Friday, June 16, 2006

Even with all the excitement of travelling to Greece, visiting some wonderful friends and seeing the sun again, J! and I have not forgotten easily the most important event in years for Germany, namely the Weltmeisterschaft! Despite being in Greece for the opening weekend, J! and I still managed to see three games while enjoying, of course, a sampling of some excellent Greek beers. Greece, not having a team in the WM this year isn't quite as frenzied as Deutschland, but we still managed to find quite a few fans who were amused that we were rooting for Germany rather than the US. Not that we're forsaking our homeland, but how cool would it be if Germany wins while we're living here??

The highlights so far have been Germany vs. Poland, in which German striker Oliver Neuville squeeked out a 1:0 win in the last minute of play and The Netherlands vs Ivory Coast, in which the Ivory Coast coach Henri Michel pulled off the lining on the bench in frustration (2:1, The Netherlands). Of special interest for Germany was the Mexico vs. Iran game (3:1). Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad caused a bit of nervousness among German officials by suggesting that if Iran did well he would personally pay a visit to the team to lend his support. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is well known for having publically doubted the Holocaust, which is a crime in Germany. Germany attempted to difuse the situation by declaring Ahmadinejad would be treated as a guest, but there was undoubtably a supressed sigh of relief among German politicians and World Cup officials when Iran lost to Mexico. Racism and football seem to go hand in hand and this is no different at World Cup, where far right neo-Nazis have already emerged to protest against Israel. In response to such demonstrations and to an upsurge in racist acts at soccer stadiums (particularly against black players), FIFA has made the fight against racism a visible point in the games so far, using, for example, "Say No To Racism" as a slogan on the field before the matches.

The Weltmeisterschaft has not only provided J! and I so far with endless entertainment every afternoon from 3 o'clock on, but has made us into local celebrities! After returning from Greece, we watched Germany vs. Poland at our local bar, Mombacher Treff. While settling into our bar stools to enjoy the first half of the game, the couple next to us leaned over to ask if we were rooting for Germany. We grinned and responded that we were, at which point they approvingly nodded their heads and asked where we were from. When told that we lived up the street, our (as it turns out) neighbor became very excited and replied that the bartender had mentioned to everyone that the two local Americans might come to watch one of the games. Success!! We have now gained the undying respect from one of the seediest bars in our neighborhood.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Ahhh, Greece! Home to a plethora of photographic monuments, the infamous cucumber and tomato salad and more marble than even Martha Stewart knows what to do with. Really, though, what could be better than jetting down to Athens to spend a week with old friends among ancient splendor and many, many headless statues? As it turns out, not much.

Embarrassingly, it readily became apparent that J! and I actually know very little about Greece, modern or ancient. We arrived at one in the morning and were greeted by Iosefina and Gabriel at the airport. On the car trip back to their apartment they inquired about what sights we were interested in tackling first. J! and I exchanged glances in the back seat. Having just bought a guide book the day before we had more or less no idea what to do with our week in Greece's capital city. Fortunately for us, our friends were able to direct us to all the best spots in the surrounding area.

Sounion: Cape Sounion is home to what's left of a huge temple dedicated to Poseidon. There's also the remains of a smaller temple for Athena, but we spent most of our time contemplating the view and taking silly photographs. Sounion is gorgeous. The temple sits on a high hill facing the Agean Sea and it is proof positive that the ancient Greeks, along with philosophy and political science, were pioneers in coastal real estate development.

Hydra: This island is about an hour and half by boat outside of Athens. The island itself is quite large but due to lack of water only a small bay is inhabited. Because the village is built onto relatively steeply sloped hills, there are no cars on Hydra. Instead, locals get around via donkeys and their own two feet. Hydra's entire economy seems to subsist on donkey rentals and the selling of sunscreen at exorbitant rates to sunburnt tourists. The charm of the place has made this a popular island get away among Greek literati, so it was the perfect place for two literature aficionados like me and J!.

Epidaurus: Epidaurus as a town doesn't really exist--instead, the place is home to a collection of ancient ruins that once formed a major healing center. Unless you are an archeologist, though, the big draw of Epidaurus is not the Sanctuary of Asklepios. Instead, tourists go by the busload to climb all over the Theater of Dionysus. The Theater is one the largest in Greece and can hold about 12,000 spectators. Despite the size, though, the acoustics are almost perfect, as tour guides are eager to point out repeatedly. While we wandered around three different guides dropped coins and keys on the cement disc at the center of the stage. Incredibly, even while standing at the top of the theater you can still hear the coin hit the cement.

