Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Games Have Begun

Since I am supposed to be sitting at my computer preparing a fairly important (read: totally overwhelming and scary) presentation about my research, I thought I would instead write a quick blog entry about the opening of the World Cup last night.

Let me just say that I was thoroughly impressed with German pride. They can really pull it out! A walk around my block (not the neighborhood, just my one block) revealed flags hanging from balconies, flags attached to cars, normal people walking down the street with big flags and restaurants all decked out in World Cup décor.

By 5pm, meanwhile, the streets were empty. It looked like a Sunday morning and those who were out were mostly female. It reminded me of the Oprah Winfrey commercial in the 90’s: “It’s four o’clock, where’s everyone gone. It’s four o’clock, so Oprah’s on…” (Who remembers that commercial?)

I liked the opening ceremony. It was a fun mix of traditional and modern Germany with some international flares-- “where classic meets cutting edge,” as I think the motto of Germany should be. My only criticism was that the German children who stood with the German team while the national anthem was being played did not know the song and looked very confused. The players and the crowd seemed be singing along (props to them) but since the national anthem is not taught in German schools until around 5th grade, the little ones were left out in the dark. I know I knew the Star Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful and God Bless America by the time I was their age.

An interesting surprise was that after each goal, people in neighboring buildings shot off firecrackers and blew air horns. Aside from the obvious safety danger of shooting off a firecracker from one’s balcony in a densely populated area, it really added to the festive atmosphere! (Better than the guns that are shot off in downtown Philly on New Years!)

Can you find the Michael Ballack cookie?

I went to a party at a friend’s house. I felt all German going to a World Cup party, until I realized that the cookies made with soccer cookie cutters and the spinach and artichoke casserole that I was bringing with me revealed just how Mid-West America I really am:-) At the party, we were drinking mint juleps and pineapple juice with ginger ale—also not your average German sports party refreshments.

Okay, now that I have all the blog-able thoughts out of my head, I can go back to my presentation.

Happy Saturday!

P.S. Sunday addition... check out the World Cup Video on the front of the Washington Post website for reaction about the Tournament from various embassies in Washington!!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Let the Games Begin

On the topic of the United States and the World Cup, President Bush really said it best last month:
"Listen, the World Cup is a -- first of all, most Americans, up until recently, didn't understand how big the World Cup is. And we're beginning to understand. (...) And I'm confident that the German people will do a magnificent job of welcoming people from around the world." 
As Germany gears up for the month-long tournament, which begins tomorrow, I must also admit that I am just beginning to understand how big this thing is!  I know very little about soccer but am totally excited to watch some of the games. It's hard not to be excited; the energy surrounding the tournament is contageous! And I certainly hope to see an American or German team capture the gold cup in July.
I'm sure I'll post more about the tournament in the coming weeks. For now though, I thought I would share one side of the excitement... shopping!
There is World Cup EVERYTHING in the stores!  For the chefs, you can buy soccer cookie cutters, soccer ball ice cube trays and soccer ball cake pans.  Grillers might want to consider buying the soccer ball kettle grill that is on sale at my local drug store. 

If home decorating is more your thing, how about this lovely couch from Galleria Kaufhof!? 

Gardeners will be flocking to get their hands on the flower pot that looks like a soccer player with a pot-shaped head.

Then again, maybe you aren't a soccer fan at all, but are concerned that your soccer fanatic boyfriend or husband will ignore you for the next month.  If so, try the soccer ball bra and panty set at Wertheim or the night shirt that says "bei mir gibt es keine rote karte," which I saw in Heidelberg.  (There is actually a whole series of these pajamas with equally "creative" sayings!) 
For the kids, there is the Juergen Klinsmann action figure.  Unfortunately, he is too short to date Barbie, but it could be fun accessory anyway!
Of course, there is also the matter of the German flag.  As I have mentioned before, Germany is not a country of big flag wavers.  But the World Cup is obviously a huge exception to this rule.  There are flags EVERYWHERE!  You can buy flags, black-red-gold belts, flag tattoos, face paint, black-red-gold wigs, and, and, and...  I am talking about flag paraphernalia on the scale of American flags for the 4th of July! 
Most states around the country plan extended store hours for the next month so there is no need to panic if you haven't yet stocked up on the necessities!  Taking inventory, I see that I am the proud owner of a "let's go krauts" shirt, soccer cookie cutters and a soccer man flower pot.  LET THE GAMES BEGIN! :-)

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

More Rome

Okay, who am I kidding, I have to type more about Rome! I look a shuttle bus from the airport late on Friday night and got to watch the sun set over the hills outside the city. Not only did it look like a renaissance masterpiece, I knew that the red sky was foretelling great weather for Saturday (“red sky at night…”)! The hostel we stayed in was certainly not the Marriott but was a clean and cheap place to crash for a few nights. Nothing more to say about that…I don’t even have any strange roommate stories to tell.

