EURO 2008 Fan Mile Berlin – Germany vs. Turkey

Last night we along with about 800,000 others we packed our fan items together and headed down to the Brandenburg Gate for a public viewing of the Semi-Final of EURO 2008, the European Football Championship. Tonight’s teams, Germany vs. Turkey.

Click the pics to “imbiggen” them.
The full set of pics on Flickr.

Out of 800,000 people, about 300,000 were turned away at the gates almost an hour before the game even started. You Snooze, You Lose I guess. Berlin Mayor, Klaus Wowereit, and his administration restricted the Fan Mile in space and time. Instead of being allowed to broadcast all games, we were only allowed to show the games beginning with the semi-finals. Instead of having the entire distance between the Brandenburg Gate and the Siegessäule, we were only given half the space. This meant that there was no way to have the normal space for a million people, thus many people were sadly turned away.

In the press and around town there was some speculation that the festivities would turn ugly. The American Embassy even warned us about it. A few of my friends suggested that we should not go because of the bad blood running between the Germans and the Turks and the possibility of it coming out in such an environment.

There are more Turks living here in Berlin than in any other city outside of Turkey. They came to Germany in the 50’s and 60’s as guest workers and the great majority never left. The bad blood is caused by many factors, not the least of which is that the Turks are seen by many Germans as some kind of second-class citizen… and of course the Turks know this. Many of the Turkish families in Berlin still cling to their life in Turkey and raise their children speaking their native tongue with German being taught only in the schools. So of course when it comes to education the kids start out behind the full Germans, thus when the time arrives for the choices for higher education, often the Turkish kids are left behind, making the circle complete. Sad but true.

We sat in the VIP section over the crowd at the Gate. This is a nice place to go to get the feeling of a huge crowd at such an event, without all the jostling about from being down on the ground. As each team was introduced, the respective fans screamed and I must admit that I got goosebumps. That kind of almost electric power from an excited crowd is a feeling which is hard for me to describe, and I love it!

Before the game the captains read prepared statements asking for unity and calling for an end to racism. This action was completely unprecedented and well received by the crowd I was able to observe. In the crowd of people were a group of kids who were decked out in both Turkish and German fan gear. At one point they tied each of the flags together and then held the combined Turk/Germ flag up in the air the rest of the night.

The game itself was a little sad. Truly the Turkish team out-played the German team. They were better at placing the ball, better at “rebounding” so to speak, and simply played with pride, heart, and a depth of character not really seen in this tournament. The team itself was down to the bare depths. Several members had received the red card in a previous game and had to sit out this game, while others went home with injuries.

The German team on the other hand made many mistakes and simply did not play very well at all. Despite scoring more goals and winning the game, they really didn’t work together as a team the way I’ve seen in the past. All in all it was not really a good game, even though it was a cliffhanger so to speak.
Remember that even though the Turks lost, here in Berlin the Turkish fans have a different perspective as they have pride in the Turkish team, but really are Germans as well. Thus it is sad that the team of their lineage didn’t win, but their home team is still in the game. I think that this combined with the fact that in general the Turks generally don’t drink (they’re Muslim, and Allah doesn’t allow it… well, as a Turkish friend once told me… sometimes they do… “what Allah doesn’t see won’t hurt him”), kept the crowd quite peaceful.

During the game the TV station twice lost feed from the source. The sound from the crowd was classic, a HUGE AWWWWW. It was kind of cute. Then people started looking at each other and moving around more whereas seconds before they were firmly planted, even transfixed by the screen. The line at the beer stand was instantly huge, and the riot police put their helmets on. Both times when the game came back on the screen there was a fantastic cheer.

From our vantage point we had an interesting view of a possible problem early on in the game. The Turks were outnumbered about 10 to 1 in the crowd. Of course the only way to gauge this is by looking at the flying flags which were pretty much grouped in one area, but I bet that is about right.

The Turks scored the first goal of the evening, and began a celebration in their little group which was not too far from the stage. We could see the smaller group of people moving within the larger crowd and watched as things such as bottles started being thrown into and out of that group.

The police who had staked out the area in front of us for best vantage point were immediately standing straight up and pointing at the group of people moving around in a circle. I looked over at the formerly lazy-looking riot police and saw them energetically moving toward the stage while donning their helmets and other protection. Very soon the movement stopped and there was no further trouble the rest of the night which we could see.

