Sunday, June 27, 2010

Soccer defined

For weeks I was so sure the US was going to end up playing Germany in this afternoon's game.  After all, who wouldn't have picked England to finish first in the group?  In case of the matchup that never came and the eventual knockout blow by Germany, I had done some research.  I found the perfect quote that I was going to use.  Instead, the US finished first in the group and played against the second place team from Group D.  And it was (as I'm sure you'll find in articles everywhere) deja vu all over again.  In 2006 Ghana delivered the death blow that knocked the US out of the World Cup.  That was a 2-1 loss in the final game of group play.

Last night proved no different.  The game looked just like the previous three games.  The US came out unprepared and paid an early price.  They tied it back up early in the second half, sending the game into extra time.  But Ghana scored quickly in the extra period.  This time the magic had run out.  This time there was no dramatic come from behind victory for the US.  They had plenty of chances and fought hard but just couldn't connect.  Only another loss and early dismissal from the World Cup courtesy of the same opponent from 2006. 

And that quote I previously mentioned?  It still works pretty well for the US.  Former English striker Gary Lineker was once asked to define soccer.  Here's the quote, with a sleight adjustment:
Soccer is a game played by 22 people that run around, play the ball, and one referee who makes a slew of mistakes, and in the end Germany Ghana always wins.
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to today's England-Germany match.  However, after last night's game, you can excuse me if there's a bit of enthusiasm missing on my behalf.  Nevertheless, it should be a great game.  I'm curious to see if England (and specifically a Mr. Rooney) have finally woken up or if the above-mentioned original quote can be used once more.  As for Germany, they seem to have a few injuries to worry about.  Without the injuries, I would say this is Germany's game for the taking.  Now I'm not too sure.  If Germany fields their normal squad, I think they win 2-1.

What? You think I'd bet against Paul the Octopus?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Der Kaiser goes Lion-baiting

National fußball hero Franz Beckenbauer won't let up.  He's been attacking the English squad from the start of the tournament.  In light of tomorrow's clash between Germany and England, he's really cranking it up.  Given the injury status of at least two of Germany's top players, I'd be at least a little worried if I were him.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Things that give me stress

Wow is it getting crazy around here.  Between coordinating wedding plans and watching more football than I should be allowed, I'm nearly burned out.  You'll be happy to know we finally found a venue for the reception.  Thanks to our roommate, we'll be celebrating at a restaurant owned by her cousin.  To be honest, he made us a deal we couldn't refuse.  It's a cozy little place and we've never been disappointed with the food there.  That has solved a major headache and we've been able to knock out a whole lot of other things this week.  The cake has been ordered.  I've purchased a new suit.  (My pleas for an Evil Knieval-style outfit, however, fell on deaf ears.)  All that's left is to get a new pair of shoes. 

Oh yeah, we also need to coordinate some family details.  I've now got four family members flying over from the US.  Given how tightly this has all been arranged, I didn't expect anyone from home to be able to show up.  I'm so excited for everyone to make it here and to be able to show them around town.  Unfortunately however, we still have to work out some minor details... such as where everyone is staying.  It's like someone told us regarding these wedding plans: for each thing you think you take care of, there's a whole other set of issues that come with the solution.

Case in point: in between all this, I've also taken it upon myself to create the photo slideshow/video thing.  We've been asking family and friends for some old photos to include in the video.  Everyone's been helping out, but now we need to scan these photos.  That takes time too.  If it's not one thing it's another.  And yes, if you're coming, you have no choice but to watch the video.  But don't worry, I'm doing my best to keep it short.

All this reminds me that there is probably going to come a day where the blog posts dry up again for a little bit.  Once everyone arrives and the big day approaches, I'm probably going to have very little time to write.  Just an early warning.


While the above mentioned things give me quite a bit of stress lately, at least I can control them. The US National Soccer team?  Well, at least the stress is always over in about two hour's time.
The US managed to beat Algeria in the closing minutes of the game allowing them to advance to the next round of the World Cup.  Just hours later, Germany beat Ghana to advance.  That was a much better day than the previous Friday.

Once again, I had given up hope.  I will no longer allow myself to do that again.  Not with this team.  In the middle of the first half, yet another US goal was disallowed.  That's twice in two games.  I didn't know what else they needed to do to prove they can win a game.  Fortunately Donovan's goal in stoppage time was something no one could deny.  It's worth another look.

What did such a big win mean for the US and the country in general?  Here's a Daily Show clip that explains it all.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
World Cup 2010: Into Africa - US Beats Algeria
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

For those not living here, almost all the games here are aired on public TV.  But some of these games that were going simultaneously were not carried on free TV.  If you were lucky, your team's game would be the "feature" game.  Then, throughout the game, they might cut back to the other game to see what's going on.  Unless you've got pay-per-view tv or are at a bar, you may not see much of the "other" game.

The US-Algeria game ran at the same time as England-Slovenia.  Given the fact that (1) I am in Europe and (2) England is generally a much more popular football team, I knew the chances of the US game being aired fully on regular TV would be pretty slim.  Therefore we went back to the one "American" bar in town to watch this game.  We had previously watched the US-England game from there.  That first time, there were quite a few England fans.  I figured that was acceptable, especially given the fact that they probably should have won and would have loved to throw it in everyone else's face.

This time around, the game was on a weekday afternoon.  It wasn't nearly as crowded as the previous game, but there was still a lot of English fans.  Maybe as many as there was American fans.   The management caved to their demands (and drinking ratio I'm sure) and ran the England game on about 80% of the TVs, as well as the audio from that game.  We had to squint our eyes and watch the US game without audio on smaller TVs across the bar.

This town has about 30 Irish/British style pubs.  These are not good enough to watch your game there?  Hell, there is one directly next door.  This was the one place I thought I would be able to see the entire US game in it's entirety.  Well, I guess I was able to.  And the England game ended earlier, so the big ending was up on all the TVs just in time.  But seriously, just change the name and decor of your place and call it a British pub.  It might as well have been.  Needless to say, I will be watching tomorrow afternoon's game at home.  I have to... I gotta finish making that wedding video one of these days!

