Tag Archives: music

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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A very German Christmas party

Me: What time is it? 

Manfredas: 11.

Me: Ugh, I think I’ll sleep for another hour. It shouldn’t take more than five and a half hours to put on a dress. 

Manfredas: One would think not. 

Me: Grunt. (I hate it that a German sounds more natural using “one” than I do.)

We were being picked up by Manfredas’ boss, Heribert, at 5.30 to go to their company Christmas party. As there would be at least a hundred new people and a hell of a lot of German, I suggested one for “Dutch courage” in the local bar beforehand. Amazingly, Manfredas had never heard of this expression before so I smugly took my leave with four hours and forty-five minutes remaining to put on a dress.

Heribert and his wife, Fraubert (yeah, I know I’m pushing it with that one), were waiting for us so we hopped into the car and I entertained everyone with my charming Germish. Manfredas and I had devised a game called “Spot the Ossi” which we shared with the Berts, neither of whom are East German (Ossi).

The shindig had been organised by Manfredas’ colleague, who is known internally as “The Sheriff”.

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Yes, you read that correctly – the party was scheduled to end at 11.59. Not midnight, not 11.58, but 11.59. Germans…

We were greeted by The Sheriff and I craned my neck to get a good look at her over the vast expanse of her yellow outfit; I imagine it was how David must have felt when he met Goliath. (I was David, in case you were wondering.) Our names were checked off a list and we were given name tags, which everyone just loves. We made our way outside to the mulled wine reception.

Me: There’s one.

Manfredas: Correct.

A woman with hair like blonde candy floss was an obvious first Ossi-spot.

Me: There’s another one.

Manfredas: Correct.

A woman who had dyed the back of her wall of hair purple was an easy second spot. We mingled a little, with me attempting to be on my best behaviour. The Sheriff soon started herding us towards the main reception room, where the big boss was due to give a welcome speech. We took our seats at the Berts’ table and I restrained myself from commenting (too much) on the phallic festive chocolates.

Am I right?
Am I right?

The Sheriff was given the credit for organising the event and lumbered up to collect a bouquet of flowers. All credit to the woman, she had organised it with military precision and everything went off without a hint of a hitch. The food was amazing – honeyed ham, duck, cod, mushroom ravioli, an extensive salad bar, fresh baguettes, a veritable potato fest, and a choice of desserts with fancy descriptions that defied any logic. “An interpretation of Apfelstrudel”… Anyone?

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The endless supply of free wine lubed up my linguistic skills and conversation at our table flowed as easily as the booze. The DJ played a rather bewildering array of tunes and, despite one failed attempt to get our dinner companions to do the YMCA, Manfredas and I had a rollicking good time.

Best of all, at 11.59, the Berts gave us a lift back too, saving us up to two hours on public transport. We finished our night as we had started it, looking fabulously overdressed in our local bar.

I remembered to remove my name tag just in time and avoided looking like a total prat.

Meeting the Manfredases

Manfredas: Do you fancy a couple of days in Hannover? We’d be staying with my parents…

Me: Oh God.

But I agreed to go; the chance to see a typical German family household with alles in Ordnung trumped my nervousness at having to try to be “normal” in a foreign language for an entire weekend. I made Manfredas stop at a supermarket close to their house so that I could pick up some flowers. I figured that I could at least make a good first impression even if it was going to be all downhill from there.

Me: What kind of flowers does she like? 

Manfredas: I dunno. Everything? 

Me: Sigh.

We arrived just after sunset and were greeted at the door by Mr and Mrs Manfredas. I needn’t have worried – they couldn’t have been nicer and more welcoming. We were ushered into the dining room where Abendbrot (evening bread) was waiting for us. Abendbrot, as far as I can tell, is basically breakfast without the jam and Nutella. Yes Germans, your secret is out…

Me: (eyeing a suspicious-looking grey mass on a plate) What is THAT?

Manfredas: Leberwurst (liver sausage).

