Euro 2008: Ready for a football party

Twenty-three days, 16 countries, 31 matches and countless events, concerts and exhibits are sure to keep fans busy during the European football championships in Austria and Switzerland from June 7 to 29.

Each of the eight host cities — Basel, Bern, Geneva and Zurich in Switzerland, and the Austrian towns of Innsbruck, Klagenfurt, Salzburg and Vienna — has planned large public viewing areas capable of accommodating tens of thousands of fans.

Free of charge and located in historic city centres or surrounded by breathtaking scenery, these official venues will offer footstalls with international fare and live performances between the games.

The largest, Vienna’s fan mile, will run along the city’s main Ring boulevard, with nine giant screens showing all 31 matches live between the majestic gothic Town Hall at one end and the baroque Imperial Palace at the other.

The 100 000 square-metre zone will be able to accommodate 70 000 fans and will open on June 7 with concerts by the Vienna Boys’ Choir, the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and Austrian pop star Christina Stuermer, performing the official Euro 2008 song.

The Tirolean city of Innsbruck, meanwhile, will convert its renowned Bergisel ski jump arena for a unique public viewing zone at the foot of the Alps.

Cafe terraces, parks and at least one ferry will also be showing games live, while Switzerland will take over a corner of Vienna with a sandy Swiss Beach by the Danube canal, complete with deckchairs and national cheese dishes.

In Geneva, Club 08 will ensure that fans can keep partying long after the fan zone has closed for the night. Dubbed the ”largest temporary club in Switzerland and Austria”, it will feature international DJs every night of the tournament and be free of charge.

Away from the fan zones, museums have also caught football fever.

Basel’s Sportmuseum is holding an exhibit on Swiss football, Vienna’s Wien Museum has reciprocated with one on Austrian soccer, and the nearby Kuenstlerhaus has dedicated its space to pitch passion with its ”herz:rasen — The Football Exhibit.”

Klagenfurt’s Museum of Modern Art will also have a football-themed art exhibit and Bern plans to offer free museum passes during the tournament.

Top music performances are planned in Vienna on several match-free days, including one by Elton John on June 28, and two concerts at Schoenbrunn Palace with opera stars Placido Domingo, Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon on June 27, and Chinese piano virtuoso Lang Lang, alongside the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Zubin Mehta on June 28.

The Zurich Festival will also coincide with the last week of the championship, offering dance, theatre and opera performances, including Carmen by Georges Bizet and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fidelio.

Switzerland’s picturesque capital, Bern, meanwhile, will kick off the tournament with an open-air concert and waltz fest on Parliament Square on June 6, with crash courses in Viennese waltz organised ahead of the event.

In Klagenfurt, Shakespeare’s characters will battle it out on the pitch in the Bremen Shakespeare Company’s play My Kingdom for a Ball on June 7 and 8.

The city is also planning a display of modern art from Austria and the three countries playing in the city — Germany, Croatia and Poland — along the canal.

In Salzburg finally, business and pleasure will mix with a Russia House and Greek House, both intent on attracting investors and fans, with VIP areas, stands and various musical and cultural events.

Enough to make fans forget to head to the stadium. — Sapa-AFP

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