Monday, June 25, 2012

Bielefeld

Bielefeld’s not actually as bad as I thought it would be. That’s not sayin’ much, ‘cause I really expected the worst.
But it’s lively enough, loads of cafés and bars, albeit most too snazzy and upmarket for the likes of me.
Unfortunately some are so trendy they have the unfortunate consequence of attracting hen and stag nights, the girls wearing clothes whores wouldn’t, the “lads” in matching t-shirts so they can tell they belong together after a few drinks.
I wandered into a tapas place. Ordered some squid. Three quid for about 10 squid. Not bad.
Then I got talking to three Poles and an Italian. The Poles were human, from Poland, they weren’t holding road signs or anything. The Italian was human too but most of them are. Most poles aren’t.
On my way back to the hotel I stumbled upon a bit of a hullabaloo, people shouting and cheering, cars honking their honks.
“What’s going on here then?” I asked the friendly looking fella in riot gear with wires coming out of his ears.
“What’s it look like?” he replied with disdain, spitting out the words. “Fußball fans.”
Indeed they were, Greek and Russian, separately doing their thing. The Russians were jumping up and down in front of the Polizei van with their flags, egging the police on to charge or arrest them. I don’t know why they were celebrating, they’d just been knocked out and they weren’t Irish. Feckin’ eejits. Vodka may have been the culprit. Their hangovers must have been twice as bad once they got the news.
“Uh, sorry. Are you working?!” I asked riot police guy, it being painfully obvious he was.
He nodded a curt nod, making it even more painfully obvious he wanted to say, “Fuck off!”
“I’ll leave you to it so,” I said with all the grace I could muster, before going over to my new Greek and Russian friends...
Hereford’s the name of the local brew, and it’s not bad as far as pilseners go. Drinkable in any case, which isn’t sayin’ much but sayin’ somethin’.
The centre’s not bad either. There’s a few interesting fountains strewn around to liven it up, and some interesting looking old buildings, which are probably only as old as I am, but still.
Otherwise it’s just like any other German city. Shops all hawking their wares to keep Europe’s biggest economy going. All with produce produced for peanuts elsewhere. Germany’s cities are identical, all the same shops, the same names. H&M, Footlocker, Pimky, Peek & Cloppenburg, Jack & Jones, Bill & Bollocks...
Bielefeld’s also home to Dr. Oetker, the fella who makes the pizzas. There’s even a Dr. Oetker World just outside the city, where you can enter his magical kingdom if you have a mind to.
I don’t know why anyone would eat pizzas made by a doctor. Fuck knows what diseases you’d pick up or what evil shit he’s injecting into them. And pizzas made in a hospital don’t sound too appetizing to me...
But Bielefeld’s not as bad as I thought it would be. The Bielers are quite friendly from those I’ve encountered, some of them quite weird-looking, Hereford features, but friendly all the same. I wouldn’t want to live there but it’s not the worst place I’ve been. And that’s sayin’ somethin’.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Lost hope and delusion

The following is what I wrote when the flag was hanging proudly from the balcony, when hopes were high that Ireland could spring a surprise or two. They lasted only three minutes – until Croatia scored – and though there was respite when Ireland pulled one back, it was only for those hopes to be dashed cruelly once more, and again, and again, and...
But this is what I originally wrote for taz, in English, before the worst came to the worst. Deutsch speakers can click here for the German version.

