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I feel like an extra in a Leni Riefenstahl film scripted by Luis Bunuel.

In front of me in the Nuremberg twilight, a group of Mexicans are having a kickabout on a terrace of the Zeppelin Grandstand, the hulking monstrosity that overlooks the Nazi-era rally grounds.

The sight leaves me perplexed. Should I feel glad that this relic of human depravity is being used for something as harmless and life-affirming as a street football game? Or disturbed that more is not made of what took place here?

A montage does make some attempt to summarise the site’s history, including photographs of the swastika that used to surmount it being blown up in 1945. But the overall feel is of some decaying, half-neglected civic amenity rather than the place where a barbarous ideology was propagated. “Enter at your own risk,” say signs by the terraces where weeds have started to encroach. The montage informs us that “today the relics of the NS buildings are used as spectators’ stands”, and that a gallery of pillars that used to run along the edifice was demolished in June 1967. Nearby Zeppelin field – “bigger than 12 football fields” – appears to have been colonised by the emergency services.

Funny how the World Cup is touring so many vestiges of the 20th century’s darkest side. I could actually see Albert Speer’s handiwork from the section of the modern stadium in which I was sitting. Four years ago, I visited Hiroshima. In four years’ time, Robben Island?

Funny too that I am in Nuremberg to watch the team from Iran, one of the main pariah states de nos jours. I read that the visit of Mohammed Aliabadi, the Iranian vice-president, to cheer on the team has sparked a demonstration in the city. I wonder what he made of a banner on display in one of the few parts of the stadium given over to Iranian fans. “All to gether unite behind children and estiblishment [sic] of eife and Peice,” it said. “Iran-Kerman-Zarand.” Not exactly catchy - but an interesting change from the massed ranks of flags of St George from the likes of Walsall and Whitstable that formed the backdrop to England’s prosaic efforts the other day.

Actually, the Iranian delegation is trying rather hard. Never mind a team pennant, it looked like the Mexican FA was set to be presented with a framed picture about a metre high as a token of the encounter. After the match, team officials were pleasant and approachable. But of course, Branko Ivankovic, the mild-mannered Croatian coach, asserted that politics were not affecting his team. “We just speak about football,” he said.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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