Euro 2016 Fans Brace For Heightened Security

Originally published on June 11, 2016 10:49 am
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The European soccer championships kicked off in France last night. The tournament is second only to the World Cup in TV viewership, even though many Europeans will leave the couch to watch their national teams as a group, usually outside on huge screens in so-called fan zones. But this year's events might be a bit more subdued than usual because of security fears. Crowds could be down in many European cities. According to a poll released earlier this week in Germany, 1 in 3 soccer fans is simply afraid to watch the tournament in public. Esme Nicholson has more from Berlin.

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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: (Speaking German).

ESME NICHOLSON, BYLINE: Every other year for a four-week period in high summer, Germany's otherwise orderly capital city becomes one big street party. Whether it's the World Cup or the European championships, German soccer fans head outside into the long, light evenings and, beer in hand, gather together in front of outdoor TV screens to support their national team. The Germans call this public viewing, and you can't avoid it. Whenever Germany scores, entire neighborhoods erupt with joy and the sound of firecrackers. But this year, the mood is more subdued.

Germany's intelligence chief, Hans-Georg Maassen, says the so-called Islamic State has Euro 2016 in its sights. At the Brandenburg gate, 48-year-old Michael Ziegert from Dortmund watches as a construction crew sets up the official fan zone, where thousands of supporters will watch Germany's first match.

MICHAEL ZIEGERT: (Through interpreter) Considering what happened in Paris last November, I'm not sure I'll be joining other football fans here in the capital city because it's an obvious target.

NICHOLSON: Forty-five-year-old Alexandra Funke shares his concerns but is determined not to let it spoil the fun.

NICHOLSON: I'm a little bit afraid, but I will go to the public viewing because if everyone would stay at home, the terrorism has more importance.

NICHOLSON: It's not just the fans who are apprehensive. Germany's star player Jerome Boateng has asked his family not to attend any matches. He told the newspaper Bild that he won't be able to focus on the game if he's worrying about their safety. Boateng was playing in Paris in November when bombs went off outside the stadium. Aware that Boateng's message does little to encourage fans and his fellow players, German coach Joachim Low is eager to put the public at ease.

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JOACHIM LOW: (Through interpreter) Naturally, security is an issue for the team. But we're concentrating on the job at hand. And I think that is what is most important.

NICHOLSON: And there will be some light relief for worried soccer fans. Oobi-Ooobi, a koala bear at Leipzig Zoo, is Germany's official animal oracle this year. Like Paul the Octopus before him, the marsupial's job to predict the outcome of every Germany match in Euro 2016. For NPR News, I'm Esme Nicholson in Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.