Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Liverpool - Which really only means one thing

Ladies and gentlemen, The Beatles!

George, Paul, Ringo and John

I grew up in the sixties and can’t apologize for loving The Beatles.  I sang into that hairbrush just like the rest of you. With Dippity-do setting my side curls, I spent hours writing out their lyrics longhand. And years later, when I still could, I jogged hundreds of miles with Beatles songs setting my pace (thank you, Maxwell's Silver Hammer).  So when we moved to England, a trip to Liverpool was a must.

Ringo's childhood home halfway down on the left
As soon as we got to the city, we bought our tickets to ride the Magical Mystery bus tour. It was two great hours of Beatles history with stops at Fab Four family homes, Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields, and otherwise obscure spots had they not become part of Beatles lore. And there was the occasional sing-along.

St. Peter's Parish where Eleanor Rigby is buried, 
along with her name.

 The tour ended at the world-famous Cavern Club where John, Paul, George and Ringo played more than 290 times. It was heady and loud and hot and just as I imagined. We tipped a pint in honor of those lovely lads who are solely responsible for me knowing all the words to No Reply forty years later -- though I can't remember if I left the iron on.

The city is a mecca for most of our generation. For many visitors like us, Liverpool is synonymous with The Beatles so it's no surprise their presence is everywhere. In candy stores:

The Beatles in Jelly Beans
 In shopping mall windows:

Store Window Display at HMV
 And just promoting Beatlemania: 

Liverpool’s music scene still thrives because of The Beatles, but I was happy to discover more to the city than just the lads.

Liverpool, The City Itself

This hilly coastal city was chartered in the 1200s by King John because he wanted to invade Ireland and needed a place to launch his attack. Centuries later the city grew rich spinning American cotton into thread. When the 19th century potato famine hit, over 9 million English and Irish immigrated to Ellis Island through Liverpool’s port. Today, Liverpool's main income is tourism and for good reason.

The early 20th Century buildings known
as the Three Graces
Standing at dock's edge are the "three graces," the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool building. 

You can see one of the two cormorants perched on top of the Royal Liver Building (far left). It's looking out to the sea to protect all the seafarers.

These four friendly guys are down at the Albert Dock in front of the Tate Museum. They're part of the bananalama sculptures tucked around the city.


Bananalama sculptures. Is it just me or is there
a little Blue Meanie in them?

Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral,
second largest in the world
The imposing Anglican Cathedral sits high on a hill overlooking the city. It's the largest Anglican church in Europe and, as a boy, Paul McCartney was not allowed to sing in its choir because his voice wasn't good enough.  

Years later, he not only gave a concert here, but invited the old choir master to attend -- which he did. When Paul chided him for refusing to let him sing in the choir, the old fellow retorted that if he had, Paul would never  become the man he is today. Cheeky. 

It wouldn't be a Saturday night in the UK without a Hen Party downtown. Similar to American bachlorette parties, the ladies wear sashes letting everyone know what they're about. This one was relatively tame. We saw one in Glasgow where the bride-to-be was carrying around a 3-foot inflatable phallis. You gotta love what you do.

Hen Party!

Here's a little clip of what we experienced at The Cavern Club:

For more pictures of Liverpool and what we saw on the Magical Mystery Tour, click right here.


It's the Little Things . . .

Sometimes it's not the huge buildings or famous denizens that give a city it's heart. Along the docks near the Mersey River are dozens and dozens of padlocks put in place by people remembering a loved one, a birth, a promise. They were the sweetest surprise we'd seen in weeks.

The beginning of true love

"Heidi's First Birthday"

"Memories are like keepsakes, never forgotten. 
Missing you today and loving you always. Megan."

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Soccer From the Stands

Southampton Saints in red and white
Soccer's a big deal in the UK.  And they call it football here, not soccer. This much I knew.

