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Fan zone fever takes hold in Austrian capital

Fan zone fever takes hold in Austrian capital

British men in lederhosen. Chanting Croatians. Austrians young and old draped in flags.
Slowly, but surely, fan zone fever is taking hold in Vienna.
Hours before the European Championship kicked off Saturday, thousands of people began trickling into the Austrian capital's extensive fan mile.
Under surprisingly sunny skies despite predictions of showers, crowds strolled along the enclosed area on Vienna's historic ring promenade, many clutching beers or sampling sausages and other Austrian specialties.
"It's brilliant _ nice atmosphere, good drinks," said Dave Peel, a 40-year-old Englishman dressed in true Austrian style: lederhosen, white knee socks and a gray felt hat. He was part of a British group all decked out in the same way.
"We're here to support everyone," he said.
After an initially meager showing, the square outside city hall began to fill up as the world renowned Vienna Boys' Choir and Vienna Symphony Orchestra performed on stage during the fan mile's official opening ceremony. While some waved flags or honked horns, others started waltzing.
"This is great, it's going to be an exciting championship," said 55-year-old Gerhard Maier of Vienna, who had an Austrian flag draped over his shoulders.
But some Germans, with memories of the 2006 World Cup on home soil fresh in their minds, appeared disappointed.
"The atmosphere has been a bit weak up to now, but maybe things will change once the games start," said 22-year-old Julia Gimbel in town from northern Germany for the weekend.
Katharina Kula of Vienna's marketing agency said about 9,400 people were in the fan zone in the late afternoon. That number increased to more than 20,850, Kula said.
To brace against possible violent incidents, police have significantly _ and visibly _ increased their presence in the usually calm capital.
Authorities said an additional 1,200 police officers were on duty just for Euro-related matters, and the number of regular officers had been increased by 30 percent.
Still, some shop owners, such as Reinhard Greil, remained skeptical.
Greil, whose high-end futon store is located just minutes from the fan zone, decided to board up his business and go on vacation for the duration of the tournament.
"I got a tip from police," Greil said, as he and two others drilled protective wooden boards into place over the store's large glass windows Saturday.
But if neighboring Switzerland is anything to go by, Austrians may just be experiencing some initial jitters.
On Friday, the biggest fan zone in Switzerland enjoyed a trouble-free and festive opening night. More than 5,000 spectators in Geneva defied teeming rain until well after midnight to watch a free concert by Yannick Noah, the former tennis champion who is now one of France's biggest selling music acts.
Noah brought an energetic mix of reggae, rock and world music to the stage in the Plainpalais public square, holding his audience captive during a final encore with an acoustic version of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song."
Police in Geneva reported one incident at nearly 3 a.m. local time _ at the fan zone entrance after it closed _ and took two men into custody for the night to sober up.
About 40,000 people visited the Geneva fan zone Saturday to watch the big screen broadcasts of Switzerland playing the Czech Republic in Basel and Portugal taking on Turkey just a few hundred meters away at Stade de Geneve.
In Zurich, more than 10,000 feverishly followed the match via public viewing. A brief scuffle between Swiss and Czech fans ended without incident but police later pulled two people out of the crowd and detained them.
One Geneva spectator summed up the multinational gathering.
Born in Portugal, 22-year-old Malte Frank from Heidelberg in Germany is a student at the University of Geneva. He was supporting the country of his birth Saturday, and his home country for the remainder of the tournament.
"It is nicer to watch the game here with all the people than in a bar or at home," Frank said. "It was a good party in the fan zones at the World Cup in Germany two years ago and I hope it's the same atmosphere today."
Following their team's defeat, Swiss supporters slunk home in silence, their signature cowbells slung over their shoulders but making no sound.
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Associated Press writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed to this report.