When all hope seems lost, sport ensures it springs eternal.
Euro 2012 is a welcome distraction for Ireland as the country aims to forget economic doom and gloom with success on the pitch.
Okay, maybe success on the pitch is a step too far for one of the tournament’s rank outsiders, but just taking to the pitch is reason to celebrate. Thierry Henry’s outstretched hand cruelly denied Ireland a place at the World Cup in South Africa, so we’re determined no one will stop our fun this time around.
Who knows? If Ireland get out of the group stage there might be a chance of revenge against France in the next round! But perhaps I’m being a little hasty. After all, Spain aren’t World and European champions for nothing, and Italy and Croatia aren’t what you’d call slouches either.
Let’s just say Ireland is happy to take part and any success beyond economic amnesia will really be something to celebrate. Ireland can't lose – no matter what happens.
As always on the rare occasions Ireland qualifies for a major tournament, the country is bubbling with excitement as football fever and nationalistic pride take over.
Houses are decked in green, white and gold bunting, Irish flags hang from every window, and even cars are getting in on the fun, adorned with little flags as they race around to show their support for the “Boys in Green.”
On matchdays the country will come to a standstill, work will be neglected, shops closed, farms untended, streets deserted, and all eyes will are glued to TV sets to watch the action unfold.
Hopes are high that Ireland can perform more giant-slaying heroics to match legendary deeds of the past. The 1-0 win over England in Ireland’s first ever European Championship game 24 years ago in Stuttgart still ranks as a highlight in many Irish lives, and has been immortalized in song since, while people still talk about the 1990 World Cup in Italy, where plucky Ireland progressed to the quarterfinals.
Such scenes had grown men crying tears of joy into their pints. I get goosebumps now just thinking of it...
And who can forget that 1-0 win over Italy at Giants Stadium in New York at the World Cup of 1994? The counties meet again on the 18th anniversary of that famous win in the last game of Group C in Poznan on June 18. Let’s hope history is repeated!
To add to the intrigue this time around, Ireland’s coach is Italian, none other than the evergreen Giovanni Trapattoni, who was born on St. Patrick’s Day, Ireland’s national feast day. You could say he was born to be Ireland’s coach.
Il Trap will be familiar to German football fans for his outburst at the media while he was Bayern Munich coach in 1998. Indeed, the 73-year-old has not forgotten his time in Germany, as evidenced by the odd German word still thrown into his press conferences.
But the wily Italian has revitalized the team since taking over in 2008, eking positive results from players virtually unknown to anyone who isn’t Irish.
Ireland are unbeaten in 14 games since a 3-2 friendly defeat to Uruguay in March of last year, giving the players the perfect right to sing “You’ll never beat the Irish” in the chorus from the song they recorded for Euro 2012.
The Rocky Road to Poland” shot straight to the top of the Irish charts, so I hope they can play as well as they sing.
But they won’t be the only “Boys in Green” playing in Poland and Ukraine, after Germany shamefully stole our colours for their second kit. How ironic it would be if both teams met, with Germany playing in green and Ireland in their white away kit!
My prediction is for them to meet in the final, with Ireland going on to win – on penalties.
When all hope is lost, delusion quickly sets in.

I had to write a few more words when it became painfully clear, even through my delusion, that my prediction would not come to pass.

Ireland’s famous hospitality is to blame for our early exit from the competition. No other side has shown as much generosity in letting our opponents score almost immediately after the referee’s whistle. Our manners proved our downfall. After you, please!
Our kindness doesnt end there, either, but continues to the end despite our unfortunately-named goalkeeper’s brave attempts to prevent us becoming the Mother Theresa of Euro 2012. But you know you have a problem with a goalkeeper called Given.
After conceding seven goals so far, I fear the worst against Italy, whose former coach, Giovanni Trapattoni, is now in charge of Ireland.
Though our dreams of winning the tournament were dashed by our courtesy, I’ve never been more proud to be Irish.
The fans in Danzig showed that winning isn’t everything, but taking part. You can’t enjoy the party if you’re not there. And we’re determined to make the most of it.
We sang our hearts out, we danced, we celebrated as if we’d beaten Spain – who aren’t world and European champions for nothing.
Never before has “The Fields of Athenry” meant so much as it rang around the stadium even as we were losing 4-0, the fans paying tribute to a bunch of average players who did well to even get to Poland and Ukraine.
The song is about a man struggling to feed his starving family during the famine. Yes, winning may be nice, but it isn’t everything.