As for the drive home… well, it could have been better. N. has what can only be described as an extreme dread of fireworks and loud, unexpected noises. Well, perhaps you can imagine that it was very much like a war zone on our way home through part of Kreutzberg (one of the Turkish neighborhoods). Adding to that, we were both on Mimi the scooter with N. driving and the feeling of exposure is about 150% worse. On top of those lovely facts we have the celebrating fans who were jumping about in the streets screaming, waving and blocking traffic. It’s not that it is dangerous, or that we fear for our safety or some kind of aggression… it is just that you must be careful that some well-meaning and extremely happy fan does not pop out in front of you, or drive in an unsafe way, causing a wreck.

When we got home she stood in the middle of our bedroom, took a deep breath and firmly declared that she will go to no more games at the Gate with me. Whoops. Tonight is the company party at the enclosed VIP area which I need to attend and then we have the same possibility to sit in the VIP area for the final. Ahem… I wonder how to approach that with her. Tonight I must make an appearance, so I will probably leave at halftime. But maybe we can have a get together at our house and invite a few friends for Sunday. Suggestions for snackables? 🙂

Been Reading:

What’s Been Happening

Last night TQE Adam and I met up for dinner and a show during his short stay here in Berlin. The dinner was the famous Mr. Wok which didn’t seem to please Adam very much. The show was the lively Gayle Tufts, (website) American Expat extraordinare. Something tells me that Adam would have enjoyed both a bit more if the poor man had been able to get some real sleep, but of course traveling across the pond does tend to wear one out.

Afterward we opted for a walk through the Tiergarten and a ceremonial stroll through the Brandenburg Gate. The revelry of the German fans celebrating the recent victory over Portugal in the EURO2008 was fun to experience. Much honking, flag waving, screaming, noise-making and general merriment was happening all around us. After we went our separate ways, I skipped off to the subway to make my way home. This is where things got interesting. A few hundred fans making their way on to the next point of celebration in various stages of inebriation… well, let’s say that it was loud!

This morning I experienced a little adrenaline rush and acted on it in a way in which I am not so proud. I was on Mimi and almost to the office, riding in the outside lane of a four-lane street. There was a car double-parked in the outside lane ahead of me and I was trying to get my little scooter into the inside lane to get around him. The cars in that lane were bumper to bumper so I decided to use my small size to go between the inside lane and the space left in the outside lane after this idiot decided to park his car partially in a driving lane.

I slowed down and tried to see through the back window of the offending car to get the status of the possible driver to get a clue of their intentions, or just see if there was anyone IN the car. Unfortunately the combination of a dark back window and sunlight reflecting back at me was not allowing clear vision. As I got to within one car length behind and alongside the rear of the car, the driver’s side door popped open, directly into my path. He had one foot out immediately and even though I honked, he did not close the door, just looked at me uncomprehendingly. Mimi and I managed to squeeze between his open door and the moving traffic in the inside lane… just barely.

Immediately I pulled Mimi in and parked several car lengths in front of the idiot. Before I could even get my helmet off I was screaming obscenities in English. I proceeded to tell him what an bonehead he was for parking illegally and then not even looking into his mirror before opening the door. At this time I realized that I was screaming at what appeared to be a Turkish man in English and I KNOW he has no idea WHAT I am saying… so I switch to my shitty German – maybe there is a chance he will understand that language. Yes, that language in which I can barely function… BUT when put under pressure I came up with some very interesting and colorful ways of letting him know that I thought he was an absolute Dummkopf. He just stood behind his still open car door with his mouth wide open, never uttering a word. When I’d said my peace I hopped on Mimi and took off. YEAH!

Several things I’m thankful for:
* He didn’t start exiting the car a second earlier which would have resulted in his door being open the entire way and his body the whole way out of the car… this would have taken up too much room and Mimi and I would have lost that battle.
* He didn’t fight back at all. Male Turks here in Berlin are famous for their masculine bravado, and it could have easily escalated into a shouting match on the street, neither of us understanding what the other said.
* No one reading this thinks I’m racist for pointing out the guy’s probable ancestry without questioning how I could know this… (he was proudly displaying two Turkish flags on his car, ostensibly to support the Turkish football team in their run for EURO2008).
* That no one reading this is going to tell N. She’s already nervous enough that I’m even riding Mimi… We don’t need to add to her fears, do we?

