Shedding the Kummerspeck

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Why do I find myself going back again and again to photos of my trip to Seville?

It’s not only that it’s such a beautiful place – I’ve seen my share of those. There’s something about Spain in general and Seville in particular.

So this is a bending, sunlit corridor. At this particular moment, it seemed like the way to approach the blog this evening.

Plenty going on in the world of lahikmajoe presently. For one thing, I’ve got family visiting. That’s often good for a bit of fodder for the old Miscellaneous Blog. After that, or during their visit, the World Cup kicks off.

I could tell you I think Argentina has an easy draw and they’ll waltz through their group, but everyone knows that. Not very optimistic about the chances of the United States team, but every four years the fans get their hopes up. I’d say Germany was an early favourite a year or two ago, but they seem mismanaged of late. We’ll see if they can turn that around. I’ll certainly be cheering them on. I’m always for my adopted homeland. It’s a thing with me.

Otherwise, the weather has turned warm, or warmer, and the mostly beautiful of Munich have begun their annual shedding of Kummerspeck (‘grief bacon’) and clothing of nearly all sorts. I suppose I should talk about those last things at another time – hopefully soon.

 

 

the monks are at rest and so am I…mostly

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monks playing their flutes and drinking their beer

In Munich, like most of the rest of Germany, the people have closedup shop and Christmas is in full swing. You might say that’s typical for countries that celebrate this holiday, but there’s something almost eerie about the way everything grinds to a halt here.

Germans take family and friends seriously, and this is a holiday for the former rather than the latter. The expectation is that if your mother and/or father are still living, you make your way home at all costs. Again: something that might be true elsewhere, but here it seems particularly suspect if you’re still on your own when this particular holiday rolls round.

The meta message when it comes to the birth of little baby Jesus is to go home and treat your parents right. Do it. Yes, I mean you.

Don’t lollygag. Go, now. Really – go!

You didn’t move, did you?

I doubted you would.

The reality is that sometimes it’s simply hard to make such a journey. For whatever reason. We all have our excuses. Maybe it’s because of children that you can’t travel home. You’ve now got your own family to look after, and the people you’re with during the holidays are your in-laws.

Or it’s also possible you’ve fallen out with your family. You’re not even welcome there. the last thing anyone said was, ‘You’re no longer welcome here.’

Hope that’s not the case for you, but if it is…I’d do my best not to judge you. Who the hell am I, right?

The monks in the photo above, who’re adorning the exterior walls of the Neues Rathaus in Munich’s city centre, probably wouldn’t have made any journey for Christmas. Not sure what exactly monks did to mark the Yuletide back then, but I doubt it had anything to do with what we seem to be doing. Things such as giving gifts beyond our financial means. Or watching either American Football or that other game, which the rest of the world calls football.

Me personally? What’ll I be doing?

Well, starting on Boxing Day, I’ll be watching Tottenham Hotspurs play Aston Villa away and then a few days later they’ll travel up northeast to Sunderland.

After that, the Londoners host Reading at home at White Hart Lane, which might turn out to be a decent match. The English Premier League is the only European league (that I know of) that keeps going over the holidays, and if you’re a fan of the beautiful game, it’s a tradition to catch a tonne of matches in a rather short period of time. To each his own, yeah?

Other than that, what do I do at this time of year?

Since I moved to Germany more than a decade ago, I’ve really taken advantage of this dark, quiet time of the year. People are somehow a bit more circumspect. A tad more philosophical. What have I done this year? Have I left any stone unturned?

Is there any unfinished task that I need to take care of before the old man that is 2012 makes his way offstage and the baby that is 2013 comes toddling into the footlights?

As Robert Hunter wrote in his and Jerry Garcia‘s song Franklin’s Tower:

If you plant ice, you’re gonna harvest wind.

I think I’d rather avoid harvesting that. Unless he was talking about gas. I’m sure I’ll be harvesting plenty of that before the holidays are out.

when you’re not supposed to be a football fan

Grigoris Makos making good use of his time while injured

Was in a conversation recently with a few American friends, and as I’m also one (an American) I found myself getting hot and bothered about some ridiculous assumption these two friends of mine were making about being a Yankee abroad.

Their contention was that being a football fan while living in Europe is an affect. A transparent attempt to fit in with the locals, but one that makes me look like I’m pretending. This of course disregards the 70s and the renaissance of soccer at both the professional level and among kids in the Land of the Brave/Home of the Free. But for the sake of argument, let’s say I have no business following football.

