Commentary: Charity match gives German fans the chance to kick it with the stars


On a warm presummer day, the elite of German media stars gathered for something that is -- at least in Teutonic terms -- quite unusual: a celebrity soccer tournament. This one pitted local pop stars like Sasha, boxoffice wonders like Til Schweiger and celebrity chefs like Tim Malzer against a team of professional heart surgeons.

The money raised went to a good cause: the children's wing for heart disease at a Hamburg hospital.

Director Fatih Akin might not have been the real brainchild behind the event, but he was its driving force. After cleaning up at the Lola Awards (the German equivalent of the Oscars) the week before, the young German-Turkish filmmaker put together an all-star team and managed to fill a (granted small) stadium with an atmosphere of beer, bratwurst and soccer that celebrities, journalists and regular folks could enjoy.

Part of the event's appeal certainly is attributable to the Germans' love of soccer. Although it's cool to be a movie star, a rapper or any other kind of celebrity, being a famous soccer player in Germany trumps all other forms of success. Which is why this pack of local celebrities and medical professionals wanted to get on the field and kick it like Beckham.

Their professional success is world class; their soccer skills on this unusually hospitable day in May were less so. The quality of play was erratic to say the least, with the celebrities starting strong but then leaving the field pretty much to the surgical staff, who scored the first goal. The stars scored next -- unfortunately, it was on their own goal, which had been temporarily vacated by goalkeeper-coach Schweiger.

In another unfortunate faux pas, Schweiger gave a halftime television interview while puffing away on a cigarette, creating an uncomfortable link between the fight against heart disease and one of its main causes.

But the hunky actor-director -- who is Germany's unquestionable though some would say inexplicable No. 1 boxoffice star -- redeemed himself. After the celebrities clawed their way back to a nail-biting 3-3 tie, Schweiger decided the game with an on-target penalty kick.

What made the game and the entire enterprise special was the fun factor.

Unused to Hollywood-style celebrity tournaments, participants and the crowd both enjoyed their day in the sun, getting and giving autographs and making do with rather lax security and organization.

Comedy star Olli Dittrich signed every T-shirt fans handed over. Telenovela celebrity Lara-Isabelle Rentinck frolicked on the sidelines like a high school cheerleader. Regular folks were in strong attendance, paying a meager €10 for the show. Their kids wandered onto the pitch during the game to retrieve lost balloons.

Suffice to say that, after an example like this, celebrity tournaments could catch on in a country not known for its easygoing ways.

And maybe next time, the coach won't take a smoke break to discuss the importance of curing heart disease.