Finally I was able to speak my Pop after almost really messing up Father’s Day. It was a great conversation. We talked about our lives, other family members, and current events. Recently he was given a special honor by the Kansas Baseball Hall of Fame, and we finally had a chance to talk about it. He was all alone during our call whereas normally I catch him on his way to do something or driving, or with a bunch of people around him.

As he answered the phone he was on his way from the house to his workshop which for him is the most comfortable place in the world. We talked until his mobile phone ran out of battery… 2.25 hours. I just love the guy, and miss him horribly. In my rather F’d up teenage years, my old man took me in and gave me stability, love, and trust. It was invaluable and probably kept me sane.

Music from Tim Russert’s IPod was used at his funeral service to send him into the great beyond. Now I’m a little scared. Does this mean that participants at my funeral will be hearing Haddaway’s “What is Love”?

Been reading:

Update on Mimi’s Health

Well Mimi is back from the doctor (past post) but she’ll go back soon I’m afraid.

Since the first day we’ve had the scooter there has been an annoying squeak that has just gotten worse with time. I assumed that it was a body panel rubbing underneath, but was never able to isolate it. This was one of the problems I reported when I took her in to the nasty man with mechanic grimy hands. The other was a problem with the seat which doubles as a storage facility. Unfortunately the spring mechanism that opens the seat hasn’t been working so well and I wanted them to look at it.

After work that day I took off on my journey to the Piaggio shop to pick up my poor mistreated Mimi. It took me one U-Bahn, one S-Bahn, and one bus to get there and let me tell you that by the time I was stepping off of the bus I had remembered exactly why the ride to and from work on Mimi is so great… there is something to be said for that kind of freedom.

As I walked through the door of the shop I caught sight of a new (to me) person behind the counter. All of these shops have one of these… the “chick” that keeps track of everything. She is the one that maintains some sense of order in the chaos which would normally be allowed to flourish in this masculine world. This model of the token woman was about 25 and channeling Starbuck – attitude, smart-assedness, intense eyes, down to the haircut from the first season.

We’ll just call her Starbuck, shall we? Starbuck was working with a few other customers when I came in the door. Let’s just say that I was a little anxious as I waited for her to get the “moron family” paid up and on their way. Mom and Dad were paying for repairs to their son’s bike. As they were waiting for paperwork etc., Mom was giving the kid (all of 28 or so) the lecture of his life. She was telling him that he needs to be more careful, that the next time he might not be so lucky, blah blah blah.. He was busy looking at the ground avoiding eye contact with her, kicking his left shoe with his right shoe. I was busy looking at the helmet crooked under his arm. There were so many scratches on the surface that it was hard to see what kind of graphic had been painted on it. Yeah Mom… you may be right.

Finally they took off and it was my turn. Quickly I pushed my paperwork over the counter… no small feat as the counter was eye-high to me (I’m a shorty, 5’1″ – 154cm). She was rather height challenged too, and we were barely able to meet eyes as the paper was snatched from my hand. “Frau Snooker,” she said. “Your seat is working just fine now, the spring was made tighter. The computer also shows that your noise problem was a motor mount that we don’t keep in stock. They oiled the area up and hope that makes it better for now, but you must come back in to get the part changed out pretty soon because the oiling won’t last forever. All of it is covered in the guarantee, so you have no reason to worry.”

At this time she turned on one heel (my imagination, but it looked like that from the way her head twisted, you know?) and took off to the back part of the room, eventually coming back with the keys and the rest of the paperwork. She gave me the bad news, 77.00 EUR (120.00 USD). This price had been quoted when we made the appointment, so I was happy.

The transaction was almost complete when the mechanic dude from that morning came strolling into the room. Starbuck let him know that I had the LX 50, he nodded to her, then came around the counter and moved toward me in an almost conspiratorial way pulling me to the side, out of earshot of the young woman. He leaned into me, looked at the floor and told me that there was a minor problem with that noise in my bike. “But,” he interjected looking up for just a short moment, “it isn’t too bad. I just put some grease on it and it should be just fine.” When I asked about the warantee work he shrugged his shoulders. “No problem, it just needed a little grease. You probably don’t need the new motor mounts. Keine Panik.” (you guessed it, he told me not to panic). At which time he turned on his heel (yup, I could see it this time – this movement must be used a lot around here) and walked away. My head was spinning, she had told me to get it fixed soon… what is the deal?

After he had cleared the room I gave her an inquisitive look and asked again about the motor mounts, trying to confirm that I needed to get them fixed and needed an appointment. She had read the writing on the wall now, and was backing off from her position. “Well, if you WANT to… but you don’t HAVE to.”

