Saturday, 28 June 2008

Euro 2008 - some thoughts

First things first: what a relief it was not to have to go through the stress of having follow England through yet more pain and agony in a major tournament. Some people here mentioned to me that it was a shame that England weren't there, but I don't think so. They wouldn't have survived the group stages anyway.

Owing to my work commitments in Zurich and being glued to the television watching football during the rest of the time, there was little chance to do more important chores. Now I'm playing 'catch-up' somewhat. Yet I wouldn't have had it any other way!

What with the cooler, inclement weather during the first week or so, the tournament started slowly. However, the Switzerland-Turkey match 'lit the blue touch paper', as it were, and we haven't looked back since. As I was about to settle down at home to watch that match, I could see the big black cloud coming from the north and knew what was about the happen. It poured down in Weil first, and then torrential rain reached Basel. After Hakan Yakin's comedy goal, some might have thought that the match might be called off. However, the sky started clearing above Weil at about that point in the game, so I knew there was nothing to worry about...

The unexpected trip to Geneva to watch Turkey-Czech Republic will stay long in the memory, as will last Saturday's party in Basel with the Dutch.

In general, I belive that tomorrow's two finalists are the best two teams in the tournament. True, the Germans almost had a nightmare against Turkey, but you should never discount them - as the Portuguese discovered. My tip to win the tournament was Germany in the first place. Before the Spain-Russia match, I thought that Russia would be potentially the trickier opponent for Herr Luuurve and his boys, but now Spain look very, very good. Be that as it may, I'm going to stick with my original prediction.

Whatever happens, it will be quite loud outside my flat from around 10.30 p.m. tomorrow. I knew what was going to happen after the Germany-Turkey match, so I took the conscious decision to watch the match in Zurich with some friends and stay overnight there. Given that Germany won, the gamble paid off.

The Hauptstraße in Weil not far from my flat shortly after the Germany-Turkey match. [Photo scanned from the Badische Zeitung of Friday 27 June.]

Tschüss Zürich

After four months of commuting to Zurich three days a week, I am now - as of this weekend - starting up my home business again as a translator. My time there in the translation department of a bank came about unexpectedly at a time when I had just turned freelance at the beginning of this year. It was a great professional opportunity and I'm very glad I committed myself to it.

It was sad to say goodbye to my colleagues, I must say. They are a fantastic bunch of people, and I'll miss them. We had a little 'drinks & nibbles' party on my final day, Thursday, where they presented me, among other things, with a Switzerland football shirt which they had all signed on the back with a black marker pen! What a lovely gesture.

Monday, 23 June 2008


A hard word to translate. Literally, it means 'state of emergency', but in the context of what happened on Basel's streets on Saturday, "the whole town went mental" would be a more accurate translation.

And indeed, Basel was well and truly in Ausnahmezustand.

With the Netherlands playing Russia in the quarter-finals later that day at the 'Joggeli', thousands of Dutch (180,000 was the 'official' estimate) had descended on Basel. Perry from Heidelberg, who was also at the Spargelmarkt earlier this month, came down to sample the atmosphere with me. It was one heck of a day. Now, Fasnacht is one thing, but what I witnessed on Saturday reminded me more of the Love Parade. The mayhem began when we travelled into town shortly before 4 p.m., as our bus was packed with Oranje fans. This was no surprise, since Perry had reported that the Dutch were getting on the train at all the minor stops from Freiburg onwards while he was on the regional train to Weil.

Shortly after reaching Claraplatz, we realised the enormity of what was happening. Ahead of us was a sea of orange, winding its way over the bridge and into Grossbasel. We therefore decided to veer left along Rhygasse in the direction of the Wettstein Bridge. However, we then changed our plan and stopped off at the Fischerstube, where we enjoyed a beer and some food and observed the raucous chanting of our Dutch friends. From there, we headed down to the Rhine and took the ferry across to the Münster. I'd never ever gone across the river like this, so it was a novelty for me, too.

We had another beer on the promontory behind the Münster and then walked down to Marktplatz, and then eventually to Barfüsserplatz via the old town. During this trek, we got the distinct impression that the Dutch numbers were being swelled by pseudo-Oranje Swiss who had jumped on the bandwagon.

