Three Little Pivos went to Prague.


Prague Design © Alissa Nelson

As I ponder whom to grant the rights to the film which will tell the story of my Year Abroad, here is the 41st entry from my online diary. It’s much like that of Samuel Pepys, but with more reporting on beer and babes and less whinging on about fire and plagues.

The long weekend played host to the second trip to the Czech Republic, I’m referring to my second visit since the voyage last year in which I spent a similar four day trip with Leeds Legends: Adam, Angus, Alex, Miles and Vinnie (a Glasgow Legend), to mention but a few. My outlook was positive but last year’s perfect weather, enchanting company, comfort and central situation of our accommodation, outrageous puns on the word Czech, nosebleeds, having our ears twisted by bouncers, not to mention the sheer novelty would prove hard to top. Although I find it difficult to compare the two, what the two trips did have in common (as do many of my ventures now I come to think of it) they shared the universal goal; immersion in the culture of the place. This included the synagogues, bridges and castles as well as getting to sample the fine delicacies of Central Europe, the most famous of which must be the sharp and refreshing local beer. In this case, we were looking to satiate our greedy thirst for that fine nectar: Czech Pilsner.

On Thursday we made the most of our bank holiday and trotted off to Prague. Techno Tilmann and I met Georges “of the Jungle”, Pol-Jean (who I would be about to refer to as Sean-Paul for the following 100 hours) Party Pierre and Julie la Jolie at Munich Hauptbahnhof. It’s safe to say we were all fed up of the atrocious weather in Munich, not that it would be any better elsewhere but at least it would be different. Needless to say, it rained cats and dogs all weekend. Jokes about English weather being even worse were funny the first hundred times and then after that 100 mark they started to lose that je ne sais quoi. Despite my persistence, no-one paid attention to my cries as I tried to explain that it was actually BBQ & Pimms weather across the channel. In the English way, I would on no account let weather put a dampener on things.

On the Friday afternoon after a controversial scaling of the castle walls and being given a light scolding by Czech military police, we trotted off to the Charles Bridge where I leaned against the bridge à la Spencer with raised eyebrows and pouted lips. This was our chance to enjoy the two or so hours of sunshine that we would see all weekend. As I looked over the city I felt nostalgic and remembered commandeering pedalos and racing each other, Angus whacking out the cigars, sitting on the island etc. At that moment, out of nowhere appeared a good friend of ours: Disco Dave had arrived! He had stopped off during his little tour of Germany stopping over at his parents, then to Heidelberg, to Bonn and to Halle before taking his final Mitfahrgelegenheit to the former Czechoslovakia. When he joined, the three of us were an unstoppable force who many people tried unsuccessfully to reckon with. The evening came and we ventured out on the town to indulge in Prague’s stag-do/hen night culture that attracts hordes of tattooed Italian men and shameless numbers of Brits.

The highlight of Saturday has to be waking up, one beer turning into seven and having one of the best conversations of my life with these two men: Disco Dave and Techno Tilmann, each distinguished in their own right. All three of us are from three completely different worlds, yet have bonded so closely in the time we’ve spent together as Lords of the Frankfurter Ring in Mordorstraße. I can’t and won’t divulge the contents of the discussion but it was dynamic, intimate and showed just what great friends I’ve made during this academic year – I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. Unfortunately, we only made it 500m away from the apartment and once sozzled, we lured into a fantastic Italian restaurant where we gorged on pizzas the size of small tables.

“No women, just music”

~Techno Tilmann.

My Czech vocab remained basic without the trusty notes in Kittler’s wallet, he took a slightly Dizzier more Rascalous attitude to the language when he taught us how to ask someone to dance: “Tanchich?” My confidence in the Czech language has now soared and I am please to announce I can now toast to people’s health: “Nasravi!” and I through this, I rather unsurprisingly got to know the word, for beer which is “Pivo“.

On the Sunday we packed onto the train back to Munich, fairly shattered and looking forward to a proper shower, not a cold Eastern European one. As luck would have it, the poor quality of the train would mean that we got what we wished for. We were experiencing the Czech railway at its finest, a free shower as the roof collapsed and we were being rained on. Luckily I’m a man of action and set about fixing the problem on hand. Like TinTin, I reached out for Pol-Jean’s umbrella and with a bit of percussive maintenance, I was able to prop the brolli between two suitcases and we were sheltered. What we then realised was that all we had done was offload the problem onto our fellow passengers. Thankfully, the roof decided to man up and we were comfortable-ish for the rest of the journey apart from the occasional dribble, it was nothing compared to the initial splash and it didn’t phase us. Our experience was in fact a drop in the ocean compared to those who live in flood-stricken areas in Germany and the Czech Republic. The newspapers reported it to be the worst flood for a hundred years.

Sometimes in life, you are really glad to see an old face. That’s why I was really happy to see my old mate Hugo, I should use his proper name: Hugo from the Yacht Club. Hugo is underway on some sort of Euro-trip and because he’s Hugo he managed to weasel up to a charming girl called Helen who he met doing a ski season at “Anton”. Helen strikes me as the sort of girl who knows how to network and they have been able to visit a great deal of interesting people so far. I managed to introduce him to loads of people as we went to watch The Great Gatsby with Charleen, Nelli, Jenny and Ricardo. We then popped into Die Bank for drinks with Nath. An emotional goodbye was exchanged as it was our last night out together in Munich, although the real wet kisses will come on Monday as he jets back to the UK and prepares for his trip to South America. It won’t be the same without him. We’ve had a great 10 months together.

My website of the week is www.viveras.com – all Erasmus students should take a look at it.

viveras

It’s the weekend again and the weather has improved drastically. Vitamin D, swimming trunks, jogging, beer with David and a couple of Maß with Chris at the Seehaus were all called for. I’m currently playing Nelly’s “Hey Porsche” on full blast in the BMW apartment block which is the automotive equivalent of reciting Thine Be the Glory whilst on tour in Mecca. But hey, even if my choice in music is poor, nothing will stop me enjoying the summer which has finally arrived. Munich still has lots to offer.

If you made it this far…congratulations. Maybe it’s time to go and do something productive for a change?

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Munich Half Marathon.


mim

Ein Schriftsteller ist ein Mann, dem das Schreiben schwerer fällt als allen anderen Leuten.

