The Sea Lady

I used the hour given to us this morning upon turning the clocks back to finish off Margret Drabble's The Sea Lady. It is a rather odd tale of academics and aging.

Two academics in their 60s are traveling to the (presumably, I can't find it on Wikipedia) northern coastal town of Ornemouth to receive honorary doctorates at the new university there, which is desperately trying to pretend that it is an old English university.  Humphrey, the marine biologist, and Ailsa (apparently named after the Scottish Ailsa Craig), the gender studies star, had spent a summer together as children here together with her brother and a friend.

Drabble switches perspectives from Ailsa to Humphrey to an irritatingly omniscient Public Orator, and we follow their respective trains of thought as they review their academic and personal lives - and tragedies - on the trip northward. Ailsa and Humphrey had been lovers and briefly married at one time.

The book was hard to follow as my usual read-a-few-pages-before-bed companion, but the last 70 pages or so - read this morning - did finally become fascinating, even if the ending I was envisioning did not present itself. The very few chapter divisions and typographical breaks when skipping over time make it hard to pick up the thread again. I suppose Drabble wants to draw us into the stream of consciousness and make us participate in the thought processes of the main characters. But I don't read books at one sitting anymore (okay, with the exception of Stieg Larsson during a summer's read-a-thon).

I long, somehow, upon finishing reading, to head right for the sea.



We saw the Swedish comedy Farsan (Daddy) by Josef Fares this evening in a well-visited film club in Berlin - in Swedish! Fares is the director of other comedies such as Kopps and Jalla, Jalla, both family favorites. I also saw Leo, a more serious film, a few years ago at the Berlinale.

Farsan features Fares father, Jan Fares, a Swedish actor of Lebanese descent as - what else? - the father. Such a charming macho, getting himself into all sorts of trouble. We were laughing and laughing at the embarrassing situations he was getting himself into.

Love, relationships, manliness, minorities: lots of topics and subtopics, but mostly just an enjoyable 90 minutes. Just noticed that it is available in English as Balls - oh my, yes, I have to giggle about the grilled sheep's testicles that play an important role in this. Aptly named, if I do say so!


Doctoral colloquium

Our engineering college does not have doctoral programs (none are allowed to grant doctorates in Germany). But there are some "friendly" universities that realize that a few of us actually are able to do some research, and have been reaching out to us. We even tried to get money together, but that was rejected because engineering colleges don't do Real Research (tm) by definition, so you can't be giving them money to start. They might get high and mighty.

Anyway, we decided to have a joint doctoral colloquium. We are from 5 institutions, 2 engineering colleges and 3 universites, and we had 7 doctoral students or prospective doctoral students speak about their work. Three called in sick at the last moment, so there was more time for the others. Some doctoral students showed up who were not presenting, just to see how this worked.

It was wonderful. It is something that I really, really miss. I have tried to re-create this situation in my thesis groups, but most students don't ask really hard questions, and not of each other. Each is just trying to make out the best they can for themselves.

Here the students presented - behind closed doors, so to say - their ideas, and got them shot full of holes, but by friendly fire. The discussions were delightful, with really interesting questions raised and not the pompous but-you-didn't-cite-me blather that goes on at conferences.

We decided that we want to do a repeat, even if we don't have funding. This is what I feel is real research: asking questions, looking for answers. I just wish it was easier to get funding for this.


Germany vs. Turkey

WiseMan and his soccer buddy took me to the soccer game Germany vs. Turkey last night in the Olympia Stadium in Berlin. The game had been preceded by a lot of hype, since Berlin is the second largest Turkish city, making this an "away" game for the German team, even though it was played in Germany.

The 75 000 tickets were sold out within minutes of the open selling, but WiseMan had luckily joined the DFB Fan Club in order to get tickets to the Women's World Cup. They are able to buy tickets a day before the general sales, and he managed to get 4 tickets. Poor WiseKid was at boot camp, but we had no trouble finding someone to come along.

The tickets warn: Singing section. That means that you are in with the Fans with a capital F. The game didn't start until 8.45 pm, but experienced soccer fans warned that early arrival was imperative. So we met at Bahnhof Zoo at 6.30, the trains were already packed with Turkish and German fans.

On the way out we were talking about the Tagesspiegel article on being German. I explained to the guest that I felt the same way, our guest expressed surprise. A young man standing next to us chimed in "Exactly! Even if my parents are from Turkey, I'm German! But they never let me belong." I explained my theory that for many these days, nationality is the same as loyalty to a sports club. For some: lifelong. For others: it can change. For a few: dual loyalty, and then when the clubs play each other, like THW Kiel and the Berlin Füchse a few weeks ago, these people are torn, but they survive!

The logistics of getting people into the stadium was well thought out, and we made it in with plenty of time before the game. The fan curve had presents laid out - we all got a white T-Shirt we were to wear, and we had paper sheets that we were to hold up when the teams take the field. Later on TV we saw that we spelled "Heimspiel", home game.

The Olympic Stadium is breath-takingly beautiful. The clean lines, the new roof over the seating, and the opening out towards the bell tower create quite a nice atmosphere, especially with all the seats taken. There was a bit uneasiness when some Turkish fans lighted some flares, and when some of the paper bits in our part caught fire on a tossed cigarette butt.

It is possible to see the players, even identify some of them. The Turkish fans were booing every time Mesut Özil, a German player from Gelsenkirchen with Turkish grandparents, touched the ball, although he had put on red shoes for the occasion. The German fans reacted by chanting his name, and he thanked them for that with a goal.

The male-female ratio in the fan area was similar to a computer science conference: there were a few other women there, but it was mostly a guy's thing. The fans did a lot of silly singing and waving of arms when the Germans had a corner kick. There were a couple of idiots who were singing "Deutschland über alles" instead of "Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit" during the national anthem, but it was all quite peaceful.

The Germans won 3:0, and the way home was quiet and subdued. The Turks were sad and the Germans wisely avoided provoking them. A lot of cops stood by to encourage people to shut up if they got a little frisky at the train stations.

It was an interesting experience, but I think I prefer to watch at home. There's instant replay, so that I can be doing something on the computer and just have to look up when something interesting is happening. There's no cigarette smoking at home. We have beer with alcohol in it, and an ice-cool schnapps for after the game. And you don't have to leave home 3 hours before the game, and come home in a train packed like a can of sardines!

Although we do have tickets for the Women's World Cup, so there is more coming....


Never really a German

The Berlin daily Tagesspiegel has an excellent article today about being German: Man wird nie Deutscher. A German business man and politician, Ozan Ceyhun, who was born in Turkey and fled as a teenager to Germany is having coffee with former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. Schröder invited people who were instrumental in getting him elected over for a visit.

Schröder settles in for a chat with Ceyhun, and asks him: "Why did your people vote for Erdogan, anyway?". That was the moment that made him decide to return to Turkey. You can work so hard to be German, but you are still always a Turk.

This is not just something that happens with Germans and Turks - it's about US vs. THEM. "Your people" can be blacks, women, Jews, Turks, Germans, Americans, whatever the speaker is not.


Off to the army

Yes, it's been rather quiet around here lately. We've been getting WiseKid out of his old apartment and off to the army at the same time the semester started. Sleep? When do I have time for that?

WiseKid reports on long hours at boot camp (they let them use their phones for half an hour evenings) and bad food in the mess hall. But he's in a room with a bunch of "cool guys", so that must make life bearable. And they didn't make him shave yet.

Hearing the news of the German soldier killed in Afghanistan today hits a bit closer to home, now that I have a German soldier in the family. I do wish they would pack up and get out of there. My condolences to the soldier's family.