Me: Jesus. 

I excused myself to go to the bathroom, which was so clean you could have eaten your Leberwurst off the floor. His dad had rigged up a radio to the light switch so it was a very nice, musical pee. I made sure to compliment Mr Manfredas on his ingenuity when I got back downstairs.

Musical bathroom
Musical bathroom

After a little more small talk – yes, Germans do that – we were off to visit Manfredas’ friend and his wife. We sat in the “party kitchen”, drank wine and good whiskey and I managed to not come across as a total idiot – I think.

The next morning, after a musical shower and a massive breakfast, we hopped on the U-Bahn to the football stadium where Hannover 96 were playing Sankt Pauli. As the Germans are capable of having ideas, the cost of the trip to and from the stadium is included in the season ticket in a bid to encourage people to leave their cars at home.

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The weather was a bit shit but Mrs Manfredas had been nice enough to lend me a practical German raincoat. As we approached security, I prayed that she had no illicit substances in her pockets. Having been briskly frisked and having my phone charger taken off me, we were in. The match was sold out and the atmosphere was buzzing. Sechsundneunzig – immer nett und freundlich. Various chants were being sung and I sung along with what I imagined the right words were.

Me: Are they saying “Ole asshole”?

Manfredas: Ha, NEIN! “Ole HSV!” (pronounced like “Ha ess fow” in German so an easy mistake to make…)

Hannover won 2-0 in the end and the stadium was a testament to what simple creatures men really are.

Woop! Ole asshole!
Woop! Ole asshole!

We met up with another of Manfredas’ friends on the way out and proceeded to the Hannover version of Oktoberfest. It was a bit like Las Vegas on steroids.

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We managed to stick the noise and drunkenness for one drink and then walked to the old city to find somewhere a bit more civilised. The German love of sausage appears to be strong in Hannover.

Manfredas brought me to Gosch, which is where the Hannover wannabes hang out. I looked a little out of place amid the primped and preened ladies in my over-sized red raincoat, jeans and trainers but it’s Germany so nobody really cares. Still, I wanted to find somewhere a little more “me” (i.e. dodgy) so we left after one.

Walking past a bar where women  with partially shaved heads and tattooed necks were roaring out the window at some poor bloke on a bike, I decided we’d found it.

Yup, this was the place!
Yup, this was the place!

We stayed for as long as I could bear listening to the Hannover Hyena laughing toothily at everything I said and then went for a bite to eat.

Sunday morning was sunny and warm and, when I got downstairs, Manfredas and his dad were sitting in the garden putting the world to rights. I decided there and then that my mission in life was to become a German pensioner – these people know how to live.

After another huge breakfast, Manfredas, his dad and I took a stroll to the nearby Blauer See, not five minutes from the house. Of course, this being Germany, there was also a beer garden.

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Manfredas: Do you want something to drink? 

Me: Ummmm.

Manfredas: My dad’s going to have a beer. 

Me: OK then, I’ll have a glass of wine. 

It was 11.55.

We sat and chilled for an hour or so, sunning ourselves and enjoying the peace and quiet. I made witty conversation – in my head – and Manfredas and his dad pretended that what I said in reality was actually correct German.

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Blauer See

We all went for a delicious lunch in a Croatian restaurant and then it was time to pack up and get on the Autobahn back to Berlin.

I can’t say how the Manfredases felt about me, but I’m a huge fan of theirs. From the moment I arrived, I “felt myself at home” as the Germans would say – the musical bathroom was just a bonus.

 

 

Oh, Vienna! (2)

After a quick freshen-up at the hotel (and a chance for me to use one of the thoughtfully-packed teabags), we caught the bus to Kahlenberg, a hill which offers the best views of Vienna. The bus ride alone, up winding cobbled streets with views of forest, vineyards and glimpses of the city, is well worth it – just don’t eat too much before you get on.