After yet another beer, we walked back to the Gare du Nord at the German station, which is where we watched the match (with Karl-Heinz as well). Pity Holland lost, but Russia were the better side.

Anyway, in this case, I think the images here speaks louder than the words.

Sunday, 22 June 2008


One thing has followed another this week and I've consequently barely had time to update this blog. I'd better start in chronological order...

Saturday 14 June
Friend Rob drives down the previous day from Heidelberg to stay a couple of nights in Lörrach at the flat of his girlfriend's sister. Both his girlfriend, Melanie, and her sister Sabine, are up in Hamburg at a hen do. Sabine gives Rob the keys to the flat while she's away.. I meet Rob for a beer that afternoon in Lörrach town centre. Afterwards, we travel into Basel, where we meet another friend Karl-Heinz. The three of us then watch the Spain-Sweden match down by the 'Riviera', i.e. on the big screen by the side of the Rhine.

The real reason why Rob is down here is that he is due to travel to Geneva the next day to watch the decisive Turkey-Czech Republic Group A match with Scott, who lives in Zurich. However, Scott suddenly texts Rob that afternoon to say that he's torn his Achilles playing football (he's a goalkeeper, btw) and will now be doubtful for the trip to Geneva. He asks whether I would like to buy his ticket off him and go to Geneva instead. I basically say yes, I'd like to. During the course of that evening, text messages are sent to and fro - the upshot of which is that Scott might still be fit to go to Geneva after all.

Sunday 15 June
While I'm nursing a hangover late in the morning, Scott calls me to say that he definitely can't go and asks again whether I want to take the ticket. I'm admittedly slightly somewhat wrong-footed by this, as I ultimately wasn't expecting to go. However, I shower quickly, have something to eat and then leave to meet Rob and Scott at Basel SBB station. Scott manages to get to Basel from Zurich to hand over the tickets to us - a gesture very much appreciated. As is his wont, crutches are not the only props Scott has brought (see photo). Rob and I then bid our farewells to Scott and we eventually leave on the train to Geneva at 14.03.

Well, we could hardly have picked a more dramatic match to go to. Turkey come back from 0-2 down to win 3-2, with the winning goal coming in injury time. We have great seats in the main stand and have perfect views of all the goals bar one. We even spot Arsène Wenger at pitchside before the match giving an interview to Al Jazeera. The atmosphere is fantastic and the noise from the Turkish end of the ground is deafening at times.

After the match, we head home on the special train leaving at quarter past midnight and eventually arrive back in Basel , at 3.05 in the morning. Due to it being a match day in Basel as well (Switzerland beat Portugal 2-0), trams are still running at that time of the morning. We're therefore able able to get to Basel Badischer Bahnhof, from where we take taxis back to Weil and Lörrach respectively.

Thursday 19 June
After a busy day of work in Zurich, I head back to Basel with scores of German and Portuguese fans on the train who are on their way to watch the Germany-Portugal quarter-final, either at the ground itself or at one of the town's various public viewing venues.

Basel SBB station is packed with fans arriving. I pass almost a dozen ticket touts who are openly advertising their 'wares'. I notice that the English touts are conspicuous by the fact that they're the one without signs. Perhaps they see themselves as "better-quality" touts who have no need for such props.

My original plan was to meet Karl-Heinz and watch the match at on one of the big screens in town. The both of us quickly discount that idea when we see the thousands (of mainly Germans) who are already squashed together like sardines on Münsterplatz. We opt to take the tram back to the Badischer Bf and watch the match at the Gare du Nord. That turns out to be a good choice, given that we're but a short walk from the platform for our respective trains back home. Still, my train only leaves after a 25-minute delay due to the numbers of Germans trying to get on after the match. K-H is less fortunate: he is unable to get on his train in the commotion and only manages to get back home at 2 a.m.

The above is a very rushed synopsis, but hopefully I'll be able to add some more personal impressions over the coming days. However, my next entry though will be devoted to yesterday's extraordinary Oranje-tinted events in downtown Basel. There'll be photos too.

Ok. Italy-Spain is starting now.. Will it be another sleepless night in Weil? [beep beep, honk honk]

Basel or Basle

Right then, I'd like to get something out of the way.