But when I attended my first Premier League game last Saturday - Leicester City vs the Southampton Saints -  I was  unprepared for some of the subtle differences in major league sports between our two countries.

Southampton on the coast in November was cold and rainy, though it didn’t deter the enthusiastic sold-out crowd of 32,000. And I had on four layers so I was good. But for the record, this was not the sunny short-sleeved soccer I’d seen on TV.   

The first difference came via our host Jack, a sports nut extraordinaire and especially devoted to Southampton. He not only gave us to the team's 129-year back story, listed managers, star players and stats, he actually named the team's creditors (now that's a fan). Southampton’s football club dates back to 1885, has been in the Premier league, was relegated down to lower leagues, then recently fought its way back up into Premier. Imagine your favorite baseball team getting sent down to the minors, then having to  win its way back to the bigs. This was the first difference I noted. 

Local pub honoring Southampton's famous ocean liner.
We got to town early enough for a wander-about, as Jack called it. Southampton is a lively port for cruise and cargo vessels, and still prides itself on two ships that set sail from here decades ago: the Mayflower and the Titanic. 

We had a quick lunch before heading to the match, which was smart since there were only a couple food vendors at the stadium – and none that sold food or drink up and down the aisles. So that was different.

Then there was the Orwellian separate-but-equal distinction of fans. My ticket was marked Home Supporter, I had to enter the stadium through a Home Supporter turnstile then sit in a Home Supporter seat. Rival fans, meanwhile, entered through different turnstiles and were corralled into a small area at the other end of the pitch.

"Home Supporters Only." Rival fans do not enter the stadium through the same gate.

All those empty seats meant nothing - even 10 minutes before the game.
At ten minutes before start time the stadium was barely half full. No sooner had I thought spectators would just wander in and out at their leisure then the seats filled to capacity. As Jack explained, people know their pub, pint and game routine. Time and distance are calculated down to the minute. And once in their seats, they pretty much stayed put. Another difference.

Other things that struck me odd: When the ball was inadvertently kicked into the stands (which happened several times), the game stopped until a fan threw it back onto the pitch. Then the match resumed. None of this "dead ball" business.

Also, when a goal attempt failed, the player still got a big old “nice try” round of applause from the crowd. I can’t imagine an NFL kicker being applauded for missing a field goal. Maybe I'm just cynical.

But the absolute biggest difference, the one that really set things apart, was the singing. Right from the start the crowd sang their way through multiple versions of When the Saints Go Marching InAuld Lang Syne, For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow, and Hey Jude’s nah-nah-nah-nah chorus. And the loudest singers sat next to the rival fan section specifically to drown those guys out. This ground-swell of non-stop singing was purely organic. No one orchestrated it, it wasn’t hyped by big business, sponsor, or supertron. It just happened. And since the majority of spectators were male, I had the pleasure of listening to a mens choir roughly 20,000 strong for almost two hours.

Sounds of the game (apologies for the poor picture):  

But back to the game.  First half wrought no score. Second half, no score – mostly. Then finally, after 75 minutes of game time, Southampton  put one into the net

Four minutes later they scored again and that was all she wrote. Southampton won 2-0 bringing their season’s record to 8-2. Go Saints!

At the end of the match, the happy crowd broke into a rousing round of Chelsea Dagger, which - as if I didn't know - is also sung at the end of other British sporting events like professional darts. If you want that earwig, you can find it here.


Lunch before the game on the high street.

St. Mary's Stadium, home of the Southampton Football Club


My ticket designating me as a Home Supporter


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Berlin, Baby!

Berlin, KaDeWe and me

Coming back to Berlin after 31 years is the closest I’ll ever get to time-travel. This was the city where I came of age, where I met, fell in love with, and married my husband when we served in the Air Force.

When we left in 1983, the city was still divided. West Berlin was a snappy international cosmopolitain, so unlike its sad-eyed twin on the other side of the Wall it was hard to believe they were even related. Now the whole unified city has WiFi. And digital billboards. And a sleek metro system that puts others to shame. 

