Juergen Teller’s Beer Showers

The Photographer’s Latest Exhibition Exposes His Football Fixation

  • Interview: Katja Horvat
  • Photography: Anton Gottlob

When football fans watch the game, they come close to the feeling of playing it. The human brain has mirror neurons that ostensibly allow us to understand points of view outside of our own—when we see our favorite team or player in action, we are, perhaps, sharing their experience. Fans also often use the term “we” when referring to their favorite team, suggesting a genuine belief that being a fan makes you a part of a team. Dr. Richard Shuster explains, “When your team wins or is playing well, your brain starts releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is directly involved in regulating the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. When your team performs poorly or loses, your brain produces cortisol, a hormone made in your adrenal glands that your body releases when you’re under stress.”

If you don't see why this is relevant, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art offers an explanation. Garage marked their ten year anniversary, which coincidentally, comes at the time of Russia hosting the FIFA World Cup, with a new exhibition by photographer (and big football fan) Juergen Teller.

Part of the exhibition is a video broadcast of every German 2018 FIFA game so far, watched by Teller. “Zittern Auf Dem Sofa” [Jittering on the Sofa] also consists of a beer shower room, his euphoric celebration of German's 2014 World Cup win, and an early series Naked on the Soccer Field (2002), a 94-minute video which portrays him watching the game and shows his disappointment after Germany’s loss to Brazil in the final of the 2002 World Cup.

I met with Teller in Moscow, on the morning of his opening night, to try and pin down where all of (t)his football fandom craze comes from.

Katja Horvat

Juergen Teller

Juergen, I hope your expectations are not too high. I know Anton told you all about my research.

Oh, yes. He told me how your prime focus was this strange celebration where fans do beer showers.

With the showers, is it like an anything goes situation or it has to be some particular beer brand?

I support FC Bayern Munich, and they are the most successful team in Germany—

Oh wait, I researched that. Something about a 14-game-winning run?

Correct, but what is more important, is that they won 6 consecutive Bundesliga titles, which is like the Premier League title in England. And because they are from Bavaria, they celebrate with a Bavarian beer. This ugly—I don’t like it all— Weissbier [wheat beer], that gets you really bloated. I don’t think any footballer really drinks it.

When FCB won the title again, Instagram was flooded with beer shower videos. Players, managers, coaches—and I must say, there is something so idiotic yet appealing about this, that I decided to recreate it, photograph it, and make it a centerpiece of my exhibition. Now that it is done and on the wall, it looks more like a horror show, and strangely religious.

I agree, it looks a bit like a baptism.

Yes, I thought the exact same thing. On some photos it even looks like I am praying, covered in wax. It’s bizarre.

When you do beer showers, do you do them sober or drunk?

I was completely sober for this one, I had to execute it right. I never drink when I’m working, you have to be totally alert, of course.

How much beer went to waste, though?

Altogether, I think we spilled about 80 liters of beer, so safe to say the piece cost me a lot of money [laughs].

Let’s talk about the Brazil (2-0) Germany 2002 World Cup Final, as that is when the filming started, right?

Filming started then, but the whole thing really began in 1974, when I was 10 years old. That year I saw Germany defeat Holland in the finals. I have never experienced anything like it; the euphoria and the taste of success!
Then 1990 was a big year for me, when Germany again won the title, and then fast forward to 2002, and the finals between Brazil and Germany. Prior to watching the game, knowing myself and my history of watching, I got this crazy idea of filming myself watching the finals. Watching myself watch the game was one of the most surreal experiences. We lost, I was devastated, but the pain of grief actually translated better onto film, and made everything far more interesting.

What is the root of your obsession?

I was an okay player, I used to be the captain of our village’s team, but let's just say that I was not good enough to be a professional, by far not good enough! Football always felt like freedom to me, especially when I was a kid playing after school. I come from a village with forests all around. We used to play it on potato fields, and then we had one semi-solid football ground where we played against other villages, and that was everything to us—I grew up with that mentality.

Why did you stop playing?

There was a time, when I was about 15 or 16 years old, when all of a sudden it became very uncool to play any sort of sports in Germany. It was really not like how it is now, where everybody is so body-conscious—back then it was all about drinking and women. When you are that age, that is your primary goal, without a doubt. I stopped playing football and focused on what mattered at the time. My love and obsession got revitalized again with my son, and now that he is so into it, it makes me love it even more. I can go to Egypt, America, Russia, Africa—no matter where I am, I can always talk football with people, it’s such a bonding experience.

How did this show come together?

When they asked me to do this exhibition, I was struggling with what to show. I have all these pictures of Pelé, Beckham, and Pogba, but do I show that? Then my focus shifted to the horrible tattoos and stupid haircuts. It is so funny how these players are such gladiators, yet some of them often look like clowns because of all the little trends. Then I had the idea to photograph the weirdest football fields, but other photographers and artists have all done that before, so with that in mind, I soon became a central piece of the exhibition. The whole thing is now about me [laughs], my stupidity of being a fan, and me experiencing a most profound excitement from watching 22 men on the field, trying to get the ball into the net.

Judging by the exhibition’s title, “Zittern Auf Dem Sofa” will you be watching from home?

Sometimes I watch games at the stadium, but for this occasion and with the recording, it was essential for me to have my son nearby. I didn’t want to drag him around or get him out of school. Also, home and sofa allow me to be in complete control of video footage, which is mandatory.

