Traffic congestion intensifies in UAE on world car-free day. D’oh.
Walking for a good cause without ever leaving home. Virtual walks allow raise money for charity. (Reuters)
Ebay admits overpaying for the internet phone company Skype. It paid $2.6bn in 2005 and is taking a $1.43bn charge relating to the deal. That’s gotta hurt! (International Herald Tribune)
Woman gives birth to her own grandchildren. Egads… (AP)
News on the al-Dura front: Israeli finding that it was staged. Mohammed al-Dura was reportedly shot by the Israeli army while his fathered tried to shield him. It seems this did not happen. (James Fallows)
Musharraf: Spy chief to lead army. Looks like Pervy might actually step down this time. (CNN)
And simply because I’m feeling nostalgic, here’s the theme to The Secret of Monkey Island played on electric guitar:
I smell a look back at some classic games coming here soon. 🙂
Seven tips for resolving conflicts quickly and peacefully. We all go up against at least one nutjob in our lives, here’s a remarkably common sense guide to dealing with them. (Pick The Brain)
US regrets if women and children killed in Baghdad raid. But they were going after some fellas using a mortar so it’s all right. Collateral damage and all that. (AFP)
Clever uses for dental floss: beyond teeth. I love finding new uses for ordinary things. (Gadling)
Backpacker turns Burma activist via Facebook. I’m a member of his group, to which people are flocking. (Reuters)
Yet more on CNN, Burma and Myanmar. The name you use reflects the stance you’re taking. (James Fallows)
Renovating the biblical psalms. They’re beautiful poems as well as having religious significance. (Slate)
Man, 24, weds 82-year-old bride. “I’ve always like mature ladies.” (BBC)
There’s a nice opinion piece in the latest issue of Cosmos about why we should colonise other planets. Interestingly, Wilson da Silva, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, doesn’t talk about expanding beyond the solar system but rather highlights the possibilties within Sol: Mars, orbital habitats around Earth, the Moon, asteroids and worlds further out.
The article does tend to glorify our species of monkey men and women:
So what if humans pass into history? It’s not just a tragedy for us, but also one for nature. Without us, there is no one to witness its infinite beauty; no one to marvel at a sunset, revel in a view, or thrill to the breaking of a wave on a beach. As the late astronomer and author Carl Sagan once said, “we are a way for the universe to know itself”.
The comments are quite interesting too. One anonymous poster leads off with “The article is an astonish [sic] example of wishful thinking” to which someone else writes “Your reply is an astonishing example of doomsaying and defeatist attitude”… ah the internet.
I’m so glad I went to Germany for the weekend. A friend of mine got married in what can only be described as a fairytale wedding and an unbelievably brilliant time was had by all.
That’s all I will say about the ceremony itself, not because it wasn’t enjoyable (’twas beautiful) but because my words can’t do it justice. Here’s the 18th century Schloss Nordkirchen, which is sometimes known as the Versailles of Westphalia and is where the reception was held:
And you thought I was taking the piss when I mentioned fairytales!
I stayed in a town called Nordkirchen, which is about 70 miles or so from Duesseldorf (sorry, I can’t type omlauts on this keyboard). Getting there had seemed so straightforward on the map. Stupid maps.
After an early flight on the Michael O’Leary Express — or Ryanair as it’s more commonly known — I got to Dublin Airport, where I and a few colleagues boarded another plane bound for Duesseldorf . The 40-minute delay proved to have a major knock-on effect…
What I didn’t know was that Duesseldorf airport has not one, but two train stations. The underground is reached by following signs for the hauptbanhof (main station). It was not the one we were looking for.
After fruitless searching and wandering, we met a guy in a rail company booth above ground who told us yes, the underground station was the one we needed. More wandering ensued.
There was one train still at the platform, and we approached the driver out of desperation more than anything else (I had enough German to get me from A to B if things went according to plan, but throw a spanner in the works and I was screwed). He told us the other lad was wrong and we had to follow signs for the SkyTrain, a light rail system that did a circuit of the airport.