I'd give an in-depth preview for tomorrow's game, but I realize it really isn't necessary.  If you're interested, you know where to look.  Getting out of the group round was an accomplishment in and of itself.  To me, anything beyond that is gravy.  Ghana beat the US in group play during the previous World Cup.  They just lost to a pretty solid looking Germany 1-0.  But they are Africa's last hope for a representative country.  All I can say is that you can never count this US team out.  Prediction time: US comes away with the win, again in the second half.  US 2-1 over Ghana. 

And finally, tired of those vuvuzelas?  Tired of the vuvuzela bashing?  I'm tired of both, but this was too good to ignore. 

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
World Cup 2010: Into Africa - Goal Diggers
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bring on the Desert Foxes

Algeria vs USA

I'm all with his strategy in the above link.  Attack from the get go and hope Algeria finds themselves too stretched out playing with three forwards.  But that's always easier said than done. 

I don't know what else to say.  Win and they move on.  Lose and they're on their way back to the States.  I don't think most people predicted the situation Group C would be in by the last game.  And no one would have predicted such a strong game by Algeria against England.  This seemed like the easiest game in the group stage to predict.  But Algeria has only been gaining confidence.  So this leaves it all up in the air for me. And apparently for everyone on Team USA.

I like his first lineup here.  I'm curious to see what Buddle can bring to the game aside from a few chuckles by me whenever the German announcers say his name with that hard "t" sound.   

Fun fact: here's another preview that gives a little background on Algeria's previous World Cup appearances.  For shame, West Germany and Austria!  (More on that disgraceful performance can be read about here.)

Another fun fact: Look for a battle of teammates.  USA's Michael Bradley and Algeria's Karim Matmour play together for Borussia Mönchengladbach in the Bundesliga.

Not-so-fun-fact: Since the 1950 World Cup, the United States have lost all of their third and final matches in the opening group stage.

Prediction time: Team USA comes out slow as usual and finds themselves down 1-0 quickly with another defensive lapse, but comes back once again to win 2-1.  I hope.  But what the hell do I know?

Monday, June 21, 2010

I love a parade

... except when it kicks off outside my bedroom window at 7:30 on a Sunday morning. 

Yesterday morning we were treated to the lovely sound of a marching band opening the festivities for the local schützenverein's festival.  What is a schützenverein? Think the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes complete with uniforms and funny traditional hats, but add some guns to the festivities.  Seriously, check it out here.

We wandered over to the fest later in the day.  They had bumper cars and a carousel for the kids, a couple of carnival midway games, a booth selling candy and another selling food.  And they had a monstrous beer tent set up where most of the festivities must have taken place earlier.  And by festivities I mean drinking.  We didn't observe too many adults walking in straight lines as we sat and enjoyed a bratwurst and kölsch.

It is good to know that these are the people who are allowed to have guns in this country.  That target competition must have been a sight to see.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A good day if you love Yugoslavian football

Huh... well, at least I got half the score right.

2-2.  It could have been worse.  It certainly looked like it at half time.  Then again, it should have been way better.  The US got it handed to them for the first 45 minutes, then stormed back in the second half to score three two goals and win tie the game.  It looked as if they had the go-ahead goal in the closing minutes of the game, but the referee called it back.  As of yet, I still haven't found a written explanation for disallowing the third goal. Unless of course he meant all the holding the US was doing involved in.

I don't know why this team can't come out and play a full game like they did in the second half.  They always seem to play better once they get punched in the face.  At least this time they got it together before it was too late.  Landon Donovan stepped it up big time and Michael Bradley seemed to put the exclamation point on the evening's affair.  It is just a shame that last one did not count.  See for yourself.

I still don't find myself an expert by any measure, but I took some satisfaction in that much of what I feared came true.  Slovenia came out guns blazing and scored a relatively quick goal.  Their second came off a quick counter-attack.  As usual, the US stumbled for a long stretch following the previous big game.  Sloppy passes and poor discipline had me groaning in agony for a good 50 minutes.  And yes, I'll admit it, I thought all was lost by halftime.  You have to admire the resilience of a team like that. 

The other two games yesterday were just as shocking, if not more so.  Germany lost 1-0 to Serbia while England played Algeria to a scoreless draw.  Playing one man down, Germany kept pressure on Serbia, but just couldn't find an equalizer.  One of the heroes of the last game (and FC Köln's own) Lucas Podolski failed to find the back of the net on a penalty kick, essentially curbing the enthusiasm of an entire nation for at least a few days.  Here's a rather fair and balanced assessment of that game.

And to cap off a day of surprises, England, mighty England, looked no different against Algeria than they did against the US.  At this point I don't know if that makes both the US and Algeria look that much better as teams, or if England is truly much worse than everyone expected.  Either way, the two draws by England and the US leave both teams with a pair of points and trailing group leader Slovenia.  But as tough as Algeria played yesterday, I am much happier the US is facing them and not Slovenia again.  The US is not out of it yet.  As they say at the end of all those cliff hangers, stay tuned...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Do you know your enemy?

Slovenia vs USA

First thing's first.  Who IS Slovenia?

According to one writer, it looks like the US is facing their doppelganger

One of their more dangerous players, striker Milevoje Novakovic, plays for FC Köln.  He was the captain of the team until he had some sort of spat with the new trainer last season.
According to the experts, Slovenia is a more defensive-oriented team, preferring to sit back and wait for a chance to counter attack.  However, after their 1-0 victory in the opening game against Algeria, I wouldn't be surprised to see them push harder offensively for another three points, essentially guaranteeing a spot in the next round.  I don't think they'll have much of a chance for success next week against England.  Keep in mind that Slovenia hasn't lost a game since November 2009.

This game could make or break the World Cup for both sides.  On paper, this seems like something the US should be able to handle.  But the US seems to have a bad track record when they come off big games like last Saturday's draw.  Hopefully they can shake that off tomorrow. 

A bit of history here.  Eight years ago, the US shocked everyone by beating Portugal 3-2.  They followed that up with a 1-1 draw versus South Korea.  South Korea, by the way, ended up finishing fourth in the group.  Flash forward four years later.  The US ties eventual World Cup champions Italy 1-1.  The only team to not lose to Italy in the entire tournament.  That was followed up by a 2-1 loss to Ghana. 

For those of you really into the technical aspects, here's one last one to check out.

