A football pilgrimage
Photo essay: My adventure on the way to Nurenberg
June 15, 2006
I had a hard time getting the money together to go to Nuremberg. Things have been tight for me lately. I had enough money for a train pass to get me to the games (400 Euros for 22 days of unlimited travel), but little to spend on things like tickets, accommodation or food while I was there.
So last week, I had to put away my pride and finally call my family in the US who are supporting me and tell them that I have a small emergency and that I needed 500 dollars deposited in my account as soon as possible. They were very nice, did not even ask what the small emergency was, and complied. (Their behavior towards me is often oscillating between great kindness and generosity, and great churlishness and peevishness.)
For the trip I packed myself some Dutch cheese, Melba toast, raisins, Dutch caramel syrup waffles, a couple of packets of chocolate milk, 4 green apples, a large bottle of water and I fill my metal pocket flask with Crème de Menthe, a liqueur distilled and infused with mint. I also took with me a note book and a couple of pens, a recent book on Cosmopolitanism, a poem by Longfellow on Nuremberg, and 200 Euros.
I left the Rotterdam central train station on Friday June 16 at about 1 p.m. for Nuremberg traveling through the Dutch cities of Eindhoven and Venlo, and the German cities such as Düsseldorf, Bonn, and Frankfurt. My train ride and the scenery were pretty mundane until, I think, about five or six p.m. when we passed Koblenz and began riding along the Rhine. Suddenly the scenery was very beautiful and I found myself riding through a vast and most stunning river valley surrounded by hilly and mountainous wooded forests, dotted with beautiful small towns and villages where all the houses were sitting on hills and you could see many old castles and fortresses on mountain tops.
The cool air carrying the scent of the forests and the landscape reminded me of the mountain road between Tehran and the Caspian regions of Iran. So not being in a rush and having plenty of time before the game on Sunday, I stopped at a small station, asked a kindly old couple who turned out to be Americans on vacation, where is a good hike, and went for a three hour climb before continuing my trip. I sat on a high hill near a vineyard, watched the sun set and the rising of a beautiful full moon. My spirit was so delighted that I brought out my notebook and wrote down a few paragraphs about what I was seeing and how it made me feel, trying to capture my elevated impressions and sentiments.
Shortly after that I got to Mainz and had to change my train. After I entered my railroad passenger car and sat down, four young women walked in and stood by the door. They were attractive, loud, and a little drunk. This was right after the first German match with Ecuador on the first night of the World Cup, so they were happy and jubilant, and they were raising the spirit of the whole coach by singing, laughing, and acting up.
I was sitting near them, but when the train began moving I discovered that I was sitting with my back to the front of the train so I moved away to the back and to an empty seat. After half an hour the young women were tired and came to sit on the empty seats in the area I was sitting. I moved my backpack and they thanked me for this and began speaking to me in German. I told them that I do not speak German, and so we began a conversation in English.
I told them that I was living in Rotterdam, Netherlands and studying philosophy and that I was going to Nuremberg to hopefully see the Iran and Mexico match on Sunday. They asked me about Iran and Ahmadinejad and they wanted to know my opinions and get some first hand knowledge because they suspected that the special negative focus of Western governments and media on Iran is at least partly driven by sinister motives such as oil and plunder.
They added that the whole world knows about these latter motives and that Iraq would have never been invaded and occupied if it were not for its oil reserves. I told them that I did not favor the rule of mullahs and I was less than happy with our president, but I posed the question that is it not very strange that the whole world knows about the contemporary Western wars and plans for wars for oil and influence in the Middle East and yet it seems that no one can do anything about it, stop or slow down those in power, or dissuade them?
I then told them that I am an American citizen and have been married to an American woman for the past 19 years and that we are rarely apart, and that we simply did not have enough money for both of us to make it to the World Cup and she knows how much I love football, and she wanted me to go because she knows how happy it will make me, so she encouraged me to go alone and see whether I can get a ticket and get into the stadium and see at least one of the matches played by the Iranian national team. They were impressed by how long we have been married and wished me a good trip and good-luck with the Iranian team.
