There’s something fascinating about motorbikes. Whether it’s the chrome, the shiny paint, the compact and complex engines, the helmets and the leather that goes with them, the noise, the smell or simply the power, the freedom and the wild feeling of exhilaration that they bring, I couldn’t say.
I was sitting in a cafe beside a canal in Hamburg City. Nearby a busker was singing Edith Piaf’s La Vie en Rose. Tourist boats rose and sank on the nearby lock. The sky was blue, the sun was shining, the air was sweet with the smell of bacon and eggs and pastries.
From somewhere faraway came a buzz, like a swarm of advancing wasps. It drew closer. It grew louder. It began to sound sinister. It became a rumble, then a roar. A baby at the next table began to cry. Now all other sounds, the singer, the laughter from the boats in the lock, the clatter of plates from the café had been drowned out by the thunderous din. Some people leapt to their feet. Others sat frozen in fear. But I knew that it was the sound of motorbikes, lots of them. Then past the end of the street they roared. On and on they came, in their hundreds in along streak of flashing chrome and gleaming paint.
The noise subsided and slowly petered out as they came to rest on nearby avenue.
Later I headed over to have a look. There were bikes of every make, shape and age. There were great hulking Harleys, Indians, BMWs, Hondas, Suzukis, Ducatis. There were Mum and Dad bikes, Mum, Dad and the kid bikes with side-cars, lovers’ bikes, porno bikes painted with buxom silhouettes in skimpy gear and army bikes in camouflage colours.
Most of Hamburg it seemed felt that same fascination for motorbikes, because there they were on that street, spellbound.
Bikers had ridden from all over Germany to take part in the rally in Hamburg that day.
The FIFA World Cup was on when we were in Hamburg in 2006. But Football fever seemed hardly to touch the peaceful Hotel Treudelberg Golf and Country Club, at the edge of forest, on the outskirts of Hamburg, until that memorable day when Germany met Argentina in the quarter final.
At five o’clock, the terrace was deserted. The chattering fountain was the only voice in the garden, the swaying trees the only dancers on the lawn and on the golf course, only a lonely flag waited at the first tee. Inside, the corridors were quiet, the pool, the gym, the sauna and the beauty center were empty. There was no rumble of industry from the conference rooms.
“The game” said the smiling receptionist as she pointed me to the bar
“Oh, of course, the game!”
Inside the bar, the crowd stood shoulder to shoulder, squeezed into corners and squashed against walls. There were elderly ladies in brocade frock-coat ensembles; white-haired, jovial red-faced gents in waistcoats; a circle of middle-aged cigar-smokers in shirt-sleeves; elegant, coiffed, bronzed matrons in cut-away, slashed down-to-there, split-up-to-here dresses and dangerous heels. Blondes with umbrella drinks, big hair and beach-ball bums teetered on bar-stools. There was a team of beer-drinking suits. At the bar was a man with a flower in his button-hole. Right at the front was a woman in bridal whites . Her eyes were fixed, like everyone else’s, on the TV screen where eleven Germans and eleven Argentineans chased a black and white ball backwards and forwards across a rectangle of green.
A scoreless first half ended with snorts of frustration and shaking of heads. Brocades, suits, stilettos, cigar smokers and beach balls receded like a rip-tide, leaving glasses and cigarettes, bags, stoles and jackets like flotsam and jetsam on tables and chairs. There was a lull in the bar, like the eye of a storm. Figures took shape in dim corners; a few football jerseys, a couple of golfers; conference people in logo tee shirts. There was a re-claiming of space, a charging of glasses, an exchanging of nods; a bonding of sorts.
Outside, under the umbrella, the man with the button-hole and the woman in white joined hands. Their friends closed in and blocked them from view. It was still for a second. Then the circle unwound and raced to the bar. Bride and groom shared a kiss and dashed after them.
It was four minutes into the second half and the commentator called the game in tones of mounting panic. “Nein! Nein!’ screamed the anguished crowd as Argentina scored. A lone cheer from a shadowed corner fell into a leaden silence.
There were ten minutes left when Miroslav Klose flipped the ball into goal. Bronzed arms waved above coiffured heads.
Shirt-sleeves thumped waist-coated backs. Beach balls and big hair bounced up and down. Brocades smacked kisses on startled red-faces. Bellowed snatches of “Deutschland Deutschland uber alles” transported the suits.
The air buzzed like an electrical field through extra time. People sprang to their feet yelling “Jaaaaaaaa!” as the ball spun towards the German goal, then sank into in their seats as Argentina snatched it away crying “Neieeeeeiiiin!
And finally, we arrived at that hour of judgement, that time of reckoning, that Armageddon of football – the penalty shoot out. Glasses were filled, smokes were lit, everyone settled, tensed, readied. The countdown began.
If there was a voice raised for Argentina it was lost in the roar.
It was a German win! There was shouting, singing, cheering, laughing, crying, embracing – shirt-sleeves and big-hair, suits and stilettos, white-hair and beach balls, waistcoats and brocade, football jerseys and big hair, golfers and bronzées, conferenciers and coiffures, barmaid and barman, bride and groom, all on the same side now, all whirling around in a demented dance.
The commentator’s voice was drowned out. The TV flickered, forgotten, in its corner. The joy, the jubilation, the disappointment, the tears and the after-match ugliness played on, unheard and unseen, till the screen snapped off and it all vanished into blackness.
The bride and groom led their guests away, out through the French doors, and across the terrace. From a lawn striped with shadows, they threw bunches of white balloons into the fading sky. The trees shivered in the breeze, the fountain dropped curls of misty spray on the pond and beyond it, a group of golfers teed off, then chased specks of white along the darkening fairway.
There was an emptiness now in the bar and a tiny tinge of sadness, like the one that follows the end of a good book. But there was also a feeling anticipation and a sense of excitement too, like the one that comes when there’s more to the story.