When I heard about Elvis Presley’s death, I stood at the steps of a hotel in Milano Marittima, Italy. I had just stepped out on my way to pick up the Bildzeitung* -the worst of all German newspapers- but also the only newspaper Germans were able to get with a three-day delay, when they enjoyed their summer vacation in Italy.
It was right after lunch, and I had to hurry to buy ten newspapers for the German guests of the hotel. I had the money in my pocket, plus some tips which allowed me to buy a Gelato (Ice cream) on my way back. All the stores close during the hottest time of the day, and I was almost on my way, when we all got the news.
It was August 16th, 1977. I was thirteen years old when Elvis Presley died. It didn’t mean too much to me. Of course, I had heard of him and I knew some of his songs, but I wasn’t a real fan. I will never forget the reaction of the people around me. Germans, Italians, Austrians, Scandinavians, people from all over the world were shocked and sad.
The ones who could understand Italian and could speak German were asked to translate what they heard on the radio. Sadness everywhere. For the rest of the day and the day after, Elvis was the subject of almost every conversation. Someone great had died in America. I understood, I saw it in the reaction of the people. I didn’t feel what they felt, but I understood.
Today in the afternoon I went to my computer, and when I headline surfed for a short while, I came across a headline, “Legendary German soccer star has died,” it read and I got curious.
I clicked, and looked at a picture of a man who I had adored once so much. I was a soccer maniac as a child, brought the first glimpse of feminism into our small Austrian Village when I insisted that I could be goalie when the boys played soccer in the field.
I succeeded, mainly because there was no other boy available, and became a rather good goalkeeper. When I played soccer, I wanted to be Gerd Müller, the “Bomber of the German Nation” their striker. I never made it to be a player in our village games, they kept me in the goal.
Today, when I read about Gerd Müller’s death I got all teary-eyed. How is that even possible, it was so long ago. I still watch soccer now and then, but not with the same enthusiasm as I did in my younger years. Ok, I lied, I watch Italy play international games, and now and then the TV makes me watch a German game -never the Austrian’s because they suck.
My husband got concerned, asked me if I was alright. I told him about the death of a German soccer player and I could see the confusion in his face. I don’t cry easily. Well, I do but it has to be Lassie or Bambi dying on TV. The animal movies are killing me, or heart-wrenching movie scenes and I weep. In real life, not so much.
Yet, I cried today for a German soccer legend who I once met -by accident- and I mean it literally.
Back then, I was skiing in Austria, racing downhill because that’s what you do when you were born in the Alps with skies on your feet. I had a good tempo, got around a curve when I saw a guy standing in the middle of MY slope. He was filming the surrounding, he didn’t see me coming and to be honest, even it he would have seen me, it wouldn’t have changed much. I tried to avoid a collision, but hit him hard and we both flew in the snow.
I was not an adult yet, but not a little child either. I was mad and I wanted to give this guy a speech about how dangerous and reckless his behavior was. I collected my skies, my ski sticks and everything else, and when I turned around I looked at the face of a very concerned soccer player, named Gerd Müller.
I froze in awe, swallowed my tongue and apologized for skiing so fast. He was alright, so was I and before I could stutter more, he apologized as well.
He explained why he was there. He wasn’t allowed or cleared to ski because of the risk to break a leg, so he had decided to take the lift and at least walk a bit in the mountains. “If the coach finds out…..” he didn’t finish the sentence and I thought the same. I was in a mountain-rescue team, if my coach would find out who I had hit, I would be fed to the wolves-no questions asked.
I told him I would not tell anybody if he wouldn’t either, and he laughed. We had a deal. Looking back I assume he was more afraid I could sell the story to the press. They were already hyenas back then.
He asked me what hotel I was staying, and I told him I was just visiting and racing for the day. We talked a bit about snow and skiing and then we parted. I didn’t tell anybody, only my best friend in boarding school weeks later.
“Did you get an autograph,” she wanted to know and I shook my head. I wish I would have, but the thought never crossed my mind. I didn’t even tell him how much I admired him, and how much I liked soccer. Today I shared the story for the second time with my husband and we put on a small video clip about my soccer idol.
I had forgotten all about the ski incident, today it all came back.
R.I.P Kleines, dickes Müller (a form of endearment of his fans, meaning small and chubby, because he was and oh, so cute)
The same way I remembered where I was when Elvis Presley died, which was 45 years ago today, I will remember where I was when I heard about Gerd Müller’s death.