But some visiting fans are feeling wary after a flurry of recent reports exposing the host nation's less sociable side.

Racist attacks in the capital Berlin – including one which left an Ethiopian man with multiple skull fractures and another on a German politician of Turkish origin – have caused tourism chiefs to admit that the country’s image has been damaged in the run up to the tournament.

The Africa Council, a coalition of groups representing Africans in Germany, believes the situation is so serious that it has produced a ‘No Go’ map of areas African fans should avoid.

"We want to highlight the situation for black people in Germany," Jonas Endrias, a spokesman for the council, told Aljazeera.

"Racist attacks have been increasing and it has got to the point where we will no longer tolerate it."

Police say all measures are in
place to ensure fans' security

The Africa council is calling on the German government to do more to prevent attacks, particularly in the former East Germany, where black people are 25 percent more likely to be attacked than in the west, according to the Africa Council.

German officials confirmed last week that acts of violence committed by members of far right groups had risen by a quarter between 2004 and 2005.

'Denigration'

"There are small- and middle-sized towns in Brandenburg and elsewhere I would not advise anyone who has a different skin colour to go," Uwe-Karsten Heye, a one-time spokesman for former Chancellor Helmut Kohl who now heads an anti-racist group, said in a recent interview with a German radio station.

"There are small- and middle-sized towns in Brandenburg and elsewhere I would not advise anyone who has a different skin colour to go"

Uwe-Karsten Heye
Head of German anti-racist group

Heye’s comments provoked a furious reaction from Brandenburg’s state president, Matthias Platzeck who said they were a "denigration" and that there was "nothing to justify" the remarks.

Gerhard Buchholz of the Berlin Tourist Marketing group also rejects the view that parts of the German capital are unsafe for black football fans.

"Many African organisations agree with us that Berlin is a safe city – although like any city there are some areas you can’t be sure of at night," he told Aljazeera.

Buchholz says the German authorities have impletmented a security programme to protect fans attending the tournament, "although we cannot guarantee everyone’s safety."

The row about the attacks reached the very top when Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, attempted to ease fears in an interview with newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

"Unfortunately we have had a few racist attacks which must absolutely be condemned," she said.

"But the vast majority of Germans are not xenophobic. You cannot say that most Germans are xenophobic."

Cautious

Members of the far-right NPD are
expected to take to the streets

Nonetheless the steady stream of reports of racist attacks and abuse have made some fans cautious about the areas they will travel to.

Stacy-Marie Ishmael, who runs a World Cup blog for Trinidad and Tobago fans, told Aljazeera she would "obviously avoid any areas that have been established as unsafe" and would be "staying with my group and keeping my eyes and ears open."

While taking precautions Ishmael believes that most Trinidad and Tobago fans have confidence in the German authorities to protect them and that Germany is no more racist than other parts of Europe.

But fears that neo-nazi groups could use the World Cup as a platform to attract publicity have heightened after it emerged that the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) would march through the city of Leipzig on June 21 when Angola take on Iran.

The NPD, Germany's largest extreme-right party, are reportedly marching in an unlikely show of support for Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, whose call for Israel to be "wiped off the map" chimes with their own anti-semitism.

Players targeted

Iran's President Ahmadinejad
has some unlikely supporters

The party has already targeted black players in Germany’s own team, producing a pamphlet earlier this year with the slogan "white – not just a jersey colour! for a real national team."

The slogan appeared alongside a picture of the number 25 Germany football shirt worn by black German defender Patrick Owomoyela.

There are also fears that racist abuse of players – widespread in stadiums across Europe - could also take place at the matches themselves.

In March, Adebowale Ogungbure, a Nigerian midfielder playing in the German fourth division responded to racist abuse from the stands by performing his own ironic ‘Hitler salute’ back at his tormentors.

Two responded by charging onto the pitch and attacking him but, in a worrying development, Ogungware was himself later charged by public prosecutors with "unconstitutional behaviour" for making the salute – which is illegal in Germany.

The public prosecutor’s office soon dropped the charge but the publicity generated by the case led to a number reports in the German press that racist abuse is common in lower league matches.

Penalties

German anti-racist groups are
planning their own protests

World football’s governing body Fifa was concerned enough about the potential for racist abuse at the tournament to recently increase the penalties for ‘supporters who display discriminatory banners or behave in a discriminatory or contemptuous manner’.

But despite increased penalties and assurances from the German Interior Ministry that the tournament will take place safely, World Cup planners admit the country’s reputation has already been tarnished.

"The last three or four weeks have not been good for our image," said Berlin Tourism's Gerhard Buchholz.

Marlene Mortler, a member of the German parliament’s tourism committee, takes an even harsher line. No other nation would create so many negative headlines for itself in the run up to a major sporting event, she told the AFP news agency.

"In one area we Germans are world champions," she said, "scoring own goals."