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Bed in a shed for World Cup fans

Written by: Staff

BERLIN, Apr 25: A German pensioner's offer of free accommodation in his shed for the World Cup, with home-cooked meals included, has attracted interest from soccer fans around the world.

Retired engineer Wolfgang Fischer advertised free beds in his two-roomed, 140-square-metre shed, located on an allotment in Bochum, as part of a drive to offer cheap places to stay for World Cup fans worried about a possible hotel room shortage and rocketing prices.

''I have got people coming from Trinidad, three people from Switzerland, two from the US, four from Sweden and some from Portugal,'' said Fischer, whose shed is conveniently situated for matches in Dortmund, Gelsenkirchen and Cologne.

''I worked abroad for 19 years and therefore this is my attempt to give something back.'' Fischer is one of hundreds of Germans who have offered to help out cash-strapped visitors to the June 9-July 9 finals when some one million foreigners are expected to descend on Germany.

''We have approximately 600 offers from German landlords who are offering their spare rooms and their spare beds and it is rising each day,'' said Nikola Guenther, who founded an accommodation website, host-a-fan.de, with a friend.

''We heard about the fact that so many people are coming to Europe and that there is not enough space for them in hotels.

''So we decided what we could do is to ask private people in Germany to offer their spare rooms and beds for people all over the world,'' the 28-year-old Berlin resident said.

Fans will attend matches at 12 centres or will be able to soak up the atmosphere at one of the many giant video screens being erected for the finals.

Tent camps and hotel rooms are expected to absorb many of the visitors, while others have opted to go local.

A surprising number of German families had applied to use the online service, Guenther said, in part in the hope of finding guests who would be willing to reciprocate.

''People said their motivation is about meeting people from other cultures and having the possibility to visit them once in a while,'' she said.

Potential hosts and guests are being encouraged to get to know each other before the World Cup begins, in order to avoid an embarrassing silence over the breakfast table or awkward moments at the bathroom door. ''People don't feel that strangers are coming to their houses because before they meet they can exchange pictures over the internet or even talk over the phone,'' Guenther said, adding that she had offered up her Berlin apartment for World Cup fans.

''They are all soccer fans and we all love soccer and they are just other fans from somewhere else.'' Supporters from Australia, Japan and Trinidad have already found accommodation through the service, which charges a fee of 9.90 euros (11.88 dollar) to potential landlords for their adverts.

Overnight costs range from around 50 euros, sometimes including breakfast and a lift to the nearest railway station, right down to a case of beer or simply the task of injecting some party atmosphere into the proceedings.

Not everyone is welcome, however.

''There are people who mention in their ads that they are not looking for hooligans to stay at their homes, they are looking instead for quiet fans, couples or students, peaceful people,'' Guenther said.

''There are a few people who say they would like to host Brazilian girls but there is no one saying 'I don't want people from Poland or Australia'.'' Even the notorious beer-swilling Briton abroad will not find himself homeless: ''There even is one guy on the website who said 'I don't mind having drunken English people in my apartment'.'' Germany, aiming to spruce up its image abroad, has coined a slogan for the World Cup -- roughly translated as 'The world hosted by friends' -- and pensioner Fischer said he hoped that this would apply in his allotment shed.

''Of course I would like to make sure that everyone remains friendly,'' the 61-year-old said, noting that he had both Trinidadian and Swedish guests staying during a match in Dortmund when the two teams meet for the first time.

''There is a little problem as the Swedes could be emotionally a little more abrasive, to put it diplomatically,'' he said. ''So therefore I am going to split them up, but otherwise I really do not mind where and how they sleep.''


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