Friday, June 23, 2006

Berlin, Berlin, Wir fahren nach Berlin

Unless you live in the United States or under a rock (or as they say in German, "hinter dem Mond leben"), you would be aware that the biggest sporting event in the world is currently happening right here in Germany. This sporting event is this phenomenon called the "World Cup" (Fußball Weltmeisterschaft in German, or WM for short). As an American, I never thought that I would get completely absorbed into the football culture outside our dear, dear country, but oh Lord. My life in the past two weeks has been taken over by football, football, football.

The opening game was June 9 and was Germany against Costa Rica. Since then, I have watched about 40 of the 45 games that have already happened. You think I'm kidding, but I'm not. Three games a day until this past Tuesday and living with Germans that are really into it...well, I've found myself wasting away in front of the TV. However, I'd like to point out that the Germany vs. Poland game was simply amazing (only goal made in the last minute of overtime? Awesome), the goal that Joe Cole made in the England vs. Sweden match was fantastic, and it's a pity that the US is out of the Round of 16. (But Beasley is still the man.)

Ashley and I have decided that we are in favor of Germany winning (naturally). We also have "claimed" German players...meaning, we've dubbed them hot. She likes Podolwski and I like Ballack. We've been typical women sometimes; we watch the games and comment on how hot players are. I do that with Heike as well, though.

The atmosphere here in Berlin is indescribable, but I'll try to explain it: Electrifying. Exciting. Loud. Energetic. Crazy. Chaotic. You get the point. There are fans from every corner of the world coming to enjoy the atmosphere, whether or not they have tickets to games. Every restaurant and cafe (or almost every) has a TV on which customers can view the games whenever they're on. And when games aren't on? Customers can still watch commentary on past games or predictions on who will win the next.

In addition to the excess amount of TVs everywhere (including huge Jumbotrons at major sites like Brandenburger Tor and Treptower Park), the German patriotism is unbelievable. I don't think I've ever seen this many German flags before in my life. They're on cars, buildings, shirts, people's faces, the U- and S-bahn. Everywhere you look, you can see Schwarz-Rot-Gold. In Der Spiegel (a magazine equivalent to Time), there was an article saying that the German flag is sold out nearly everywhere and production in China is having a tough time keeping up with the demand. Additionally, four times as many Deutscher Fußballbund jerseys have been sold as in the last World Cup in 2002.

I've been to various screenings of various games. For the US vs. Italy game, I went to the Brandenburger Tor Fan Mile with a few other Americans: Mike, Dan, Drew (visiting from Tübingen), and some of Drew's friends. We were in a vast sea of Italian fans who didn't understand Dan yelling profanities. However, Drew and Dan understood the Italians whenever they said anything about us. I also sat in Treptower Park and watched the Brazil vs. Australia game, as well as South Korea vs. France. Yesterday I went to see the US vs. Ghana and Czech Republic vs. Italy game there, too.

However, today was probably a highlight of the whole WM experience for me. I had tickets to the Tunisia vs. Ukraine game and Hugo came with me. It was pretty exciting and you could feel the tension in the air. The Olympic Stadium was completely full with the 72,000 spectators chanting, screaming, booing, and clapping. Unfortunately only one goal was made by the Ukrainians (number 7 Shevchenko) and the game could've been more exciting, but I can't complain. How many people can say they went to a World Cup game during their study abroad year? (Besides Ashley and Cam, I'm sure others can, but still...that's not my point.) I don't know what else to say, but it was definitely more fun than the hockey game I saw in Turin for the Olympics. (Even if I saw my own home team there.)

My support currently is with the German team for many obvious reasons. They play again tomorrow against the Swedes, which should make for a thrilling game. Tomorrow I'm also turning the big 2-1, but how anticlimactic since I can already legally drink here. I can even drink on the street! But even so, I think I will celebrate by watching some more football...

Lastly, "Berlin, Berlin, wir fahren nach Berlin" means "Berlin, Berlin, we're going to Berlin." The Germans keep saying that, but other teams have their translations too. I've heard "¡Berlin, Berlin, vamos a Berlin!" and others, which I'm sure is the same. Who will make the final? God only knows, and I can only look forward to July 9.

I will update this later with pictures at some other point...

Friday, June 09, 2006

"The Irish Sea is crap!"

It's been yet another long while since I have updated my blog, but Dan just recently made his big trip around Europe and came to visit. Before that, I was working diligently on one of my papers and have completed 10 pages already. Just another 2 pages and 2 more papers to go.

Dan got here to Berlin on the 30th. We didn't do too much before we left for a nice 4 day trip to Dublin. When people said that Dublin was expensive, they weren't lying. Even so, it was a nice break from Germany, German, and Germans. The first day we got there, we went to Phoenix Park, saw the Wellington Memorial, watched some Irish people playing football in the park, and went to the Guinness Factory. Everyone who visits the Guinness Factory gets a complimentary pint, and oh, did we drink it. We actually went and drank our pints first and then did the tour, only because the bar was closing early. My verdict: I still don't like Guinness. It's too thick and it's like eating a loaf of bread or more.

For dinner, we decided on this restaurant in Temple Bar serving traditional Irish boxties, which are these potato pancakes with stuff wrapped up inside. It was incredible and rather expensive, but completely worth it. As we were finishing up our dessert, a familiar face came up to us and said, "Hey guys, what's up?" It was none other than Mark Hemley, our friend from Middlebury whom we haven't seen since leaving the States. (So about August or so?) He was so casual about seeing us, saying, "I knew I was going to see you guys today! I thought I saw a guy that looked just like you, Dan, and I thought I would run into you." The weird thing was that Dan and I didn't know that Mark was going to be in Dublin, and he didn't know we were going to be, either. What are the chances that we run into each other in a little restaurant in Dublin? Dan and I were completely shocked beyond belief to see Mark, but he passed it off as if it were another day in Middlebury.

