For 27 years, the cult pub Lotta in Cologne has witnessed all the electrifying moments of football. When FC Köln scored a crucial goal in extra time, almost the whole bar exploded. Total strangers hug each other drunk. Kölsch flows in streams over the bar. The atmosphere gives you goosebumps.
With its two large screens, Lotta also attracts the players when the German men’s national team is playing. Unforgotten is the collective primal scream after Mario Götze’s goal in the 2014 World Cup final against Argentina.
Lotta co-owner Peter Zimmermann, who has been a passionate football fan for 20 years and who has season tickets for his beloved “Effzeh” – FC Köln for non-natives – would have to ask a lot to make a decision like many landlords and hostesses in Germany are currently making: four weeks Lotta’s televisions haven’t shown a game of the soccer World Cup, which kicks off in Qatar on Sunday, for a long time.
“We want to take a stand against this thoroughly corrupt FIFA system, where it’s really all about money and human rights and football culture doesn’t matter at all,” Zimmermann told DW. “And Qatar, of course, tops everything: the oppression of women, discrimination against homosexuals and the miserable working conditions.”
Contrasting program in the Cologne football bar
When the World Cup begins on Sunday evening with the opening game between Qatar and Ecuador, Lotta’s doors will remain closed. On Monday night, when USA meets Wales, players will test their trivia skills with a pub quiz. And on Tuesday, while France plays Australia, there will be a panel discussion at the pub on the situation in Qatar, FIFA policy and the boycott. Dart and table football tournaments, film screenings and playing the world championship on the Playstation follow. Lotta’s protest has gone viral. Even a Japanese television crew turned up in Lotta’s southern district of Cologne.
“The closer the World Cup got, the more we realized that Qatar is the straw that breaks the camel’s back and we don’t want to support that,” says Zimmermann. “In April we made our boycott public and put up a banner saying ‘Boycott Qatar’. Initially, the reactions were consistently positive, although we were still in a minority at the time.”
“Just too much”
For the first time in his life, Zimmermann does not know the World Cup calendar inside out – which was previously unthinkable. But not only Lotta takes a stand. Compared to previous tournaments, enthusiasm for the World Cup in Qatar is noticeably limited. No cars with German flags stuck precariously to the windows, no football stickers exchanged, no raffles in the office. And because the World Cup takes place in winter, no open-air viewings.
The German sports retail chains Intersport and Sport2000 complain that sales of World Cup jerseys have fallen by up to 50% compared to the last men’s World Cup four years ago. According to a recent survey by the opinion research institute Infratest dimap, more than half of Germans are considering ignoring the World Cup entirely.
In the meantime, Lotta has also removed all the beer bottles with the FIFA World Cup logo from the counter. Admittedly, a handful of critical comments have recently trickled in via Instagram or email, calling the owners hypocrites for heating their pub with gas from Qatar.
But Zimmermann says he has no regrets about making the pub a FIFA-free zone, although sales will certainly suffer from the boycott over the next four weeks.
“Of course, the soccer World Cup is always good additional business, especially when Germany is playing. But we have our regular guests and I hope that other people will come here for our alternative program. They say: ‘We like football, but now with Qatar, it’s just too much for us.’
Protests against Qatar in German football stadiums
Dietrich Schulze-Marmeling is also coming to the Lotta next Tuesday. Not as a guest, but as a speaker. The author of numerous football books is, if you will, the captain of the anti-Qatar World Cup protest movement. The die-hard Borussia Dortmund supporter launched the #boycottqatar2022 initiative two years ago and even wrote a book about the Qatar controversy and why the World Cup should not have taken place in the desert state in the first place.
Schulze-Marmeling says: “I was surprised by the extent of the protests and how massive they have become in recent weeks, especially among the fans on the last three Bundesliga match days. I think something has simply built up over the years and Qatar was even more problematic at the time [2018 World Cup in] Russia. Regarding Russia, many people said: “Well, at least it’s a big country with some football tradition. But Qatar, with its 350,000 inhabitants, is simply absurd for many.’”
Germany as a moral world champion?
All supporters of the call are encouraged to send letters of protest to FIFA, not to buy products with the World Cup logo and to refrain from traveling to Qatar and parties in Germany. The goal of Schulze-Marmeling and his comrades-in-arms: It should no longer be attractive to “present the World Cup in such a perverse way and continue to ruin football”.
But what about the people who end up tuning in to watch the games? “I don’t judge anyone. I can actually understand that very well,” says Schulze-Marmeling. “And will everyone who says they’re not looking really hold out if Germany plays well? It’s important not to stop looking critically at the tournament. The debate must continue throughout the tournament and also in the media.” must be aware that criticism cannot be ignored. We need a discussion about how we want to shape the future of football.”
Above all, Germany with its critical football fan scene, which repeatedly denounces racism, homophobia and the increasing influence of investors, is at the forefront of this debate. But for the supporters of many World Cup participants, the human rights situation in Qatar and corruption at FIFA hardly play a role. Football outshines everything. The people who make fun of the protest say that Germany will become the world champion of morality. Schulze-Marmeling is happy to accept the title.
“If the awareness of human rights issues is particularly pronounced in German society, then we can be proud of it. If you are accused of living in your German bubble, I always say: ‘I’m sorry, but other countries think differently too, and they will rather watch with a certain admiration for what is going on here [in Germany].’ We receive many inquiries, especially from England: “How did you manage to start the protests? We’d like to do that too, can you help us with that?”
This article was translated from German.