At this I simply put together my paperwork and the all-important signed and stamped maintenance schedule and walked out of the place headed for Mimi. On my way I passed the moron family as they quizzed another mechanic on why the bike still didn’t “sound right”. I don’t really think they are complete morons, but I was able to see the damage done to his little scooter. It had been in an accident with no question. Not only had that bike hit the ground, but I would almost bet that it had rolled over a few times.

The mechanic had worked miracles on the thing. There wasn’t a plastic piece on it which wasn’t fractured in some way, (this bike is one of the many cheap scooters available, made mostly of plastic while Mimi has primarily metal panels) and the front end was still a bit crooked although the handlebars had been realigned so that it would work. In my book they are morons because they didn’t just get the bike fixed for real… and because they are still paying for the kid’s stuff… and because she reamed him in public… and because he’s still using a helmet that went through a crash (you’re supposed to replace them, especially if there is visible damage).

I just put on my helmet to drown out Mom’s voice as she was reaming the mechanic, and rode off into the setting sun thinking about the past half hour. Yes it had happened again. The girl said to begin with that I “must” get it fixed. Then she backtracks after she figures out that bossman told me that it didn’t “have” to be fixed. Geeze. “Da Man” did it again. Damn mechanics!

That’s OK, I’ll get N. in there after them… she’ll latch onto him like a bulldog and not let go until the work is done, and done for free! You Go Girl!

To Be Continued…

Mimi Goes To the Doctor

Today I gave my cute little Vespa to a man with grimy hands… and I’m horribly sad for her.

You must understand, she is a sensitive little thing. I mean come on, we are talking about the lightest blue, cutest Vespa out there!

So when we started thinking that she needed to go into the Vespa doctor for her check-up you can understand my apprehension. Add to that the problem that most certainly no one at that shop speaks English, and I’ve always disliked and many times distrusted auto mechanics.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve been given the shuck and jive by some jerk that didn’t think I knew the difference between an alternator and a solenoid, or had only 5 out of 6 spark plugs (the last one was hard to get to, the distributor would need to be moved) changed out on a full tune-up job. There is a woman customer in front of them and they see dollar signs. Which is irritating for me because I possibly know more about these things than a great majority of men. Trust me ladies, send a man with your car… he doesn’t even really have to know anything, but the mechanic will ASSUME if the customer has a weenie he might actually know a little bit about cars.

But since getting to Germany I am at a loss for the language… everything has a different name, and it is hard stand up for yourself when you can barely get out the basics. Thus I feel that I am at the mercy of these guys with Mimi. In the interest of German bureaucracy it is expected when you are getting ready to buy a used car/motorcycle, you always ask to see the maintenance information, so of course you MUST get these checks done or risk the resale value being low. It is religiously filled out by Mr. Mechanic and you hope that everything which was suggested by the manufacturer was actually completed. But of course to my skeptical eye I know that these “checks” are mostly visual and rarely do they need to “do” anything except fill out the cute little book and then the invoice for an insane amount of money.

Earlier this week our Nissan Micra was subjected to the same type of treatment. It was “her time” for a two year check-up. The manufacturer’s list of things to do mostly included visual checks on parts, verifying that the air conditioner was not leaking its bad stuff, and an oil change with synthetic oil. Five hours after drop-off it was picked back up… the damage… 340 EUR ($533) What for? They didn’t touch the suspension, exhaust, or the electrical system. There were no parts exchanged save the synthetic oil, although I must admit that is expensive… I see it at 15 EUR per liter in the stores, and I assume the shysters are charging 20 EUR. OK, so 6 liters of oil at 20 EUR = 120 EUR… and that is a conservative estimate. Add to that an oil filter and probably an air filter, the total price still just sucks.

To top all of that off… when my Sweet N. got into the car after paying the insane amount of money, she grabbed hold of the gearshift lever and felt her hand slide on the layer of black grease lovingly left for her by what we can only assume to be the one that worked on the car. Wonderful, eh?

In my dreamworld I would have the time, energy, and knowledge to be able to putter around my own vehicles. Perhaps in another life I would have paid even more attention as my father and brother worked on the machines in our lives… maybe even following up by using my mechanical ability for the better. Possibly even running a garage in a different way… in an honest way… so that the customer could trust what we would do. The question is… would anyone come to a garage owned and operated by a woman?
Rosie the RiveterLater today I will go to pick up my little cutie… put on my blue helmet with the pretty flowers and sail off into the sunset… away from the evil men with the dirty hands.

