Finally, Winter!

I'm in Sweden for a few days, and finally there is some snow! It started last night, didn't get going until during the day today, we now have a good 10-15 cm out there - and the wind blowing, piling it up all over the place. Trying to shovel is rather useless, it just gets blown back.

I was grading papers about 19.00 when the electricity went off. The lights flickered back 2-3 times, and then all was darkness. No problem, I still have my Year-2000-emergency kit around, and the wood-burning stove is going.

First order of business was the flashlight - right where it should be and fully loaded. Got some water (before the battery dies) in some pots, put one on the stove for tea, and got out the candles. Matches are there, too, but the candleholder is gone! No, I do not want to trek over to the other building to see if it is there. I try alternative holders such as the weights. Darn, the hole is too big. I get lucky, it is on the junk table.

I soon have the candle on, tea lights all over the place, the fire stoked up, and start cooking. Yes, you can even cook on this stove, it has a flat top. Luckily I was planning on veggie soup. And it works, takes a good bit longer than normal, but I have nice hot tea and soup for dinner.

Funny, I feel so sleepy in the darkness, and take a little nap. The lights are still off when I awake with a start, so I get going doing the dishes by candlelight, the water I put on the stove right after cooking is nicely hot.

And then the lights come back on - rats, it was so nicely old-fashioned, working by candlelight. Nice to know that the back-up system works so well.

Now I have to get back to correcting papers....


Antwerpen, Belgium

Thanks to the EU teacher mobility program, I got to spend a few days in Belgium, teaching at a college in Antwerpen. It has been a long time since I was in Belgium, I have really only ever been traveling through. But since we have this exchange program, lots of their teachers have been to our school, and my best friends moved to Antwerpen this summer, I decided it was time for me to visit there.

My first impression: how on earth do the handicapped get around in this place? Construction is everywhere, the traffic is wicked, the trams have a big step up, and the houses are only about 6 meters wide (but 3-4 stories high), meaning you go up and down stairs a lot. I suppose this is good for the heart, which will help burn off the calories consumed when you enjoy some Belgian foods such as frites (not to be confused with French Fries) or those wonderful pastries made with a ton of butter. The Belgian beers are quite something, I had a nice Trappist beer on tap from a microbrewery, it was actually very good.

The Belgians eat sandwiches for lunch, it seems, as that was about the only thing (beside fattening pastries) that you could get at the school cafeteria. The international office plied me with pots of coffee as I used one of their computers during breaks (many colleagues were off sick because of this flu going around Europe). We made great food then in the evening, then being so full we could barely roll ourselves up the stairs.

On Friday one of the colleagues who had often visited us (and who is now retired) gave me the grand tour of Antwerpen and the little town he lives in. Since the weather was so nice, he drove me to the sculpture garden Middelheim, which is open free of charge. The town holds a sculpture contest every year and purchases the winners for display in these gardens. There are sooooo many wonderful sculptures here, it is hard to tell which is my favorite. Some are funny, some are sad, some are haunting, some are puzzling. I could spend days here. I took a bunch of photos, uploaded them to Flickr. The one I labeled with "naked" had about 15 views within the first couple of minutes. People must have a subscription to this key word.....

The little town we visited, Lier, was very quaint, much has been rebuilt or survived the bombs. The town has the "three B's" that a Belgian town needs - a belfry (to call out the troupes in case of attack), a convent-like place for rich people to park their daughters called a Beguinage, and a brewery. A river runs through town, apparently the fish market is still used once a week with fish being sold from boats (although after seeing the harbor water on the Schelde where the atomic power plant and all the shipping is, I don't think I want to have fish any more).

The most fascinating place in Antwerpen was the printing museum, one of the oldest and largest printing houses in Europe was situated here. The original house has been restored and is chock-full of printing stuff and old books. As the daughter of our friends said: They have more books here than you have! indeed, and they have some very valuable ones like the Biblia Polyglotta, a Bible printed in 5 languages at once. The stencil-and-die for my favorite typeface, Garamond, was on display (on account of it being made here), and some guy called Rubens (yes, that Rubens) used to make book front pages and painted lots of the family members here. There were some copies on display, too: how on earth did Rubens manage to catch the sparkle of light? It is so very clear which ones are from him, what genius.