Prediction time: Slovenia's winning streak comes to an end, overwhelmed by the speed of the US attack down the sides.  If Tim Howard really is ok, he'll make the crucial stops and the US comes away with a not-so-easy 2-0 victory.

I haven't seen when the Weigh-In is scheduled...

...but the way US Goalkeeper Tim Howard is talking, it looks like we're in for a boxing match on Friday.  Enjoy some pre-game smack talk here.  More pre-game match-ups and a prediction posted here within the next day or so. 

Normally I work on Friday afternoons until 3:30.  The US-Slovenia game kicks off at 4.  It is about an hour commute home with the train, a half hour by car.  (Although lately it has taken nearly an hour by car due to the fun roadwork along the river.)  Initially I was prepared to find a bar near work and watch the game there.  But today I received a rare good email from my boss.  Classes are canceled Friday afternoon so that the kids can watch the football match.  No, not the US one, the earlier one, Germany-Serbia.  So... a bonus day off work, a chance to watch the US play, on a day that She is actually off work too! Wow, maybe I'll go out and play the lottery.

In regards to the Germany game, it seems we're not done with bad videos yet.  I just caught another one during the post-game report of the South Africa-Uruguay game.  Although it features some of the Cologne skyline, it'll definitely make you appreciate the technical ability of the last one I posted. 

I wish I could post some bad music videos in support of the US Men's team.  Unfortunately, apart from some well done Nike commercials, I just don't think there's that much interest back home for people to take the initiative to do something like that.  I guess team members have to take it upon themselves to make one.  Check this one out from four years ago, featuring team member Clint Dempsey.

And finally, it is not very often I find myself agreeing with conservative David Brooks, but we may finally have something in common.  Here's a little he said / she said.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Every Auslanders favorite place

Oh Bezirksrathaus, how I love thee.  From your freakish zombie-rising-from-the-ground sculpture outside,

 to your unfinished waiting area with buzzing fluorescent lights (in the same state of disrepair since my first visit nearly a year ago, minus a water cooler),

to your cheerful employees who are always willing to serve me er, eventually.  (I know they only ignore me waiting outside their office because they have much more important things to do.)

Yesterday we returned to the sight of so much joy, Central Bureaucracy.  We each had a few things to take care of there today.  She did all her paperwork necessary so that she can receive her new passport and IDs (with new last name!) after we're married.  After that, we dropped in on our favorite civil servant to ask a few questions regarding my visa status after the marriage.

There was a two hour mid-day break at this next office and we were done with the above-mentioned paperwork early.  We patiently waited outside the office until they re-opened.  There's not much of a system when it comes to visiting these people.  No secretary, no take-a-number, no sign-in sheet.  No, you just sit and wait outside the office until the previous customer leaves.  Then you know the office is free.  There's no window allowing you to see in there, so if you arrive and there's no wait, you have to knock on the door, timidly open it and ask for permission to come in.  Everything you do is in complete deference because they alone seem to hold the power over giving you a visa or kicking you out of the country.  

So there we are waiting outside her office.  It is just two of us.  There are no other customers waiting.  Soon a door opens across the hall and our civil servant enters.  We know it is her because we recognize her from our previous visits.  She crosses the hall, stands directly next to us, unlocks her office door, enters, closes the door and locks it behind her.  Not a word.  Huh.

It is 1:52 and the office hours begin again at 2.  Let's wait.

A minute later another door opens and our civil servant and her colleagues walk out and down the stairs.  The stairs are located across the hall behind yet another door.  (This hallway must be where they got the idea for all those Scooby-Doo chase scenes.)

Ok, a quick smoke after lunch before getting back to work.  Fair enough.  At 1:59 she returns.  She unlocks her door and enters her office.  Not a single word to us.  No eye contact.  Nothing.

We awkwardly chuckle to ourselves.  Do we go in?  What do we do?  We waited another minute and then finally worked up the nerve to knock on the door.  Yes, we were granted permission.  The actual conversation was fine.  And it seems to us that she's even lightened up a bit since our first visits.  If only she hadn't said she remembered us.  That only irritated me because of the cold shoulder we got the whole time waiting.  A simple, "I'll be with you in a few minutes" goes a long way.

We asked about my visa status:
  • how that changes once we are married (new one-year visa granted right away), 
  • if there is any more paperwork we'll need to do regarding the visa (of course there is!), 
  • and also whether or not I can begin to look for regular work (indeed I can).  
This eased a lot of the angst we've had lately because my visa runs out in a few months.  It also gives me a lot more leverage when it comes to deciding whether or not I want to continue working for this moron of a boss.  (I still haven't been paid for work I did in April.)  We thanked her for answering our questions and providing us with more paperwork and an opportunity to come back. Then we got up, bowed, and walked out of the room backwards extolling her virtues and throwing rose petals at her feet.  Well, ok, in my mind we exited that way. 


The World Cup rolls on and I am constantly surprised by many of the results.  There have been some impressive performances by the smaller countries while many of the supposed powerhouses are just squeaking by or having to deal with a draw.  Still, we've only just seen the first game by everyone.  We may have a clearer picture by the end of the week after everyone has played a second game.

So far there's really only been one dominating performance.  And of course, it came from die Nationalmanschaft.  Yes, Germany kicked the crap out of Australia who, frankly, probably deserved it after this freak of a team pep rally.  (Seriously? John Travolta? WTF?)  Germany ran roughshod and crushed the Soccerroos 4-0.  It probably could have been uglier than that too.  When they announced an extra three minutes of stoppage time, I begged the TV for mercy.

It was a whale of a performance and it has sent the country into a state of delirium.  Monday was non-stop talk about the game.  Every play was broken down and analyzed.  Again.  And Again.  And Again.  You really couldn't avoid it on TV.  From what I've seen and heard, you'd think Germany has already won the World Cup.  There was even a music video of sorts out the very next day.

Maybe just a tab premature, don't you think?  If you are to go the distance, there's still six games left, people.  And those last four will all have to be won.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not rooting against them.  At least not yet anyway.  I think it'd be awfully exciting to be here if they make it to the finals.  But the cockier everyone gets, the harder it is going to be for me to want to support the team.  But this comes from a guy who grew up rooting for a baseball team who's unofficial motto has been "wait 'til next year" for the past 100 years.  Hey, even the "lowly" US beat Australia 3-1 a few weeks ago.

