18 June 2006
by Laura Smith-Spark
Kaiserslautern, Germany: Fifa
and its partners have gone to great lengths to ensure the well-being of an estimated one million visitors - many without match tickets - and their efforts seem to be paying dividends.
Despite their grumbles about the difficulties of buying tickets, few fans have had anything but praise for the welcome they have received in Germany.
In each of the host cities, "Fan Embassies" have been set up to greet new arrivals at railway stations and at the big screen viewing areas.
Teams of volunteers - recruited from across Germany for their language skills - hand out maps and advice on anything from where to stay to how to find a doctor.
Silke Mayer, 24, from near Weinheim, is one of about 1,000 volunteers of all ages staffing the fan embassies in Kaiserslautern.
She says: "I worked on the day Australia played Japan here and it was really busy - but they were all nice to each other and making jokes.
"I think people have come closer together because of the World Cup."
The volunteers' pre-tournament training had included recognising people's cultural differences, she said, so they knew to expect the openness of Australians and the greater reserve of the Japanese.
"One Australian guy asked me to marry him," Silke says. "I told him it had been only five minutes and maybe it was a little quick. It was funny - they like to flirt a little."
She is working part-time, making it possible to volunteer for a couple of days each week.
"I thought - this is the only time in my life I am going to be able to do something like this and if I don't I will regret it. It's been amazing."
Fellow volunteer Hadi Adisurya Kang, from Jakarta in Indonesia, decided to volunteer while studying Japanese, French and Korean in Saarbrucken.
With Chinese, Indonesian, English and German already under his belt, the 20-year-old is equipped to help fans from almost anywhere in the world.
Like the other volunteers, he applied last year and went through an interview process to win a place on the Fifa-run programme.
"It's super - I think to be part of the world's greatest sports event is an honour for me," he says.
"To meet so many fans from all over the world, it's really such an unforgettable experience."
One Australian was so impressed he offered 100 euros to buy Hadi's volunteer T-shirt - they are not for sale anywhere - as a unique souvenir.
Local football organisations in the 12 host cities have also been working in co-operation with Fifa to look after the interests of supporters.
Rolf-Arnd Marewski, co-leader of Dortmund's Fan Projekt, says the aim is to give visitors a good impression of the city - but also to prevent trouble.
"I go to foreign fans with open arms," he says. "If you treat people like guests, they'll behave like guests.
"If you say to them 'you are a problem' and greet them with police, they will act in that way. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy."
He was unconcerned by the disturbances after the Germany-Poland game in Dortmund - the most serious of the tournament so far - saying only a tiny minority had been involved.
A social worker who has been tackling football hooliganism in Dortmund for 18 years, Mr Marewski believes in giving fans the chance to prove wrong those who anticipate violence.
He and co-leader Thilo Danielsmeyer helped recruit volunteers and have set up a website and internet cafe to give visitors access to local expertise - and a chance to meet fellow fans.
Volunteers say their approach appears to be working
"If they have information, they feel secure and they feel safe," Mr Marewski explains.
The Fan Projekt also encouraged the idea of providing entertainment between games and at half time on stages set up alongside the big screen at public venues, he says.
Sometimes girls in cheerleader outfits catapult wet T-shirts into the crowd; during other pauses in play fans are invited up on stage to compete in goal-shooting contests.
The idea, says Mr Marewski, is to keep the audience - many of whom will have been drinking all day - engaged and so out of mischief.
"If they see someone on the stage, music and so on, they forget how long they are waiting, so they don't get bored and they don't cause trouble," he says.
And so far the strategy seems to be working.
Hundreds of thousands of supporters from dozens of nations have gathered in different cities across Germany each day - with very little friction.