On the way back to the airport we took a detour through the harbor. This is the price for our prosperity, a horrible landscape. Oil is refined right here, there are lots of chemical plants, the harbor of Antwerpen shifts the second largest amount of tonnage a year in Europe. We walked around the fort of Lillo on the Schelde, you can walk out on a bridge a good ways into this tidal river. The waters churn beneath you at a fast pace, switching direction every 6 hours. This is not a good place to go swimming, the undertow is ferocious.

So many nice things I didn't get around to seeing - I guess I'll have to come back!


After the World Cup

Something's missing..... the anticipation of the next game, will we make it, will we win? Is anything left of the Handball World Cup?

Well, NDR did broadcast the entire game THW Kiel vs. HSV, including a pre-game show repeating the player's talk show appearances and a half-hour profile of the trainer, Heiner Brand. Very nice.

The World Champion Players, three to a team (Henning Fritz, Christian Zeitz and Dominik Klein for THW Kiel, Pascal Hens, Thorsten Jansen and Stephan Schröder, who didn't get to play but was ready and waiting, for HSV) were given a flower and a cake before the game.

The cameras are learning how to broadcast handball, unfortunately they don't pan fast enough to get the THW Kiel first wave goals. Oh well, it was a great game, back and forth, Pascal Hens was really hot and that old fox Christian Zeitz was digging for balls and throwing quite fancy goals. It ended 33:33, pretty nice actually, and a big plus for HSV, who have never won in Kiel since they moved from Bad Schwartau to Hamburg, so they split the points - meaning THW had to move down to second place in the standings.

Oh, and I got me a nice souvenier: a piece of the floor in the Köln Arena on which the final game was played. Proceeds to go to handball youth work, I am a sucker for stuff like that, I ordered one right away. I'll post a picture when it comes.


Hertha for the ladies

OMG. My husband was reading the nasty, sarcastic commentary from the "Berliner Zeitung" to me this morning as I was getting breakfast, so I had to have a look before pouring coffee.

I shouldn't have done that, don't look at this page on an empty stomach....


Hertha, the Berlin major league soccer team has discovered that women like soccer. So there is now a page "just for women".

Just applying the basics from my course this semester in "Gender & Computing" is enough to make you really angry and want to mailbomb their site:

  • The logo-lady had long blonde hair and breasts that would seriously impair any attempt to play sports on account of gravity. We actually wear sports bras when playing to keep the bounce down. Her blue tricot has a bow on it ....
  • The title of the home page is "Startseite". Okay, they've just been through HTML-for-beginners and haven't learned how to set a useful title.
  • Someone seems to have glanced through the gender literature and picked up: women prefer lifestyle. So there's a menu point lifestyle. Now, if you are interested in soccer, this is a special kind of life style, so I clicked on it curiously - and find beauty tips for keeping my skin fresh and young during all that time spent outdoors in the wind and weather watching a game. Duh.
  • Picture caption: "Gut gestyled ins Stadion". Check with a Duden. If you are using English verb forms inside of German verb constructions you would want to have a "t" on the end of that verb and not a "d".
  • One thing they got right - interviews with the players. But the focus is on gorgeous pictures of the guys half-naked (okay, we'll at least tolerate that). Oh, just one guy on the list for now, but maybe we'll get more. And the interview is crocked - they ask twice when he gets up in the morning, once he gets up at 8, once at 10. The - I suppose - more interesting question: does he already have a girlfriend? - is not asked.
  • Playlists of the players for your own MP3 and online shop, wow. So I can listen to the same music as the players. And get me a "fitted" tricot that fits my supposed amazing chest size.
  • Scroll down a bit - "Die Regel des Monats", rule of the month. The offside rule is explained. Um, gee guys, if women are interested in soccer, I bet they already know that there are 2 teams playing in opposite directions, that the ball is played with the feet or head or anything but hands, and what offside is. "Abseits ist wie Schuhkauf", offside is like shopping for shoes. I am speechless.
  • Missing in action: when is the next (home) game? The standings! Hertha is actually not in danger of relegation to the minor leagues this year, but no hint of that here.
Check out the guys page, I took the German branch after the pics loaded.

Okay, so we have incompetent web designers here, guys who want to show off all the different HTML and Flash tricks they have learned. . I count 27 different content/navigation frames, unnecessary animation, font-o-rama, hidden extra navigation frame, deep digging necessary to answer the simple question: how do I get to the stadium???


We've got a long way to go....


Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Made the mistake last year of taking a "my-choice" subscription to the theater. It means I can choose any 10 plays I want. The problem is, I have to choose rather far in advance, and knowing when I will be free is not easy. I actually liked the "take-what-you-get" subscription. They announce it to you 6 weeks in advance, and you get one option to move the date. Otherwise, you just put it on your calendar, the tickets come in the mail and you go. I've had some great seats and plays, and some really, really awful ones. I think it was after we got the third "Boulevard-Theater" in a row that we cancelled that, though.

Anyway, we've been trying to get tickets to the German version of Tennessee Williams "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" playing at the Lehniner Schaubühne - been sold out since it opened. Last night was the night (and we even met a fellow handball club member, seems we all have to get some culture after all that sports excitement).

The audience is not let in until a few minutes before the start, and the noisy children (the "neckless monsters", TW does have a good feeling for words!) are on the stage already singing. They are singing in English, but they are singing the song backwards. Don't know if there is a point to this, but in case anyone reads this from the play, the words go: "I love the mountains, I love the rolling hills, I love the flowers, I love the daffodils, I love the fireside, when all the lights are low, Boom-dee-ah-da, Boom-dee-ah-da, Boom-dee-ah-da, Boom-dee-ah-da". Repeat ad nauseum. Sang it every single summer for hours on end at Jumonville camp (goodness, it still exists and has a home page!).

Anyway, everyone gets settled and the play gets going. The stage uses the same bits of modern doors/windows they use for all the plays about the lies we live in behind closed doors. But they have this big bird cage on top - bird flu be damned. They had had some crows in there (which would be very fitting, crow on the cradle and all that), but some animal activists screamed and now they have a buzzard. It just perches there, gets videos shown on it, and watches us watching him. Or her.

The main character, Maggie (the cat), is good, but not really quite the bitch that TW has written into the piece. Her lines are wonderfully sarcastic. Elizabeth Taylor was perfect for this part in the movie with Paul Newmann as the alcoholic ex-football player Brick.

The name of the play/movie comes from a bit of dialogue between Maggie and Brick:

  • Maggie - You know what I feel like? I feel all the time like a cat on a hot tin roof.
  • Brick - Then jump off the roof, Maggie. Jump off it. Cats jump off roofs and land uninjured. Do it. Jump.
  • Maggie - Jump where? Into what?
Exactly - where are you to jump? Turn into your sister-in-law, dropping babies once a year? Turn into your mother-in-law, an overbearing women living another happy-family lie? Get a baby of your own from a guy who does not really love you and drinks far too much? Getting a job and a life of one's own was not an option in the 50s.

The booklet for the play has a piece by Catherine Tice called "Is Tennessee here?" about meeting TW. One sentence rather sums it up, I'll put in a second to add some context and note that I am translating back from the German:
Up until now my father had not met the great man. He admired Williams above all others, as many did in his generation, those who opened up to their homosexuality in the Seventies, who drank too much and constantly rejected their families and wrestled with the burdon of their own self-hatred.
I am reminded of the title of a book by Douglas Coupland: "all families are psychotic". Maybe we just have to accept that our families made us what we are - good or bad or inbetween - and get on with our lives, in turn making our own children miserable.

Anyway, it was entertaining, but those chairs at the Schaubühne are not suitable for people with back problems, take a pillow with you.


And the Winner is ... Germany!

It wasn't exactly a beautiful game. Both Germany and Poland were exhausted from all the games. They really need to cut back on the number of games and have this every four years instead of every two. I am glad that they have moved the start of the major league handball games from Tuesday. They'll all still be hung-over on Tuesday and have a hard time getting back to normal crowds (2-6000 instead of 19000).

But they did it, by force of sheer willpower and muscles. All of the players in the top four are great players. So determining the best one is quite difficult. Things were moving along nicely (with a bit of jitters here and there and Poland in the lead for a few moments at the beginning) when Henning Fritz fell to the ground. He had no contact with another player or the ball, but the split that he was doing in the air ripped at his shin muscles.

Jogi Bitter was suddenly called on to do duty for his country. The rest of the team was quite shaken up and let the Poles come within one goal of tying the match - that would have been dreadful, psychologically. But then Bitter began keeping balls out of the goal, and the Germans didn't throw away quite so many balls, and it was comfortable enough for us to breathe freely 2-3 minutes before the game was over. The Poles realized they were goners and didn't even try the usual desperate tricks at the end. They were happy with second place, as they had been aiming for seventh (seventh and above qualifies for the Olympics).

I thought it was great that the team put on moustaches in honor of the trainer, Heiner Brand. The gold crowns were kind of corny, but they were so happy, spritzing all that expensive champagne (or perhaps German Schaumwein?) all over each other. Enjoy it guys, Germans forget quickly.