They asked me if I had any children and I said no. Then they asked: why this is so, and I explained that while both me and my wife had some desire to have children, this desire is not very strong. I added that currently our life is not focused on making money and financial security, having children would inevitably lead to these undesirable aims and goals, and we do not want to make such life style changes because we are not ready to abandon our current goals and projects.
I asked them about what they were doing, they told me that they were all in their mid-twenties and have either finished their university degree or are about to. One of them had just finished an economics degree; another was working on a social science degree. Of the other two who were doing most of the talking with me, one asked me if I knew of the works of Erving Goffman, the Jewish Canadian sociologist, and said that she is working on a long essay focused on him and his works, to finish her degree. She said about her other friend that she was still undecided and was getting something like a general education degree. But the friend spoke up for herself and almost regretfully said that she had also decided to study economics. She explained this is because everything is so expensive in life and you need a lot of money to live well. She added getting a nice place to live is expensive, having a nice car is expensive and good clothes are expensive.
To this I responded: of course you are so right about what you are saying about the cost of life and living well, but I added: one of the most important insights that I have come upon in my many years of studying philosophy was that the best life, the most fulfilling one, with the most amounts of delight and pleasure is one in which we pursue what we feel very passionate about, we do what we like best, and develop ourselves in unique ways.
I pointed out that while most people are aware of this in an abstract way, they can not put it into practice because when they ask Œwhat do I feel passionate about,' nothing comes up. What I think that they miss is that you should first engage and immerse yourself in the various fields of study and areas where passions can be developed and only after you have done this, ask your self which field or area of human expression, or way of being a human is for me. One can be passionate about many things, such as poetry, literature, philosophy, music, arts, and politics. But we will never know it until we embrace these, learn about them, get some proficiency, make them ours in some sense, and get to know the higher gratifications which are associated with them.
I added that were we to become passionate about higher human endeavors and connect with the higher pleasures, then I think that we would see the limits and futility of getting our happiness from material things and financial security. In fact this latter way of being happy is best fitted for those who are passionless and are not aware of higher pleasures. I think that if our minds and hearts can soar when in the presence of beautiful things, artifacts, words, and people, then it really matters little if you are eating bread and cheese rather than steak and lobster or if you live in a small apartment rather than a large house.
I also put forward the idea that this idea of developing your self uniquely and finding your passion is not very different than what some contemporary feminists advocate. One of the most basic insights of feminism is that our grandmothers were often unhappy and unfulfilled because while being a mother and a housewife is a worthy thing, it does not give women much self-worth and self-confidence, or a strong ego based on knowledge and some mastery of the world. Another insight is that while going into the job market and competing with men certainly can give women stronger egos, this going along with the men and what they do, are ultimately like motherhood and being a housewife not sufficiently fulfilling and do not speak to what is deepest in us as humans. So some feminists now also point to the idea of developing yourself in a unique way as a response to the question of what would fulfill women and make them happy.
We talked about many things such as the lives of Iranian women, Iran's nuclear ambitions, and German poetry, but before long we were at Frankfurt Hbf (Hbf is the abbreviation of Hauptbahnhof which is the German word for central train station.). We regretted that our conversion could not go on for longer and said goodbye. One of the women who was talking to me most stayed behind and asked me inquisitively if I had been in Frankfurt before and knew how to get around, after a second her face became more self-assured and she answered her own question by saying: yes, you have had a lot of experiences and you probably can get by anywhere. And I said: I think that you may be right. As she turned to walk away, she said: tell your wife she has a wonderful husband. This made me laugh out loud and say: what you do not know is that I have many bad habits and some of them border on being rude. We then smiling waved goodbye.
I got to Frankfurt at 2:00 a.m. and found out that the next train to Nuremberg was at 6:20 a.m.. So I left the train station, and asked about and set out for the old part of the town to look at the beautiful bits of the city, like the old churches, buildings, monuments, and public arts. On the way I passed many bars filled with English Football fans because England was to play there later that day. The English fans were often very loud and boisterous, and sometimes even very confrontational with the German police. Whenever they would drive by, the English fans would boo them and break bottles and glasses. I found out later that some of these gathering had to be broken up by the show of force, but thankfully with few arrests.