We had seen signs for the SkyTrain in the arrivals hall, but by now we were far from there and had no idea how to get back. There were no directions from the underground station, so we decided we’d make our way back to where we’d started. The driver saw our small demoralised group.
“You did not find the SkyTrain? You are going the long way!”
At which point he turned off his train, locked the driver’s compartment and left his passengers behind to bring us to the right part of the terminal — while telling us never to believe the signs in an airport. What a guy! Can you imagine an Iarnród Éireann worker doing that?
I learned a smattering of functional German before the trip but faced with native speakers — as opposed to repeating what’s said on a CD in the privacy of my own home — I clammed up.
This book doesn’t have any answers! (Legal disclaimer: I’m just a crap student)
I didn’t understand much of what was being said to me anyway, apart from a few phrases here and there. There was a lot of Es tut mir leid, ich spreche kaum Deutsche (I’m sorry, I can speak hardly any German).
What made things worse was that often when I tried to speak the language I was answered in English, particularly by people under the age of 30. For example, at the wedding buffet I asked for gemuese (vegetables) and the guy asked “And would you like chicken?” I presume they were just trying to be helpful, but perhaps I may simply have a rubbish accent.
Now back to main narrative.
Unfortunately, despite the cool driver’s assistance our journey was far from over.
Earlier I mentioned how I was screwed language-wise when things went wrong. And here’s another example: the automated ticket machine kept spitting my €20 out and I couldn’t read the notices well enough to figure out why (turns out they only accept change, €5 and €10, notes you can actually get in any German ATM).
A machine like this baffled me for some time. I be stoopid.
As our flight had been delayed we got to the station after the offices had closed… so I ambushed a bemused young member of the polizei and, with a little of my German, a little of his English and a LOT of help over the phone from the bride he was able to set things right. If only I’d found this before I left.
I went all the way to Germany, caused undue hassle and all I got was this lousy ticket… plus some change.
So far, dear reader, we’ve met two excellent and helpful Germans. Now we meet their nemesis.
We were headed toward Recklinghausen and needed to change trains at Gelsenkirchen. The latter destination was duly announced over the intercom and I checked with a passenger who said yes, this was the stop. It wasn’t — the bastard had told us to get off in Essen, one stop too soon.
We were too tired for more train travel, so we threw ourselves on the mercy of a nearby taxi driver.
“We have a problem.”
“There are no problems, only solutions!”
And he certainly solved that one, with the help of sat-nav and pedestrians in Recklinghausen itself. At this stage I’d been travelling for about 13 hours but the journey was nearing its end. We were supposed to meet the bride, groom and a gang of other people in the city but it was so late (after 11pm) that plan was scrapped.
Instead, the groom offered to drive us the 30/40 minute-trip to our hotel. Just over 12 hours to his wedding and he’s offering to be our taxi driver… he is a seriously cool guy.
The Plettenberger Hof, where I, two colleagues and their wives stayed.
We stayed in Nordkirchen in a small, family-run hotel. It was a nice place in a small but beautiful town.
On the left is my tiny en-suite, which may have been a wardrobe in a previous incarnation (it was custom-fitted; the plastic flooring, which included the lower part of the shower and walls, was a single piece), on the right my double bed with two mattresses.
The hotel was about 10 minutes’ walk from where the reception was held but a good 20 minutes’ drive from Datteln, where the wedding was celebrated.
Without a car, there was only one option: a taxi. Naturally, this showed up 15 minutes later than we’d booked it for. The seven of us piled in to the minibus and off we went. About halfway to Datteln the driver’s phone rang and he pulled over and began gesturing and mouthing off to us. We only started swearing when he turned the cab around and went back to Nordkirchen… to pick up five more people who had also booked a cab but showed up late.
All this we could have lived with as we still had plenty of time to make the ceremony. But the adventure was not over yet, dear reader; it was only once we entered the Datteln town limits that we discovered the driver didn’t know where the church was.
When he stopped a police car to ask for directions we thought things were back on track — only for us to pull up outside the police station, where the driver alighted and sauntered (yes, sauntered) inside. Several minutes passed and the passengers began to plot mutiny, i.e., fecking off without paying. We could see a steeple, you understand. Eventually, Mr Driver Fella came back out and set off with a new sense of purpose… before promptly bringing us to the wrong church (where, coincidentally, there was also a wedding being held). We made the ceremony though. He did not get a tip.