Speaking of the US team, here's some Daily Show reaction to the previous game and the World Cup in general.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
World Cup 2010: Into Africa - US Ties England
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Still not down with how the game works?  For those of you looking for some basics, here's a great breakdown sent to me yesterday by a good friend.  Once you've seen this, I'm sure it'll all make a lot more sense to you.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Looking for a room or, the Goldilocks conundrum

Don't panic.  What I mean is that we're still looking for a place to celebrate after the wedding.  Anyone have any tips or recommendations?  We've certainly found some interesting places to celebrate but we keep running into the same problem.  Our party is not going to be all that big.  We figure somewhere in the range of 35-40 people.  Every place we've seen so far is too big or too small. Most places seem set up for 100 people.  And the small places seem like they fit about 25 people. 

Did you know you can rent a banquet hall in the Eigelstein Torburg?  That was the first place we checked out.   I think it is a situation where the idea of it is much better than the reality.  We're always going out to eat or drink in the neighborhood nearby.  So it'd be a nice way of showing off our adopted neighborhood.  Plus, for those coming from overseas, it would be pretty cool to celebrate inside a building like that.  The size of the room was not so bad.  But there's quite a bit of stairs involved leaving no real access to outside for smokers or anyone who just needs some fresh air.  The main floor is also in pretty rough shape.  I still wish it could be here, but it just isn't very practical.

We also considered looking at the Severinstorburg.  It certainly seems a bit more polished and professional just based on the website.  But it is also quite a bit more money and probably much too large for our group. Plus it is nowhere near where any of us would be coming from or going to.  We may still look this week just to get another opinion, but I think we've already decided against it. 

So far, the strongest candidate is the Kölner Seilbahn.  It is an unusual idea to be sure.  They have a small event room they rent for parties just behind the ticket office.  The only problem is the room seems a little too tight.  It is just 45 square meters. If the weather is nice, however, we can all spill outside on the patio.  Plus, at least for the first few hours of the party, the Seilbahn will still be operating and guests can go for free(?) rides.  (Here's my first encounter with the Seilbahn.)

We're not done looking yet.  But I think we need to find something pretty soon.  Time seems to be running out.  Less than a month now until the big day.  (Yipe!)

By the way, how do you like the new look?  Just last week I was driving myself crazy trying to tinker with the look of the site.  Over the weekend it seems Blogger rolled out a new design-your-own feature.  I can't believe this didn't exist long before.  It was long overdue.  I'm not totally sold on the background image, but it'll suffice for now.  Overall I think it is way better than the old templates they had available.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Ein Punkt ist ein Punkt

Luck or skill?  I'll let you decide.   Either way, both England and the US escaped defeat and the group is still up for grabs.  Maybe Green makes that save the next 100 times.  This time he didn't.  In my opinion he didn't "give it away" as I'm sure most will suggest.  He just didn't save it.  Is it his fault?  The coach's fault for playing him?  It doesn't really matter at this point.  This is why you play the games. The goal counts and the game ended in a draw. 

There were some early signs of nervousness, but the US was able to play some defense reminiscent of last summer.  There were great plays on both sides and I think both teams might be happy with the draw, though they'd say otherwise.  It seemed to me (but I'm hardly a professional expert) that the US missed some big opportunities and also misplayed quite a lot of passes.  I think there is definitely room for improvement.  As for England?  Well, I guess they are just warming up too.  To be sure, I'm glad the US played them in the first game and not the third.

I say a point is a point and the main thing is England doesn't have 3 points.

We ended up at Joe Champs (still a cringe-worthy name for an "American" style bar).  The place was packed and I was really impressed.  The US fans outnumbered the English fans, but there was still quite a bit of raucous debate.  When the game ended I really wanted to lead the crowd in a bit of "Over There," but then decided that might not be a wise decision given where I was.  Then again, I'm sure no one in the place would even know what I was signing.  Even any Americans that might have been there. 

I teach class next Friday until 3:30.  The next US game kicks off that afternoon at 4.  No idea how I'm going to make it in time.  Fingers crossed!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

It's so on

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
World Cup 2010: Into Africa - Two Teams, One Cup
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

USA vs England

The Stars and Stripes vs the Three Lions

The team that pantsed the other once in 1950 vs the team that has done it nearly every other occasion

Personally, I don't think the US has anything to lose.  (Well, aside from the game and a few points in the group standing....)  Any smart person would bet on England.  Worldwide and here in Germany there's pretty much zero expectations for the US to win this game.  And there's still two more games to play after this one.  But a shocking upset would certainly trigger a national disaster in England,  much like Rooney's nightmare scenario in the Nike commercial.

Here's the commercial, although I advise reading this article first which breaks down all the hyper editing and explains the scenarios for those not in the know.  Truly one of the coolest commercials to appear this year.  Look for the cameo appearance by a few US players.

Here's a couple of interesting predictions.  One is a rather sarcastic look at forecasting the US's chances.  I quite agree with his Rooney strategy.  The other features multiple predictions for the US team's overall performance in the tournament by different writers.  It seems like 80% of these people pick the same fate: US is knocked out by Germany.  *Sigh*  Here's two final previews of the game.

It is less than 10 hours til kickoff.  Hopefully I can contain myself.  And not get my ass kicked at some Irish pub later.

Prediction time.  My heart says US wins 2-1.  My brain says otherwise.  England puts an end to my enthusiasm with a 3-1 victory.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Bigger than Big

If you don't know what begins this weekend, I'm going to guess you're living in the US.  Way to go hometown news channel!  No doubt the rest of you realize that Friday is the beginning of the 2010 World Cup.  Whether you're a fan or not, you have no choice but to know this fact.  It is everywhere.

I'm willing to give a pass to those of you in Chicago only until the Blackhawks wrap things up later tonight in Philly. 

Combine all the excitement, hype and excessive commercialization of the Super Bowl and March Madness.  Add to that the patriotism that seems to surface every four years with the Olympics (I'm thinking US Men's hockey).  Mix that all together and apply it to the rest of the world and you've got a pretty good idea of what the World Cup is like.   Don't believe me?  Heck, they even know about this in galaxies far, far away.

