Jaren Linzmeier rose deliberately in his barstool Sunday afternoon. He had never met any of the 50 or so people in Bay View's Highbury Pub until a few minutes earlier, but he wanted to say a few words.
The Munich native held up his glass of dark beer and started to deliver a calm and confident toast in German. The crowd was obedient and respectful, following his words and sensing he wanted a certain reaction from them, but what? They had decorated themselves with German national soccer team jerseys, and some of them had scarves or striped, Dr. Seuss-like hats in the country's colors of black, red and gold. But again, Linzmeier was addressing English speakers. A brief, awkward silence ended when Linzmeier flicked his hand upward and started speaking a universal language for Milwaukeeans.
"Bier," he said. With one word, he'd overcome the cultural divide.
Glasses were lifted higher, and Linzmeier urged the group on with three consecutive, lusty shouts of, "Ziggy-socky, ziggy-socky. Oi! Oi! Oi!" Everyone glugged back a healthy serving of whatever drink they were holding, and the ritual was complete. Whether descended from immigrants or German by birth, the assembled had sent their collective good wishes toward South Africa. Now the Nationalmannschaft could begin its 2010 World Cup charge.
It's impossible to ignore Milwaukee's past when watching the German national team with a gathering of its fans at any bar in the city. It feels like a direct connection to the 19th century. This is the town of Usinger's sausage and Mader's and Karl Ratzsch's restaurants. Frederick Pabst and Joseph Schlitz. There's a beloved Downtown bar called, plainly, Old German Beer Hall. For Milwaukeeans of German descent, cheering on the national team is an expression of not just identity, but also an extension of the same pride in one's heritage that built much of the lasting pillars of this community. Yes, it's a city stocked with generations of proud Polish, Italian and Serbian immigrants -- and numerous others, too -- but not much can invoke the days when Milwaukee scoffed at Chicago like Germans in a bar hoisting hefeweizens to celebrate the homeland.
And it's a nation whose soccer team deserves to be celebrated. Germany's 4-0 victory Sunday over Australia in the opening match for both teams wasn't so much a thrashing as it was a reminder of how teamwork can be simultaneously magnificent and simple. The Germans passed in neat order, going forward and running with commitment into spaces Australia's players generously conceded. As a contest, it wasn't much. Germany scored early, then never lifted the boot from their opponent's throat. As a soccer spectacle, however, it was mandatory viewing. Precise efficient, relentless -- and then Germany doubled its efforts. Australia never had a chance.
The Germany crowd watched with a respectful hush, almost as if the patrons had gone to the opera and no one would dare interrupt the performance with chatter. Sure, they erupted for the goals, shouted toasts, and raised beer mugs and bottles before tipping them back. But as the Germans executed their craft, most everyone just watched the screens closely.
It all happened in jarring contrast to the scene Saturday in the same bar for the United States-England match, which was a heaving, sweaty bacchanalia aimed at trying to force U.S. soccer to elite status purely with its energy. Linzmeier, who lives in Pleasant Prairie, said he saw that crowd and its enthusiasm on local TV news coverage, so he "had to come" up to Milwaukee to watch Germany's match. The tall, thin 43-year-old became emotional with each of Germany's goals Sunday. He would shout with joy, then slowly collect himself, remove his thin-framed glasses and wipe his eyes. One time he looked to the ceiling and crossed himself.
Asked after the match what the experience was like, Linzmeier said it was "emotional, very emotional" and how nice it was to see "so much black, red and gold" in the bar. Just another German who came to Milwaukee and found everything he needed to feel right at home.