Nafplio: This beautiful coastal town was the original capital of Greece. They switched, however, because the Acropolis was a more impressive tourist attraction than the Palamidi Fortress. The fortress drapes gracefully down the side of the large hill above the town and offers great vistas of the bay and the Bourtzi (the small fort in the middle of the bay). Nafplio is one of those towns where the whole point is to simply hang out with friends, relax along the boardwalk with some tasty drinks and then go shopping in the downtown district.

Temple of Zeus. The fallen pillar was knocked down in 1852 by wind during a bad storm.

J! at the Tower of the Winds in the Roman Agora.

The real reason ancient and modern tourists visit the Stoa in the Agora--the free bathrooms and drinking fountains.

The stunning Acropolis.

A car some student protestors burned. We accidentally got pepper sprayed later.

Thanassis, Gabriel, Iosefina and Kristos serenade us with some traditional Greek songs.

The Temple of Poseidon at Sounion.

The view from the Temple.

The thing about Greece--you don't really want to touch anything that looks old, since for all you know you're wiping your sunscreened hands all over an important cultural artifact. Iosefina and Gabriel had no such qualms. They're allowed to sit on a capital of a fallen column, though, 'cause they're locals.

Hydra locals load a motor onto a donkey. I don't think the irony was lost on them.

Beautiful Hydra.

Me, standing in the middle of a "road" in Hydra.

J!, listening for the coin drop at the Theater of Dionysus.

The Bourtzi

Palamidi Fortress

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

D attempts to sink a ship cruising off the coast of Hydra.

J prepares his attack on the Acropolis.

Yes, we're back in Germany... but what happened in Greece? Did these events work out as planned?

Updates coming soon.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Admittedly, we're not the greatest soccer fans here at Dotde, though this has more to do with a sheer American ignorance (regarding football) than with any best sport worst sport least boring sport least exciting sport in the world qualifications. After watching a few Mainzer 05 games and the Champion League finals, we're getting to know a few of the characters, and just seeing the game played at such high levels has helped us come around.

So as next Friday's 3:00 (EST) initiates the first installment of the 2006 FIFA World Cup, our attention will be rapt on Munich's opening game: Deutschland-Costa Rica. Ironically, D and I won't be in Germany for the party, as we're leaving for a week in Greece a couple of hours from now. Nonetheless, in a contemporary re-enactment of Prometheun defiance to attain life's necessities*, we'll try to steal satellite TV access from the Greek gods in order to watch our interim-country take on the Costa Ricans in a game that's sure to begin with pomp and ceremony and ignite the Germans into rousing sing-a-longs.

And if this is the first you've read of the coming tournament, perhaps you need to look around for a better news source. Germany is abuzz with advertisements (even for wrinkle cream!: Look alive while you watch your team!), special deals, and venues to watch the proceedings as they proceed. I don't think there's a bar in Mainz that's not showing the game, and I can't wait to watch the gimmicks appear as owners realize that it's not that special to turn on the TV. Are we talking beer discounts? Half-price appetizers? We here will feast.

That said, if you're coming to Mainz in the next few weeks, drop by Domplatz (you can't miss seeing the Dom in Mainz, you can't miss seeing Domplatz) to watch the game on the big screen that'll be stationed there most the month. Also check out some of the favorite eateries, such as Pomp, Eisgrub, and Mombacher Treff, as they set up mini-projectors and serve tasty treats. If you'll be in Frankfurt, drop by the Main River and watch a game on a floating screen. Wherever you are, try the Pils, yes, but also try the Hefeweizen because we endorse it more (and by "endorse," I mean "drink"). And if you need a little more education about the contenders strutting the fields, check out this analysis in the New York Times: If not Brazil, Who? For those actually making the trip here to watch a game, NYT's city guide for match hosts will provide a brief introduction, starting with Berlin.

And to make it even better, my family will be out for the final match in Berlin. Of course, we'll be staying around Mainz, but the entire Klamka collective will be in attendance to watch the U.S. perform an upset. So if you're looking for a prediction, that's my advice: pull for your country (but please enjoy watching Brazil).

*you try to bridge the humorless gap between our visit in Greece and the start of the World Cup.