~Thomas Mann

Good old Thomas – he knew a thing or two. The reason I have started with this quote is because it perfectly encompasses what I feel about writing. It explains how writing is more difficult for a writer than for everyone else but if you want a slightly more literal translation – it would go something like this: “A writer is a man for whom writing is more difficult than it is for all others”. Regardless of this I’ve got down to writing the blog this week and will be informing the reader of the main event, being the Marathon.

But first I would like to make an observation about luck. “That was lucky” you’re thinking – it’s just what I want to read about. The reason I want to write about this word is that it interests me greatly. There’s much talk in life of luck but noone agrees on what it is. People who are lucky seem also to be happy. Does that just depend on your perception? Does even feeling lucky, even if you aren’t, make you somehow more lucky? Either way, it’s happiness that most people seem to be trying to achieve. If you make your own luck, then does that mean you are also responsible for your own happiness too? What got me thinking about this was the Germans don’t distinguish between the two. Well, of course, it depends on the context, but the word for luck and happiness is the same: Glück. Naturally this was a pain for the translators of the film Happy-Go-Lucky  which ended up with the hopeless title of Unbeschwert, Sorglos, Leichtlebig (lit. blithe, carefree, easygoing).

I’ve also been very lucky in my life and I’m glad that I was lucky enough to participate in the Munich Half Marathon, something which I didn’t expect myself to want to do. Sometimes you meet people in life who inspire you and make you want to be a better person. You could say this has happened to me.

The big run.

On Sunday morning Ludo and I arose to run the Half Marathon. To our surprise, the weather was glorious and Munich was alive with colour for the first time since I can remember. The Germans were taking things quite seriously and were well kitted out, many choosing to sport tight running-wear, bright colours, Lara Croft-style belts with navigation systems, water bottles and lots of unnecessarily technology strapped onto them. It was at this moment in time when I realised, to my disappointment, that my socks weren’t matching. Awkward.

True to form, Ludo was one of these very well prepared people in lycra and a fluorescent top shining brighter than the sun. There was no worry of losing sight of him at least!

Highlights of the run included running into Ludo as he started to walk and pushing him until he began to run again. I also remember getting carried away in the moment and bellowing “Das Leben ist ein Marathon!” at some spectators in a bid to hype myself up for the final lap. The most mixed emotion I felt during the run occurred when I was overtaken by a man who must have been in his seventies who was brandishing crutches and screamed words of encouragement at me as he sprang haphazardly past me like a fearless mountain goat.

The run was harder than expected and my biggest challenge came when I tried to speed up on the final lap, I had zero gas left. I have utmost respect for those who have completed twice the distance the London Marathon etc. My time of 2hrs 6 minutes is distinctly unimpressive but I met my challenge which was not to walk at any point. Anyway I guess it’s all about the taking part that counts and the money raised for GOSH. Thanks again to all those kind donations from family and close friends, it means a lot. The page is still live so if you still feel like parting with a few pennies then head straight to http://www.justgiving.com/marcus-fabian.

Thanks go out especially to Angus who gave me great advice for training and to Anna who (albeit coincidentally) supported on the day. Thanks guys.

We are in Germany so it was almost inevitable that the run would be sponsored by a beer, even if it was a non-alcoholic one.

What better excuse to head down to the last evening of the München Frühlingsfest, the fourth beer festival of the year. Ludo and I had planned to celebrate with a couple of Maß in the Augustiner Zelt. Amazingly, Ludo and I managed to not see each other at Oktoberfest at all, not even once. Despite being there simultaneously we were both too inebriated to meet, at one point even both being in the same tent and still failing to coordinate a successful RV. The spring festival is of course much smaller than the Wies’n, but nevertheless we got a load of people down to the fest and celebrated our achievement the only way the Bavarians know; with litres of beer and an awful band. The Sunday evening was unbelievable, certainly a day to remember.

Man hört sich, man sieht sich” – Friends section:

Narnia Nath’s parents were in town and I was invited along to “meet the parents” because Nath is single. I always love meeting people’s parents, Nath and his Dad have all the same mannerisms. Great stuff. I hope they had a great time in Austria this weekend and thanks again for the grub!

Techno Tillman is my newest roommate and by far the most normal. Being from Berlin he listens to techno but not only to prepare him for a night out, we also have the pleasure of breakfast techno to ease us into the day as well as work techno to keep us productive during the day. At around 5pm a decision must be made as to whether we eventually graduate either to party techno if we’re partying or bedtime techno to prepare us for sleeping. Sweet electronic dreams. He also loves motorbikes, bikes, mountain biking. Basically if it involves two wheels he’s interested. He has taken part in some pretty brutal downhill races, has stories of injuries, jumps and accidents. He took part in an intense downhill race in the Alpe d’Huez called MegaAvalanche 2012 and recorded this video with a chest camera. It’s worth a watch just to see how suicidal the conditions are. What isn’t included in the video is the part where he breaks a pedal and goes down the mountain using one foot. He’s a madman but in a good way.

Since my last post I have learnt how to prepare and cook Schnitzel, the highlight of which was watching him tendering the meat and seeing his face as he used the full force of a frying pan to guarantee the bits of turkey he had purchased were in fact completely dead. Having experienced Disco David’s methodical process, I like to think I am now fully qualified to prepare and cook an authentic Bavarian delicacy.

Emmanuel (Mannu Malade) has finished his internship and is now doing bad things in Paris en famille, starting a degree in Real Estate Management at the rather swanky sounding “L’Institut Supérieur de Commerce et Gestion” in September.

Maintaining the unwritten rule of always having at least one very extrovert French friend to go out with until their placement ends. Jean-Rémy was replaced by Rémi who was replaced by Emmanuel. Guillaume has introduced me to “the two Pierres” who I believe will provide adequate Francophone fun for the next few months.

The biggest surprise in May has been that my friendship group is nicely still expanding and I’m still having such a great time in Munich.

Skandal in Stuttgart.


My lovely mother described me as a “fluffy bunny that has just arrived from another planet and started bumping into things” and with that I begin my first blog of the month of May. But first we must hark back to April, at the end of which two harrowing accounts of the weekend have been written by good friends Nath and Adam. Both blog posts are definitely worth a read if you want to gain more depth to the weekend. Links to these can be found at the end of this post.

