Every day we learn something new. And so this week I was taught a valuable lesson about comedy and Germany after I was congratulated at work for being a hero. My dear colleagues shook my hand; told me of the inspiration I had brought them; talked themselves down from the rafters of charging-cable based suicide, in short, due to me; had told their wives/Muttis/husbands/Vaters my name; and shook my hand afresh. Naturally I assumed this was all in ordnung and, for me, it was nothing out of the ordinary.
“How’s your little friend?” a colleague of mine asked me, with what I perceived to be a suggestive twinkle in his eye, much to my alarm. Who’s penis was he talking about: mine or his?
“It’s fine, thanks… how’s… yours?” I responded.
We stared at one another uncomprehendingly for an interminable length of time.
“Your friend. Who was staying with you?…”
At that moment I sharply remembered a certain Instagram post:
“Oh, my dad? Yeah he was visiting me from Scotland this weekend and I shown him about. He really liked it here and was happy to kip on my sofa. We went on a Nazi walking tour and we saw Bayern play – you know, normal German tourist activities.”
“Wait… that was your dad?” he said, eyes wide with comedic horror as then dropped a penny the size of a bin-lid.
“Wait… did you think he was homeless?” I said, my face the mirror-image of his.
“You said he was!” he exclaimed, peering over the rims of his moon-shaped spectacles.
And, to be fair to him, I did say that. I said that I’d taken a homeless man into my house… and, so, why hadn’t I? Well, because, as it happens, I had been joking.
That night I got home and analysed my post again. Reassured, I felt what I think is the self-depricating warmth of Scottish humour as I read the first line, in this case, at the expense of my dad: “Stuart is one of thousands of Scottish homeless people on the streets of Munich”. Surely they don’t really think there are thousands of Scots on the streets of Munich, do they? Maybe they do? Or, maybe… there actually are! Frantically I ran the words “Homeless Scottish people in Munich” through Google and the first hit I received was an article about Celtic fans soiling Marienplatz before watching Bayern take on a team from a Glaswegian school for adults with learning disabilities back in 2017, and it all began to make sense. Shaking my head at the despicable images of the beautiful square defiled with smashed glass, scattered bier-crates, human excrement and sleeping bags, I reflected ruefully that the Nürnberg fans I’d seen last weekend had acted in precise opposition when presented with the same fixture. Perhaps that was in part because of the Christmas market occupying the square on what was the coldest day so far of my time here. The cosy stalls sat huddled beneath a steely and dark sky which threatened rain at any second. There was the air of a small-town gala about the place: those manning the stalls were wrapped up warm with thick jumpers and hats, ladling Glühwein into delicate and dark flagons of glass which twinkled with the fragrant liquid and whose scent filled the air around us. The Münchner stood with their breath trailing out before them as they laughed in conversation with their loved ones.
“I didn’t realise I’d been eating the box for the last 15 minutes,” my dad said.
Amore and I looked down in unison at the toasted sandwich (di merda, as she said under her breath at the time) he’d been eating, and we laughed as his words put that very taste into our own mouths as we ate the same. We’d sourced them from an expensive cafe staffed by Greeks in the style of a lodge in the Bavarian alps, just on the edge of the square. And, leider, Amore was correct.
We were huddled against the cold beneath the formidable shadow of the Gothic town-hall which dominates the square, and in front of which hundreds of tourists at any given time congregate, take photos (of themselves and of the building), and watch the famous clock strike the hour. We were waiting for the aforementioned Nazi walking tour (there’s a joke in there somewhere) and of it I will say just a few things:
- There was a loud-mouth who thought he knew more than the tour guide and naturally he was of American extraction.
- The tour guide was German and blamed Austria for Hitler at the first opportunity in the form of an extremely mechanical joke.
- He mistook Amore for a Pole which she did not take kindly to.
These observations are applicable to all other walking tours, I suspect. After three hours of mildly interesting information and unbearable wind we slunk away leaving the large American family to bother the other members of the group with annoying questions about the big soccer game today, and for the eagle-wearing dad to constantly harass the monologues of the guide with his own random assortment of WW2 facts garnered from the backs of packets of peanuts.
The Big Saaaacker game was where me and my dad were going however, and I couldn’t wait. Football was a big part of my life in Aberdeen, both playing and watching, and so far in Munich I couldn’t find anyone that gave a shit. Given that Bayern are the fourth most valuable football team in the world I found my failure surprising initially, but perhaps in the end that makes sense. Any colleague who has turned out to be a ‘supporter’ has immediately qualified the statement by saying ‘ja, but it’s really boring’. Bayern win everything, after all. International glory, however, has eluded them of late, their last Champions League victory coming in 2013 against Bundesliga rivals Dortmund. I found them in something of a funk at this point in their season with such leading lights of the glorious past as Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery both already retired or on their way, and national heroes Müller and Neuer enduring deep disgruntlement with Die Mannschaft at the World Cup and immediately after. Before the match, Bayern trailed Dortmund by nine points, not an insurmountable challenge by their immense standards, and today was Derby Day between Bayern and Nürnberg. I was excited to see some needle.