Star Wars™ Cantina 2010 / adidas Originals from Dominic Prevost on Vimeo.

I've been living here for almost a full year.  During this time I've only seen German flags flying at official state or city buildings.  Very rarely do you see them privately displayed, public holidays or not.  Now they are everywhere.  Hanging from windows, flying by on passing cars and, of course, flagrantly used in every other advertisement.  Of course I've also seen plenty of other nationalities represented.  Our neighbors across the way are flying les couleurs alongside the die Bundesflagge

It makes me wish we bought a larger US flag before we left.  I don't think the dinky little 18" flag we bought will suffice here.  Nevertheless, I will do my best to represent.  When we were in the States, one of my goals was to find a US team t-shirt.  I guess I got caught up in the moment.  Not only did I buy a t-shirt, I also bought the scarf, a pair of socks, and yes, a glittery Uncle Sam hat.  (The later in tribute to Apollo Creed.)  Ridiculous? You bet.  But if there's one thing we Americans excel in, it's over the top displays of patriotism.

Rest assured I'll do my best not to let any of you down.  Now if only I had James Brown to lead me in to each pub...

After the previous World Cup, I have huge reservations about this year's team.   I think their offense is very underrated.  The defense, however, is more than a bit shakey outside of goalie.  The soon-to-be brother-in-law has questioned my purchases.  "They're only going to be worn three times," he said, in reference to the minimum three games played by each team.  I'm hoping at least five if not six times.  The fifth time would most likely mean the game following a US victory over Germany.  (I'm assuming the US finishes second in their group to England and Germany finishes first in their group. That would mean the two teams will face each other in the first game of the knockout round.)

But that's looking a little too far ahead.  First up on Saturday is England.  Outside of Brazil or Spain, I don't think you could ask for a harder opening matchup.  I know the US is no longer flying under the radar after beating Spain last year.  But I still think there are a lot of lowered expectations for this team that may catch some of the big boys by surprise.  I'm also hoping Rooney will pop off once again and get kicked out, leading to total disarray for the Three Lions.  If not, I fear the US might be in for a bit of a schooling.  Here's a preview of the Yanks as well as an overall preview of Group C.  And here's a clip from a previous time, when the two sides actually worked together.  (I can't believe I just made my second Sylvester Stallone reference in one post.)

Looking for actual news and scores from the tournament?  I've added a World Cup score and a US Team news widget on the right side below the news.  Unfortunately, the game times listed are EST I believe. 

I'm also looking for tips from you.  Where the hell do I watch the game on Saturday?  I only know of one "American" sports bar in town, but I'm hoping some of you might have better recommendations.  This town certainly has no shortage of "Irish" pubs, but I wouldn't be surprised to find those transformed into English pubs this weekend.  Surely I'm not the only American going out to watch this first game.

Where are you from?  Which team are you supporting?  Have any recommendations about a place to see the games at?  Do us all a favor and leave a comment below. And don't worry, it's all anonymous.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

the longest day

Just a few more hours and we're on our way back to the airport.  These days are always tough even before the jet lag.  I've never been good at saying goodbye.  I doubt it will be any easier this time given the circumstances.  This was a really good visit.  We were fortunate enough to have exceptionally good weather this time.  Just about all of our goals were accomplished, although we only managed to get deep dish pizza just one time.  Still, there was hardly a family member, friend or restaurant that we didn't get to visit.  I also managed to buy some obnoxious US Soccer/Football swag to parade around in during the World Cup next month.  (Look out, England.)  The next month and a half leading up to the wedding is going to be really hectic.  Other than the date at city hall, we've hardly got anything else planned.  Hopefully we can knock that out in the next week.  Anyway, I'd better go finish my packing.  Thanks to my wonderful family and friends that took the time to hang out during this trip.  That's always the best part of these visits. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

News from Home/Abroad, or Links a-plenty!

For the most part, I've avoided following the news regularly while on vacation here in Chicago.  This was helped early on by accidentally catching a bit of the local news which ran not one, not two, but three separate reports on the local kid who has made it to the final round of American Idol.  Buried somewhere later in the news was a story about the whole school book fiasco.  This was then followed by a commentary in support of the Texas school board by a local radio shock jock though no graphics ever stated it was a commentary.  At least we have the Daily Show to soften the blow.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Don't Mess With Textbooks
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

By the way, the final vote was last week.  And in case you are curious, it passed.  (Thanks again, Texas!)

But not all the scary news is coming from this side.  I'm not going to try to pretend I understand everything related to the EU/Greece crisis.  Germany has agreed to lend quite a large hand, though it seems they squandered a lot of time playing politics.  Although I've had Germans tell me the blame lies solely with Greece, it sounds to me like everyone had a hand in this mess and it is only going to get uglier.  Unless, of course, you're an American planning to visit the EU next summer.  I guess if there's a silver lining to all of this, maybe I can look forward to seeing some more friends visit next year.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Checking in

Keep trying to write a full entry, but just can't seem to find the time.  Anyway, here's some photos to keep you busy for a little bit at least.  All of these were taken last Friday.  It was a beautiful day, nearly felt like summer.  We did a bit of sightseeing downtown before taking the 'L' up to the ballpark to take in a game.  Afterwards we made a tour of the city at night.  Thanks to my sister for letting us take the car.  The final picture was well worth it.

Nerds on tour near Buckingham Fountain

Cloudgate sculpture in Millenium Park

The building formerly known as the Sears Tower plays peek-a-boo

Hi jinks in Millenium Park

Chicago-style Kölsch served up at Goose Island

Wrigley Field before a typical Cubs game
(That's a euphemism for another loss)

Peanuts and beer at the game

The view from our seats

Not much needs to be said here

Monday, May 10, 2010

See you Stateside, dudes

They had yet another election here yesterday. The results seem a little more promising than last time. This was the local state election. Here's the results.

We're off to Chicago in a few hours. We'll be there for the next month. We're up way too early, but I guess we're just too excited. Our roommate is coming along for part of the time. So I'll be looking forward to playing tour guide for part of the time. If I don't have deep dish pizza at least twice, I will consider this trip a bust. Hopefully I'll have a chance to check in here a few times. Until then...