Some of you might have wondered why I have insisted up till now on writing 'Basle' instead of 'Basel'. It was because 'Basle' is, strictly speaking, still the UK spelling (pronounced "Baarl", an anglicised version of the French 'Bâle'). However, I have to admit that, other than on this blog - and like most other English-speaking ex-pats living here - I normally pronounce and spell the city's name as 'Basel'. This, of course, is the common usage among locals and within German-speaking regions. People in the US also spell it like that.

In recent years, 'Basel' has increasingly also become the more recognised English spelling. Switzerland's two big banks, UBS and Credit Suisse, have been spelling it as 'Basel' in their English correspondence for many years now. Basel Tourismus, the local tourist board, even asked the BIS (Bank for International Settlements) to use 'Basel II' instead of 'Basle II' when referring to the Revised International Capital Framework which it published in 2004.

Using 'Basle' for this blog was a self-conscious attempt on my part, I'm afraid, to cling on to something which, to my mind, now sounds slightly twee and outdated, and "ever so British". I suppose I was trying to be a bit contrary but also demonstrably non-American. But sod that. With immediate effect, I shall now be writing Basel instead!

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Well, well, well... What a couple of matches we saw yesterday evening. First Romania hold Italy to a 1-1 draw in a highly entertaining encounter in Zurich, then the Dutch crush the French 4-1. We now have the potentially hilarious situation of France and Italy both going out should Romania beat the Dutch in their final match. Holland have already won the group, so it's not as if they have to try against the Romanians.

Incidentally, a Portuguese camera crew interviewed me on the Mittlere Brücke yesterday as I was on my way to watch the Romania-Italy match. The interviewer - quite an attractive young lady - asked me in English about whether I lived in Basle and what I liked about the city. I'm afraid I wasn't exactly "plugged in" at the time and proceeded to give her some mindnumbingly boring spiel about it being nice place as it had a river, that it was easy to get from a to b and that it was just, er, lovely. Oh dear oh dear.. After giving this 30-second soundbite, I asked her and her two cameramen what channel they worked for. It's supposedly this one. I can't say I'd heard of it, but I'm no Portuguese television expert. I don't think my interview made the final cut on there anyway.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Footy-related musings and WLAN

Two things to comment on today.

Firstly, the football. My favourites to win, Germany, came unstuck yesterday rather against dark horses Croatia. I only saw the last 15 minutes of the match, but they didn't play well yesterday, by all accounts. So far, there have been some good performances from the likes of Spain, Holland, Croatia and Portugal, but it's too early to say who might win this tournament. Not a very technical analysis, this, but there you go... I'm particular interested in the outcome of the decisive Czech Rep - Turkey match, as I have a feeling one of these two teams might yet surprise people despite neither of them convincing in their first matches. If Turkey is that team, I shall be bracing myself for the car horn fanfares...

Now it's the weekend, I think some of this "public viewing" malarky might be in order. Maybe in Basle.

Secondly, a PC expert came round today in order to sort out a wireless Internet connection for my laptop. It was a harder task than he thought, which made me feel vindicated in the knowledge that it wasn't a case of me being computer illiterate after all. The technician first came to the conclusion that it must be Norton Security playing up, but eventually the trick was keying in my so-called MAC address, and it finally worked. Halleluja. Now, the same should theoretically work with my desktop PC as well.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Something in the air tonight....

Instead of staying in Weil and taking in the kick-off to Euro 2008, I chose to head up to Walldorf near Heidelberg to stay with friends John and Bérénice and enjoy the town's annual asparagus festival. I know, it doesn't exactly sound like rip-roaring fun, but believe me, it was..

First, though, we drove to the village of Rotenberg (near the town of Rauenberg) to watch friend Paul and his band, The Peejays, play a gig at the "Internationales Hoffest", which - as the German name suggests - took place in a courtyard. Since it featured Paul, who hails from Swansea, I suppose the event could rightfully claim to call itself "international". It was the first time I'd seen or heard any of their music, but I must say I was impressed. After a short trip to a local supermarket to purchase a bottle of local wine from Wiesloch, Walldorf's neighbouring wine-growing village, we returned to John and Bérénice's flat, where we settled down to watch the opening match of Euro 2008, with Switzerland of course losing 0-1.