Suitably shaken and stirred, we hopped off at the last stop, just in time to catch sunset over the valley. The views of the city, although a little misty that evening, were spectacular.

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With the sun gone, there was a decided nip in the air, so we got back on the bus to Grinzing, the most famous of Vienna’s wine villages – and so pretty it’s hard to imagine real people actually live there.

I’d chosen one place but, just as we were about to go in, a coachload of Spanish tourists showed up – NEIN! No way was I listening to that for the night. Luckily, you’re spoiled for choice in Grinzing so we just went across the road to the next ridiculously picturesque restaurant.

Crushed, no less. I like their no-nonsense approach.
Crushed, no less. I like their no-nonsense approach.

We found a table and ordered some much-needed food – and, of course, local wine. I had the goulash, which I ate too quickly to take a photo of but, I can assure you, it was delicious.

Grinzing - where men wear Lederhosen unironically
Grinzing – where men wear Lederhosen unironically

With some local musicians now in full swing in the bar area, we moved to another table to be closer to them – and ended up sitting beside the mayor, as you do. He took a shine to me immediately and every time Manfredas’ head was turned, he took the opportunity to give me a come-hither gaze I found rather amusing – and also declined.

Still, he and his party were friendly enough and we chatted away for a while; the only problem was his dog who had a tendency towards rather smelly ausfahrts. As soon as another table cleared, we hot-footed it over and, by now, were right beside the musicians.

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While they might have looked a bit Latvian on the outside, they were really nice people and, in no time at all, we were nattering away. It turned out that the musicians aren’t professionals; they’re just a group of locals who get together once a month to keep the old folk tunes alive. We just happened to get lucky by choosing that particular bar on that particular night. The lady on the right and I became pally as she loves Ireland, visits regularly, and sings Irish traditional songs with her local choir. For anyone interested in instruments, a piano accordian like this one will set you back up to €15,000.

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Pricey hobby

All in all, we had a fabulous night. We were the only tourists there and there was something really cool about being welcomed into a local tradition that we’d wandered into purely by accident.

Dinner: €8

Wine: Can’t remember

Listening to actual yodelling in a bar in Austria: Priceless

We got off to a slightly later start the next day (as you can imagine). After several cups of tea and a bite to eat, we took the train one station past Schloss Schönbrunn (Palace “Beautiful Spring”) so we could walk back through the palace gardens. The day turned out to be much nicer than we had expected and the gardens were beautiful.

This is probably down to the scary man cycling around, who shouts and blows his whistle at anyone who dares to go near the grass. Despite there being signs everywhere, people are stupid so I can’t blame him for being snarky.

If you think the gardens are impressive, wait until you emerge into the massive courtyard between the palace itself and the Obelisk Fountain. While it’s hard to take photos while your jaw is dragging along the ground, I did my best.

We felt like we’d definitely earned a Spritzer (or two) before heading back into the city so that’s exactly what we did. Feeling like I needed to work that off before indulging in the famous Viennese Sacher Torte, we had a wander around a park and took in the awe-inspiring buildings that surrounded it.

Me: Gawp.

Parliament Building
Parliament Building

Me: Gawp.

The Rathaus
The Rathaus

Me: Gawp.

KK Hofburg Theatre
KK Hofburg Theatre

Me: Gawp. Sneeze.

Yes folks, it’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for – THE CAKES. When in Vienna, it doesn’t pay to do things by halves on the Kaffee and Kuchen front so it was off to the famous Café Landtmann. (Well, if it’s good enough for Sigmund Freud, it’s probably good enough for me.)

Caaaaaaaake...
Caaaaaaaake…
People eating caaaaaaaaaaaake
People eating caaaaaaaaaaaake

We found a nice outdoor table and waited for the menus. OH. MY. GOD.

Caaaaaaaaaaaake...
Caaaaaaaaaaaake…

They looked even better in person (or “in cake” – how does that work?).

