Brunching in German Soccer Country Is Its Own Sport
At brunch on a recent Sunday outside Zum Schneider, an authentic German bar and restaurant in Manhattan, there’s no room to stand on the sidewalk. It’s the first appearance of Germany’s professional soccer team in the Euro 2016 tournament. Everyone is trying to muscle their way through the front door. They’re hungry. And there’s soccer to watch. The general consensus seems simple: Get inside and squeeze on in. The bar is small and square and lined with brick. The floors are concrete and spotted with occasional puddles of spilled beer. The single bar lines the rear wall and a large projection screen perches overhead. This is smart: Put the game where the beer is. The kitchen is tucked behind a brick wall to the right and plates push through the pick-up window, the ding of the chef’s bell barely audible within the pulse of the crowd.
The overall culture of soccer—the sport itself and the excitement of watching it—normally falls flat to Americans. We are football and baseball people. But despite the emotional disconnect, there’s a crucial element that they—and all sports—share: food. Normally, sports food is predicated on the environment—culturally and logistically—in which the sport is viewed. At the Kentucky Derby, you sip a mint julep while sitting comfortably in the shade. Buffalo wings are customary while watching football on Sundays. Here, crammed into a brick-lined bar on Avenue C in Manhattan, people conversing in German, slapping backs, and clinking glasses—prost!—it’s anything that can be eaten while standing and holding a beer.
The main culinary necessity, however, is authenticity. For Germans living in New York City, it is only on occasion that they are able to truly immerse themselves in the culture of their homeland—sports and food being two important aspects of this endeavor. Going to an authentic German bar to watch their soccer team is a celebratory experience. That’s why many of them show up a few hours before the game begins. These customs are adhered to regardless of the time the game begins. Because of the time difference (Europe is ahead of New York City by five or six hours, depending on the country), some games begin as early as 7 a.m. here on the East Coast. Regardless of the start time, Zum Schneider opens its doors for its home team’s games. And, regardless of time, fans are drinking beer and eating sausages—the perfect breakfast. On this day, however, with a 3 p.m. start, it’s an occasion that calls for brunch.
There are plates of bratwurst slathered in mustard, fried pork shanks covered in beer sauce, wieners and cabbage, bulkie rolls and sauerkraut. But for the most part it’s the simplest and most logical food item that most reminds spectators of their heritage: Bratwurstsemmel, a no-frills sausage within in a bulkie roll—taking bites from one hand, sipping beer from the other, standing in a small circle and chatting.
As people continue eating Zum Schneider, waiting for the game to begin, the sausage-on-a-roll proves to be the most popular choice of food. It’s a crudely and easily made item that is more sustenance than showiness. No one is trying to impress anyone else by eating a mustard-covered sausage shoved within a roll. The meat doesn’t even share the same shape at the bread it’s presented upon. Match days call for an adjustment of attitude that centers around not only spectatorship but also culinary behavior—weiners of all types transcend designated mealtimes and are accepted seamlessly as breakfast items. If you don’t eat what’s customary for a sporting event—hot dogs and peanuts at a baseball game, these brat-on-bun snacks during German soccer—it’s not just impolite, it’s borderline disgraceful.
American spectators are constantly noshing. Tailgating starts early—a parking-lot brunch—and persistent eating continues throughout the competition. At home, food is replenished as it gets eaten, each quarter bringing a new wave of different finger-foods. For a German soccer match, however, a pre-game feast leads explicitly into intra-game beer-drinking. Fans gorge themselves before the action begins, but dedicate themselves entirely to steins of beer—Weihenstephaner, Andechs Dunkelweizen, Traunsteiner Dunkel, Augustiner Edelstoff, and more—during the match.
The clapping and chanting gets louder and more persistent as game-time approaches. Everyone in the bar wears white German Football Club jerseys, or uniforms of their favorite player. Fan have German flags painted on arms and cheeks. They speak almost exclusively in German. A waitress carries steins of hefeweizen and lager through the crowd and calls out to whomever would listen about finding a home for the pretzel balanced atop the glasses in her right hand. People continue to eat.
Cheers and howls fill the bar as the German players enter the field. Fans munch on the last of their Bratwurstsemmel. The bar sings along with the German national anthem, people raising their glasses rather than crossing their hearts.
The game begins. Germany versus Ukraine. People stand on benches in the back of the room to see the television. Right off the bat, there’s a near miss by Germany—whooooaahh!—with claps for effort. The fans are excited—hopeful. It’s thick and muggy in the bar. People begin to sweat, backs of necks glistening with moisture, shirts sticking to skin.
The last of the crowd finishes their brunch now that the game is underway. They wipe crumbs and dollops of mustard off the fronts of their pants.
Eighteen minutes into the game, German player Shkodran Mustafi is granted a free kick after being tripped. He swings the ball right and tucks it into the Ukrainian net. The bar explodes into a small riot, holding up glasses and chanting—Hey! Hey! Hey!—before jumping into a celebratory song normally reserved for Oktoberfest in Munich—itself a festival recognizing food and drink, including breakfast. Loosely translated, it calls to acknowledge the camaraderie of a good time. A man standing in front of me takes a selfie while spilling beer all over himself. He laughs and puts his phone into his pocket.
At this point, people are now completely blocking the entrance doors. Other spectators, outside on the sidewalk, are pressed against the windows. They cup their hands around their eyes, deflecting the glare. During halftime, people either buy another beer at the bar or go outside to smoke cigarettes. Some people do both, carrying their drinks into the street. A man yells to his friends—Come on, guys!—as the second half starts. Men and women raise fresh glasses of beer—prost!—and cheers one another as the game resumes.
The crowd, now full of drink, begins chanting—Auf geht’s Deutschland schiess ein Tor! Schiess ein Tor! Schiess ein Tor!—calling again and again for Germany to score a goal. People have stopped trying to order beer or move around the room. They are all watching the screen. Germany is still up 1-0. Just over 20 minutes remain. With less than a minute left, Germany scores again—one of their players charging and charging downfield, no one around, completely open. The bar has a meltdown. Men hug each other and women scream and yell. People throw high-fives and spill beer. One guy slaps me on the top of the head. A girl and a guy kiss furiously in the front near the television, hands gripping the backs of each other’s necks. He spills beer on her shoulder. People jump up and down again and again. Another song—Super Deutschland!—with people stomping their feet in unison. They chant the nickname of the player who scored: Schweinsie! Schweinsie! Schweinsie! The television shows a Ukrainian fan crying. The bartender mounts a knee on the counter and blows a plastic horn.
Fans pour out into the street. In the past, for more crucial matches, fans have been known to stand on cars and yell in German. One time, nearly a half-dozen cop cars were summoned. But today is different. Many people stand in small circles, replaying aspects of the game. They continue to cheers—prost!—and shake hands and give hugs. Songs of victory ring out in the East Village. Some people sit down and call the waitress over. With victory, it seems, comes the necessity of food—a nod to the marriage of sport and community and success. The more pride you put into an activity, the likelier you are to associate it with food—breakfast and brunch included. The table orders a round of brats.