Spirited argument and debate is the basis of any good sporting event. Who is the best, the fastest, the first, the highest, the strongest, the smartest, you name it. Record books filled with trivial minutia are considered the Holy Word for sports enthusiasts.
It’s generally agreed that men’s soccer, known everywhere in the world other than the US as football, began in England in the 1860s. In the world of women’s soccer, which draws a global audience bigger than the Super Bowl in the U.S., it’s generally agreed that the game really gained a foothold (pun intended) in Germany. But was it in Dresden or Frankfurt?
Now some may shrug their shoulders as if it doesn’t matter at all. Yeah, well that shows how much you don’t know. Women’s soccer is being called the new Super League. In the U.S., more than 3.5 million girls below the age of 19 play soccer, a figure that is growing faster than the national debt. The NCAA says women’s soccer is the fastest growing intercollegiate sport in the US with more than 486 teams and growing each year.
These types of statistics will surely be tossed about this summer, including the where and when of women’s soccer birth, as fans of the game, no matter the gender of its players, from around the world turn their eyes to Germany for the 6th FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Nine German cities are hosting matches that are expected to draw more than one million people to Deutschland to see the games in person. Another million or so people are expected to watch from the biergartens and bierhalls in Berlin for the opening events June 26 and Frankfurt for the closing events on July 17 as well as in Dresden, Wolfsburg, Sinsheim, Augsburg, Bochum, Leverkusen and Monchengladbach.
The advent of the games has renewed the “who started it” debate in Germany, Europe’s most populous nation.
In Frankfurt, locals point with pride to the Steinernes Haus near the Old Town center at Braubachstraße 35. The building has withstood the tests of time for 500 years, and the last 100 years as a restaurant. It’s a great place for authentic Frankfurter Green Sauce with hard-boiled eggs and appelwine.
The story goes that in the 1950s, this was one of the few restaurants that allowed women to gather unescorted by a gentleman companion. The butcher’s daughter was a sports enthusiast and quite athletic. She was the one who really launched the movement for women’s sports in Germany.
It sounded like a reasonable explanation to us and we had no need to doubt the story until we were enjoying a lunchtime conversation with new friends in Dresden. Over a plate of sauerbraten and potato dumplings at Sophienkeller, a riotously fun restaurant that recreates a dining hall from the 14th century, we mentioned the story told to us in Frankfurt.
Our hosts almost spewed their pilsner in our faces. “Aaach, we’ve been playing women’s soccer in Saxony since the 1920s.” The story included something about mandatory public fitness classes – I admit I didn’t understand the whole thing, but since this city had been communist-controlled for almost 30 years, I had visions of the harsh, disciplined marks of the East German judges from the Olympics, and well, it didn’t seem worth pushing the point. If they say it started in Dresden before my mother was born a half a world away, I’m not going to argue with them.
Later we toured the Dresden stadium, a beautiful new facility, opened in September 2009, that will seat 27,000 for the highly-spirited match between the USA and Korea on June 28. The park-like setting around the stadium will be filled biergartens and public viewing areas, as well as a film festival and concert.
In all fairness, the Commerzbank Stadium in Frankfurt, locally called the Forest Stadium, is also a great place to watch a game, as well as the planes landing at nearby Frankfurt am Main Airport. It seats 48,000 and the adjacent practice fields will be turned into a festival-type setting for this World Cup and all other events there.
A very cool thing in Frankfurt – tickets to events at the Commerzbank Stadium always include free public transportation. While drinking is encouraged (it is Germany after all), driving afterwards is not.
The largest and certainly the most historic of the stadiums in Germany is the Berlin Olympiastadion. With a modern seating capacity of 74,000, it was built in 1936 for the Olympic Games overseen by Adolph Hitler and where American runner Jesse Owens won four gold medals. Those original Olympic rings remain a highly visible fixture over the main entrance. It is a popular destination for visitors to Berlin whether or not an event is underway at the stadium.
Maybe in the midst of all of this excitement, someone will definitely decide who first started playing organized women’s soccer, but really who cares, as long as they are playing and fans are cheering.