Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Aufstieg for Eintracht!

There's plenty to frustrate Americans when it comes to the game of soccer, or football as the rest of the world knows it.  One of the main things that blows my mind is the mutual acceptance of the "tie" throughout the season, for which teams earn 1 point.  Equally anti-climatic is the lack of a playoffs system or even a championship match.  Instead, most leagues (including the German Bundesliga) have a season-long point system in which all teams play each other at least twice (home and away) and earn 3 points for a win, 1 point for a tie, and 0 points for a loss.  At the end of the season in May, whichever team has more points is the champion for that season.  Simple enough.

I do appreciate that this system rewards teams that are consistently good all year, rather than a team that scrapes by into the playoffs and then gets hot to take the title.  Besides that, the one thing that I really like about the German Bundesliga (and other football leagues in Europe) is the system of relegation.  The system only exists because there are multiple divisions of play (similar to college American football), of which only the first three are important to anyone.  They way it works is simple:  the top two teams of the 2nd division are automatically promoted to the 1st division at the end of the season, while the bottom two teams from the 1st division are automatically demoted ("relegated") to the 2nd division.  This also takes place between the 2nd and 3rd divisions and it ensures a slightly different looking league each year.  It also gives teams at the top and bottom of both divisions a huge incentive to play hard through the end of the year.  But there's one more thing.........

......The team that finishes 3rd from the bottom of the 1st division and 3rd from the top of the 2nd division play each other in a two-game series at the end of the season with the winner earning the last spot in the first division.  This year saw major drama as the 3rd place 2nd division team - Fortuna Dusseldorf - defeated the 3rd from bottom 1st division Hertha Berlin, which is a rarity in this country.

However this blog focuses on our home team Eintracht Frankfurt who dropped down to 2nd division last year after losing the last 5 games of the season.  It was so lowsy that the die-hard Frankfurt fans rushed the field and attacked the Eintracht players at the last home game.  This year they loaded their roster and finished 2nd in the 2nd division to move back up to their rightful spot in the 1st division.  Here they call it an "Aufstieg".  We were fortunate to get to go to the last home game for Eintracht this year against TSV Munich 1860.  Eintracht had already advanced at that point and they ended up losing 0-2, but the celebration afterwards.........and taunting of the opponents' fans...........along with the presence of hundreds of riot police made this game a memorable experience.

Commerzbank Arena (formerly Waldstadion, or "forest stadium" since you have to walk through half a kilometer of wooded trails from the train station).  In the nicer months the roof retracts some sort of canvas covering to let in the sunshine and the breeze.  It's one of the nicer stadiums in Germany, built for the World Cup in 2006.

They had some nice color coordination happening in the stands - black and white trashbags to put on in your section.  I thought that putting on plastic on a quite warm day was a bad idea, so I stuck with the jersey.  It kinda seemed like cutting weight for wrestling or something.

The "Ultras" are basically a hardcore fanclub - nearly like a gang in some cities.

TSV 1860 Munich fans setting off a flare/smoke bomb after a second goal.  Notice that they completely cage the opposing fans into a section to avoid any mixing.  You'll see why after the game...

Although they wear UGA colors, we still support the good guys in red and black - Eintracht Frankfurt!

Game-day face.

So Frankfurt loses 0-2, but since they are moving up to the 1st division and this is the last home game, the Ultras and other Frankfurt supporters bust through security and rush the field

Eintracht players that had hoped to have a nice celebration with their families on the field - like our "Friend" in the green jersey - had to cut the celebration a bit early....

...due to the hoodlums wearing bandanas and balaklavas running with flares towards the Munich fans

As you might imagine with most sporting events in Europe the riot police then come on to the scene...

...and beat down a few hoodlums with their clubs.

Then it was back to the celebration for at least an hour after the match.......that Frankfurt lost.

All I can say is that I've never seen anything like this in any sport in the U.S.  It's an unbelievable cultural experience that I recommend to anyone.  I'll put up with a few ties and no championship game for this kind of day at the park!  Congratulations Eintracht Frankfurt - especially #29.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

My first European Opera

Our last night in Budapest we decided to kick up the class a notch and go to the opera. I have never been to an opera in Europe and Justin said it is something everyone should do. He went to a few on his study abroad in Germany back in college. The Budapest opera house was absolutely beautiful and just walking in put me in the mood for some high-class opera.

The spiral staircase leading to our seats

The amazing ceiling painting

Justin looking so sophisticated in his plaid

The place was covered in gold crown molding and these box seats were definitely a highlight

The view from our seats...not bad huh?

Now that I have raved about the opera house I wish I could say the same about the opera. We watched a Richard Wagner opera all in German with a screen translating it into Hungarian. One mistake Justin and I made was not reading the synapsis ahead of time and not having a clue what was going on. Now, Justin knows some German but even if the opera was sung in English I still think we wouldn't have understood it. We made it through the first Act or about an 1.5 hours and decided we did not want to waste 5 hours of our life sitting through this just to say we saw an opera. So I can check a European opera off the list and move on to other classy things. In the end we found an awesome restaurant and enjoyed the rest of the evening doing what a 28 and 30 year old do and not what a 70 year old does.


German Rapsoel

There's not much better in Germany than making it through the winter and being rewarded with the stunning views of the fields of "Raps" or "rapeseed" in English, I believe.  They're bright yellow flowers that cover the countryside and are harvested to make "Rapsoel" or "rapeseed oil" for cooking.  I guess it's an alternative to normal vegetable oil (Pflanzenoel) or sunflower oil (Sonnenblumenoel).  Either way, it really upgrades the landscapes here.  We are also lucky that our school sits next to some farmland that grows this stuff every other year or so.

