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Grey Dortmund awash in colour before semi-final

Written by: Staff

DORTMUND, July 4 (Reuters) Thousands of Italians in their brilliant blue Azzurri jerseys alongside many more Germans in black, red and gold turned the grey mining town of Dortmund into a pageant of colour today.

The depressed town of 585,678 was swollen by some 250,000 visitors, packed on a sweltering hot summer day for the World Cup semi-final match between Germany and Italy later today.

The local airport was expecting 107 charter flights and the central train station bracing for the busiest day in its history with 200,000 travellers -- four times the normal daily volume -- including many onboard 100 special trains.

''Eighty million hearts and one dream,'' read a giant poster held by two of the 3,000 fans who stood outside the Germany hotel on the outskirts of Dortmund, cheering from behind the gates.

Wilhelm Mueller, a retired welder, said the atmosphere in Dortmund reminded him of the mood exactly 52 years ago on Tuesday when West Germany upset Hungary in the World Cup final to win the first of their three championships.

''The whole country is euphoric just like in '54,'' said Mueller, 71, of the triumph that lifted the country out of its post-war gloom. ''The buzz, the fever is all there again. No one expected us to win then and no one expected us to go this far.'' Replays of that July 4, 1954 radio broadcast -- ''Aus! aus! aus! aus! Das Spiel ist aus! Deutschland ist Weltmeister!'' -- still bring tears to the eyes of many, including ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. It marked the nation's post-war rebirth.

LINES IDLE The football frenzy has hit the heart of German industry.

Carmakers DaimlerChrysler, Volkswagen, Porsche and BMW will switch off their production for 90 minutes to let workers watch the match -- with some planning to leave assembly lines idle beyond that if extra time and penalties are needed.

''Welcome to the Football Republic of Dortmund,'' wrote Bild newspaper. ''The heart of Germany is in Dortmund today.'' But Italian supporters were ubiquitous in blue jerseys, filling Dortmund with a delightful ''la dolce vita''. There are 540,810 Italians living permanently in Germany.

''It's a great atmosphere here,'' said Alessio Brunelli, a 17-year-old student from Genoa. He and other Italian fans said they felt warmly welcomed by Germans -- so far.

''I think Germany are really frightened about us after the way we beat Ukraine 3-0 and the way we beat them in a friendly 4-1 in March,'' said Brunelli.

Mary Burgio, an 18-year-old dental assistant from Dortmund, was born in Germany but said her heart still beats for Italy.

''I'm proud to be Italian,'' said Burgio, wearing Italy colours from head to toe as she hurried to work. ''It'd be terribly sad if we lose. But if Germany lose, it'll be chaos.'' Several other Italian fans said the good mood could darken if Italy knock the hosts out of their own tournament.

''If Germany lose, it won't be so happy here any more,'' said Maria Russo, a 42-year-old cleaner who moved here 27 years ago from Sicily. ''Everything has been great between Germans and Italians until now. But it will take a while for wounds to heal.'' REUTERS PDS PC1721

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