Side note: some of the group I travelled with went to a nearby water park the day after the wedding and the same driver picked them up. Top quote? (To be said with accusing finger pointed at cabbie) “That’s the same fuckin bollix we had yesterday! It’s the same fucking eejit, the same fuckin BOLLIX.” Says it all really.
We may have had a trouble or two getting to the wedding, but it was all worth it. You’ve already seen where the reception was held — and if you need to refresh your memory scroll up now — and I haven’t had so much fun in a long time. Apparently there was more beer consumed than at any other 700 weddings held at the schloss, while it was also the best behaved. Good times!
Our Sunday was largely spent wandering around Nordkirchen, which was a lovely example of red brick and red slate architecture. I only saw a couple of rundown buildings, and litter was almost non-existent. We also arrived during the Schuetzenfest, which, as the name suggests, was a shooting festival. Partially anyway.
There’s nothing quite like being woken at 2am by a marching band parading along the street outside your bedroom window.
The aim of the festival was to crown a new king — the schuetzen koenig. I didn’t meet the guy, but he was described to me as “suitably mulletted” and showed his marksmanship by taking out a wooden bird of some description. He will reign for two years and apparently must throw numerous parties.
Some of the schuetzenfest participants march down the main street in Nordkirchen, complete with wooden toy rifles.
Our hotel doubled as a first aid centre/field hospital.
I’m not sure of the exact military connection to the festival. There was a link to the tiny chapel across the road from our hotel, a small shrine to commemorate men from the area who died in the two world wars.
The chapel in Nordkirchen. The lighting was too poor to take photos inside (I only had my Nokia 6234) but it has an altar and pews so it must be used for services occasionally.
The people were genuine and very friendly. A special mention must go to Dyrga, the Turkish waiter in a Greek restaurant about 300 metres from the hotel. Turns out his father’s cousin is building an apartment complex in Turkey with a developer from Cork. He also sorted out all our taxi journeys and was a great guy all round. Vielen dank! Not entirely sure why he thought I looked German though.
I enjoyed meandering my way around the town despite the 25-35 celsius heat. The region was a major mining centre until about 20 years ago, when the sector collapsed and unemployment soared. The architecture is what I would think of as traditional German, and some buildings date back to 1727 and earlier. All the buildings I saw were either built in this red brick, red slate style or in a manner complementing this.
The Ludwiger-Becker-Plaza, as found on the town’s website.
There was the occasional oddity though. For example:
I know it’s somebody’s name, but would you want to buy perfume from a shop called Worms?
While poking around Nordkirchen we called into that German staple, Aldi. I’d never been in one but the range of products on sale in even a small store was impressive. For example, in among the chocolate biscuits and suitcases was this:
An air-conditioning/heating unit on sale for €299.
And next to that:
An inflatable kayak. This place truly has everything!
You can’t make it out from the photo, but the brand’s slogan is “The queen of table waters”. Classy.
Exploring the bookshop I discovered the Ahern influence has extended beyond the shores of this grotty green island (while offering a childish giggle at the same time):
It’s Cecila Ahern’s PS, I Love You in an unintentionally funny translation.
One more oddity:
I first saw this in Nordkirchen but I thought it was some local shop’s representation of Harry Potter. He seems to be on the cover of the German books, or at least on the ads for the German translation of the final book in the series. He doesn’t look like the Harry on the English-language covers; he looks a bit like Akhenaten if you ask me.
So that’s my story. It was an amazing time not in the least bit spoiled by the fact Aer Lingus kept us on the runway for three hours in Duesseldorf after our plane suffered two technical faults.
I’m back from an incredible time in Deutschland, but the travel has taken its toll. I had planned to write a blog entry tonight about the trip but, having been on the go since 6am, my eyes are begging for mercy. If I don’t listen to them I get a migraine for my obstinacy… so I may have something tomorrow (hopefully with pictures).