Thursday, June 26, 2008

UEFA 2008 Semi-Finals

If you've been up on your Fußball lately, you already know that Germany secured a place at the EM final game last night (v. Spain, it seems). I was busy grilling a class til about 9pm and, as a result, we missed the game's first two goals. Egal, enough happened in the rest of the game to keep us interested. Joined by a couple of colleagues, we enjoyed the game from the comfort of a sidewalk table at an Altstadt pub. Kelly, concerned that I hadn't been consuming enough beer lately, was content to watch me knock back a whopping drei Kölsch (which amounts to little more than a pint and a half of light beer). None of us being either German or Turkish, we were in a comfortably neutral mindset, making the game's rollercoaster finish a little less punishing on the blood pressure. It also meant that we were in a position to find the intermittent broadcast outages completely hilarious. Apparently the result of averse weather conditions in Austria, one of the breaks in signal lasted for what seemed like five minutes, while another interrupted the final minutes of the game. When this happened, the screen would look like this:
Each time, we could hear the entire city howling to the heavens, quickly followed by a chorus of tinny radio broadcasts playing from the fleets of idle cabs lining the streets. I couldn't help but get a whiff of a particularly didactic premise to a feel-good, transcending-cultural- differences type of movie. It felt like all of us - Germans, Turks, and unaffiliated internationals alike – were poised to spontaneously race to some grassy hilltop - as chance would have it, the only place in all of Köln serviced by a secure television signal. There, panting and sweaty, we'd crowd politely around a tiny, rabbit-eared, black-and-white television set. Spätzle and simit would circulate, and we'd all be surprised by just how good they tasted together. Before long we'd forget all the ways that our lives and cultures might seem so different. None of this happened of course, but the threat loomed ominously. But what also didn't happen was the feared nationalistic/racist confrontations – or at least not that we saw during the long, slow walk from the disconcertingly subdued Altstadt, through the beer-drenched, confetti-spattered mob scene on Zülpicherplatz, to finally land at home around midnight.

And not that it has anything to do with the football semis, but Kelly was helplessly locked in a café restroom for twenty minutes this morning while I sat obliviously reading a book.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me!

In preparation of the big birthday, I spent quite some time on Wednesday plucking all the gray hairs off of my head, so that I could wake up on Thursday feeling not a day over 29! Chris and I headed for a birthday treat at our favorite coffee place, Kaffeebaum, where we got to see the owner for a first time in months (since she no longer works on weekends, when we usually go).

Charged with some delicious coffee and chocolate, I was ready to take on some birthday shopping. We figured Schildergasse wouldn't be that crowded as it was a Thursday, but boy were we wrong. It must have been high school trip season to Köln and most of the kids had moved from the Dom to the shopping. I had my heart seat on buying myself something from Forever 18, it just seemed too perfect of an opportunity to miss. I only could find one contender, and in the end I didn't think I had the guts to wear it if I bought it - it was a black t-shirt with pink lettering outlined in silver sparkles that said "I'm Germany's Next Top Model" (sadly the Forever 18 online shop doesn't have a picture of it).

Later that evening we had a great seafood dinner across the river. We were both excited for some ever so missed seafood, but were trying not to set our expectations as high as any one of your standard Seattle seafood joints. As expected the restaurant was very quiet since the Germany-Portugal Quarter Finals started at 8:45 pm. Chris often gives me a hard time about every picture of me looking the same. I think this one from after dinner is vastly different than the one from coffee earlier in the day.
The football match was starting just as we finished dinner. By the time we got to Neumarkt, we realized that our tram home was not running, since the Polizei had closed Zülpicherstrasse to cars and trams. Walking down the street, we caught the second half of the game, since every bar/restaurant/kiosk-front had tvs inside, as well as tvs facing the street, and the crowds spilled out from the bars. To our surprise Germany was actually winning 2-1. By the time we reached the pub on our corner, Germany was ahead 3-1, though in the moments we looked down to find money for drinks, Portugal managed to get another goal. But that was the last one, Germany advanced to the Semi-Finals, and the city went crazy!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Euro 2008

Just over a week ago Euro 2008 (or EM-Spiel) began. The day before it started, I consulted the wikipedia article to figure out what exactly it was, other than some football games, and now can speak with authority. Well, not really, all I know is that it is the European Football championships, played every four years (two years off of the World Cup) and that 16 teams (notably not including Great Britain) qualified for the tournament. Chris has quickly received some schooling from his fellow (british) English teachers, which means we now consult on a daily basis. Germany won their first game, though lost the second to Croatia, and the tabloid headlines were particularly bad that next day - to the effect of "Kroatia-rophie." Some tried to argue though, that they were saving their strength for the next game, which would decide if they make it to the quarter-finals. Perhaps that is true, since they did win their match against Austria, thus advancing to the quarter finals. However, the match was anything but spectacular, and the chances of Germany beating Portugal (on my birthday no less) are fairly slim. But that doesn't mean we still can't all go crazy!!!

