Things you would really not expect in urban Germany:
zero degrees in April,
a fully occupied Catholic cathedral,
and dedicated baseball fanbase
Yet, I have experienced all three in the past week!
Last Saturday, A took me out to the ball game.
I was entirely unaware that it was at all possible to watch baseball in this country, that this sport, America’s favorite pastime, even had teams in Germany. But, lo and behold!, there is a whole scene out there: The Hamburg Stealers, the Cologne Cardinals, the Mannheim Tornados, the Mainz Athletics and, most relevant, the Solingen Alligators. That’s A’s team and that’s where I got to go. The German baseball teams are divided into the North League and the South League, with the latter being better, A tells me, possibly because South Germany was occupied by the Americans after the war. (Yes, history matters.)
My knowledge about baseball was almost non-existent. I knew that people keep baseball bats at home to defend themselves against burglars. When A started explaining the rules of the game, I immediately linked it to brännboll, only to make unqualified comments such as “Oh, and if he can’t reach the base, he’s burned?”, or to the famous Baseball metaphors for physical intimacy. Sometimes I even accidentally said basketball. (Sorry!)
When we got to the diamond (that’s what the playing field is called. You’re welcome.), I instantly felt transferred to America. The baseball apparel, those light-colored pants, the iconic caps, are so connected in my brain with the U.S. (and Modern Family), I really had to briefly remind myself that I was not in the Yankee Stadium but in fact in Solingen, a German town of 160.000 inhabitants.
But that did certainly not keep the Solingen Alligators from bringing on the true American spirit: at the “Gator Diner”, you could buy burgers and fries, the players’ girlfriends have shirts saying “Gatorgirl” on them, one German lady (that we nicknamed “Head of Fans”) even shouted every now and then, “One for the books!” in English, and during the Seventh-Inning-Stretch, as tradition demands, someone performed “Take me out to the ball game”. A explained to me what to do during that: between the halves of the seventh inning of a game (an inning is the game unit during which one team bats, with the other team playing defense. Again, you’re welcome.), you are supposed to get up and stretch. When the seventh inning came, I certainly understood the point of that. A game can take hours and you are basically sitting all the time, so the seventh-inning-strech is a brilliant custom. Actually, I would want to put forward a motion to introduce a third and fifth inning stretch.
Baseball is complicated. I mean, with soccer, you just have two teams running after one ball, wanting to get it into one of the two goals. Baseball I still didn’t fully grasp after watching it for four hours. When I felt like I’d just gotten the hang of it, A said, “Did you see what the pitcher just did? That was an exception from the rules”.
“We” were playing the Berlin Flamingos which for me prophesied the result of the match. I mean if alligators and flamingos meet, who eats whom, eh? The German teams consist mostly of German amateurs but each team has some American players who seem to actually live on playing baseball in Germany. When teams meet, they always play two matches on one day to make the travel across Germany worth it.
Baseball has been around for a while with the first reference dating from 1791 and latest after the Civil War, it became the thing in the U.S.. In 1876, they formed a national league and I think their clothing still is still reminiscent of that time. (Which is a good thing because the mid-19th-century was totally fascinating.) Baseball seems to have been, and maybe still is, more of a white man’s sport. The New York team, the Yankees, are the champion of champions – they have won like a gazillion times – and one of the most successful sports clubs in the world.
Now this trip to the ball park has instilled two new wishes in me: I kind of wanna go see the Yankees play. And I am really hoping to encounter a baseball player soon to show off my newly acquired small talk knowledge!
The overcrowded Catholic Cathedral: Apparently, during Easter Night Mass, all existent Catholics in Cologne and its surroundings come out to the cathedral and take up every single of the 1200 seats more than an two hours before mass starts. This relegated me to an awfully cold stone bench next to an UISS (Unidentified Stone Saint). It was so chilly I had to put my pyjamas under myself to avoid serious bladder infection (no, I don’t always carry my sleepwear in my handbag, but I had spent the previous night away). The girls’ choir was uncomparably angelic but otherwise I am sorry to say that the mass did not at all live up to my expectations and no Easter spirit was to be felt. Next year I’ll be back at a little local church.