Giving up on finding a bar that wasn’t rammed, we said goodbye to Amore who had a German lesson and crammed ourselves on to the uBahn. It was packed with Bayern and Nürnberg fans alike, all drinking from bottles and tins, one more or less pretending to the other that they didn’t exist. The carriage provided solace from the thick film of cold that seemed to coat everything outside and our legs and arms too. This was the U6 from Marienplatz all the way to Fröttmaning which felt as though it took us not just half an hour, but forty years back into the past. I could see soviet-style living blocks looming out of the fog of the windows of the train, grey towers beneath a grey sky. Dad had started a conversation about bier with some Nurnberg fans: you could get at the ground but it was pisswaßer, so they said.
The train stopped and we shuffled along with the fans towards the stadium, stopping at a stall to pick up a couple of massive sausages along the way. We arrived at a barren and muddy hill, its short and patchy grass twirling in the gusts of wind, like the sway of sea anemones beneath a strong current. For what was I think the fifth time so far that day, dad had to answer the call of nature, so I waited for him outside a fleet of port-o-loos. Moments before he re-emerged a heavily overweight young couple with blue and pink hair sprang out from the disableds, the female scampering towards the laughing group of teens who waited for them whilst the male sauntered along behind with his hands in his pockets, under the impression that he was ‘the man’.
At the top of the hill sat the temple, such as it was: vast, white, bubbly, branded, impressive in a sense, and utterly ridiculous at the same time. From above it looks more or less like a pristine toilet seat: it wasn’t just the proximity of Fröttmanning’s nearby sewage treatment centre (or the fleet of port-o-loos) that put me in mind of this. There was an excited and festive air at the top of this mound forgotten by god: scores of people streaming in from the coach-lot, armed with bier and massive sausages, playing ‘Amarillo’ by Tony Christie from massive speakers hoisted on massive shoulders. We found a wagon selling bier in cups with Lewandowski’s face on them, which dad tried to pay for with pound coins in his pocket, and we obtained another two sausages for good measure.
“They don’t have much of a taste in music these Germans do they?”, he said.
“You ain’t heard nothing yet,” I responded.
“Peter Pawlett Baby” and even “Simply The Best”, for the sake of my dad, who was after all a born-again Hun, reverberated through my head at the thought of that, and could I honestly say that they were much better?
We drained the pisswaßer from the bottom of Lewandowksi’s faces and moved to the security zone, which resembled something like the kind of checkpoint American school children have to pass through in order to learn the capital cities of the world at the pace of the slowest child in the class, but which most people from civilised countries have never seen before. I was smashed in the testicles by the turnstile on my way through, and, after the guard had checked for contraband underneath my bearskin hat I was permitted to enter the arena.
After a twenty five minute exchange with an arena employee we obtained an ‘Allianz Card’ which allowed us to buy more sausages. Once it ran dry you had to top it up again. The fact that it was an ‘Allianz Card’ and not a ‘Bayern Card’ sharply reminded me that this arena is also home to another team. With the sheer dominance of the city by Bayern’s identity (every second person in the street wearing the merchandise; every newspaper displaying at least someone from the first-team on the front page; supermarkets stocking Bayern-branded lollipops), it is difficult to imagine that there is any room left for someone else. Yet 1860, the other team, have been able to count on over 30,000 in the arena weekly, and they play in the Regionnaliga, although their attendances have somewhat dropped off of late. They ended up there from Bundesliga 2 about two years ago after the chairman forgot to file some paperwork which if nothing else precisely demonstrates the fruitlessness of a complacent attitude towards administrative rules in Deutschland.
Sausages and fresh pisswaßer in hand, we ascended the steep steps into the bowl from the packed and howling concourse, and, I must admit, we were forced to stop and admire the view. The strangest thing to me about this arena, so monumental and stupid, was the fact that the pitch seemed smaller and nearer to hand than in any other stadium I had been to. The glossy white goals, whose woodwork seemed almost to bulge grotesquely under the stadium lights, were planted firmly into the green grass, and the seating banked upwards at a sharp incline all around us. It felt to me like being on the set of a gameshow. It was a far cry from the Scottish grounds I was used to and I could see almost nothing of the huge tattie field of Pittodrie in what was before me.
We turned our backs on the blast of the wind and began to climb upwards. Even the seats, whose total reached 75,000, were modern and of good quality, resembling something like a smaller version of those attached to SEGA racing games at video game arcades. They hugged our bodies as we took to them and I reflected that it would be some job to put my foot through it as I had once done to a lesser specimen at Tynecastle in a fit of Cup-induced rage. I almost felt as though I should be strapping myself in for the action to come.