#madeinmunich

#madeinmunich

Friday > Travel to Stuttgart

Nothing finishes off a week quite like a leisurely lunch at the astonishing BMW-Vierzylinder building. Wolfgang, Emmanuel and I opted for a five-star burger and chips, after we’d eaten our fill we went for a stroll as the sun was finally shining unashamedly in manufacturing heart of our beautiful city. Wishing Wolfgang well on his holiday in France and wishing Mannu a good rest of the afternoon, I left my colleagues and headed for the U3 Olympiazentrum with a spring in my step. A hop, skip and a jump and I was sitting in Marienplatz with Nath who had gathered necessary supplies for the weekend, namely sunglasses, sure for men/fauns, sausages and bread. This shopping basket was in many ways very predictable. Perhaps with hindsight, the purchase of sunglasses was tempting fate and in accordance with Sod’s Law the clouds began to darken as we embarked on our journey West across the border into the next federal state.

The transfer from Munich’s coach station (Hackerbrücke) to Stuttgart Flughafen was comfortable even if we were travelling on some stinky commuter bus with a bunch of plebs. During the journey we almost managed to convince Simon that Nath had been involved in a scuffle with police and was being held in custody in Munich over drugs charges and had consequently not been able to travel thereby tragically missing the connection and waving goodbye to a 15€ for DeinBus.de. “Was any of that actually true?” interrogated Simon knowingly and before we knew it the story had fallen apart.

I’d be lying if I wrote that beer hadn’t played a central role in brewing of the Year Abroad adventure. Some are now coming to then end of their placement years and their stories will come to an end. This group of German studying friends are called The Berlin Six. We’re a team and just like in all teams, substitutions have been made along the way as members have fallen by the wayside, but in spite of this we remain a sturdy sextet. Members of the Berlin 6 are strewn across the Fatherland living in major cities or at the very least in their suburbs, with the exception of Adam in Blankenburg and perhaps also Euan, although Wolfsburg will always be well-known as long as the headquarters of Volkswagen.

As part and parcel of the Year Abroad experience we, the six, can whole-heartedly say we’ve participated in lavish reunions starting in Munich, taking us to Hamburg and of course Berlin, and as of last weekend, what I assume was the last of our “great reunions” to celebrate Simon’s 21st at the Cannstatter Wasen in Stuttgart. For those who don’t know, the Wasen (pronounced “vaah-zun”) is Baden-Württemberg’s feeble attempt at mimicking the world famous and unbeatably original Wies’n (pronounced “vee-zun”) know to most as the Oktoberfest. The rivalry between Bavaria and Baden-W is clear, the two states being similar both culturally and geographically by which I mean both are predominantly catholic and together make up the south of Germany. Baden-Württemberg can be described as a New Mexico, if Bavaria was the Texas of Deutschland. As an honorary Bavarian, I am supposed to turn my nose up at the mention of Baden-Württemberg disregarding the lot of them as a worthless inferior bunch of losers. But I’m nice so I don’t mention anything. However, competition is rife and competition is life: Stuttgart is the home of both Menacing Mercedes and Pretentious Porsche so I took my BMW keyring with me to keep me safe.

If I’m honest we didn’t feel welcome amongst the Swabians (don’t worry Simon this post will get positive at some stage, I promise) we were greeted  by disgruntled weather very soon after we left the heavenly Holy Free State of Bavaria and slipped into the marsh that is Baden-Württemberg. Perhaps the Gods were taking revenge on me for the sheer havoc Ludo and I wreaked in Tübingen during our school exchange way back during the Easter of 2009, the upshot of which being that along with an inexcusable number of our peers were raided by Polizei as we partied on an island in the middle of a river, causing one of our friends to be found too drunk and then being hospitalised and diagnosed with alcohol poisoning. In light of this desperate story, in which no-one appeared more heroic than John Hewitt-Jones, I was determined to show the Schwabens that we were ready to behave now, having spent five years on the naughty step.

After a pleasant journey, we arrived at the airport. Nath was first to look out of the coach window and spot Simon, whom again seemed to be pursing his lips and looking like a man with a plan. The way Simon was dressed in black and clutching his rucksack and looking at his shiny watch, I deduced that the weekend would involve a high frequency of “quick turnarounds”, “chivvying” and many a “rendez-vous”.

We checked into the hotel, where Simon had placed chocolates on our pillows in anticipation of our arrival, reinforcing my Mum’s belief that he will make a great husband. It looks like she might be onto something. We were introduced to Simon’s friends, Colin, Joey and the Italian girl, Mazza was it or Mazzi. Sorry Italian girl you were important to me but I forgot your name because it wasn’t an easy one to remember. Colin and Joey kept us entertained with their stories involving Simon speeding in Switzerland and with occasional updates about Stuart the office melt. Who actually, even though we were fed propaganda to persuade us that he was a volatile personality, he actually turned out to be a really nice guy who needed a bit of a hug. We were impressed with all of Simon’s lovely friends and we all knew that if we’d been in Stuttgart with him, we would have got to know them really well.

Simon managed to maintain a comfortable balance between sticking religiously to the timetable thereby making sure we met the objectives outlined and also at the same time his gentle nature ensured we Gentiles were all able to enjoy ourselves, even if some members of the group didn’t know where to draw the line and wound up sleeping in a bed of pringles (Adam Shaw, I’m looking at you). Unexpectedly but thankfully, Sara would also make an appearance and act as the Robin to Simon’s Batman for the course of the weekend, radioing in different sections, establishing ERV’s and coordinating attacks on some of the city’s most visited cocktail bars.