 View of the fields from our school.

This guy's also growing some kind of wheat next to it.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Heading East for Easter: Budapest - Statue Park

One of the more unique sights to see in Budapest is the collection of Soviet memorials from the communist era about 30-40 minutes outside of Budapest at "Statue Park", recently renamed "Memento Park".  As the communist regime fell in Hungary, one of the first acts of capitalism was to set up this park outside of town and bus people in to have a look.  It's a fine collection of socialist realist art that captures the collectivism and anti-individualism that was all the rage of the regime.

This one is probably my favorite in the park, representing a worker running into the future holding the Soviet Flag.

 This one depicts the "scout" type program that the Soviets had in place to raise up good little communists.

 This one had a bunch of copper or bronzework on it which was ripped off sometime during the regime change.

Lenin is one of only about three people that could have individual monuments made of them during this time.  The others are Marx and Engels of course.

 I really liked this one which seemed to be made from scrap metal out of a junkyard or something.  See below for close-ups.

 This guy was also pretty intimidating - a proud comrade holding the flag, chin up, and packing some heat.

This one commemorated the "liberation" of the Hungarians by the Soviets during WWII.  

 Another sweet Lenin bust.


This is all that remains of a statue of Stalin that was cut off at the boots during the 1956 Uprising.

 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels - authors of the Communist Manifesto

Statue Park is definitely a fascinating stop for history buffs and any Westerner really, since these type of monuments are so different from what you find in Western Europe and North America.


Monday, May 14, 2012

Heading East for Easter: Budapest - Sights in "Pest"

While "Buda" is lovely, the main action goes down on the "Pest" side of the Danube.  I should've taken more pictures of all of the amazing architecture throughout the city in the Historicist style, which is apparently a blend of multiple styles.  The image that kept coming back to me was the 1920s Great Gatsby era.  I'm not sure if that's even accurate, but it did feel oddly preserved from that time period.  This post is loaded with pictures of the Parliament, churches, monuments and memorials, Hungarian baths, the Great Market Hall, and the oldest subway in Europe.

The Hungarian Parliament was built at the end of the 19th century as part of Hungary's millenium year of 1896.  It strongly resembles London's Houses of Parliament because the architect studied in London.  It's unnecessarily massive, as only a fraction of it (1/3?) is actually used for official business.

While difficult to see, this is a symbolic Hungarian flag with a hole cut out from the center........right where the old communist seal was under Soviet rule.  In 1956 there was a huge uprising in Hungary against the communist regime - the first of its kind.  Now this behavior wasn't tolerated by the Soviets so they sent in a bunch of troops and opened fire on demonstrators outside of the parliament.  Fighting took place for a week or so leaving 2,500 Hungarians and over 700 Soviets killed and at least 20,000 injured Hungarians.  The uprising was unsuccessful, but this was the first clear example to the world that the communist regimes were definitely not a choice of the people.

Hanging with the famous poet Attila Jozsef (1905-1937)

St. Istvan's Basilica (St. Stephen) - named after Hungary's first Christian king and also built for the millenial celebrations of 1896

Inside Istvan's Basilica

Inside Istvan's Basilica

Following the amazing stained glass we saw in Krakow, I also really enjoyed a set of 3-4 stained glass windows in Istvan's Basilica of a few saints

Gresham Palace was the first building in Budapest in the Historicist style, badly damaged during WWII, and restored during 1999 into a swanky hotel.

This Holocaust Monument memorializes the Jews of Budapest that were either sent off to concentration camps or killed right here on the banks of the Danube when the Nazi puppet government - the Arrow Cross - came to power in 1944.

This monument to the communist politician Imre Nagy, the leader of the 1956 Uprising, is strategically placed so that he is able to keep an eye on the Parliament.  He was a trusted insider in the communist regime that had the aim of softening up the communist policies in Hungary.  When the Soviets put down the uprising he was arrested, tried, executed, and buried in an unmarked grave.

Marisa was happy to find a fellow Californian in Budapest.

The Great Market Hall is a fun place to come and wander around and buy souvenirs, produce, sweets, or to grab a snack and people watch.

View from the top floor of the Great Market Hall.

One cannot visit Budapest without partaking in a Hungarian bath.  We went to the Szechenyi Baths, which included several indoor thermal baths at various temperatures, a hot sauna, cold plunge pool, and two large outdoor pools (heated).

The decor of the baths made it seem like we were in a time warp again and the place seems to be a common meeting spot for locals.

After leaving the baths we strolled through City Park and came across Vajdahunyad Castle, which was also built for the 1896 millenial celebration.  We caught a nice glimpse of the place under the moonlight.

The castle, shown here, was meant to be taken down after the celebration but it was so popular with the locals that they decided to keep it.

This man, known only as Anonymous, was the man given credit for recording Hungary's first written history during the Middle Ages.

On Heroes Square, they have a massive monument - the Millenial Monument - yet again, built for the 1896 celebration.  It features these Magyar tribal leaders in the center, representing the original settlers of Hungary, surrounded by the Hungarian War Memorial which features 14 different Hungarian leaders over the centuries.

Hungarian War Memorial - half of it anyways.  Imagine a mirror image of this structure right next to it.

Here we see the entire Heroes Square with both monuments.

As mentioned before, Budapest has the oldest metro system on the continent.  The stations were all very clean and were beautifully decorated with these tile motifs.

There are even more sights to see on the Pest side of Budapest, and we could've spent a few more days there.  I guess you have to leave something to come back to.........


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