I liked the comment one of the football gods had in the Berliner Zeitung this morning: I felt like women used to feel when watching soccer. What are they doing? Why does that not count? I had no idea what the rules were, but this was an exciting sport and I wanted to know more.

Now, if the DHB could just post the addresses of local clubs, we might get some more kids playing handball, wanting to be Pascal Hens or Christian Zeitz or Henning Fritz when they grow up! As it is, their web shop is a good (bad) example for usability class next semester and the uniform shirts are already sold out. They can't even make a buck on this thing!

My blog has suddenly attracted comments from one or more anonymous cowards: "How much did the Nazi pay the referee to win WC?" I realize that many of the referee's decisions were disputed and can sometimes be shown to be wrong on instant replay. But these referees must make soooooo many decisions and concentrate every second of the game, counting steps, looking for pushing or ball errors and what-not. There were many calls against Germany that I felt were unfair, but that is all forgotten now. Oh, and the equation "Nazi" = "Germany" is wrong and has been for quite some time now.

Another anonymous coward: "The referees are sooo corrupted that it is redicolous to watch." There are good dictionaries available online. The coward continues: "sport has become a matter of money you buy your success (in this case help from the retarded refrees)". If you knew how little money there actually is in handball - I think the yearly budget of THW Kiel, one of the largest clubs, is about 6 million Euros or about the size of a minor league soccer club, you would realize that they don't have money for such a thing. If they had had money, they would have maybe bought an ad or two. Luckily, the national team has done plenty to make the games known.

I want to commend the referees for a fine job - despite being angry at the odd decision (and innerly applauding at the raising of the blind flags during one of the games), the referees did a great job here! And without referees, handball would go from organized and orderly fighting to an all-out brawl.


Handball Public Viewing - Part 2

So Germany made it to the semi-finals in handball, and the country is beginning to realize that something is happening. The paper noted this morning the Mercedes-Benz would be having a public viewing this afternoon, so I decided to give it another try. I would leave the lab early and hope for a parking space.

Today everyone at least knew why I had black/red/gold on, and wished the team good luck. Or maybe it was because I decided to get decadent and actually hung that German flag on the window of my car. It's not bad, really, I can't see it when I drive :)

There was plenty of parking - I also had the wrong street and had to walk a good ways. The car showroom is very fancy (orchids all over the place), but the screen is very big, there are two levels and there is food and drink to be had. And it is not raining. You have to get a flag crayoned on your face to get in, but otherwise it is free.

And there are more than 9 people here.

Of course, that is because the Berlin handball team, Füchse, are there. Such young, quiet, shy, good-looking, tall guys - not like when they are out on the floor. People actually come streaming in, the place fills, but is not overcrowded.

The game begins, the moderator from the Füchse finally shuts up and turns on the TV sound. People are genteel - these are very refined surroundings. But as the game proceeds, the camera people milling about finally get what they want - fan emotion. In a way the cameras are a nuisance. But then, they will be getting publicity for handball, which is what it really needs right now.

Half-time. Get up, walk around, stand in line for refreshments, take part in the drawing, shake the mascot's paw.

And back to the nail-biting game. It ends, dramatically, in a tie. While the teams rest a few minutes before overtime, the moderator at the public viewing tries to interview people. He shoves a microphone in the face of the Füchse trainer, asking him for his opinion. He tells the moderator to leave him alone, and everyone claps.

As the overtime begins, we are suddenly a crowd of fans - celebrating each and every goal for Germany, groaning and cursing at anything good that happens to the French. Every referee call that the crowd feels is wrong is booed. The TV shows a section at the stadium that gets out flags with the symbol for the blind on them. Everyone has a good laugh at that.

It comes down to the wire, still tied. Marcus Baur gets a 7-meter attempt, I can't look! He sinks it, and everyone goes wild!!!! But now the French have to be blocked for a minute or so. Fritz manages one, the French flub around with suddenly one player too many on the field, but still get to throw the ball those last three seconds - and fail. The crowd erupts - almost wanting to hug each other, but we are refined and genteel and stop just short of falling in each other's arms.

On the way home I am suddenly overtaken by the desire to drive up and down the Ku'damm, hanging flags out the window and honking my horn. Where does this come from???? Well, doing it alone will surely get me some police attention, so we'll wait for Sunday. One more game to win, and then Project Gold has been a success,