Saturday > on the Wasen

As previously mentioned it’s sort of like a post-apocalyptic take on Oktoberfest, or Oktoby as Barney lovingly calls it. Adam said it reminded him more of Hannover Volksfest in terms of size and I think I vaguely remember Euan nodding in agreement. That said the rides were extraordinary, noteworthy was an astonishing haunted house with a fountain of blood in the front garden. The weather was pretty dreary if we’re honest but Simon didn’t let that dampen spirits. He led us to our tent: the Göckelsmaier tent which had some inexplicable fetish involving chicken, which then justified decorating the entire place with them. Beer was flowing, music was being played and the atmosphere was starting to pick up. The best thing about these festivals are the difference between people drinking their first beer and people drinking their second. During the first many were still cursing themselves and nursing the hangover, but during the second we were all dancing on the tables as if it was perfectly acceptable, which of course it was. Then came the strange conversations. At one point we got onto the topic of Harry Potter, no-one dared question that Nonie would have been in Gryffindor, and Sara seemed to fit nicely into Ravenclaw which was all completely reasonable. I then almost dropped my Maß and looked around me in horror as I heard that everyone, everyone was synonymous when they agreed I would be in Slytherin. Upsetting stuff indeed, although I took it as a slight compliment, I mean, hey, at least I wasn’t in Hufflepuff with Euan.

Eventually, German punctuality gave us the boot and we were kicked off our tables like common criminals because our tables were strictly reserved from 11am until 4pm. Shortly afterwards we became caught in a sea of people and Scouse, Adam and I clung to each other like lions caught in a stampede of wilder beast  When we floated out the other end we were greeted with a cold shower but nevertheless pumped full of desire to ride rollercoasters. Dodgems were a highlight as Adam was flung about, eventually realising that reverse wasn’t the only gear that could be utilised. We then thought it would be a great idea to go very high up on some swings which was the equivalent of paying 5€ to be put into the heart of a tornado. Which is quite good value the more I think about it, but we were very cold as the wind and rain ripped into our skin and our leather shorts began to chafe.

A few missed calls, a train journey and a walk later, Scouse, Adam and managed to find the rest of the group Adam making only a slight detour to kick a pigeon that took a quick dislike to him (fair enough). With a little help from Simon and Sara, winners of Mr. & Mrs. Stuttgart 2013, we found ourselves sitting comfortably in a tapas bar in the city centre. We made the natural transition to the place to be in Stuttgart on a Saturday night: a cocktail bar called Mauritius, where Adam angered some nearby Muslim women having purchased some ham from LIDL and started to fashion different varieties of jewelry with said slices of pork. What he was doing was far from halal, but the ladies can’t have been all that religious sipping cocktails at 4,99€. Shortly afterwards our drinks we then briefly returned to the ‘fest and those who had missed out on roller-coasting were able to scream their heads off once again.

Sunday > Back to MUC

All to quickly the weekend was over. We checked out of the hotel and the next stop was Vapiano’s. Afterwards we had time for a little sightseeing and what better tour guides to have than Simon and Sara.

Many thanks to Simon for literally sorting everyone out and buying us presents even though it was his birthday, what a man. A very happy birthday to a great man and a fantastic friend, we’re lucky to have him. Thanks to his friends for integrating us nicely into the group and a massive apology to the pigeons of Stuttgart, we promise Adam will not be thinking up any more ways to practice avian athletics.

As promised the links to my friends’ accounts of the same weekend 26th-28th April 2013.

Snonie White & the Seven Dorks” ~Nath Thorpe 02.05.2013

Simply the Fest” ~Adam Shaw  30.04.2013

Barney’s Birthday Bonanza.


madeinberlin

findthetime

It’s always good to start with a quote, this one is from one of my favourite songs. Don’t worry I haven’t set up a tumblr account and gone vegan, it just started playing on my iPod as I left Berlin on Sunday afternoon and I thought it would be a good way to start this post which will describe the people and events from last weekend.

No persuasion whatsoever has ever been needed to get me travelling to Berlin, a city that I can now boast to have visited just under ten times since I first went with Ludo in 2009. Notably, my mate Simon even managed to persuade me to go on a whim one Sunday evening following a lunch at the Royal Park Pub. As soon as I received the call from Barney, it was on. Swanky restaurants, meeting new people and lots of birthday celebration was in order. Over the weekend our leader set a cracking pace, both in terms of walking speed and event management. After two nights in Berlin I woke up with more stamps on my hands than there are days in the week. It is true; Berlin never disappoints, but for that you pay a physical price. In spite of this, a week on, you start to miss the relaxed lifestyle they have in the Wild Wild East. This story begins Friday 15th March or Independence Day, for the Hungarians amongst you.

ICE ICE Baby.

Thanks to a hiccup from Nath, I took the ICE (Inter-City-Express train) from Munich to Berlin. As cliché as it sounds, trains here in Germany run more smoothly and are just generally more efficient, which I admit is an obvious and boring fact to state, especially given the poor (albeit improving) state of affairs in the UK. As Inglorious Ingo always used to say, the best thing about travelling with the Deutsche Bahn is that they make occasional announcements in English. These consist of polite greetings such as: “Lädies end Gentellmen, velcom on board zee I-C-E to Stralsund, vee vish you a pläsent journey”. Other than that, not much happened on the journey, other than some fairly attractive girls got on at Augsburg. For the time being, we’ll refer to them as Augsbabes. In my experience these girls are all foam and no Weißbier. Having said that, my experience is based almost exclusively on a volleyball player of Lithuanian origin, but still. They overheard me speaking British English on the phone and had a huge debate about which British actors sounded the best. Predictably, Hugh Grant came out on top.

I won’t bother translating the title. You’re better off not knowing.

But my sense of flattery was about to come to an abrupt halt when we stopped at Nuremberg. The seat next to me suddenly became occupied by a portly lady and things took a turn for the worse. For a short while everything appeared to be normal. She poured herself into her seat, took out a book and began to read. Perfectly legit, I thought to myself, nothing wrong with that. This was until she started getting slightly too interactive with the book, stroking the pages as she read, caressing them as she breathlessly soared through the novel. When she took a break to catch her breath, I realised from the title and strange picture of the author that it was a curious sort of book (see right).

The journey continued. After a few more hours of gorgeous fields, we started to ascend and suddenly the trees became increasingly coniferous and a few pretty inches of snow covered the rocky outcrops. Having spotted a Netto with both SCHEISSE and FREIHEIT carefully spray-painted onto it, followed by two youths stood next to a tractor watching a bonfire, I presumed we had arrived in the former East Germany and as it turned out I was right. We weren’t far from Leipzig.

Berliner Barney.

