MAINZ, Germany – Winning the World Cup means everything to soccer fans, a yearning that can lead to some strange behaviors.
Superstitious Germany supporters, like myself, turned to special rituals ahead of each game during the recent South Africa contest, hoping that previous victories could be repeated by doing things like wearing the same unwashed shirt or watching the match in exactly the same beach chair, with exactly the same group of people.
Octopus Paul, better known as the so-called "octopus oracle" swims in front of a soccer ball in his tank at the Sea Life Aquarium in the western German city of Oberhausen July 9, 2010.
Even our national team coach, Jogi Loew, after advancing to the knockout stage, admitted that he was wearing his light blue cashmere sweater over and over again in order to cast a good spell on his team's next game.
And then there was the fascination with Paul the octopus, who forecast the outcome for Germany’s matches from his fish tank at SeaLife Aquarium in Oberhausen.
From match to match, we attentively watched the eight-tentacle prophet predict the winner of the next game by choosing between two boxes, each containing a delicious mussel snack and decorated with the respective countries’ flags.
From frying pan threats to honorary citizenship
At first, Paul was ridiculed as nothing more than a PR stunt. But then, after correctly predicting all seven of Germany's World Cup games – plus Spain's win over the Netherlands in Sunday's final – Paul left the soccer world, and even his harshest critics, stunned.
"We had World Cup-related events in all of our eight SeaLife aquariums," said Kerstin Kuehn, a spokeswoman for SeaLife in Germany, "with two other octopuses also predicting games and even cute little seahorses playing soccer. But Paul is a real oracle; he became the mega star."
On the sidelines of the World Cup, a media frenzy around Paul kicked in, including live coverage of Paul's predictions on Germany's N24 news channel.
Many supporters of the German team quickly turned into "octopus fans" when Paul predicted German victories over England and Argentina.
But summer love for the cephalopod immediately turned into antipathy after Germany's 1-0 loss to Spain in the semi-finals, which Paul had also correctly predicted.
"Suddenly a number of recipes for octopus dishes were prominently posted on the Internet," Kuehn said.
But Paul still had some notable international supporters, who quickly came to his defense.
"I am concerned for the octopus. I am thinking of sending him a protective team," joked Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luiz Rodriguez Zapatero on Spain’s Radio Cadena Ser.
A Dutch fan wears an octopus-shaped hat outside the Soccer City stadium before the FIFA World Cup 2010 final soccer match between Netherlands and Spain in Johannesburg, July 11.
And Spain celebrated "Pulpo Paul" (Paul the Octopus) as a hero after Sunday's World Cup final victory over the Netherlands. During a parade in Madrid on Monday, Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas raised a cardboard cutout of Paul in Spain's national colors. Meanwhile, the city council of Carballiño, a town in northwestern Spain, unanimously voted to name Paul an honorary citizen.
(An ambiguous honor for Paul, some might say, because the specialty of the region is spiced calamari in olive oil.)
Paul's World Cup duties ended last week, but the octopus is still the talk of the day.
During this week's Russian-German talks in Yekaterinburg, a top Russian official blamed Paul for Germany's painful semi-final defeat.
"I was supporting Germany," Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov told German Chancellor Angela Merkel during the meeting. "Of course, if it was not for Paul – you know who I am talking about, Paul the octopus – then everything would have been fine."
"We ate his brother in arms last night at the restaurant," Russian President Dmitry Medvedev quickly added.
It seems that everybody wants a piece of Paul these days.
Earlier this week a British bookmaker put in a bid to buy Germany's psychic octopus and media reports suggest that Madrid's Zoo Aquarium is seeking to bring Paul to Spain. The zoo is supposedly prepared to trump any other offer that his present owners receive.
SeaLife in Oberhausen insists that Paul is going nowhere.
"We are definitely not going to sell Paul. He is now retired and will no longer be prognosticating anything," Kuehn said from her Hamburg office.
But whether or not Paul is ready to head into the golden years of retirement, his special talents are still very much in demand.
"We had a large number of strange requests, including women who wanted Paul to predict when they will get pregnant or others who asked if Paul could forecast the lucky lottery numbers," Kuehn said.
And the beat goes on.
A catchy song tribute to Paul is currently a big hit on YouTube and gotten almost half a million views. And a software firm in Brazil has created an "Ask the Octopus" app for Apple's iPhone, which gives users a 50-50 choice for an "oracle" answer.