I didn’t grow up in a rough and tumble inner-city neighbourhood of Manchester or Marseilles. My father and his father haven’t  supported a club since time immemorial. I’ve written about it on this miscellaneous blog before, but my family were into baseball. That’s what I was raised watching.

Cincinnati Red Stockings

When I was in music school in Cincinnati, I knew a South African who became a passionate Cincinnati Reds fan. He was obsessed. Although he hadn’t grown up watching it, he had learned the terminology and understood some of the incomprehensible rules that baffle most outsiders.

And unlike his fellow exchange students, who went to school in a faraway land and clinged to the others of their tribe who were similarly so displaced, this guy really got to know the natives. He was welcomed into the fold in a way that few outsiders ever would be.

Did I consider this guy and his experiences when I moved to Germany? Not consciously. Not in a way that I would’ve verbalised. However, I did want to get to know the culture from within.

 

I do want to distinguish myself from the typical ex-pat. Who wouldn’t? Many people live in a foreign country as if they’re doing time in prison. They have satellite television, so they can live in a little bubble that reminds them of home. They have contact with the locals, but on their terms when they feel like it.

It’s a beautiful thing.

So I thought I’d share with you, my loyal readers, my match report and assessment of my team’s season up until now. Is it inappropriate for me to become increasingly more and more obsessed with this football team? Probably.

We lived in Munich when I was a small child, and the neighbourhood where we went to church was down south of the city on a hill above the Tierpark. When I moved to Bavaria in 2001, it was strangely like I was finally coming home.

When you ride the Trambahn down to Church of the Ascension in Munich-Harlaching, you go right by the 1860 Munich training grounds. As they say amongst the fans of my club, ‘Einmal Löwe immer Löwe‘ (once a Lion, always a Lion). The mascot of both the city and the traditional football team is the lion, and you see lions all over the paraphernalia of the club.

Ok, enough build up. Here’s my piece at The Munich Eye:

1860 Munich victorious in Upper Bavarian Derby.

still his attacking heart

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Dreaming of a German English final

When I first arrived in Germany, I’d already become fascinated by international football tournaments, such as the World Cup. What I didn’t yet understand was the rivalry between the English and the Germans.

Not only when it comes to football, but for a myriad of other reasons it’s one of the most intriguing relationships. One book on cultural differences I read went so far as to say that the countries have some issue in part because their citizens are so similar.

Point this out to an Englishman, and he’ll likely deny it till he’s red-faced. Often a sign that there’s some truth to such a thing.

Many of the Germans I know love to ridicule aspects of modern British society and the quality of the English football side in recent years has been one of the easiest things to poke fun at.

However, my introduction to this rivalry came at an earlier time when the English were, shall we say, more competitive. Let me just say as an aside that I’ve waited to write this until both teams made it to at least the second round of the tournament. England may or may not be punching above its weight, but things are looking relatively good for the Three Lions right now and I’m writing this while their prospects are still a bit rosy.

It was late summer of 2001 and my neighbour Achim knew I was interested in football. Because of that, he invited me over to watch the match. He was an older German, who has since retired and moved with his Canadian wife back to her country (where all their grandchildren live).

The sad part of the story is that it wasn’t entirely certain whether Achim would live through the evening. I’m not exaggerating. Not remotely.

England was visiting and playing here in Munich and the tension in the city was even obvious to a newcomer like myself. One of the most well-known traditional restaurants in the city centre had been the scene of rival fans throwing the litre glass beer mugs at one another. Just for pure animal excitement, this was quite an evening to be watching football in southern Germany.

Am not entirely sure anymore the order of who scored which goal, but it was evident before the break that England had the far superior team that evening. Suddenly Achim was telling me I needed to call an ambulance for him. Later I found out he’d had a mild heart attack while watching Germany’s atrocious defending.

You’d think this would’ve put me off football entirely, but instead I was only more intrigued. The truth was I wanted to know more of what this was about.

Here are some pieces I’ve recently written for the Munich Timesabout both the English and German sides in their campaign to win a European Championship. Firstly, there’s Three Lions roar back to beat Sweden and before that I wrote about the Germans playing the world’s most expensive footballer in Germany manages their way around Portugal

Like I’ve said before, I’m doing my best not to write about football here everyday. Each time one of these competitions rolls around, I desperately hope for a German English final. The likelihood of that is so slim (it might even be impossible due to how the semifinals are set up), but that doesn’t stop me from hoping. What a dream that’d be.

