Wine, words and wankers

Every now and then, an event comes along that you think is going to be right up your street. In my case this was “Wine and Words”, which took place last Friday.

It looked fantastic on paper (or on screen, rather):

“Wine lovers and word fanatics, you are in for a treat!”

All good so far…

“Together with Wine Club Berlin you will be able to ask all the questions you have about the magic grape juice while tasting a range of carefully selected treasures.”

Yes to that…

“Followed by brave readers and their stories, there will be live music with a range of ukulele, violin and live-looping combined with soulful harmonies – what better way is there to start your weekend?”

Damned if I could think of one.

I arranged to meet my English friend Bea there, and she brought along her German friend, Gerlinde. We were all set for a wonderful, cultural (if slightly boozy) start to the weekend. The free wine tasting started at 7pm and I don’t think any of us were quite prepared for the scrum that ensued. However, being the hardy Irish chick that I am, I managed to shove my way in. I discovered that there’s also something quite satisfying about hip-checking hipsters.

The barman proceeded to pour a dribble of wine into the glasses of the lucky few who had battled to the bar, all the while extolling the virtues of the drop that had barely wet my mouth. Still, I could taste enough to know that it was awful.

Round two.

Gerlinde: Hmm.

Me: Hmm. I’m sensing undertones of vinegar.

Gerlinde: It smells a bit like pineapple. But the canned kind, not the good stuff.

Me: Hmm. It smells a bit like paint-stripper. 

Poor Bea hadn’t had the heart to ram her way through hipster-hell so she missed out.

She didn't miss much, to be fair.
She didn’t miss much, to be fair.

 

I managed to taste a drop of rosé and a drop of red before giving up and paying for a proper glass of wine. €4.50 for 125ml – utterly outrageous. I could get 23 bottles at LIDL for the price of one bottle there; it’s debatable which is preferable – dying of shock at the price of one bottle or dying from drinking 23 of them.

We managed to find a table and people-watching commenced. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many tossers in one place. I wondered if all of these people who try so hard to look so different from everyone else, with their craaaaaaaazy hair and craaaaaaaazy clothes, realise that they simply look the same as everyone else who’s trying to look so different. Deep, right?

Needless to say, it was a total selfie-fest but special mention has to go to “the wookie in the wife-beater”. First of all, anyone who wears a wife-beater in January can’t have all of their cups in the cupboard (as we say in German). Secondly, any man who aims to draw attention to himself by displaying his mammoth amount of back and shoulder hair in public should be sent to a galaxy far, far away.

It was almost enough to put a girl off her wine, but not quite. I got another glass.

Me: Where are the words? It’s after 8.30 and not one word! 

Bea: Hmm, not sure. Maybe they’re getting organised. 

Me: Well, I’m not sitting here drinking overpriced plonk all night. There’d better be some words soon.

Bea: We could just leave. Go to a normal bar? 

Me: NO! I came to hear words and hear words I will! 

Finally, a girl got on stage and introduced the first act – a violinist. Everyone clapped uproariously now that things were finally getting started and we settled in to enjoy the show. After a pretentious nod to the audience, he commenced to play the most mournful dirge I think I’ve ever heard in my life. Way to get the party started.

As I squirmed with boredom, I chanced a look around me at the other guests. Slack-jawed and glassy-eyed would be a fairly accurate description. One guy poured the rest of a bottle into his glass as another fell asleep. After around three minutes, the caterwauling ended and someone started clapping enthusiastically – probably in relief. But no, it was just a brief pause; he played on for another six hours, or maybe it just felt that way.

Me: Jesus. 

Bea and Gerlinde: …

The next act was introduced – a reader, finally. Now, I know how hard it is to get up in front of a roomful of people so I’ll be charitable.

I have never, EVER, heard such unadulterated, self-involved drivel in my life.

Me: Right, that’s it. I’m done. 

We put on our coats and walked out.

Bea: Never invite me to anything again. 

Me: But it sounded so good on paper! 

This was actually the inaugural “Wine and Words” evening. Next time, if there is a next time, I’d suggest that they call the event “Self-obsessed twats listening to self-obsessed twats talking twaddle and drinking dribbles of crap wine” – it would save people getting their hopes up.

 

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English Club in a Pub

I spend quite a bit of time in my local bar, perhaps too much some might say. It’s owned and mainly staffed by Croatians and features a motley crew of locals, all of whom have been very friendly and welcoming to the weird Irish chick who showed up in their midst one day. In fact, it’s where I learned a lot of my German as the men there seem very keen to talk to me – probably because I lower the average age by about 20 years and wear a dress sometimes.

If you look very closely, you'll see me in the background (in a straw hat from the Euro Shop)
If you look very closely, you’ll see me in the background (in a straw hat from the Euro Shop – yeah, I’m all class)

Over the course of several months, I noticed that the “Club Room” adjacent to the main bar was empty most evenings and, over a few glasses of wine, I came up with the idea to start an “English Club”. As there are so many interesting ways for foreigners to learn German in Berlin, I thought it might be nice to give the Germans a chance to learn English in a slightly different way.

I spoke to the owner and ran the idea past him. He was all for it and, most importantly, using the room would be free of charge as I’d (hopefully) be bringing in new customers. I spent a little while mulling over the Club and how it would work and put together a poster to publicise it in the bar. I was pretty pleased with it but sent it to Manfredas anyway to get a German’s opinion.

Manfredas: NEIN! Das geht gar nicht! Germans want details. They want to know WHY they’re going somewhere and what to expect when they get there. 

Me: Sigh. 

Back to the drawing board. I added every possible detail I could think of and, this time, it got the Manfredas seal of approval. I stuck the posters up in the bar, and posted a couple of notices on local websites. Manfredas had stolen some flipchart paper for me (Germans can be quite wild…) and I set off to the bar on that first Tuesday evening at around 5.30.

The idea behind English Club is that people can come and practise and improve their English in a relaxed environment, over a couple of beers, once a week at 6pm. I’d pick a different topic every week and we would discuss it together. I stuck the flipchart paper to the back of the door, took out and lined up the 20 pens that I’d bought, prepared my materials and waited.

Two people came. Success! The topic that I’d prepared – ordering in a restaurant – proved to be woefully inadequate. Like a lot of Germans, these guys were waaaaaaaaaaaaay beyond that level. I had no idea that the people who showed up would already be so good at English. Still, we chatted away merrily for the hour and all was well with the English Club.

The next week, I had a rethink and picked some more advanced materials. A few more people showed up and we had a grand old time.

I’ve since bought a whiteboard which I use to write up new vocabulary and do corrections at the end of the hour. The next day, I email any new words and the corrections to participants, or post them on the Club Facebook page.

I’ve been doing it for a few months now and a little while ago, a journalist from Kiez Report (a video blog on the local area) said that he’d like to do an interview about the English Club with me. My desire to boost English Club’s popularity won out over the horror of seeing myself on camera and I decided to do it. After all, the journalist’s name was Patrick – what could possibly go wrong?

I wasn’t sure what I’d been expecting but whatever it was, it didn’t involve tripods or professional lighting. Patrick said that he’d like to ask me the first question in German and then we could continue in English. ARGH!

Squinting into the light, I mumbled something that sounded vaguely like German, albeit with a strong Irish accent, and then we switched to English. It was actually…fun! Patrick stayed for the whole hour and interviewed one of the participants at the end who, thankfully, was very complimentary about me and my little English Club.

If you want a chuckle, you can watch the video here.

Be kind…