Eventually I arrived in the country’s capital and marvelled at the architecture of Hauptbahnhof as I took about seven escalators up to find the S-Bahn. How can one station have so many levels, I wondered. I have clearly turned into a small town mouse during my time in Munich. As I tried to get over my initial astonishment, I began to think of which train station the Germans would have converted into their extravagant Londoner Hauptbahnhof, had they been successful seventy years ago. Waterloo seems like the obvious choice? Or perhaps Victoria? King’s Cross seems unlikely, though , whereas Stratford seems like a clear contenter for Ostbahnhof. Or would they have just started from scratch? These were all questions that sprang to mind as I took my seat on the S-Bahn to Charlottenburg, West Berlin, home to Prosecco Barney. Gloriously, this part of town also happens to be twinned with Lewisham in South London. This dawned upon me after I read that two streets away from the flat ran a long thoroughfare called Lewishamstraße. Initially, I reckoned I was either experiencing some kind of optical illusion or last night’s Jäger was still talking. However, it was the real deal: the areas are twinned! Citing the infallible wikipedia as my source, let’s take a moment to appreciate the London borough’s other other international ties; namely with Antony, France and Matagalpa, Nicaragua. Fascinating stuff, I think you’ll agree.

Having rang Barney upon my arrival I was given a slightly worrying set of orders. I was told to meet him in LIDL, near the Russian Supermarket – the sort of directions that would make even urban heavyweights such as Liam Neeson take a second look at Google Maps. Having eventually found a sufficiently suspicious Russian cafe, I cleverly put two and two together, rounded the corner to find the gangster grocery. Clearly every Mafia boss’ wife had sent out her hubby and son to fetch groceries in a Mercedes M-Class, the perfect midsize SUV for the family mobster. I looked marginally out of place as I waited outside. If this was some sort of Oxford initiation then it wasn’t very funny.

Barney and two friends Josh & Ed kindly came to pick me up as I had resorted to asking passers-by if they knew where LIDL was. One clueless Frenchwoman had no intention of helping me and also made no attempt to hide that she was offended that I’d asked her. We then did a quick shop at said budget supermarket to get a few essentials in. Beer and crisps seemed to be fairly high on the agenda, as well as some outrageously cheap wine which would soon unimpress the girls. After brief introductions and a few drinks it was time to head off to one of Berlin’s most exclusive restaurants, Spindler & Klatt. We ate fantastically, I personally opted for Sushi which was good and the whole group seemed to enjoy the food. The coolest thing (literally) about this eaterie were a) the DJ whose unfortunate choice of T-shirt meant that he looked both serious and naked and b) the loos. They were large walk-in boxes made out of corrugated iron, and in the gents the urinal was full to the brim with kilos upon kilos of ice. I think this says it all, really. As well as being strangely satisfying, pissing on ice makes you feel quite important. That was my first time pissing on ice and I can definitely recommend it. Although, sadly I don’t think Phillip Schofield would feel comfortable presenting such a show. Perhaps on Channel 5, but it certainly wouldn’t be up to ITV’s standard.

We then headed to Warschauer Straße, in East Berlin and where the word “edgy” was thrown around almost without justification. The bar we were heading to happened to be having a Hungarian Folk Dancing evening and we sort of just joined in with it as if it was the most normal thing in the world. It appeared to be a sort of Hungarian flash mob, but it transpired that the 15th of March is an annual celebration commemorating the revolution of 1848. After a round of shots which didn’t taste like any of the flavours they had promised to reflect, Ella and I agreed it was time to kick off the dancing. A few minutes later and we were hands on shoulders dancing round in circles with some friendly Hungarians. Eventually everyone came over to our way of thinking, and the whole team were all dancing some form of jig involving turning and simultaneously stamping whilst holding hands and moving round in circles. By the time we’d stamped our last stamp, we were on our way to the club opposite, the infamous Cassiopeia. This is a club which brought back many memories for me. After all, Berlin was the city in which I experienced the concept of clubbing for the first time. It has a simple layout, two dancefloors up- and downstairs, complete with table football and a large outside area which increases the capacity five-fold during the warm summer evenings.

By this stage in the evening I started to feel as if I had a good enough rapport with the group and I was honoured that I had been accepted into their midst, despite being a martyr and insisting on taking photos of “the real team”. It sort of felt like I knew them quite well, as if I had started as a Fresher at Somerville in 2010 and was one of those basket cases you hear about who takes a load of drugs and ends up in a coma, having woken up missing both first, second and most of third year (buddy). It was sort of like I’d known the group for ages even though I couldn’t relate to any of the stories they were telling or any of the characters that featured. It occurred to me that it is perhaps a good exercise to join a tight-knit friendship group, it offers perspective which you wouldn’t normally be able to experience when surrounded by the comfort of your own friends. Sort of like a documentary by Louis Theroux. The team included Katy, Sam, Liv, Ed, Molly, Ella, Josh and of course the man of the moment: Barney. And I think they were some of the most charming people I ever met, there must be an compulsory charm seminar that you take at Oxford. To them I was effectively a complete outsider to the group, because they all studied together at university but in spite of this they made a big effort to include me, explaining different terminology specific to Oxford: including “Crew dates” where they would end up “sconcing” their friends. The most spoken of whom was Stephane, German by blood by British in his heart. Story after story was told about him, without end. More on him later – now back to the content.

After a good stint at Cassiopeia, we then proceeded to an inconspicuous club round the corner in the same complex, but alas our platoon had been decimated and only a mere section remained. All the rest had made the sensible decision and retreated before dawn. Casualties that remained included Barney, Katy, Liv and myself. The day after we were all so shattered we got nothing done, but it was good to just have a lazy day. I think if I hadn’t already done Berlin 100 times I would have been keen to get about but otherwise we were good to vegetate in the flat, only to step out blinking into the daylight to eat currywurst, withdraw more cash and nip into the Jaguar-Land Rover Showroom.

The big event.

Saturday night was the main event, the moment we had all been waiting for. With a bit of help from pop star Finn Martin (a contender to be Germany’s entry for the Eurovision song contest, if I understood him correctly) Barney had managed to organise a series of visits to the city’s most exclusive restaurants and clubs. The highlight of which, unanimously agreed, was the official Birthday Meal; a private dining function at member’s club, Soho House Berlin. Interesting to comment here, is that although the Kaufhaus Jonaß is now occupied by the club, previous tenants included The Hitler Youth and later the Institute for Marxism & Leninism. But I still like to think we made history, to an extent. We were almost certainly better behaved than both parties. Well, definitely no worse than the Hitler Youth, but yet not quite as dull the Marxists must have been.