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Audio Testing

I realize these audio files aren't working correctly.  So I'm using this post as a way to test new ways of playing these files. So if things look weird on this one, now you know.

I am not sure what is causing these problems. I'm certainly no web pro. But I can't figure out if it is the Yahoo music player that isn't functioning or the file hosting site. I've used two different file hosting sites, but whenever I try to play clip, it ends up not functioning. If anyone has suggestions, I'm all ears. Pun... intended?

What are you doing July 12th?

I don't know about you, but I'll be getting married.  Yep, married.

I'm sure I know the next question.  "You met her years ago online, then met for an amazing week in Paris. Later you even moved to Germany to be together.  So... how did you propose?" 

Ah yes, there we were in Switzerland over the Easter holiday.  We had just spent nearly a week driving from Tuscany to the Swiss Alps where we were to conclude our vacation with a few days skiing.  We reached the top of the slope and gathered ourselves for a few moments before taking off.  This was most likely our last run before heading home the next day.  It was late afternoon and the sun was getting low in the sky.  We leaned forward and pushed off.

Halfway down this particularly long run is a small chalet overlooking the valley.  It is a good place to stop and take in the view over a hot chocolate.  As we zigzagged downhill, we looked to one another and nodded.  Let's stop there for one last time.  We stood on the balcony sipping our hot chocolate and watching as the sun began to dip into the horizon.  I knew this was it.  I waited until her attention was drawn by passing skiers when I reached into my coat pocket.  When she turned back to look at me, I dropped to one knee and asked her to marry me.* 

If only it went like that.  It seems that all your life you think the moment is going to be something like that.  Some sort of grand, sweeping gesture.  A story your family can pass along for generations.  Well, I hate to say it, but ours came about in the most ordinary of fashion.  But then again, maybe we needed something like that, something ordinary.  As my sister said to me, there isn't that much ordinary about how our relationship came together and that maybe we've had enough of the "big" moments for the time being.  She may have a point there. 

Nope, this one came about during the course of a long conversation.  I'm not even sure what the original topic was.  I'm sure we were just talking about work, or to be more honest, complaining about work.  One thing led to another and eventually I said something like "we should get married."  "Ok!" she said.  And that was that.  I'm serious.

Thus began a flurry of activity, most of which involved running back and forth to the Standesamt (registry office) here in Cologne.  For all that we've read, it really was not as difficult a process as we had thought.  Either it really wasn't that difficult, or we have just built up a tolerance to a certain amount of bureaucracy here.  All in all, I think we counted three trips to the Standesamt together.  Although we thought we had all the necessary paperwork, it turns out we needed two other documents.  One was an officially translated version of my birth certificate.  That wasn't difficult to obtain, although it wasn't all that cheap.  The second document needed was an affidavit from the US Consulate stating that I am not currently married in the US.

Unfortunately, that meant an extremely early morning trip to Frankfurt where the nearest Consulate is located.  (There's actually one in Dusseldorf which would have been a lot more convenient, but apparently it is only for emergency situations.)  I made an appointment online using the consulate website.  I printed out the official appointment confirmation which seemed to threaten me with endless bureaucratic delays if I failed to show up for my scheduled time.  My appointment time was 9:30 in the morning.  Of course the Consulate is no where near the center of town so this meant dealing with local public transportation in Frankfurt as well.  After doing all the math, we decided we needed to be on a train around 6:30 in the morning.

Let me just say this.  If you need non-emergency Consulate services and are an American citizen, don't get so worked up about the appointment time.  When we arrived at the building nearly an hour early there was a huge line in front.   This line, however, was for non-US citizens seeking travel visas.  I was able to walk right up to the counter using the line for citizens.  I showed them my scheduled appointment and asked if I should come back later because I was too early.  Instead, he told me to walk right in.  So there you go.  I'm pretty sure I didn't even need to make an appointment.  I probably spent no longer than a half hour inside. 

For all my complaining about the people who work in the Auslanderbehorde, the people at the Standesamt in Cologne couldn't have been any friendlier.  But maybe that comes with the territory.  At one point, as we were signing some of the final documents, the official turned to me and asked (in German of course) "You do realize you are getting married, not simply buying a washing machine, don't you?"

We were told it would take 3-4 weeks before we could take the next step.  Instead, it only took about 2 weeks until the letter arrived stating that we could return to the Standesamt to pick out the wedding day.  We settled on the 12th of July. 

So that's it.  We've turned everything in. We've paid all the requisite fees.  We've bought the rings.  The only thing left to do now is wait.  If you're not doing anything on the 12th of July, why not swing by city hall and wish us luck? 

*Thanks to a good friend for inspiring that story.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Post game report

We had a great time at the game.  We sat up in the corner but still had a great view of the action.  The game ended in a 2-2 draw.  FC struck in the first ten minutes and for a little while it seemed like the rout might be on.  But it soon became apparent that FC was comfortable in their position.  They took their foot off the gas which allowed Freiburg to score once before the half and a second one shortly after the break.  There was quite a bit of whistling (that's booing here in Europe) from the crowd during the second half until FC knotted it up near the end of the game.  Both teams came away with one point.  FC was already safe from relagation, but the point really gave Freiburg something to celebrate.  They will be sticking around in the top league for at least another season.  The team applauded their fans who made the long trip to the game for at least 30 minutes or more.  I made some audio recordings which, time permitting, I may post up here in the next day or two.

Here's the "official" recap, and the better one.  

By the way, if you're looking for really good information and history on German soccer, I discovered this site Sunday morning.  Not only does he have an unbelievable amount of background information, there's also quite a healthy dose of sarcasm.  Don't be fooled by the basic layout, it really is a well written site.  Here's the page on FC.

And here's a few photos.

Das RheinEnergieStadion
Just before the start of the game everyone is up on their feet singing the team's hymn or fight song and waving their red scarves 
Action at the far end
 This one might make for a good caption contest

Action on our end

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Off to the game

Finally heading to my first FC Köln match this afternoon.  I'm pretty excited.  Not entirely sure what to expect.  The season is nearly over.  FC is safe from relagation, but today's opponents need to win in order to stay safe as well.  Hopefully FC doesn't roll over on this one.  But if the home team loses, well, I'm pretty used to that.  Here's today's matchup (scroll to the bottom) from the official league site.  And here's a better one - from an American site.  Oh the irony.  Hopefully I'll get a decent photo or two to post later.  Time to go paint my face.  (Just kidding.)