When I saw that the old center was full of loud and drunk English fans, I walked through it quickly and made my way across the river by the Iron Bridge and connected with World cup festivities that were going on along the river banks in the early hours of the morning. A Spanish band was playing samba and there were many international food stalls. I bought a small plate of Ghanaian food for 3 Euros which was delicious and reminded me of the cooking of a Ghanaian friend who writes immigrant poems. By the time I finished my food, walked up and down the snack booths, and made my way back to the train station, it was after 5 a.m., things were getting light, and the sun had come up. Shortly after that I found my train, got into it, and went into deep sleep until I was in Nuremberg at about 9:00 a.m..
My first impressions of Nuremberg were very positive. I found the city to be very beautiful. I had read about it and I knew that it is an old new city, by this I mean it has a long history which goes back to the Middle Ages but since it was mostly bombed and destroyed by the Allies during World War II, it has been built anew only in the past 50 to 55 years. It is a little bit of a strange city and like Disney Land, because it has many medieval buildings which are really replicas.
The most famous citizen of Nuremberg is the great German painter, wood carver, engraver, printmaker, and mathematician, Albert Durer (1471ˆ1528), whom I love and admire, and whose work and life I know a lot about. He was the first modern artist, the first superstar artist, famous and admired in his own times, he was the first to sign all his paintings, first to travel to other lands, and first to produce mass prints and sell non commissioned art.
So the first thing I did when I came out of the train station was to ask people where his house was, which I knew is still standing. It turned up to be on the highest city hill which took me 25 minutes to climb. The museum house was located at a most beautiful city square or plaza. It did not open until 10:00 a.m., so I went to the garden of a huge castle which was situated behind Durer's house, walked around there, took some pictures, looked down on the city below, and was refreshed by the sight of tall and big trees and flowers. The castle was called Kaiserburg and it was very old and had a great history. But having outlived its royal and military use, it was now a youth hostel housing 300 beds.
Durer's house was fun. It was a bit phony because it had been forgotten for many years, and changed and used by many people over the years in a variety of different ways and as the place of various types of shops and businesses. It was only later recognized to have been the house of Durer and rebuilt and refurnished to look like how Durer may have kept it. Nevertheless, there was a historical connection (Durer lived there from 1509 until his death in 1528) and something to see and so I paid the fee and went in.
The house appeared to be very old, and it had low ceilings, steep and narrow stairs, creaking wooden floors, and narrow doorways. There were some exhibitions about the life and times of Durer, a collection of etches and drawings, rooms decorated with old furniture to give the visitor some insights into life in the Late Middle Ages and Early Renaissance, a multimedia show, and an art workshop or studio with painting, etching, engraving and printing tools, tables, and displays.
I left Durer's house and went to the National Museum to see more of his works. I was going to miss the Saturday afternoon game, but I didn't care. I am 43 and I have decided that what I want most in life is inspiration, and to be moved by beautiful and meaningful things to self-activity and to creating something beautiful in turn. (I have stopped explaining this to my family in the US because they think that the only legitimate mode of living is one based on making money and aiming for material security. These are the things that lift their hearts.) The museum was very nice and rich with artistic works from all sorts of places and times.
I saw masterpieces by painters such as Durer and Rembrandt, the medieval collections which included sculptures, stained glass works, panel paintings, and textiles, an exhibition on the origins of European printmaking, and a most interesting exhibition called ŒWhat is German?,' which I found very insightful because it helped me to better understand the contemporary German people's minds, their recent history and mentality, and how they see themselves and their place in the world. I also stopped by the museum shop to buy something of Durer for my wife, Kirsten, who is an artist her self, an art scholar, historian, and the person who introduced me to Durer.
After the museum, I headed towards the stadium to see if and when tickets for the game will go on sale, to watch the Saturday games on the big screen which was in a fan area right outside the stadium, and to see whether I can pay some money and take a shower in the camping site near there.
When I got there, I was a little stunned to see the buildings and monuments from the time of Nazi Rallies right outside the stadium. These were left there as a reminder of what went on during the Nazi era. The stadium area was the location where the National Socialists held their huge rallies from 1927 through 1938. These were massive propaganda affairs with a lot of people, soldiers, and giant flags, which served to demonstrate the might of the German people and centered on presenting Hitler as Germany's savior chosen by providence. He would always make a speech in these rallies and then the adoring gathered masses would swear loyalty to him and marched before him.