It was a shame that Nonie couldn’t make it, because she was in Budapest but there was still much to talk about as we got to know her friend Alice. It was really interesting to hear from her about her experience at St. Andrew’s and their crazy Harry Potter-style traditions (for want of a less coarse phrase) in contrast to her life as a language assistant in Europe’s second largest city. The meal was of course extravagant and everyone seemed very impressed with the dining indeed. We enjoyed five-star food, wine and of course vibrant and captivating company. Ed also confirmed it was a successful evening, announcing at one point that he “didn’t feel stressed”, so I guess it was a success all round, despite Josh’s best efforts to send crockery flying in all directions.

Barney then co-ordinated a perfectly smooth transition to our next destination. A convoy of taxis to Cookiesthe Schicki-Micki club in the capital) where we would meet Finn the German pop star. People were more excited for the arrival of the infamous Stephane and, after a hectic day of voyaging back from a skiing holiday via Hamburg, the chap eventually managed to meet us outside the club. After a good spell of dancing and drinking, I ended the time in the club randomly winning a porcelain camel as part of a promotion. Camel in hand, we set off to a bar near Moritzplatz, Kreuzberg and despite pumping ourselves full of complex carbohydrates en route, the alcohol meant that some members of the team were starting to show signs of fatigue. But Berlin refused to let us sleep. Once we were done in the “edgy bar”, we set off to our third event of the evening/morning. After a quick tour of a nearby roundabout in arctic conditions, we found ourselves stood outside the club in Ritterstraße at around 5.30am. On the walk there Sam felt it was time to voice his concerns, understandably referring to the sketchy area as being akin to “some sort of dystopian nightmare”.

“Camel, camel on the wall. Who is the edgiest of them all?”

At 8am on a Sunday morning, you really need to summon up all the motivation you possibly can, in order to party on. I’m not sure what’s more ridiculous, taking a camel into a club or the someone actually offered to buy my camel for 11€. I seem to remember having a couple of shots of Jägermeister with Ed and then fist pumping my camel at randomers in the club. Who’s edgy now, Mr. East Berlin?

Hometime.

Berlin taxi drivers understandably didn’t want to lose their licences just because we wanted to get home, so I manned up and took one for the team, taking the U-Bahn and S-Bahn home solo, and getting some disapproving looks from roughly 84% of people I came into contact with. All too soon the weekend was over and despite The Bank of Fabian losing it’s AAA rating I’m of course overjoyed that I was invited to such a prestigious and key event in Barney’s calender. Thanks to everyone who made it a fab weekend, especially to Barney for a fantastic weekend of unbeatable generosity and hospitality, I am confident he enjoyed it, too which is of course the main thing. Now I need to start thinking about my own 21st.

Arsenal Expects.


#madeinmunich

#madeinmunich

Arsenal 2 – 0 Bayern (agg 3-3)*

Arsenal expected every player will do his duty. Just like Admiral Lord Nelson coughing out his last breaths after being brought down by a firearm, the Gunners kept their promise until the dying minutes.

Wednesday 13th March 2013

Here is a brief run-down of Wednesday’s events, a match report and of course a lash report. Also included are photos and a brief summary from Bavarian Ben. On the Wednesday, Sam flew down from Hamburg in the morning and by the afternoon he was in the office. He met my boss and a colleague and we got the expensive coffees in, which I pretended was completely standard even though it’s only my second nice coffee. Said colleague, namely Jan, had a car spare and offered to take Sam for a spin in the BMW 3 Series Touring Sport Line Edition, kitted out with all M accessories. We got up to 240kmph on the Autobahn Richtung Freising, impressed to see that it accelerated smoothly up to 80kmph. We were able to enjoy that Sheer Driving Pleasure that comes only from driving a BMW and show Sam  a bit about the features that our cars have. It’s only two litres though so it does struggle to accelerate upwards from 130kmph. My boss gave me the nod and I was allowed to leave work early. Then the magic key began to glow…

At the Hofbräuhaus our livers were about to take a battering and little did we know FC Bayern would also be subjected to a football-shaped battering of their own. What the Arsenal support may have lacked in manners, they more than made up for in queuing performance. It’s true, we Brits know how to queue and in London we have our most seasoned queuers and queueees.

Despite being a massive Palace fan, I was happy to associate with the boys from North London. All it took was to pull Sam’s scarf over my shoulders and like that I had pulled the wool over their eyes. It was great to fulfil the Germans view of us as being 80% hooligans. If you’ve been keeping fairly up to date with the blog, then you might have noticed a pattern that fulfilling stereotypes seems to be becoming a somewhat worryingly regular occurrence in my life now.

Inside.

My favourite quote of the night came from an unsightly ruffian stood behind me who, not afraid to voice his frustration, spontaneously declared:

Fa two years he’s dan nuffin. Naaffin! Give it ta Gervinho“.~ Anonymous yet charismatic Arsenal Fan.

If there was any logic connecting these two concepts, then I was blissfully unaware of any and began to do what all well-to-do South Londoners know how to do: blend in with the Great Unwashed. I turned round and nodded vigorously at the man, desperately trying to give us some common ground in the hope that he would think I was saying “I was just thinking that myself” and subsequently wouldn’t growl at me. However, it was as if the poor man’s shouts fell on deaf ears as he struggled to make himself understood. Wenger didn’t bat an eyelid and play continued.

There was a mutual respect between the fans of the two teams after the game, in line with UEFA’s campaign. But I guess Bayern were just so shocked to be beaten at home. And rightly so. It was unanimously appreciated that Arsenal had earned their consolation win, yet real celebration couldn’t be justified as on paper they had technically been knocked out another team brought low by the bloody away goal. Although I think more factors need to be taken into account. Any goals that Brits score away should take into account a) how much stronger our currency is than theirs and b) how much atmosphere a team creates. Still, at least they managed to wipe off any smug grins off precious Bavarian faces.