He and his girlfriend were just getting their dinner as we finished, so we decided to meet up an hour later. Mark's girlfriend didn't end up coming, so the three of us went to the nearest Irish pub, grabbed some pints (which were expensive), and then headed over to the Temple Bar. (The actual pub named Temple Bar) Mark and his girlfriend were only in Dublin that night and were travelling around Ireland after that, but it was nonetheless really amazing to have run into him.

The next day we went to the Irish Writers' Museum (well, we had to because of our Contemporary Ireland class!), took a tour of Dublin Castle, and then saw St. Patrick's Cathedral. Somehow it ended up taking up the whole day, but we also did a lot of walking. In fact, we didn't take buses anywhere while in Dublin. We just walked everywhere, even though we were staying rather far from places like the Guinness Storehouse and Jameson Distillery. The weather was incredible and we figured we'd save a little money by walking. Not only that, but getting exercise is always good.

On Saturday, we took a guided tour outside of Dublin called "The Celtic Experience." A bit cheesy, I suppose, but it was a great way to see the Irish countryside. Our tourguide, Paul, was really knowledgeable and really had the art of Irish storytelling down pat. He was pretty funny, too. The best lines were when he said that the Irish Catholics are the "guiltiest people on Earth" and then compared Jesus to Communism. (Long story, but just think of how an Irishman might do it. That's how he told it.) He also informed us that on any day when you're looking out of your window, you can see at least 40 different shades of green in the Irish countryside. I wonder how many there are in Vermont?

The tour only had 14 people total and it was very private, very personal. We got to see a whole bunch of places whose names I can't remember, but that's why a digital camera is so useful. If you go to my pictures here, you can see the labels for each place. I took pictures of each place's name so I could remember because I know my memory sucks. There was a family from Texas there and they were so ridiculously Texan, but in a good way. It was kind of amusing since I've been away from Americans for so long, and it was really refreshing to just be with people who are so obviously American but not obnoxiously so.

The tour lasted the entire day and when we got back into Dublin, there were a bunch of rubber ducks in the Liffey River. The World Record Duck Race had taken place earlier in the day. Children and adults can pay about 5€ a piece for a rubber duck with a number. All of the rubber ducks go floating down the Liffey, and the one to get to the end wins a big prize of some sort. There must've been at least 100,000 rubber ducks and you could just see a sea of yellow. Because the race was done, people were collecting rubber ducks and throwing them up to people standing along the river. Dan and I each managed to snag one, although I told him I'll probably end up throwing it out someday.

Our last day in Dublin was spent at the Jameson Distillery, where, much like in the Guinness Storehouse, we got complimentary whiskey. We went a little early so we were drinking whiskey at about noon or so. My verdict: Still don't like whiskey much, either. Then we took a DART train out to Howth, which is this town that is still in County Dublin, but on the edge of the Irish Sea. There were beaches and steep cliffs, lots of Irish children running around. It was a really beautiful day to go out there and we climbed some of the cliffs, walked out to the lighthouse, and listened in on conversations. Our favorite, by far, was between an 8- or 9-year old boy and his younger 5- or 6-year old sister. You could tell that their parents had planned a weekend family excursion and the little boy just didn't really want to be there. On the other hand, the little girl was completely enchanted by it. This is how the exchange went:

Little boy: The Irish Sea is crap!
Little girl: No, it's not! It's full of sharks and stuff!

Yes, it's a short exchange, but imagine it with little Irish accents and the two of them just being very blunt with each other. Another good one was when a little boy, perched upon his father's shoulders, dropped some sort of lid for some snack he had. Here's that exchange:

Little boy: I don't need it.
Father: Well, you need to put it in a bin, dontchya?

Like I said, it was probably much funnier when we were there because of the accents. We also decided that the Irish seem to be very matter-of-fact with each other. But mainly, it was probably because of the accents.

We flew back here to Berlin at the asscrack of dawn (our flight left Dublin at 5:55 a.m.). The weather was not so great when we left: foggy, gray, cool. Paul had told us that we had lucked out because before we showed up, there had been about 3 months straight of rain. Dan actually had gotten sunburned on his face and I got a "driving" tan. (My left arm was tanned, while my right was not) Who would've thought in Ireland?

Our time here in Berlin was pretty laid back. When we got back on Monday, the Karneval der Kulturen was still going on over by Hallesches Tor. It was basically another street festival with all the minorities celebrating their cultures. Other things we did included going to the Museum für Naturkünde (Natural History Museum), but unfortunately they were restoring the huge dinosaur hall. Therefore, we weren't able to see the world famous brachiosaurus skeleton. On Wednesday, there was a huge fan party for the World Cup in front of the Brandenburger Tor and we went to that with Ashley and Dan. There was a country band from Mississippi that played a bunch of covers (including a country rendition of "Hey, ya!" but it worked). Ashley and I were having a lot of dancing but I think all the people around us thought we were completely nuts.

I guess there isn't much else noteworthy to tell...the details here are vague, yes. I really don't feel like writing every little thing, but if you want to see pictures from Dublin, I took about 200 or so. (Oh, the joys of digital) So, go to my Flickr page, check them out.

Today is the opening game for the World Cup with Germany playing against Costa Rica. Dan left today to go back home (with a short stop in London), so I will be going to see the game with Christian, Heike, and a bunch of his friends. It should be really exciting because Germany has a really good chance of winning, and well, it's the opening game. Opening game, host team playing...what could be better?