Seeing these buildings made the hair on the back of my neck stand up straight, it made me ask myself: what now? I thought about the fact that President Bush also frequently invokes providence and God, and always has huge American flags behind him when he is making a war speech and asking for the blind loyalty of Americans. I then reminded myself to finish an essay which I have started on the difference between being patriotic and being a good citizen, preferably before the 4th of July. Apart from these frightening and sad reminders, the area around the stadium was actually pretty, wooded and very green, and it also had a number of small blue lakes.
I walked around the stadium and the fan area asking about tickets. There were many different sorts of rumors about the availability of tickets moving around. Some thought that they are sold out and not available at the door. Others claimed that it would be sold at 3:00 p.m. on the day of the game. Yet others claimed that they would go on sale the morning of the game.
Next I went to the camping area. I paid 8 euros for a day and also got a blanket. I took a long shower which was hot and very nice. I then found a little grassy spot and got ready to sleep under a tree for a few hours. Before I could go, a Mexican guy showed up and began talking to me. He asked me if the tent nearby was mine and I said no. I told him that I have no tent and sleeping bag and that I was going to sleep a little now and spend the night either staying up or sleeping in a train riding to and from a near by city. He got worried and told me that it gets very cold here at night and that if I decided to stay and got cold, there is a television room and a room for washing dishes which are warm at nights. He then told me that there are many Iranians in the camping area and encouraged me to see if I can stay with them for the night. I told him that I am not worried and that it would be only for one night.
Soon he was having something to eat and asked me to join him, he shared his food with me and I brought out my Dutch cheese and gave him a chunk. Then I brought out my Dutch caramel syrup waffles and gave him a few and this worked like a friendly magic potion, because shortly after that this fellow whose name was Alberto told me that his tent is large enough for three people, and then he invited me not to bother about riding trains and to spend the night in his tent. I asked him if he was sure that this was not too much inconvenience for him and he said no, and so I accepted his offer.
We then set out to the fan area to see the match between Argentina and Ivory Coast. Alberto told me that he had been traveling through Europe with his bicycle for the past four months and that he was in Rotterdam a month ago. He looked about 35 to 40 years old, he was a non-smoker and did not drink alcohol, he was dark and had some Indian in him, he was always on his bike, and he wore a wig the color of the Mexican flag and carried a flag on a pole with him at all times and everywhere. Coming to Germany, I of course assumed that I would meet up with Iranian folks, but I found a Mexican friend.
After the match we went back to the tent and I went to sleep but Alberto was right, it got very cold and the ground was particularly freezing, after about three hours I woke up and could not go back, so I told Alberto that I am very cold and must go to the building area where it was warmer. There I slept on a table in the Television room for a while; I then got up to begin my day. I took a shower, shaved, and put on a new white football shirt with the picture of the Iranian team in front and the map of Iran signed by the players in the back, from an international tournament which took place in Los Angeles in 2000. I had saved it for just the right occasion.
Alberto had no tickets either, but he was going to wait until 3:00 p.m., when he was told that the tickets would go on sale. He decided to go to down town Nuremberg because he had heard that would be a Mexican party and gathering there. I set out to the ticket tent about 7:00 am and found a long line already there made up of mostly Mexican folks.
I stood on the line for three hours and heard more rumors. Someone said that they will be available soon but for a much higher price. Another said they are going on sale right now, but the line never moved. Then the bad news came, that two FIFA officials had come out and told the crowd near the door that the game is completely sold out and that standing in line would not be necessary. Shortly after this, one of the two guys in front of me in the line who had walked away, came back again and showed me the screen of his mobile and a recording of the announcement by the FIFA officials that there will no tickets sold for today's game.
Disappointed like everyone else there, I went to the camp ground to pack up and then to down town to see the match and to head out towards Rotterdam shortly afterwards. On the walk from the stadium to the nearby train station I saw many fans and spectators. There was also a lot of excitement and high spirits in the Nuremberg central train station where many Mexican and Iranian fans had gathered to shout each other down with their cheers and to alternatively cheer each other on, creating a playful and friendly atmosphere.