I’ll be over here dreaming.

(update: my friend Caroline sent me a very nice email with a link to a file that explains what one can do in just such a heart attack situation. It’s in German, but I know some of you speak/read German. Some of you want to understand German better. The rest of you? Well, if you’re coming here for English-language-only heart attack prevention, you’ve possibly made an error in judgement. Here it is:

HerzinfaktundSchlaganfallerkennen11

Don’t you feel better having learned all of that? Thank you Caroline. Incidentally, if you need an excellent massage and you’re anywhere near Munich, Caroline is quite a masseuse. Let me know, and I’ll put you in touch with her).

shadows and light

shadows and light at the Plaza de España in Seville

For those of you who like to see new things show up here on the Lahikmajoe blog, you have the dreadfully boring state of the Spain v Ireland football match to thank for this blogpost. Who-eee this one’s a snore fest (to be fair, there’ve been moments when Ireland didn’t look that terrible, but they were few).

For the next several weeks, I’ll be desperately trying to write about things other than football. But it has to be said that most of the time this month that I’m writing about idling or politics or eating cheese, I’ve been sitting for hours on end staring at the screen.

Screaming at the teams I like and hollering at the teams I don’t. Oh, and scowling at the referees. Scowling and saying very little to those blind and morally reprehensible referees. So there’s that. You’ll likely be impressed at the quality thunking going on here when you consider the time I’ve wasted staring at the television screen.

There was an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung last weekend that asked an interesting question I thought I might research and ponder and really write a fantastic blogpost about. But then the football started, and that just sounded like a lot of work.

Essentially, the question was: Wouldn’t it be great if the teams that did so well in football at the European Championship were able to actually able to contribute to solving the European debt crisis? 

That’s not such a bad question is it. I’ll cut to the chase, and say that the big thing that’s missing in the realm of European economics is creativity. That everyone’s dug in and is holding their position firmly, but these countries that play football in such a beautiful and inventive manner could use a bit of the same ingenuity in coming up with new ideas.

New manufacturing. New technologies. Most importantly – new ways of seeing things.

I wish I could tell you I’m tying this up to go back to watching some beautiful football. Sadly, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

trying too hard

stadium facade

Did you know they play football in the United States? Not American Football, which I’m not going to talk about. If you can’t say anything nice and all that…

But proper football. It’s called soccer there (some are surprised to hear that soccer is actually a term that originated in England), and since the 70s a renaissance of football in America has been predicted and even promised.

For more than a generation, children in the US have played soccer when they were children and then as teenagers they move on to what were considered real sports. In the first half of the 20th century that might’ve been baseball and later, depending on what region of the country and whether in the farm or in the city, it could’ve been American Football, basketball or ice hockey.

The thing was: football simply wasn’t a respected sport among many Americans. To be fair, Hispanic Americans are certainly not new to football. Like the rest of the world, they get the fascination with the beautiful game. This is an understatement. They get it quite well.

Satellite television has made it possible for Americans to watch the best clubs of Europe and South America. The eventual failure of professional soccer in the 70s and early 80s made it undeniably difficult to convince anyone that there was a place for what would eventually become Major League Soccer.

Dynamo stands

My verdict after going to an MLS stadium and seeing a friendly between the Houston Dynamo and Valencia CF: it still feels like they’re trying to prove it’s real football. The stadium is shiny and new. The fans, many of whom were Hispanic and some even rooting for Valencia, were knowledgeable and passionate. The crowd erupted at the home side’s single goal and yearned for an equaliser after the clearly superior Spanish side quickly went up 2:1. The Dynamo even has loyal fans, who are notorious in the league for being louts. The stories I’ve heard of the shenanigans of the Houston team’s fans during last year’s playoffs is just another example of trying too hard to prove they’re legitimate ultras and by extension that this is legitimate football.

There was even tailgating outside the stadium, which is a great way to get American fans more comfortable going to see a sport that still gets ridiculed and denigrated. I’d love to describe that to my British friends who take football seriously. As a Yankee curiosity, that practice might be tolerated. As a football tradition, I don’t see it going very far. They’ll see you when you decide to come back to the pub.

Nevertheless, if my seven-year old niece’s response is any indication of the future success of the whole endeavour, then football has a bright future in the US. She arranged an impromptu match the next morning in the field across from where they live. She’ll likely never call it a pitch and she’ll only hear real football chants on television, but long-term I see good things happening.

old friends sitting on a bench at the original Ninfa’s after the match