Berlin has become a full-blown bon vivant with a knack for advancement and a pragmatic conscience. The eastern half not only looks caught up, some areas are leading the charge. 

Yet while Berlin has kept pace with today’s technology, so much stayed the same I can barely account for the past 3 decades.

One small corner of the 6th Floor Food Hall at KaDeWe
Our hotel was just off the city center’s Kurfurstendamm, or Ku-damm.  We were within a stone's throw of metro stations and Europe’s largest department store, Kaufhaus Des Westens, nicknamed KaDeWe  and pronounced kah day vay. 

With its 100-year history and legendary 6th floor food hall, KaDeWe has always been one of our favorite haunts. Small wonder it was our first stop after arriving  late Thursday.

Platz der Luftbr├╝cke commemorating the Allied Forces Berlin Airlift
The next day we took the metro to Platz der Luftbr├╝cke which not only commemorates the allied airlift at the end of WWII, but stands just in front of Tempelhof Central Airport (TCA) where we lived the year before getting married. 

Although no longer an active airport, we were allowed to walk the grounds as long as we stayed outside. Technically, we couldn't go inside TCA's buildings because so much has been converted to private offices. Technically. (I have it on good authority that the lobby's elevator no longer has a "Looby" button.)

After re-familiarizing ourselves with TCA and streets nearby, we headed south to see our old apartment building in Lichterfelde. 

Metro train and rail station in the eastern part of Berlin
When Berlin was still a divided city, there were two metro systems. The first was the U-Bahn that generally ran in the western part of the city. This we rode on a regular basis. 

The second was the S-Bahn which operated in Communist East Berlin. We were not allowed to ride it or even go into the stations. It was, in a word, verboten. 

From what we saw back then, the S-Bahn was sadly run down, as was most of East Berlin. But now that the city is unified, we happily hopped on that S-Bahn like a couple of truants. And what a glorious, gorgeous surprise: the stations are so efficient and streamlined they border on futuristic.


I'm not gonna lie: we ate like pigs this trip. From the bratwurst with its crispy, crackly roasted skin and laughably small bun to the donar kebab with onions, sauce and spicy shaved  meat, we never stopped. 

No matter what we ate during the day it didn't spoil our appetites for dinner. And  then we still had room for croissants and coffee next morning. We ate until we squeaked. 

Stumbling stones memorializing Holocaust victims.
While moving forward, Berlin owns up to its past. The city is one of 700 locations that have incorporated Stolpersteine, or stumbling stones, into their sidewalks. The brass stones memorialize Holocaust victims and are placed in front of buildings where people were dragged out and deported; they list names, dates and tragic ends. 

Barely higher than the surrounding sidewalk, the stones intentionally cause one to stumble slightly in order to acknowledge their significance. By 2013 over 40,000 such stones have been set. These two were just outside our hotel. Sobering, to say the least.

Iconic Brandenburg Gate, site of so much celebration since 1989
On Saturday we bundled up and walked 2.5-mile in a  bracing 39˚ to the Brandenburg Gate. En route through the city’s eastern portion we were again thrilled at how beautiful the area had become.

Even the Victory Column, which I only remember as a gray blur from the west, was freshly gilded and taller than years past. 

I was pleasantly surprised to see the Soviet Memorial still standing. And in a deft move to ensure ongoing activity and commerce, foreign embassies are now located near the Brandenburg Gate.  

Before leaving on Sunday we made time for another bratwurst, a stroll through the Europa Center, and one last walk along the Ku’damm. Berlin was everything I remembered and then some. Well done, Berlin, next time I won't stay away so long.

Shops along the Ku'damm
Didn't get enough pictures to look at? Maybe this'll help.


It's the little things . . . 

Even the humble manhole cover boasts unification with historic landmarks like the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, Funkturm, Victory Column, and others.