Johnna, Dwight and I set off to the Colluseum relatively early on Saturday to “beat the crowds.” Unfortunately, “the crowds” had thought the same thing and the ticket line was over an hour long. So we headed over to the Forum and Palatine Hill, where the line was much shorter and the crowd was smaller.

While the Forum and Colluseum have the WOW factor, but I continue to be most impressed with Palatine Hill. Situated above the Forum, it is one of the 7 hills of Rome, where the richies of the Republic had their homes, and where Romulus and Remus were supposedly found by the she-wolf. From one side you can look out onto the rest of the city.

From the other side you can see Circus Maximus, where chariot races were held “back in the day.” The kids in this picture had run around the entire 600m track... very smart tour guide!

There are fountains with delicious drinking water all over the city!

After lunch, We headed back to the Colluseum and felt smug that we got to bypass the crowds because the ticket we bought at Palatine Hill was good for the Colluseum too!

The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the side streets of the city, throwing coins in the Trevi Fountain (to guarantee that we will visit Rome again some day) and people watching.

The one thing that seemed to be a constant no matter which site we were visiting was that someone was having wedding pictures taken. We saw newly married couples at the Spanish Steps, Forum, Piazza Venezia and at the St. Cecelia church on Sunday. What spectacular settings for wedding photos!

We began Sunday at the Porta Portese open air market. If you think about the biggest antique market you’ve ever seen, then combine it with the biggest “new stuff” flea market you’ve ever been to, and add in a few gypsies stealing items and slipping them into secret pockets in their broom skirts, you’ve got the Porta Portese market. It was sensory overload! I didn’t know whether I should be looking for treasures, guarding my backpack or watching the illegal cigarette trades happening all around.

In the afternoon, we enjoyed people watching at the Piazza di St. Maria in Trastevere. I was all excited when this hot Italian guy came up and sat next to me on the steps of the fountain… until his equally hot boyfriend came up and sat next to him:-/ Then they annoyed me because they were invading my personal space… so I decided it was time to leave and find some gelato!

Our final tourist stop of the day was the Lateran Steps. They are famous both because they were taken from Pontius Pilot’s house and Jesus supposedly walked on them and because it was after Martin Luther’s visit to the stairs that he started to think about breaking with the Catholic Church (go Marty!) I was most impressed with the devotion of the people who still visit the stairs, climb the 28 steps on their knees and pray for indulgences.

There were three missions for Monday—find a “Popener,” see the Sistine Chapel and see St. Peter’s. I remember seeing a Popener when I was in Rome during college, didn’t buy it and have wanted one ever since. What is that, you ask? It’s a wine opener that looks like the pope. When the corkscrew is in the cork and the two handles of the opener are up, it looks like he is praying. How brilliantly tacky! Alas, there were only classy bottle openers to be found this time around. As a side note, a Google search also did not reveal a Popener, making me wonder if I made this whole thing up in my mind and might be sitting on a million dollar idea:-)

In anycase, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s were spectacular! Like the market on Sunday, both the chapel and the basillica are cases of sensory overload. I didn’t know where to look first and was amazed at the solem feeling of both locales.

Pictures are not allowed in the chapel, but I did snap one of “The School of Athens” in one of the Raphel rooms. It’s incredible to come around the corner and just happen upon one of the world’s most well known works of art!

I was most unimpressed with my EasyJet experience to Rome and back, but made it home by midnight regardless with a camera full of pictures and many fun memories.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Friends, Bloggers, Countrymen, lend me your ears

Upon review, I realized that my postings from last week were a bit long-winded, so I will try to not bore you with every detail of my long-weekend in Rome. Simply put it was wonderful! The weather was in the 70’s and sunny the whole time; I even got a Teva tan.

Here are some descriptive highlights from the weekend:

1.Gelato flavours such as raspberry, coffee, pear and profiterole (the Italian version of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream…YUM!)

street performer and a quintessential Italian restaurant guy

2.Sitting on the warm marble steps of a bubbling fountain while people-watching on a sun-kissed piazza

3.Gorgeously chiselled Italian...Ignudi

4.Cold Play songs being played over the loud speaker of the metro

5.Being enveloped in ancient history with every step

6.Lots…and LOTS of Germans and Americans (maybe this was reciprocity for all the Italians at the Freiburg Christmas market!)

I’ll post pictures later today, which can tell the rest of the story.