Ending Germany’s six minutes of eternity

Millions of German football fans panicked last week as the broadcast signal of the Euro 2008 semifinal match was lost by TV channel ZDF for six long minutes. Steve Kettmann spoke with the man that saved the day.

Ending Germany's six minutes of eternity
Photo: dpa

Thorsten Schmitt had no idea when he went to work at the headquarters of German public broadcaster ZDF in Mainz on Wednesday that within twenty-four hours his own network would be hailing him on the air as a hero.

But ZDF was showing the Germany-Turkey semifinal that day and Schmitt’s ingenuity would prevent a sporting tragedy of untold proportions for German football fans watching the match. And all it took was a network smart card the size of a credit card to tap into the Swiss television feed while the rest of Europe was out of luck.

“He saved 30 million German viewers from despair,” ZDF managing editor Andreas Wunn told The Local.

Unbeknownst to frustrated viewers at the time, some combination of torrential rain, lightning and thunder knocked out the power supply to the UEFA’s International Broadcast Centre in Vienna and the game feed to the entire world was knocked out. Schmitt, engineer to the network management, was in the Situation Room with Wunn and other top people at the time. He kept his head and tried to think of a solution.

“All of a sudden there was no noise in the Situation Room, and I looked to the television in the room and saw: No signal,” Schmitt said in a telephone interview. “Everyone in the room was shouting: What’s this?”

But Schmitt was thinking. Specifically, he knew Swiss TV would not have lost its signal, since it was not routed through the tournament’s broadcast centre. The question was how to tap into the Swiss feed.

“Switzerland television is coded,” he said. “But we have a second television station here in Mainz called 3sat and 3sat is always broadcasting in the evening signals from Switzerland and so we have the possibility to receive a signal from Switzerland with coding, but we could do the decoding with a smart card from Swiss television.”

If they had one, Schmitt knew, it would be two flights down in the technicians’ room. He took off running, he says, not wanting to explain what he was doing.

“I was thinking, ‘I have to look in the room to see if I can find it,’” he said. “So I ran down two floors into this room and checked the receivers for receiving satellite transmissions.”

He found the receiver with the smart card that could decode the signal. There was only one problem: ZDF had received no authorization from Swiss TV to use the signal, including the SF2 logo. But there was no time to get it., so the decision was made to go ahead, someone hit a button and the record-setting audience of more than 30 million people in Germany could see the game again – just in time to see Miroslav Klose’s goal put Germany up 2-1.

“I decided here in the Situation Room to broadcast the Swiss signal,” said Wunn. “We were the only ones in Europe who only had a six-minute gap. The others had a ten-minute gap and they missed a goal. We didn’t miss a goal.”

The BBC did what ZDF had done before Schmitt had his good idea, showing a partly blank screen and using audio play-by-play. In France it was worse. As the International Herald Tribune reported, “viewers on the channel TF1 were subjected to a rerun of a news report on the woeful performance of the French national team, which failed to advance beyond the group stage of the tournament.”

The game and the interruption were the talk of Germany the next day, and ZDF – aware many viewer were likely blame the broadcaster for the cock-up out of its control – led its main nightly news programme with a behind-the-scenes look at how Schmitt saved the day.

“The technicians didn’t know if what they were doing was even allowed, but the football broadcast was more important,” the reporter narrating the piece said before ending with words intended to inspire confidence. “Thorsten Schmitt, the saviour of millions of fans, is back on duty.”

German fans can only hope ZDF’s main public broadcasting rival ARD won’t face the same challenges on Sunday when it shows Germany taking on Spain in the final.


British football teams allowed to skip Germany’s quarantine for Euro 2020

Germany's government announced on Tuesday it will allow England, Scotland and Wales to enter the country without quarantine to play at Euro 2020 despite a recent rise in cases linked to the Delta variant of Covid-19 in Britain.

British football teams allowed to skip Germany's quarantine for Euro 2020
One of the venues for Euro 2020 is in Munich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

The three teams could potentially reach the quarter-final held in Munich on July 2nd.

If that were the case, they would be exempt from the rule that travellers from the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland must currently observe a 14-day isolation period due to the virus strain of concern – Delta – first identified in India.

“The people accredited for the European football Championship are exempt from the quarantine obligation, even after arriving from an area impacted by a variant” Berlin said in a statement.

“This exemption concerns all the people who have been accredited by the organising committee for the preparation, participation, the holding and the follow-up of international sporting events,” it added.

The exemption does not include fans, who will be obliged to follow German government self-isolation rules.

Germany declared the UK a ‘virus variant area of concern’ on May 23rd due to rising cases linked to the Delta variant in parts of the country. 

READ ALSO: Germany makes UK ‘virus variant area of concern’: How does it affect you?

This reclassification came just seven days after the UK was put back on Germany’s list at the lowest risk level, and barely a month after it was taken off all risk lists completely.

The ban was put in place despite the UK’s relatively low Covid rates as a precautionary measure.

A general ban on entry is in place for people coming from countries on the ‘virus variant’ list – such as India and Brazil – the highest of Germany’s risk categories. 

There are some exceptions for entering from these countries – for example German residents and citizens. However, anyone who does enter from Germany is required to submit a Covid-19 test before boarding the flight and must quarantine for 14 days on arrival, regardless of whether they are fully vaccinated or not.

READ ALSO: Germany’s new relaxed quarantine and testing rules after travel

Euro 2020 starts on Friday as Italy host Turkey in Rome with the Bavarian city hosting three group games as well as the last-eight match.

Around 14,000 fans will be allowed into the Allianz Arena for the fixtures.