Dear lord...
Dear lord…

DSC00635While I wanted to try everything, I felt that, this being Vienna, I should have the Sacher Torte. While we waited, I tried to figure out the pecking order of the waiters. (Manfredas probably missed awe-struck, silent Linda at this point.)

They have guys in black jackets and guys in white jackets. I think how it works is the “black” guys take your order, the “white” guys do all the carrying, and the “black” guys bring the bill and take the money at the end. I could be wrong though.

Who cares?! Caaaaaaaaaaake!
Who cares?! Caaaaaaaaaaake!

Feeling magnanimous and hopped up on chocolate, I offered to foot the bill for this one. Smugly loaded with a €20-note in my hand, I waved it at the snooty (but funnily so) waiter. He asked me for another €2. Erm, WHAT? €22 for a Sacher Torte, Apfelstrudel, a coffee and a tea bag in water… OK, it was worth it for the experience but I may have had a little weep.

This is turning into a Lord of the Rings-style epic – apologies! Part 3 coming soon! 

 

 

 

On noise and nudity

On Friday, my half-naked neighbour graduated to being full-on naked. While I’m not a fan of my eyes being assaulted by a swaying, sagging, dimply arse, I do have bigger problems with the guy.

As I’ve mentioned before, he’s an opera singer. Or opera student. Whatever. All I know is that it entails him singing sporadically, at the top of his voice, from early in the morning until late in the evening most days. I’m as much of a music lover as the next person, but I do need peace and quiet while I work (or nap).

Maybe if he’d mixed it up with a bit of Johnny Cash, I could have stood it, but it was wall-to-wall opera. Opera, opera, opera. I was going out of my mind. Sorting him out had been on my to-do list for quite a while, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it.

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German organisation

The helpful, and often fabulously entertaining, “Free Advice Berlin” Facebook page came to my rescue. On this page, people can post pretty much anything they like in the hope that a kind soul will help them out. Questions have included everything from people looking for unusual products or cool bars, where to neuter a cat or buy a TV, help with moving flat, and even a Russian asking someone to explain feminism to him. (Good luck with that last one.)

The post that caught my eye, however, was by a musician. He explained that he wants to study sound engineering and plays around 13 instruments, including the drums, which he practises at home. Amazingly, he was getting noise complaints from the neighbours…

People were quick to comment on this one and, luckily for me, this being Germany, there are RULES about this sort of thing. It turns out that you can’t actually practise an instrument (voice included) for more than two hours a day. I downloaded the “Merkblatt zur Hausmusik” that someone posted, which contains scary terms like “Gemäß § 5 des Landes-Immissionsschutzgesetzes” and “Einschlägige Gerichtsentscheidungen”. I wasn’t entirely sure what they meant, but I figured you probably wouldn’t want to mess with that stuff.

Fun with German words...
Fun with German words…

A quick perusal through my rental agreement backed up the general Berlin rules with more specific house rules.

Take that!
Take that!

Ah, lovely German rules.

After a night filled with bad dreams about jiggly, naked opera singers, I was rudely awakened on Saturday morning at 9.30am by the man himself. I repeat, 9.30 AM on a SATURDAY. This was war.

WAR I tell ya!
WAR, I tell ya!

But instead of banging down his door like the fighting Irish woman that I am, I opted for the more civilised German approach. This involved me sitting at my laptop in a fury, with extreme bed hair and fluffy pajamas, and hammering out a “pleasant” letter to my neighbour, “politely” asking him to stop with all of the fucking singing because he was driving me fucking mad disrupting my work and my sleep.

I printed out the letter and the Merkblatt and, after making myself slightly less mental looking, popped them both into his letter box.

And now I wait. I guess there’s a good chance an angry, half-naked opera singer will show up on my doorstep. If that does happen, rather than resorting to fisticuffs, I’m hoping we can have a good old-fashioned sing-off. Throw in a couple of beers and a bit of Schlager and that would seem to be the most German way to handle things…