Friday, April 30, 2010

Stadtrundfahrt (city tour)

Wow - didn't know about this site.  The link just provided should hopefully give you a better idea of the scale of the Dom.  For those of you who have not yet been to Cologne, go ahead and make your own tour of the city.  While Google is still battling legal problems here, a local company seems to be taking advantage of the opportunity.  I always like how nice and clean Streetview is.  It is simple and easy to use.  This one seems a bit more cluttered but also offers a whole lot more information.  When I have a bit more time, maybe I'll find a few other viewpoints.  But for now, I'm off to work!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

So Runs the World Away

I'm going to do my best to keep pushing this guy on everyone.  When you have a good 55 minutes to sit back and listen, be sure to check this out:

NPR First Listen: Josh Ritter, "So Runs the World Away."

You can listen to the whole thing above via NPR until the album comes out next week.


Updated May 7, 2010.  You can go to NPR's site above, or just use this:

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Doo doo doo lookin' out my back door

Spring is finally here. I'm reminded of that every morning when I look out our balcony.  The sunsets are even better.  Of course I can't be allowed to enjoy the scenery like just about everyone else.  Yes, with all beauty came some of the worst allergies I've ever had in my life.  I've always had fairly rotten allergies, but I've become accustomed to them.  Until now.  The past couple of weeks have been pretty rough, but I think I'm finally getting over it.  I've read that this was going to be a particularly bad one here due to the long cold winter.  Instead of certain types of plants slowly waking up one by one, they've all gone and done it at the exact same time.  Lucky me.  Fortunately I've found a few sites which show how bad the day should be.  I prefer this one if only for its use of cute little bumblebees, or as they are called in German, Bienen (pronounced "bean-in"). Now when it looks bad, I can say "uh oh, it looks like another three Bienen day."

Other than the allergies, life here has been pretty good lately.  How good?  Well, for starters we survived that whole volcano ash monster situation entirely.  Without going into too much detail, She works in transportation and would have been swamped at work dealing with all the canceled flights and crowded trains.  Instead, She was a bit under the weather and was off work during all of Volcano-lypse 2010.  She returned to work the day everything went back to running smoothly.

We also found something I was ready to give up on long ago.  Italian sausage.  Despite living in a country that prides itself on its wondrous array of encased meats,  I could not for the life of me track down any Italian sausage.  This is hardly a staple of my diet, but it is definitely something I want on a pizza from time to time.  We asked everywhere.  Everyone just looked at us like idiots.  If you order "Italian style" pizza here, maybe you'll get something with salami on it.  If you're lucky, pepperoni.  But still, no Italian sausage.  I've eaten pizza with tuna fish only because the baked tuna fish has the appearance of sausage.  I was once so desperate I even ate this:

I began to think that maybe "Italian sausage" is just something that comes from the US.  Maybe it was made by Italian immigrants in the US?  I asked an Italian colleague in school however and he confirmed that it is very much an Italian product.  He also confessed that he was shocked that he couldn't locate it anywhere either. I made one last search online and found this place not too far from us.  Tucked away in a rather industrial neighborhood, they probably exist mostly for restaurant owners.  It took several tries and descriptions but we finally got it.  If you're jonesing for Italian sausage and think you might know a place to find it, don't ask for "Italian wurst," instead ask for "Italian bratwurst."  Who knew?

And yet, things continued to get even better.  Last Saturday we stopped at the local bakery to get a quick bite to eat before running some errands.  We found 20 euros on the floor on our way out.  We figured that was a good sign, seeing as later that day we would be announcing to our families that we will be getting married.  Whoa.  Did I mention that?  More on that later...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

One Banana, Two Banana, Three Banana, Four!

Watching VfL Wolfsburg vs Fulham right now in a UEFA Europa League game.  Besides the underdog factor, I also find myself pulling for Fulham because they have a pair of Americans on the team.  (They had a few more in past years.)  Of course now that I have the opportunity to watch, neither are playing tonight.  With just a few minutes left, it looks like Fulham has this one and is moving on in the tournament.

I wanted to watch a lot more games here, but unfortunately very few games are on regular TV.  League games require a subscription package.  Only these international games seem to be on regular TV.  Now, I'm not changing sides here but I have noticed something that creates a soft spot for Wolfsburg.  Every now and then the crowd breaks into a song whose melody was obviously stolen from the old Banana Splits show.  Yes, those Banana Splits.

I don't know if this song is common in German games, or just specific to Wolfsburg.  Nevertheless, Wolfsburg, you just might have a new casual fan.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Change of Time

Change of Time - Josh Ritter

I had a dream last night
I dreamt that I was swimming
And the stars up above
Directionless and drifting
Somewhere in the dark
Were the sirens and the thunder
And around me as I swam
The drifters who’d gone under

Time, love
Time, love
Time, love
It’s only a change of time

I had a dream last night
And rusting far below me
Battered hulls and broken hardships
Leviathan and Lonely
I was thirsty so I drank
And though it was salt water
There was something ‘bout the way
It tasted so familiar

The black clouds I’m hanging
This anchor I’m dragging
The sails of memory rip open in silence
We cut through the lowlands
All hands through the saltlands
The white caps of memory
Confusing and violent

I had a dream last night
And when I opened my eyes
Your shoulder blade, your spine
Were shorelines in the moon light
New worlds for the weary
New lands for the living
I could make it if I tried
I closed my eyes I kept on swimming

(rough seas, they carry me wherever I go)

P.S. You can download the above song for free off Josh Ritter's website.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

April 4th, 2007


Yes, I've been more than a little bit negligent. Those of you who may have followed regularly have probably given up by now. I wouldn't blame you. I nearly threw in the towel on this blog as well. There have been several times in which I wanted to post something but I never did.