Football in Germany is, unsurprisingly, crazy. The number of jumbo flatscreen television sets sold in the month of May may just surpass the number of döners sold on a Saturday night. Every bar has screens inside and screens outside too so that the streets can be lined with spectators. Along Zülpicherstrasse, the patio furniture pushes out and into the streets, the spectators sitting literally within inches of passing trams. And then there are the "public viewings" (and I'm not translating from deutsch, that is what they call them here) at the local stadiums. Actually, we've heard that the Germans think the phrase "public viewing" is unfavorable, since that is how we English speakers refer to a dead body at a funeral. According to Chris's students, there is a new German word, Rudelgucken, which translates to "herd viewing," perhaps not really that much better.

The first week, we didn't watch any of the games, but we got pretty good at predicting the score based on the noise from the street. Hopefully in the weeks to come, we'll actually photograph some of the madness in the streets.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Japantag in Düsseldorf

Saturday we headed to Köln's rival town (which we really quite love) for Japantag (Japan Day). Düsseldorf has an extremely large Japanese population, even rumored to have the largest Japanese population outside of Japan. Maybe that's a bit of an overstatement, but at least it is the largest in Europe. The day was to be filled with traditional performances, an assortment of music, booths for doing calligraphy and origami, and hopefully a lot of good food to taste. So we headed out of Köln that afternoon, hoping that the rain would stay away, and journeyed north. The gray weather didn't keep the crowds away, and the Rhine was packed with visitors. Unfortunately it was so crowded that we could hardly see what was being performed on the stage, but we did get a great view of adorable kimono'd girls lining up for their chance to perform.

What I failed to remember (and what the official website certainly didn't highlight) was that any Japanese culture event would be positively overrun by Cosplay rats. For those of you that have no idea what Cosplay is, you are lucky, and once upon a time I too was naive to the genre. Basically, you dress up like your favorite Japanese Manga character (ie comic book character). Ok, fair enough, the youths like to dress up, and kids find all sorts of peculiar ways to build social communities out of shared passions. On paper, it should be good clean fun but, um, good grief people! It's on my list of things I hope my child never does, but that list is very long and I'm sure unreasonable. Although certainly a broad field, Japanese Manga (as Chris explained to me) often favors stories that center around petite Asian girls who wear corsets, short skirts and fishnet stockings - not a uniform most of us should hazard strolling around town in. As we walked from the train station to the hubbub of activity, we were forced to walk behind a rather large girl (and when I say girl, I mean female in her mid to upper 20s) wearing a skirt 4 inches shorter than I would ever wear (and I have some short skirts), and we had quite a view of her fishnet covered rear end. And, as I mentioned before, it was chilly out, certainly not a day I would want to be in a bikini top, but there was some of that too. Though in theory the costumes have some basis in Manga, there's a sense that any costume that allows a girl to dress in a manner unbefitting to her age is sufficient.

So we have all these Cosplay kids that have flocked to Düsseldorf to strut their stuff, okay, but then we add in a few new elements, including throngs of emo kids and numerous (and baffling) holdovers from early 90s goth. All these groups congregating at the steps leading down to the main promenade along the Rhein. And, oh yeah, it's Germany, so we better throw in a few cases of bottled beer. And some curmudgeonly, quasi-homeless crust punks too. Two German 20-something dude-bros, sporting their football fever fineries, really summed it all up, when one said "Johannes, wo sind wir?" Well, Johannes, you certainly aren't in (insert German equivalent of Kansas here) anymore.
As we traveled away from the Rhein and towards the Altstadt, the crazy people were much more familiar to us: football fans singing, drinking, and eventually watching the Euro 2008 (thankfully there weren't big games that night, so the football fever wasn't quite so high) and numerous Bachelor and Bachelorette parties - just another Saturday evening in Germany. As Chris enjoyed an Alt bier, we were of course approached by a groom-to-be, trying to sell airplane-sized bottles of liquor. The group of people we were sharing a table with (men and women a smidgen older than our parents) had quite fun purchasing the treats and then trying (unsuccessfully) to give them to me. I'm trying to picture my parents doing the same thing, but I just can't. Here's Chris trying one of Düsseldorf's signature brews (a treat that would never ever be sold 40 km south in Köln). My pouting face. made at the beer and sushi I couldn't enjoy, evaded the camera.
We left before the Japanese fireworks show on the Rhine. It surely would have been amazing and probably the highlight of the day, but it didn't start until after dark, which right now is 11 pm.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Garfield the Cat

When I was younger, Garfield was one of my favorite newspaper comics. I would read it daily in the newspaper, check out collections from the school library, and later would really love the tv show Garfield and Friends. When I moved out to go to college, my daily reading subsided (and thankfully, I never saw the live action 2004 Garfield movie). Perhaps one of the real reasons I enjoyed the cat so much is because we share the same birthday. And not just the same day (like I do with Paula Abdul) but also the same year. So each year as June approaches, I find myself starting to read the daily Garfield online, waiting for the first comic to address our birthdays. And since this year is a big one, it looks like we are starting a whole ten days before the event (as opposed to last year, where the first mention was the day before on June 18th).

I think I'll pass with the time machine, there is no way I would want to relive my junior high years.