Afterwards, we went out to the fest. Apart from my hosts, I was also accompanied by Kathryn, Perry, Rob, Melanie and her friend Daniela.

Being a rich town - thanks to tax revenues from IT giant SAP - Walldorf's councillors are in the enviable position of being to able to throw money around on expensive infrastructure-related projects and other stuff like artistic blue lights in the paving stones of the pedestrian area and meaningless fountains and slabs of stone masquerading as art. Our Oberbürgermeister Dietz could only dream of having such a large cheque book to play with.

Anyway, true to form, the Spargelmarkt is pretty impressive - with excellent seating arrangements under numerous giant parasols in front of a large stage where... wait for it... "Phil", the dedicated Phil Collins and Genesis cover band enthralled the masses with a set that ranged from Sussudio to Jesus, He Knows Me.

Gig in Rotenberg



Friday, 6 June 2008

Art Basel 2008

Went with former colleague Andrea to Art Basel this early evening to browse around the weird and wonderful examples of contemporary art. We first wondered round the main gallery, then the Art Unlimited section in the adjacent building. To be honest, I think we were half looking at the artifacts and half people-watching. We then met Andrea's boy friend David, and the three of us had a drink together at Bar Rouge. All in all, a nice interlude before the football begins in earnest tomorrow.

Thursday, 5 June 2008


As some of you will have realised, United winning the Champions League recently means more to me than anything that may happen over the next three weeks. However, walking through Basle (or Basel, to use the German and American spelling) this evening, I think yours truly experienced the first feelings of Vorfreude (pleasant anticipation).


Plastic fans

Safina vs. Kuznetsova at Roland Garros on the "big" screen (I assume the surface area of that screen will be enlarged for the football matches?); plus Mr Alexander Frei in the background, every Irish, English and Turkish fan's favourite player.

Penalty kings

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Come on England!

Euro 2008 is but six days away, and the excitement is building here.

Well, to be honest, working in an office at the end of Bahnhofstrasse near the lake in Zurich three days a week and then whizzing back by train every evening through Basle means that I haven't been in downtown Basle for a good while; apart from in Mr Pickwick's Pub on Steinenvorstadt last Thursday night!

If I had, I would have noticed the big screens being erected on both sides of the Mittlere Brücke as well as the construction of temporary seating on the Kleinbasel banks of the river on both sides of the bridge. I would also have noticed this above me had I been walking on the main shopping street, Freie Strasse. It's part of a project by some bloke called Littmann, who had the idea of covering ("over-hanging") parts of the Basle Euro 2008 "fan boulevard" with fabric sheets showing arty murals so that they look like the sky above if you squint your eyes. Or something. Hence the name Stadthimmel. It sounds impressive, although the sheets which I saw above Steinenvorstadt on Thursday night were rather sparse and therefore rather underwhelming. They just looked like random rain shelters. I think the view along Freie Strasse and other parts of town will be better though.

As for the footy itself, well, I'd be hard pushed to pick a winner. Germany are rightly one of the favourites. However, from what I saw of them yesterday vs. Serbia (2-1 to Germany despite Nemanja Vidic's sturdy enforcing), their defence looks surprisingly fallible. Metzelder has been crocked most of last season and seems to be struggling to resume normal service in his double-act with Per Mertesacker in the centre. Ballack is in the form of his life though. You can see he's improved an added notch in all aspects of the game since joining Chelsea from Bayern.

In general, I would say the enthusiasm here in Germany for Euro 2008 is similar to the hype in England before the 1998 World Cup. Back then, football auf der Insel had become "trendy" for the first ever time following the euphoria that surrounded the England team at Euro 96; until Stefan Kuntz and co. won as usual. The 2006 World Cup in Germany was comparable in that it also involved a host nation suddenly realising that their team was actually quite good after several years of playing crap. The only difference back then is that we had Baddiel & Skinner and they had, ahem, Xavier Naidoo.

Now we also have a situation here in Germany where Fussball isn't just the Opium des Volks (we knew that already) but also respectable in all strata of society. What's more, we now have the phenomenon of public viewing. Sorry, Public Viewing.