The flag’s since been taken down of course. I don’t need passers-by’s pity. There are only German flags on our street now, though not many. I guess they’ll only get excited about it all when they reach the final. Our Nazi neighbours have their flag up too, but it’s up all the time, thus betraying their Naziness. They probably don’t even know there’s a football tournament going on.
Personally I no longer care who wins the thing. As long as they play entertaining football and don’t simply stifle the opposition. And as long as it’s not England. Irish hopes are back to default setting. Ich habe fertig.

(The middle pics above are of Irish fans taken from the Twittersphere. They tweeted them, so I assume can't object to them being used here. The first and last photos were taken at home on the last visit back.)

Monday, June 18, 2012

The last hurrah

Every morning after Ireland play I wake up with an almighty hangover dwarfed only by the humiliation that preceded it the night before.
I fear for the worst tonight. It’s the last hurrah. Ireland’s last game of Euro 2012. Against Italy of all teams.
Thank feck the fans at least have done us proud, showed what it means to be Irish. The players too, in a way. They fought like lions. It’s not their fault they’re toothless geriatric lions riddled with arthritis fighting hoards of savage tigers.
The last hurrah? I’m still waiting for the first one. Jesus, wouldn’t it be great to have at least one hurrah, the first and last, before leaving this fine tournament with our heads held high.
Come on you lions in green.

Addendum; The next day – Well, there was no hurrah in the end, except from the Italians, one of whom deafened me in one ear and the rest who were quite gracious about it all. Gracious about winning I mean, not about my ear, or at least I think so anyway - I couldn’t hear them for the rest of the night.
But the whole thing is, of course, just a sideshow. Life goes on and nothing’s more important, as it has a habit of reminding us. Today I got news that puts everything in perspective. Nothing actually matters. Bon courage Eoghan. You’re evidently a much braver man than I am. All our thoughts, love, hopes and best wishes are with you.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Humble debut of staggering prospect

It’s a wonderful day, and not only because the tennis is over for today and there’s free beer in the media centre with only one more match tomorrow – on the home straight! – but because today Germany was presented with a humble debut of staggering prospect.
Today I was published in German for the first time!
taz, short for die tageszeitung (they don’t believe in capital letters, and why should they? overrated, especially here in germany) asked me for a piece on Ireland at Euro2012. (Alright, Ireland has to be capitalized.)
If this doesn’t win that surprisingly elusive Pulitzer...
I wrote it last week, before the adventure came to its sorry end, but publication was pushed back for one reason or another (probably on account of its sheer brilliance) until I more or less had to rewrite it so it could make sense in this current climate of pride despite defeat.
I’ve since found out The Fields of Athenry is not as old as I thought it was, but hey, it’s become traditional now.
As traditional as I hope my writings in German will become. Jesus, if I can write in this language there really is no limit to what I can achieve. Wrestling bears, walking through walls, farting gold...
They wanted a photo but it’s an old one. I’ve deteriorated at an alarming level since I moved here and didn’t want to put people off reading the thing even before it’d had a chance of being read.
Enjoy!

You can read the original in English here, revealing a more optimistic state of mind before delusion was dashed.

Snotshot of madity 4: Templehof

Now that there’s a man in my life I miss him when I’m not home. It’s only been a couple of days for Jaysus’ sake but I miss him all the same. I missed him as soon as I left. Mad but true. So allow me to reminisce on a great day we had together.

April 25, 2012 – Templehof, Berlin. Just the two of us, man to man. Him with his bottle of water, me with my bottle of beer. I set him free on the runway, he takes full advantage. Finds an oul’ fishing rod. The fish had long escaped but he isn’t to know that and he’s happy. Runs around like mad. We crack open some strawberries I bought. Eat like kings. He’s fascinated by the camera lens, a source of wonder. Runs around some more, whacks the rod off the runway. Again and again. Runs, runs, runs. Grass, sun, Nazi terminal, runway, kites, bottle of water. Hours of fun; tiring fun. Asleep by the time I wheel him out at the other side. Dreams you can only dream when the world is at your feet.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Minden, Westfalen

