'Pray for Germany' was the headline on the cover of Germany's Bild newspaper on Sunday
MAINZ, Germany – In Germany, football (or soccer) is often called the “greatest minor matter in the world.” On Saturday, which traditionally is the weekly game day in the country, Germany’s number one sport really became a minor matter with regard to the worrying news updates that were flocking in from Japan.
On several occasions, the moderator of the top rated sports program “Sportschau” on public television ARD reminded viewers of the catastrophic situation in the Far East country. And, many of the after-game interviews with coaches or players were focused on questions about the status of friends and relatives in Japan instead of game results.
“This is terrible; we could follow the whole drama of events through the pictures on TV. Especially the situation in the megacity Sendai affects me a lot, as I played for the Brummell team there,” said Wolfsburg coach Pierre Littbarski, a former German soccer star, who is married to a Japanese woman.
Makoto Hasebe (VFL Wolfsburg), Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund), Shinji Okasaki (VFB Stuttgart) – all well-known Japanese players, who are big stars in Germany’s top league, the Bundesliga, and favorites of many German soccer fans.
“The good news first: Shinji Kagawa is in good health after the earthquake in Japan” read the headline on the official website of leading German soccer team Borussia Dortmund. A note of comfort for the team’s fans, as Kagawa is currently recuperating in Japan from a sports injury.
With respect for their Japanese teammates and the Japanese people in general, most players wore a black “mourning band” around their arms during the matches and in many stadiums a minute of silence was observed before kick-off on Saturday.
All eyes on Japan
“Pray for Japan” was the Sunday headline of Germany’s mass circulation BILD newspaper.
Germany has a large Japanese community, one of the largest in Europe, and many were following updates from Japanese TV on the Internet all weekend.
The biggest concentration of Japanese ex-pats can be found in Dusseldorf, where more than 8,200 Japanese alone have found a home. More than 490 Japanese companies are operating in this western German city, which is located on the banks of the Rhine River.
Organizers of this year’s “Japan Week” – scheduled to take place from May 21-28 marking 150 years of German-Japanese friendship – say that they are not certain, if celebrations will now be able to take place as planned.
Over the past few days, journalists and residents of the city have been rushing to Japanese restaurants, supermarkets and Japanese travel agents, asking their Japanese neighbors about the status of their families back home.
“We are constantly updating our guests and our 45 Japanese employees with what we know from Japan, which is a lot and nothing” says Bertold Reul, the general manager of the Japanese hotel Nikko that has been operating in Dusseldorf for 33 years.
"All of our flat screens at the hotel are tuned to German, English and Japanese channels that are carrying news from Japan," Reul told NBC News.