I spent my lunch break with Jan and his mate Eddy. Eddy happened to have got hold of a BMW 7 Series which is a great car because the seats have a back massage mode. This year I’ve become akin to some sort of Saudi Prince you is shocked when his translator informs him that some people drive cars without being simultaneously massaged by a robot. We have some new cars at work soon after my test in April so we shall see, in the meantime I still need to pass my theory test next week before I even have a shot at the practical part. Wish me luck!

After the match.

Yesterday morning, I was getting funny looks in the office and I was told I had a suspiciously happy air about me, for a Thursday morning. Have I mentioned the Germans are poignantly observant? I had what I can only describe as that “je ne sais quoi”  that one can only acquire when one’s team has been victorious the day before. To watch Arsenal soar to victory was really the stuff of dreams and we couldn’t have hoped for any better for the boys from North London. Obviously, it would have been ideal for them to slot another goal and progress to the quarter final, but it wasn’t meant to be.

I’m not sure who I hate more, Bayern or United. Bavarian Ben of course supports both teams which makes him a crime to football. In response to my inquiry about the outcome he writes with bias, understatement and condescension about  how Bayern didn’t deliver the best performance and that he was disappointed with the result. He went on to express how I should be glad that I saw the most beautiful stadium in the world, and at least I got to see a game. He concludes with slightly barbed wishes hoping that I enjoy the rest of my time in Germany.

“Servus, naja also gestern hat Bayern nicht gerade die beste Leistung abgeliefert. Ich war eher enttäuscht. Na dann hast du wenigstens mal das schönste Stadion der Welt von sehen können und auch ein Spiel erleben dürfen Mir geht es gut danke. Hoffe bei dir ist auch alles bestens und du geniesst noch deine Zeit hier in Deutschland” ~Bayerischer Ben

Arsenal are fantastic away supporters, they never gave up. Da Boiz, vey dun us praad, san. I wish Sam and Natalie a great trip to Barcelona and look forward now to Simon’s 21st at the Frühlingsfest in Stuttgart. Time to sleep, Berlin calls!

Starkbierfest and the Autobahn.


#madeinmunich

#madeinmunich

Starkbierfest is what it says on the Stein.

I don’t want to start off by saying it was better than Oktoberfest, but it was certainly a contender for second-best beer festival. Remi and I planned to go to the Fest as our last big night together in Munich and all was set for the big day when we began to queue outside Paulaner am Nockherberg in the afternoon. Admittedly there were aspects of it that were better than the frankly overcrowded Wies’n. Firstly, I would just like to say a massive thank you to all the absolute babes that turned up. I have honestly never seen more beautiful women in one place. And that’s coming from someone who’s been to Tequila on a Thursday. But as opposed to Tequila’s remarkably low marriage rates, 80% these gorgeous Bavarian princesses were fit to marry, seeming to walk straight out of a fairytale. But it wouldn’t be a fairytale without a few trolls and a couple of ugly sisters to make up the last fifth.

With the exception of the first day, beer can be ordered from 9am onwards at the Oktoberfest. At the Starkbierfest, however, doors don’t even open until the early afternoon. Most beer at Oktoberfest was around the 5% mark, whereas the “Strong-beer-festival” beer is not really beer, it’s almost a wine, with its alcohol concentration hovering dangerously around the 11% mark, this is because it traditionally is the cooked remains of the Oktoberfestbier. Do the maths. If people started drinking this through the morning, they would be more than twice as drunk as at Oktoberfest, for twice as long. That’s fairly annihilated indeed. Thank God then that doors opened at two in the afternoon. Presumably there is some sort of correlation between how many world wars your country has started and what time you let people start drinking. Now I don’t claim to be Bavaria’s answer to Nostradamus, but I’m guessing that shortly after World War III people will get let in perhaps at 1500hrs. And rightly so.

Bavarian Speaking Cash machine.

The day was great, much singing and drinking and cheering etc. The highlight of which was when I took advantage of a quiet crowd to coerce them into singing “Country Roads by John Denver” managing to get enough people to sing along with me such that the and changed their schedule and decided to join in. Having realised our wallets were empty, we embarked on a mission to get cash. There was only one cash machine and of course charged an extortionate rate, but at least it had a language option of Bavarian German (Boarisch) which made me and David (another colleague) chuckle for probably a bit too long. Shortly after this, David and I agreed that heaven would be some form of Bavarian Beer festival. Think about it, what more could you possibly need? Friendly and approachable people to talk to, gorgeous women dancing around in a tasteful fashion. All the beer you could drink in a lifetime. It would  never get boring. It couldn’t. It wouldn’t even be possible. Having sank four Steins, it was pushing eleven o’clock. And with that in mind, Julia (a rather attractive au pair from New York) and I headed to Jan’s house party which was taking place at Theresienwiese, exactly where Oktoberfest takes place. Myself dressed in Lederhosen and my accomplice dressed in a full dirndl, we looked like we had fallen out of a faulty time-machine, arriving at Oktoberfest at the dead of night but at least we were within six months. Not bad time-travelling. After a few drinks with Jan and co it was home time.

The rest of the weekend was spent recovering from Friday and Saturday nights and preparing for the week ahead.

On the evening of Monday the 11th March I had my first driving lesson on the Autobahn. After a nice spell on the country roads (Landstraße), we drove to the airport and onto the Autobahn back to Munich. This system contrasts with the English driving schools where I believe you aren’t permitted to drive on the motorway with a learner plate, however in Germany this is not only encouraged but it is an obligatory part of learning to drive. No speed limits, rapid overtaking and unmarked police cars equipped with cameras are all part of the fun. You just have to strap in a get ready for the ride. I settled into Richgeschwindigkeit of 130kmph pretty comfortably and I took the BMW One Series up to 160kmh which was a great feeling. Forget fifth gear, I though to myself as I shot straight from fourth into sixth. The lesson went well and I only made a couple of mistakes, mainly entering built up areas at twice the speed allowed. Note to self: decelerate to 50kmph before the yellow signs appear. Some of the signposts were hidden by trees though, in my defence. I do need to make sure I don’t get carried away going from 50-60 kmph even though the difference really is minute.

Unfortunately, we have had to say goodbye to some friends of ours. Philip is going off to start his masters, but also bravely starting a three week trip to Coventry to visit his girlfriend. Lisa is leaving us to go and study in Australia and Rémi is off to join Euan in Wolfsburg at the Automotive Giant that is Volkswagen.