I may have found an even worse place than Leverkusen. Worse than Leverkusen. I’m in Minden, Westfalen, where I’ve to wait more than half an hour for a connecting train to Bielefeld. Jesus, the dullness.
You might say half an hour isn’t long enough to get to know a place. Well, you’re wrong. It isn’t even up yet and already I’ve seen too much. Half an hour with a bag over my head would be time better spent.
I couldn’t tell you where Minden is. Not sure it’s on any map.
But I like to explore my surroundings once I find myself surrounded by them so I left the Bahnhof and took a stroll towards the signposted centre. I found myself in a dark tunnel with a forlorn hotel on the other side – the shite at the end of the tunnel – and walked beyond it, curiosity burning for this alleged centre. Not a sinner nor a stray rat, no Mindeners at all to be seen anywhere, but roads, roads and more roads, empty of their beloved cars.
I kept walking towards this elusive centre until I came to a crossroads with a million traffic lights. All red. I wasn’t even remotely tempted to break any of them. I turned back. I’d seen enough of Minden.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Tennis statt Fußball

Alas, I’m neither in Poland nor Ukraine. For my sins, I’m being sent instead to some tennis tournament in Halle, near Bielefeld, hardly Germany’s most exotic destination.
My boss is in Ukraine, and just about every other journalist I know is at the Euro2012 party, sending tweets every five seconds to rub it in.
But things are bad and money has to be saved in times of austerity and severe penance. So I’m covering tennis.
Tennis! I’ve been reading up on it so I can at least pretend I know what I’m writing about. It’s just two people whacking a ball over a net to each other, but they’ve come up with all manner of fancy names and weird terminology to make it seem more complicated/interesting.
To make matters worse it’s only men’s tennis. I haven’t even the consolation of eye-candy and all the grunting will be deep and husky. I imagine it will be quite grating after a while.
But I know I’m complaining from a privileged position. Some people actually like tennis and though it’s not the most glamorous assignment, it’ll help pay the bills and put cheese on the table for the raving cheese-eating monster at home.
At least the matches should be over before the real games kick off and (I hope) I’ll get to see them too.
"Irland wird Europameister!" writes Die Tageszeitung today. Oh how I’d love to be there.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Syria, again

Another massacre in Syria last night. Another 100 or so people killed, children included. Some were shot in the face, others stabbed, or with their throats slit, what does it matter? Their lives were ended in barbaric fashion after their village was pounded by government shells, the soundtrack before their deaths.
It’s the second in a couple of weeks. Germany threw out the Syrian ambassador after the last one. Woooo. What will they do after this one? Kick out the proprietor of that fine Syrian restaurant on Torstraße?!
No. Condemn the regime’s actions in the strongest possible terms. And then do nothing again. Tut tut at Russia for supporting the bloodshed, again.
When I heard the news this morning I really felt sick. Not because of another example of man’s cruelty or the depths to which humanity can plunge – I’d already come to accept them – but because nobody gives a enough of a shit to do anything to stop it. Just like Algeria not so long ago when babies’ heads were smashed open against walls and people were appalled but did nothing about it either. The human race really can be despicable at times. At times? Gah.
Politicians shite on about it but do nothing. What are a few thousand lives compared to votes? They don’t give a damn as long as their own hides are safe, buttered with pork, dripping in wine and wrapped in velvet. Only their banker friends can divert their attention...
Germany should have more of a conscience. And not just Germany. The appeasement of Hitler precluded the holocaust. Inaction gave barbarousness a free rein. Everyone around it pretended it didn’t happen and so let it happen.
Yeah, we can blame the Shabiha, just like the Nazis are blamed for the holocaust, but the fault is shared by those who let it happen, who turn a blind eye, who ignore it through greed, or haven’t the courage to stand up to it.
Germany’s still living with the sins of its past – paying for Israel’s nuclear submarines for fuck’s sake! – but happy to partake in the sins of a present. Inaction allows the crimes take place. The blood is on all of our hands.

The pictures featured here were taken today by Javier Espinosa, who works for El Mundo and survived the shelling that killed Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik. He’s still there. Thanks to his bravery, and that of others, we hear such stories.