It was a long, cold winter here and I'm glad to say that it is over.  Between our opposing schedules, the incredibly short daylight hours, and the surprisingly cold temperatures, I was in a bit of a funk for the last few months.  I never really believed in that whole seasonal affective disorder, but I wouldn't be surprised if I had displayed some of those symptoms over the winter.  Fortunately not only has the weather been changing lately, but so have our schedules.  We've been able to spend more time together and we've even gotten out for a few day trips.

For the moment I'm taking a break from German lessons.  I recently took the B2 level exam.  I have no idea how I did, although I have a pretty bad feeling about this one.  If I have time this week I'd like to stop by the school and see how I did.  While my daily lessons are done for now, I am still working a few days a week.  But if you are looking for an updated score, I'm afraid to say this game was probably called on account of the slaughter rule and stupidity months ago.

It has been nearly a year since I started this blog. Back in May I wrote about what brought me to Germany. It was a long story and one that I never got around to finishing.  Tomorrow is the fourth of April, an important date for us and one that gives me as good an excuse as ever to resume blogging and finish what I started.

Three years ago today I boarded a plan for Paris.  Up until this point, my life was pretty ordinary.  I worked.  I went to too many ballgames and concerts.  I hung out on Tuesday nights at a bar playing dominoes and pinball with friends.  I was approaching 30 although it might well have been 22.  Not much had changed.  But now I was on my way to what could very well have been the most awkward blind date of all time.

She took the train from Cologne to Paris.  I had to find my way from Charles De Gaulle to the center of the city.  We agreed on a time roughly an hour or so later than my flight's arrival.  The plane arrived on time and I made my way to the train.  Things seemed to be working out perfectly until I got to the train station at the airport.  The automated ticket kiosks were out of order and there was a monstrous line to buy tickets at the counter.  Fortunately we did not count on my mobile phone being able to work.  It didn't. 

I finally arrived at the St-Michel/Notre-Dame metro stop at least two hours later than planned.  I hustled up the steps and looked for the first glimpse of the Cathedral.  I guess when you plan something like this, you see it in your head like a movie.  Sunshine, blue sky.  Just the right amount of people walking around in the background like extras.  Stereotypical french accordion music.  I walk towards Point Zero and we see each other from across the square.  Happily ever after and all that stuff.

Instead I reach street level and what do I see?  Hundreds if not a thousands of tourists crawling all over the square.  "Well, yeah, stupid.  It's probably like the second most visited site in the whole city," I must have said to myself.  And it is cold.  And windy.  Really windy.  I make my way through the crowd, searching the ground for Point Zero.  It wasn't all that hard to find.  But now I'm standing there, nearly on top of the mark scanning the surrounding crowd for a somewhat familiar face.  I don't think she's here.  I wouldn't blame her, either.  It is cold and I'm several hours late.  Did we have a backup plan?  Looking back now, I am not really sure we did.  Now what?

And just then, when I am about to curse Charles De Gaulle airport and my mobile phone service (or lack thereof), she began to walk through the crowd.  She was there the whole time, sitting on a bench nearby.  In fact, she later told me that she saw me approaching the whole way from the Metro stop. 

I couldn't tell you what our first words in person to each other were.  I don't remember.  I know we hugged.  The whole moment was so surreal and, yes, even a bit awkward.  We had become such close friends through emails and phone calls but now we were finally face to face.  Where do you begin conversation in a situation like this?  She had been waiting a long time outside and I still remember how cold she looked.  I suggested that we find the nearest cafe and have a cup of coffee so that she could warm up a bit. 

After the coffee we went to find the hotel.  I had been to Paris a few times before so I fancied myself somewhat of an expert on getting around the city via the Metro.  Just a few stops later she asked if we were going in the right direction.  "Of course we are."  And so we continued.  A few more stops and I realized she was right.

Navigating the Paris metro with cumbersome luggage is not a fun experience.  Switching trains often means wandering down long hallways usually filled with small sporadic flights of stairs.  What I remember most from these first few hours together was the heavy rolling suitcase she had brought with being dragged up and down these stairs. 

So, I was several hours late.  I took us in the wrong direction.  What else could possibly go wrong?  We found out after checking into our hotel.  Way back when we first discussed meeting, I kept suggesting that she come with a friend.  I thought meeting up might be awkward enough and then being alone together might compound the problem.  But she persisted in coming alone.  We agreed to share a room in the hotel.  I booked a double room online - meaning a room with TWO beds.  What we got was a room with one double bed.  Exactly.  Now I felt like that guy.  Rather than dwell on the situation, we dumped our things in the room and immediately left in search of something to eat followed by a walk around the city. 

We found a bistro near the metro stop and took a table in the back.  At this point, I still remember everything seeming so unreal.  We really weren't talking much, or at least not like we had talked over the phone.  Eventually our food came.  The small talk and awkwardness continued.  I noticed she kept staring at something across the restaurant.  I finally asked what she had been staring at.  It was the pinball machine near the front door.  I hadn't noticed it when we walked in.  "I think it is Elvis Pinball," she said. 

Over the past year of getting to know each other, I told her about my Tuesday nights at the Skylark lounge in Chicago.  My friends and I would meet there somewhat regularly to play dominoes and pinball and generally have a few too many beers to drink.  We would call it the "Tuesday Torpedo" because it pretty much killed any productivity the next day.  Recently the bar had acquired this Elvis themed pinball machine.  It is a great game.  How could it not be? It has a hip-swivelin' Elvis built right in.  See for yourself.  I'll admit it, I'm an Elvis fan.  Though to be honest, maybe only a little more than casual.  She, on the other hand, is a big fan.  And the thought of my friends and myself playing this game must have left an impression on her. 

So there we were in this restaurant, having been together in person for only a few hours and not knowing what to say to each other.  "Elvis Pinball?  Really? Here?!"  I turned around and looked.  Sure enough it was. We quickly finished our meals, paid the check and went over to the machine.  We played several games over the next half hour or longer.  That was all it took.  The King had worked his magic.  We left the restaurant laughing.  All the awkwardness of the past several hours melted away and it was like it always was in emails or on the phone.

We boarded the Metro to head into the center of the city for a walk.  It was rush hour.  Crowded.  No seats available.  We were shoved into a corner by the door and had little space to move.  She couldn't reach for anything to hold on to.  I put my arm around her to keep her safe.  The rest as they say, is history.