Some Berliners Dreading World Cup Crowds

Soccer's biggest event, the World Cup, moves to Germany this year. And with just a few months until game time, Berlin and other cities around the country are getting ready to welcome millions of fans. But not all Berliners support the rush to welcome the world.

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But first, to sports. Germany is the host of this year's world cup. And with just a few minutes, a few months, rather, until game time, German cities are getting ready to welcome tens of millions of fans. NPR's Rachel Martin reports from Berlin.

RACHEL MARTIN reporting:

Atop the telecommunications tower in the center of Alexanderplatz in the eastern part of the city, a small group of mountain climbers harness up and prepare to scale down the large, bulbous center of the tower. While hanging from ropes almost 800 feet above ground, they attach large, sticky pieces of pink and silver foil. Their aim: to turn the iconic TV tower into a giant soccer ball. But Germany is not content to just look the part of World Cup host, so the country's service industry is getting a lesson in hospitality. The country has launched a so-called friendliness campaign designed to help Germans put on a friendlier face for the world cup. Norbert Toder(ph) is the head of the National Service and Friendliness Campaign based in Frankfurt.

Mr. NORBERT TODER (Director, National Service and Friendliness Campaign): (Through translator) We are a country with an international focus, but we still have individual regions that approach guests in different ways. It's not unfriendly, it's just different ways of interacting with people. That's why we have the campaign to make hospitality and friendliness a first priority.

MARTIN: The campaign encourages everything, from English skills to customer service etiquette--a concept undiscovered or ignored in many German restaurants and cafes. There's even an expression for it in German: (speaking German), or Germany, the service wasteland--a reputation the campaign is trying to kick, particularly in the nation's capitol, where Berliners are affectionately known more for their urban angst than their warm hospitality.

Torman Toraja(ph) is the manager of an American-style sports bar in Berlin's touristy Potsdamerplatz district. He's attended campaign seminars on translating menus into multiple languages, and cross-cultural awareness. He points to a menu from which customers can already order greasy chicken wings in German, Italian, Spanish, and English.

Toraja says the seminars are good for Berlin restaurants, which haven't heard that the customer is always right.

Mr. TORMAN TORAJA (Sports Bar Owner, Berlin, Germany): They say the burger's cold, the burger's cold. You get another one. And so for us, is not a problem. But I think another small shops for this very hard, because they have no experience with this, so they have to learn this first.

MARTIN: There's also a big push to improve English language skills among Germany's service workers. In Berlin, the Taxi Driver's Association has subsidized English courses for its drivers so they can get better tips while serving as de facto ambassadors for the city.

(Soundbite of man speaking German)

Unidentified Man: It's two hours.

MARTIN: Sixty-five-year old Heiner Welt(ph) sits in a classroom with a handful of other veteran cab drivers who spend more kvetching about slow business than practicing their English vocabulary. Welt says Berliners are not about to turn on the charm or learn a new language just because the World Cup is coming to town. Point in case, he says, the small turnout for classes like this.

Mr. HEINER WELT (Berlin Cab Driver): We are five here, today. And in this town, we are nearly 20,000 drivers. All the others have an excellent English. Is it so?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Michael Donnelmeyer(ph) is the spokesman for the Berlin City Senate. He says Germany's friendliness campaign is an attempt to get Germans in a hospitable mood, but it also illustrates a friendly competition among Germany's world cup host cities, and a chance for Berlin to showcase itself to foreigners and Germans alike.

Mr. MICHAEL DONNELMEYER (Spokesman, Berlin City Senate): We know Berlin is only for seven years a real capitol, and to, we have struggle for our status as a capitol in Germany, and we hope that this championship will change the minds of the German people towards their own capitol. So, we have to achieve this be being the best host in Germany.

MARTIN: The campaign is publishing a book of service tips, which will be distributed in the next few weeks. Opening games of the World Cup are scheduled for June 9th. Rachel Martin, NPR News, Berlin.

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