In other news, Sam is preparing for his trip to Munich tomorrow and we are both going to watch the last British team in the Champions League as Arsenal come to the Allianz Arena in a clash against the dominant Bayern Munich. On Friday, the Berlin trip begins along with Barney’s Birthday Bonanza.

Driving, Swimming and Portuguesing.


“I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered” ~George Best

A classic Brit he was indeed, I wish I could say the same for myself. Alas, I haven’t been living it up quite like good old George, but maybe it’s been for the Best. In the first quarter of 2013, a vast proportion of the Fabian Millions have been spent on aquiring a German Führerschein, or  “the Hitler-shine” as I fondly refer to it; due to its demanding nature.

At first they tried to make me drive on the right, but I didn’t deem it proper at the time. I drove the English way, into oncoming traffic. We may rules the high seas, but when it comes to tarmac we aren’t so dominant. Must remember to look for the blue arrows in future.

The Germans. They’ve got some sensible rules, and some silly rules. They really do insist on having some ridiculous rules, like for example did you know that even if you are on the main road, unless there is a Vorfahrtschild (see below) then any traffic coming from the right, be it at a junction/ a crossroads/ a built up area/ even if obscured from vision, they have right of way over you. In other words, you have to drive slower as you approach these right hand lanes to make sure you can brake in time to give way. In a word: madness.

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Vorfahrtt (right of way)

Vorfahrt (Right of way at a specific junction)

Anyway, having almost mastered the skills of driving in the city, I am beginning the final phase of the driving course this week. Over the next few weeks I will be rigourously trained in the martial art that is: the Autobahn. As well as this I will be travelling over land on the Landstraße (Country Roads) and a Nachfahrt (nighttime drive) also needs to be completed. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t massively looking forward to the Autobahn. No speed limit = what’s not to like. But I’m glad I took advice from parents etc and learnt gradually, otherwise heads may well have rolled.

“Speed never killed anyone, suddenly becoming stationary, that’s what gets you.”
~Jeremy Clarkson

Saunas are Sticky & Sweaty

Probably the most exciting thing that happened to me in February was suffering a sort of sexual abuse, don’t worry though, I took it well. One Saturday I decided to go to the sauna in the Olymische Schwimmhalle, which it turns out, was a mistake. After a couple of hours of damp room, hot room, cold water I was successfully relaxed. I went to relax in the sauna room and strecthed out on the top layer. Around five minutes later I realised that the chap who had been staring at the temperature was actually staring at Little Marcus. Probably well into his forties, this creep of a man decided it would be a great idea to play with his genitals whilst using my bits and bobs as a sort of “Free Adult Channel” as I lay in the sauna. What can I say, I must have been a bit of a catch compared to the other sauna goers. That said, with the clientele pushing an average age of 75 it was pretty slim competition. The man then started to whisper incomprehensibly to my member in German and proceeded to engage with it from afar like some sinister stark-naked snake charmer. Unfortunately my Nether-Region doesn’t speak great German. Maybe it speaks better Dutch?

© Manuel Irritier

I wasn’t sure whether or not to hit him or to be flattered. In the end, the shock got the better of me and I sort of got up and left the room in a bit of a huff, the old chap crossing his legs trying to hide the evidence whilst looking up at me like a lost puppy. I think I just felt sorry for him in the end. Reduced to masturbating over someone you’ve never met in a public sauna? If that’s what he does on the weekends, I though to myself, then what the hell does he do during the week? Perhaps he just got swept up in the moment. Still, he took the concept of #yolao* a bit too far. Although points for enthusiasm are in order, credit where credit’s glued. I really hope that’s the last time I’m masturbated over by an old German man. I feel like it’s one of those things that, once it’s happened, you sort of know either way whether it was fun or not. That’ll be my first and last trip to the sauna in the Olympic Park, thank you very much.

He may be Far-Eastern but he’s a Southerner at heart

Other highlights of February included Far-Eastern coming in absolutely battered with mates Joe and Tchi Bing. Joe maintains that people from North China are supposed to be the heavier drinkers (similar to the alleged divide in England), whilst poor old Mandarin Felix is about as lily-livered as you can get. But as we know all too well, the Chinese, regardless of what they say, do often struggle with their drink. When you say battered in China, you’re usually refering to some tasty deep-fried treat, rather than an alcoholic beverage. It’s not their fault, they are missing this “battered enzyme” which we Westerners are lucky enough to have. Scientists might have given the enzyme a more technical name by the way, but I thought I’d make it nice and simple for my readers which includes a variety of educations and ages. How considerate.

Learning to drive. I can now drive. It’s pretty easy to be honest, not really sure what the whole fuss was about. Mastered manual, I just need to take the theory which I should pass first time and then I can do the practical test afterwards.

A visit to Prince Charming in Prague is definitely in order at some stage.

Until then I am looking forward to next week when it all kicks off again. Sam is coming down from Hamburg with tickets for us to watch Champion’s League Second Leg, Arsenal vs Bayern Munich @ the Allianz Arena. It’s going to be interesting. Hopefully the lively Arsenal fans will give the boring Bavarians something to think about. Of course we have Barney’s Birthday Bonanza in Berlin to look forward to in a fortnight’s time. To say I am hugely looking forward to it would be an understatement.

For those interested, there is a pretty cool site  called Viveras going live on Thursday. It is a great new tool whereby people on their Year Abroad can review and rate places and events that they have experienced, so that future generations will be able to make the most of their experience. This is basically the sort of idea that I wish I had come up with. I have been made an official contributor (whatever that means I’m not entirely sure). The idea is good though and as long as my review of the Hofbräuhaus makes it up there, I’ll be happy. I would definitely recommend checking it out to other fellow Year Abroaders, regardless of where you are. Though probably best ot leave Munich to myself and Nath. We’ve got it covered.

In other news, Adam has survived another Nut-Attack and of course the story will be rolled out in blog form at some stage so watch this space. Also I’m learning Portuguese which is cool. And could be useful if I ever go to the following places.

And that’s your lot. Time to get back to marketing premium automobiles. Greece, Spain and Italy aren’t exactly going to bale themselves out, are they.

*#yolao = You only live abroad once.