“There is no point of photographing footballers as they show their art on the field.”

Do you ever cry while watching games? Out of joy or misery?

My son has cried before, I haven't. I am more into cursing and shouting, and if we lose, I afterwards fall into a deep depression for a few days.

In what language do you curse, though? German or English?

Both, but all types of fuck will do.

Do you have any good luck superstitions or rituals?

I always wear my shorts

Pink, green, orange, or anything goes?

As long as the color is bright, anything goes, yes! I also always make sure I go to the gym. You have to be prepared for the experience. It is physical.

How nervous do you get when you photograph the players?

Much more than with any other celebrity out there. You know, if let’s say Beyoncé asks me to photograph her, or David Hockney, they do it because they want my work and they appreciate what I can bring to the table. They live from images and also understand the process. With players, they don't care, they don’t need me, and really, there is no point of photographing footballers as they show their art on the field. You don’t really need a photograph of someone with a bad sense of style, sitting around, smiling awkwardly—I’m generalizing of course.

Were you nervous when you photographed the German national team in 2014, when they got back from Brazil after their historic win?

I was not that nervous, and in a mad celebratory state. They won on a Sunday, and on Monday morning, I read how there was going to be this massive reception at the Brandenburger Tor, Berlin. I started calling around, begging to get the accreditation so that I could celebrate and photograph the team. The whole process was a shit show and there were so many people already accredited. My name was somehow dropped at the right time, so I managed to get in. One problem down, one thousand to go. Next obstacle was how to get to Berlin, as all flights were sold out. Somehow I got lucky again, as that very same day, one seat was still available. I sprinted from my studio to my home, grabbed my passport, rushed to the airport, almost missed my flight, was sweating like a pig, stinking, it was all sorts of bad, apologies to the other people around me. I get to Berlin, get to my hotel, go to bed, and I can’t fall asleep. The excitement was keeping me awake, how we won, and about how I was going to meet all the players in a span of a few hours. I didn’t even need to sleep. There were so many scenarios running through my mind of how everything would look, and the idiot I am, I thought that just because I am Juergen Teller, a famous photographer, who is used to a certain type of treatment, I will be right there, on stage, with all the players—celebrating, hugging, photographing them. How excellent right!?

Earth calling Juergen…

I did not pick up that call. I get there the next morning, and what a reality check. It was 40 Celsius, I did not have any water with me, nor coffee, I ran out of cigarettes, and wait for it, I was stuck with all the other press people, waiting and trying to get in the venue, where I, later on, also realized I was positioned in a photographers’ pit, below the stage. Below, not on it! Everyone had a better understanding of where they would be positioned, so they all came prepared, had long lenses, and then there was me, the idiot, with my tiny camera, below the stage! If that was not enough already, the team’s plane got delayed, so I was stuck there for more than 4 hours, with no hat, no water, and no dignity left. I just could not believe this was my reality.

That’s a good reality check story. I love how being the Juergen Teller, on some occasions, does nothing for you. Let’s talk about what happened in Napoli, some time ago, can we even talk about it on-record? It’s a different type of reality check story, isn't it?

Some things should be left off-record, yes, but some can totally be on.

OK, let’s do this; tell me as much as you can.

I often travel with my best friend Manu, who is Italian and a massive Roma fan, and my business partner, who is German. Usually, when we travel to exciting and exotic places, we always just work—dull, right? We’d never really gone anywhere for fun, so we decided to visit Napoli, where we’ve all been numerous times, but never just for fun. So we explore Napoli, eating and drinking. Then during my time there, my mom decides to give me a call and tell me how two Germans got stabbed in the ass! Oh, I forgot to tell you, we were there for a FC Bayern vs. Napoli match. Stabbing is one thing Napoli fans often do to other fans. We had two bodyguards with us, and they had Vespas ready to get us to the stadium. All of a sudden, on our way to the game, we stop—it’s November, still rather warm, and I am in my good luck shorts. But the guards stop us, phone someone who is apparently at the stadium, and tell him how they can’t guard the stupid German in shorts—“He is literally begging to get his ass knifed.”

Imagine the Daily Mail story; “Juergen Teller gets stabbed in the ass while in Napoli.”

They did not get it, because the idiotic guards decided to dress me up. They gave me the most ridiculous, tight, long, very Italian jeans, and forced me to wear them. All I could think of was how they just ruined everything, my shorts were gone, Germans are about to lose! My self-confidence was completely down. We get to the stadium, we get escorted to our seats, and go figure, we were placed on the Napoli side. They gave us instructions that whatever we do, we have to do it very subtly or not at all. Talk very quiet, do not root for FC Bayern, do not speak German, etc. I thought to myself, these idiots think I am stupid, of course I am not going to do any of those things! Game starts and within 20 seconds, Toni Kroos scores. (By the way, Bayern should have never let Kroos go.) Well idiots were right, I forgot all about it, and started screaming and celebrating like a maniac. The whole tribune turned around and just started to give me death stares. I could feel the knives flying at me, eyes killing me, the tension was insane! And then if that was not enough, Manu and Georg started to yell at me. But you know what, we survived, it was great, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

  • Interview: Katja Horvat
  • Photography: Anton Gottlob