Ver.di and the BVG Strike

Thursday night the Ver.di union decided to call a strike on the BVG (public transport in Berlin) and of course it wasn’t a good thing. The strike started at midnight on Friday morning and will last until 3pm on Saturday afternoon.

I am one of about two million Berlin commuters using the BVG everyday. If we must resign ourselves to driving, or biking, or even just walking, the streets become a bit clogged. But really it wasn’t too bad this time.

My on-the-ball FIL saved my ass on Thursday night. He called asking if I was going to want a chauffeur for Friday. N thought it was a joke… she kept looking at me like he was crazy. Eventually he managed to explain it to her… that there was advance warning of a strike and that Snooker would be left without transportation to get to work. This sweet man offered to pick me up and take me to work early on Friday morning, then also arranged an after-work pickup. What a guy, eh?

As we made our way across the city – Tempelhof to Charlottenburg – we saw some of the streets were crowded and slow, but thankfully we didn’t experience this at all. He doesn’t like to get onto the highways in the mornings because if there is a traffic jam very often there is no way to get off of the highway for a long time, sometimes making you late to work… so he likes the city driving. In the evening we took the highway which was also rather crowded, but it was moving along nicely nonetheless.

I can’t even imagine what would have happened to me if he hadn’t called. Imagine Snooker early Friday morning, all dressed up for work, standing at the bus stop with a confused look on her face when no lumbering bus shows up to magically transport her to work. Surely I would have figured it out eventually, most likely I would have just gotten onto Mimi but that would have taken another 30 minutes to arrange (heavy winter clothing, packing work clothes, etc). Of course this could mean that I would be late for work like so many of my colleagues … not a good thing either.

But thankfully the BVG has had yet another strike and it has barely affected me. It has even worked out to end at the PERFECT time. Saturday is the final party to celebrate my 40th birthday, N’s 28th birthday, and our anniversary (all on the same day – the 24th). We had a dinner party on the day, but had planned this dance event to invite even more of our friends for some drinking, dancing and just having fun. All of this merriment starts at 5pm!!! When we had first heard of a possible strike, we had understood that it would be on Saturday — the day of the party!!! Many of our friends would be using public transport, and things didn’t look good for the party. BUT, since they started the strike early and had it on Friday as well, they cut the Saturday short…. YEA!! The strike ends at 3pm, our party starts at 5pm!! The timing is perfect!!!

So now I’m just left with figuring out what to do to thank my FIL… any ideas?

The New Vespa

Well we did it ! We picked up our new Vespa and finally had some time to ride it. Got it Thursday night and immediately needed some handling exercise. N. hopped on and used her legs to walk it, and I pushed it back behind the Roller-Scholz building to the Lidl parking lot.

I was the first to try it out, and what a jump that was! I donned my new flower helmet and N’s Father’s old motorcycle jacket started ‘er up and took off in a whoosh! It is quite new so the engine needs to be run-in, which makes it kinda stink. Also the idling wasn’t quite adjusted yet, so it kept stalling out. That’s ok, lots of chances to enjoy that electronic start! It also has a kick start, but I haven’t been that brave yet.

N. drove it home and just about froze in the process. We’d had the forethought of the thick jacket, but not enough for gloves… her hands were like ice. When we got closer to home it was my turn to try it out again so we headed toward another Lidl… what would we do without Lidl? I got my first chance to take it above 25KPH and enjoyed it a LOT. It made sense to practice the stopping and starting, so I did a lot of that as the sun completely disappeared and my hands became more and more frozen.

Soon we decided it was time to call it a day and called N’s parents who were waiting outside of our building when we arrived. They congratulated us and I could see a little jealousy in N’s Mom’s eyes… I think she would really enjoy something like this. N’s Dad had also been getting into the spirit of buying a bike and told me all about his latest test drive on a monster motorcycle. Sorry, don’t know the make/model or I would include it here. By the way, he ended up buying thatmotorcycle this past weekend… next weekend we will go pick it up in Wittenberg.

We really look at each other every once in a while and wonder how we could come to this decision so quickly… we take longer to decide on a shirt. But it seemed so quick from the time we first talked about it to the time we were driving it. Along the way we had to buy helmets and gloves and a jacket for me. All in all it has come close to the cost of a decent used small car… but I must say that it is MUCH COOLER!!!