The 2006 World Cup comes to Germany this summer

2006 World Cup
2006 World Cup

The World Cup, generally thought to the be world's most popular sporting event, takes place this summer in Germany, and thousands of U.S. soccer fans are wondering about tickets and reasonably-priced hotel rooms. Those who have their hearts set on the final match in Berlin on July 9 and don't already have confirmed tickets are probably going to be disappointed. Fans who will be satisfied with seeing an early-round game or two and aren't fussy about which teams are involved will have a much better chance of getting tickets.

Given Germany's abundance of clean, attractive overnight accommodations, hotel rooms are unlikely to be a problem for the flexible traveler who doesn't mind staying 30 to 60 minutes by public transport from the match sites.

World Cup Ticket Overview

A dozen German cities will play host to 64 matches starting June 9 and ending with the July 9 Berlin final. Munich, Berlin, Dortmund, and Stuttgart get six matches each, while Hamburg, Hanover, Gelsenkirchen, Leipzig, Cologne, Frankfurt, Kaiserslautern, and Nürnberg host five.

Application for tickets can be made through January 15 from the world football governing body, FIFA (Federation International de Football Association). Early round games are priced from 35 to 100 euros, and tickets for the final are 120 to 600 euros. Another ticket application period is set for February 15 through April 15, and a final one from May 1 to July 9.

Ticket Buyers Beware

As with all major sporting events, there will be a lively secondary market with tickets sold by brokers, private parties, and scalpers. In order to discourage a black market, however, FIFA has announced all tickets will be "personalized." Opinions vary on just what is meant by that term, but the following information is required for each ticket ordered: full name, street address, city, state, postal code, daytime phone, passport number, nationality, and date of birth. This data, says FIFA, is subject to verification upon arrival at the stadium.

Single-game tickets priced over $500 are already being advertised through online ticket brokers for the first-round, June 12, USA-Czech Republic clash in Gelsenkirchen. However, because of the "personalization" procedures it seems unwise to buy from any source other than FIFA or a reliable tour operator.

Two other games are on the USA first-round schedule: Italy on June 17 in Kaiserslautern, and Ghana on June 22 in Nürnberg. In order to go beyond the June 22nd game, the U.S. team must finish second in a group with Italy, Czech Republic, and Ghana - a tall order.

Purchasing World Cup Tickets

It seems highly unlikely that all 64 matches - more than 3 million tickets - will sell out in advance. Based on our experience in France in 1998 and Italy in 1990, tickets will be available close to game time for several first-round matches. It's difficult to imagine, for example, a huge demand in Nürnberg for the USA-Ghana match. The casual fan who wants to see one or two matches, and isn't particular about which ones, can probably head to Europe without tickets and be fairly certain of getting into a couple of matches. However, those who want to see the Germans, or other top European teams, should act now.

The rules and procedures regarding tickets are somewhat complex, so visit the FIFA website for full details. Once you understand the process, you can place an order online. Tickets will be awarded following a drawing on January 31, and the order in which bookings are received has no bearing on their distribution. Unsuccessful applicants can try again after February 15.

World Cup Package Tours With Tickets

The serious fan who must have tickets in advance, but is unable purchase them via FIFA, can turn to one of several reliable packagers offering hotel and tickets deals. The travel department can assist with such bookings, but the prices we've seen so far have been stratospheric. Contact us at 800-521-6722.

Finding Hotels During the World Cup

Hotels near the 12 World Cup venues are quoting inflated prices, a strategy that in the past has sometimes back-fired at major sporting events and left hoteliers with high-priced but empty guestrooms. Still, one can only guess whether that will happen this summer in Germany. For those who have visions of every hotel in all 12 cities fully booked for a month, it's important to realize that no city will host more than six matches in the 30-day period. But even if that were to happen, the country's efficient public transportation system and its vast inventory of overnight accommodations will undoubtedly make it possible for Cup fans to locate rooms at affordable prices within a 30- to 90-minute train ride of all 12 match sites.

To find such accommodations, we suggest using the local regional maps in the current Michelin Red Guide for Germany, which show towns and villages with hotels inside a 30-minute driving radius of larger cities. Even though Michelin publishes its guides with the auto traveler in mind, this feature of the guide is perfect for the Cup fan who wants to stay outside the center and use trains or other public transport to get to matches.

Once you know which of the 12 venue cities you want to be near, simply refer to the guide's local regional maps of those cities. First, pick a likely-looking nearby town on the map and then refer to guide's main pages for the list of hotels in that town. Then using the e-mail addresses the guide provides for each hotel, you can quickly contact several to a obtain price quote.

The next step is to use the timetables at the German Rail website to check train schedules from your chosen town to the larger city. Take Munich, for example: The local map on page #944 of the 2005 guide shows dozens of possibilities, one being the village of Zorneding, 28-minutes by train from Munich's main rail station. There, the 30-room Hotel Neuwirt—a "Bib" hotel, which Michelin classifies as "good accommodations at moderate prices"—will only raise its double-room rate during the World Cup from 82 to 98 euros, the same as during Oktoberbest.

In the village of Berg, on the Starnbergersee, 33 minutes by train from the center of Munich, is the Hotel Schoss Berg. This pleasant, lakeside hotel has told it will not raise its normal summer prices during the World Cup.

A Personal World Cup Strategy

Even if I could not obtain tickets in advance via the FIFA website, it would not deter me from traveling to Germany, confident of being able to attend a couple of matches.

With my Michelin Red Guide for Germany in hand (a cell phone and laptop computer will help, too), I would fully expect to obtain reasonably-priced accommodations within a 45-minute train ride of any World Cup venue. My initial goal would be to see the U.S. play in the first round: versus the Czech Republic in Gelsenkirchen, Italy in Kaiserslautern, or Ghana in Nürnberg. I would plan to arrive in town a few days before the matches to scout out ticket availability. After securing a hotel room, I would begin my ticket search by visiting the stadium where the match is to be played. I would not buy tickets from a private party, only from recognized sources, such as the stadium ticket office, FIFA, or the local tourist office.

I would not allow my vacation to be ruined by a worst-case scenario—the unavailability of tickets to any games. In that case, I would simply escape to areas of Germany where matches are not being played and enjoy the event on television. The silver lining in this fall-back strategy is that, because of the Cup, some areas may get fewer visitors than normal.

A Final Note

Amazing factoid about the 2006 World Cup in Germany: Budweiser—yes, the one from St. Louis, Missouri—is the event's official beer.