In down town I took some pictures with some of the fans, such as Emilio Zapata and the famous Mexican wrestler El Santo. I also spotted Alberto and told him what had happened, thanked him for his hospitality, gave him my phone number, and said goodbye. I watched the game with others on a large screen down town and left 5 minutes before the end and walked along the river for a while before heading back to catch a fast intercity train to Düsseldorf at 9:30 p.m.
On the way, I asked some man where the Hauptbahnhof was. He in turn asked me if I knew Arabic, I said no. He said: what about Hebrew, I said no. He said: what about Spanish; and I shook my head gently from side to side and said that I spoke Farsi. He said that he regretted that I did not know these languages, because if I did, then he could have talked to me and give me the directions in my own language. He then went on to tell me how to get to the Hauptbahnhof in perfect British BBC English. I was intrigued and asked him if he was a scholar, and he said: no. I then asked him how and why he had learned so many languages; he said that he was a 55 year old German and that when he was a young man in the 1970's, a common way of spending one's youth was to travel the world. He said that he had lived in Morocco, Greece, Spain, and Israel, among other places.
I asked him if he had managed to make a family in his various travels and he said: regretfully no. He said that this was sometimes a source of sadness for him, especially because he worked with kids. He then went on to say that he believes that this was perhaps fate and asked me if I believe in fate. I said: I think that I believe in it in some cases and for some people, and added I do not think that any one is predestined to be an apathetic consumer or drawn to right-wing and nationalistic politics, and that these are the directions humans take when they don't realize their fate, reject it, and get sidetracked.
We then began a talk about life, politics, literature, and philosophy, but I had to apologize and end the conversation to catch my train. I asked the man's name, it was Gunter, and I in turn introduced my self, I then told him that it is so hard to find people who want to talk about life and have had a lot of experiences and asked him if he would write to me if I give him my address. Gunter said that he would be happy too, and so I gave him my address and phone number and said goodbye.
On the way back to the station, I again reflected on the strange fact that I had not come into close contact with many Iranians, but that I had befriended many others. Just then I met up with two Iranians who were traveling on the train in my direction. Both of them had seen the game in the stadium. One was an Iranian man in his 70's that lived half a year in Iran and the other half in the US with his kids. He had come from Iran, was staying with a relative in Mainz, and planned to see the second game and had a ticket for it. His home in the US was in Orange County. The second man was in his mid-twenties and had just finished his Bachelor's in Computer programming and electronics. He lived in San Ramon with his aunt and was going to Düsseldorf to stay with a cousin. We all sat together and talked about the game and other things, soon the old man was sound asleep, and I and the young Iranian man began talking about football, past world cups, and sports in general.
We eventually fell asleep also, but were awoken by the older Iranian man who was getting off in Mainz and wanted to say goodbye. Soon after that we were in Düsseldorf and I was saying goodbye to the young man. We got there at 3:00 a.m. and my next connection was at 4:30, so I asked a police man where the old section of the city is and he pointed to the street leading away from the station and said: 20 minutes that way. I then asked if the streets were safe and he said: yes, so I made my way there, looked around for a while, and came back on time to catch my train. I was in Rotterdam Monday morning at 8:20 a.m. and walked into my apartment at about 9:00 a.m. with 175 Euros in my pocket.
I managed to spend only 25 Euros in three days of travel and most of it was on museum entrance fee and museum gift shop. I of course know that I am boosting about my frugality, but the way I see it, if it is OK for some people to go on and on about how rich they are, how much money they make, and how much they spend and have saved, it should be OK for others to celebrate their frugality if they choose to do so.
I was very tried, and I had gotten little sleep in the last three days. My legs hurt and I had two big blisters on the sole of my left foot. But despite these little inconveniences I had a lot of fun and met many nice people. I had been to many festivals, carnivals, festivities, city and street parties, but never a large event and celebration focused on football. This was truly a unique event with a unique spirit. I particularly found German people and the country to be very hospitable and welcoming. This is not a complete account of all the interesting and noteworthy things that happened to me in my adventures on the trip to Nuremberg. That would take much longer to write and would have to be book length. But what I have captured here is my strongest impressions and a true account >>> Photo essay
- Rotterdam, Netherlands