Slowly the stadium began to fill all around us as groups of fans of all ages came filing in, hunkering down against the bitterness of the cold. I cast a roving eye over the top banks of seating at the upper ring and found a great and neatly packed swathe of Nurnberg fans in full swing: bouncing, singing in one full voice, waving club flags which seemed planted in satisfyingly full array, sending the host of men, many of whom incredibly were bare-chested, bristling and writhing with intent, up in the rafters. Their opposite were the Bayern ultras of various different flags standing in the ‘Südkurve’ behind the goal down on our left side, who were easily making as much noise, if not more, than their derby rivals, and further to that were penned up behind a high and wide mech of fencing, perhaps for our safety. I was excited.
“Guten Abend meine lieben Damen und Herren!”, came booming over the sound system.
Suddenly appearing overhead on the huge displays above either goal was a man who resembled Ben Shephard. As I think of him now I picture him in a tuxedo and white gloves but given the temperature that must surely have been due to the Bavarian warping of my own imagination.
“Willkommen zur Allianz Arena mit der heutigen Begegnung zwischen FC Bayern München und FC Nürnberg!”
The 75,000 issued a mildly engaged cheer. The camera man down in the centre-circle of the pitch began to circle around the host who began to track his cameraman step to step so that they became a whirling maelstrom of Family Fun.
“Sind Sie bereit?!” He shouted into the mic, before dropping it to the grass at his feet, seizing the camera with both hands and pushing his face deep into the lens. He kissed the lens theatrically before laughing. The crowd gave a collective mutter of laughter. The refrain from DJ Ötzi’s shit version of ‘Hey Baby’ suddenly started up, within which the crowd replaced the word ‘baby’ with ‘Bayern’. I looked around and saw that everyone was smiling widely and shimmying, shaking their bums in their seats; leaning into and then out of their children’s faces in time with the music. The Münchner sat underneath their Bayern blankets, clapping their ‘behandschued’ hands together in time to the ditty. Never seen a happy face, I thought.
“Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier, Fünf, Sechs, Sieben, Acht!” shouted Ben Shephard.
HEEEEEEEEEEY, HEE-EEY, BAYERN! (HOOO-HAAAA)
Things went on in this fashion for several minutes.
“Danke!” said Ben.
“Bitte!” called everyone else in unison.
“You weren’t wrong about the music, son,” dad said to me.
“Doesn’t look like it… It’s interesting that the original version of that song is by Bruce Channel. But we forget that, don’t we?”, I said, of course using the word “interesting” quite wrongly.
After the game, we ambled back in the direction of the station and I thought of what I had seen. We were basking in the low thrum of the deep red glow cast by the stadium itself: an extremely impressive feature whereby the otherwise white facade takes on the crimson hue of the city’s, and lets be honest, the nation’s favourite club when they achieve victory. The temple sat now atop the hill completely fallen in darkness, like a vast smouldering brazier, and yet still the cold ate us alive. I’d seen Ribery’s infamous gnashers catch the multi-million-euro light-system inside the stadium. I heard jumbo sized T-Mobile jingles shatter the sound barrier as “official” Bundesliga updates were beamed into the ground from around the country (Dortmund maintained their lead, by the way). I saw Müller, Kimmich, and Lewandowski each in their turn slope around the edge of the box and lazily crack the frame of goal, as if they were idling away time at a kick-about with their mates. I saw one foray into the Bayern half by Nurnberg, which brought to my attention the two Nurnberg fans sitting immediately next to me, and then as if by dint of having seen them, various others dotted about near by not troubling to hide their true allegiance. I saw three perfunctory and routine Bayern goals, carried along by some extremely incisive and cerebral play, which lead to yet more renditions of DJ Ötzi. I’d wanted to get a look at Mats Hummels but read before the game that he’d been waylaid by gastro-flu, which therefore sharply put me in mind of Glasgow, and, Rangers, and even right back to a sad tweet from a Rangers fan with learning disabilities who thought that Stevie G had managed to sign him, only instead to learn the far better news that this season’s kit was to be made by manufacturer Hummel. I saw a syringe floating in the pan when I went to eject all the pisswaßer. I saw Ben Shephard.
I think it was the whole gameshow vibe that put me in mind of Ben Shephard and thus by extension, back to homelessness once again. I’ve thought about the homeless many times since I made those Instagram posts. Homelessness is not funny, I feel compelled to say. And yet I made a joke out of it. Many would say that that was a bad shout, perhaps. In Germany the homeless and the elderly rub shoulders with one another when they rake through the bins in uBahn stations for old bier bottles which can be recycled at supermarkets for a nominal fee, and if nothing else that just goes to show that its easier to find a job than it is a house in Munich. But does it mean that I should not have told it in the first place? Simply because it was not seen as a joke doesn’t necessarily mean that it wasn’t funny much in the same way that laughing at something that is not funny, like Paddy McGinnis, doesn’t make it so. Instead, it means that it changes from a joke about the homeless and into a [shit] joke about Germans having no sense of humour. In the tinny words of our tour guide as he passed the buck to Austria during our Nazi walking tour, “ha ha – it was not MY fault”. Whose laughing now, you might ask? I’ll tell you: nobody.