sports tradition of yelling at the TV was engaged in heartily but few words were exchanged with us. We slowly made in waves with our repeat appearances and began to know our football watching neighbors. There were several Germans that crowded the bar and had all come to love football in unique ways. Some had done foreign exchange and found it in the USA. Others had watched the game and found a connection that resonated. There was the trio of J-named Americans that sat in the back room. Two were from the east coast, but one was strangely from the city just south of ours. It is always a marvel to meet people from home when you are so far away.
At first we just talked football and I actually learned a lot about the game. While I've been perched in front of a TV screen watching football since I could sit upright, it had pretty much been background noise until this point. I was generally supportive about my team (Go Hawks!), but I had no feeling for the intricacies of the game. Even more interestingly, I learned about what something familiar like football can mean to a group of expats. We got to know the 3 American J's and 5 years later they are some of our closest friends. We know their German girlfriends who are now our friends. Ian got a job that he still works through them. All this through the love of football.
That's why the announcement that the official refs are back in the game is such a relief. One (of the many, many mainstream news stories covering this sports news):
Contract negotiations between the referees and the league had broken down before the pre-season and the NFL season began with replacement refs. Refs like high schools teachers that part-timed refereed for their local teams had been called to the big leagues. I would have loved for the story to be that they got their big break and they were awesome, but that is not the case. It didn't go well. There was an egregious amount of bad calls with the pièce de résistance last Monday's game between my beloved Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers. A game changing call and *poof* there was a collective call of "enough". The lock out is over and the regular refs are back for this Sunday's games.
As much as I love living in Germany, I value these Sunday meet-ups between expats. Football has uniquely connected our group. Sometimes I wonder if we would have ever met back in the States, let alone be friends. I don't think so...we're all so different and they're different from the friends we made back home. But we are friends. Drawn together by just a game, played on the other side of the ocean.
If you happen to be in Berlin on a Sunday night, come on down! We may not be the friendliest crew straight off, but football can serve as our connection. Let the rest of the world have soccer - sorry! football or futbol or fussball. We Americans have football.