If my stories aren’t quite enough, here’s a quick video my husband put together from the last couple weeks. I think it’s one of his best so far!
“There’s a soccer game tonight!”
“Yes babe, there’s a soccer game every night.”
Not long ago, I had asked Jakob if he could maybe just follow two sports. I mistakenly assumed that would cut the spectating and fantasy drafts down to a reasonable number. It turns out even if Jakob were to commit his time to only soccer and ping pong he could still spend every evening for the rest of his life yelling at bad calls and mourning missed penalty shots. So don’t fault me for my disinterest when Jakob told me there was a “super important game” happening one Saturday night in Salzburg.
“Common Meghan, it’ll be like a warm up for the Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich game next week. Like a practice run.”
Really? I need practice watching a few hot heads chase a small white ball?
“It’s not like soccer in Canada, here it’s huge! It’s going to be a really good match. Maybe you will actually watch the game this time instead of the crowd.”
He had a point. I am a little too fascinated with the gender and class dynamics of soccer fans. Maybe a practice run will do me good, or at least give me more material for my forthcoming thesis on performed masculinity in soccer stadiums.
That evening we found out that even in my state of apathy, I was still a bigger Salzburg FC fan than 98% of the city’s population. Without a crowd to analyze, I had no choice but to track the journey of that little white ball. Turns out, it wasn’t so bad! I actually gasped when everyone else gasped and cheered when the right team scored. I can see how this could be fun.
Seventy-two hours later, I found my eyes following a similar distant dot. This time on a screen in a Irish/Australian pub tucked somewhere in a dark Munich back street. If I still had a sense of personal space in that moment, it would have been occupied by exactly 3.5 Canadians, and a lot of British dudes. It was the night before the big Arsenal-Bayern match. Yes, the one for which Jakob wanted me to “practice.” Well here I was practicing again, probably getting more practice than Arsenal’s entire defensive line.
The other Canadian and a half in that bar were Demetri (a Calgarian now living in London) and KC (a Londoner who once lived in Calgary…so he’s the half Canadian). The four of us held the only tickets for tomorrow’s match that were given to Canadian supporters.
KC’s voice boomed over the bar noise, “do you guys realize how special you are? No one just gets tickets like this. An away game. AN AWAY GAME! Arsenal fans in The UK have to wait for years for an opportunity like this.”
My mind flew into panic mode: what if there’s a loyalty quiz at the stadium entrance? What if they sense that I am a fraud?!
“Excuse me ma’am, can you name a player?”
“Say goodbye to your friends. You’ll have to come with us.”
Yikes. I checked my phone. Ok I’ve got 22 hours to become a real verifiable Arsenal fan.
Game day. It’s game day. Also Jakob’s birthday. Actually I was so concerned with trying not to be a fraud-fan that I totally forgot to put anything together for Jakob’s birthday. I glanced around the room.
“This is so unlike you Meghan, you’re supposed to be a planner!” I lectured myself.
While Jakob cooked his own birthday breakfast, I scribbled a cheesy note onto a scrap of paper and tucked it into his beloved jersey. Thankfully, Jakob was above disappointment on this most special of game days and I got a smile and a thank-you hug when he found my weak attempt at festivity.
After breakfast, the second task of game day was to gather our precious tickets from the top-secret pick-up location—the Arsenal team hotel. We entered the grand rotating doorway cautiously. In a mere mater of seconds, we might find ourselves face-to-face with some of the world’s best footballers.
Instead we were greeted by a cold receptionist. “I don’t know anything about these tickets everyone is asking about. You must have a contact number or something.”
A rock hit the bottom of my stomach. What if the ticket arrangements Jakob had made were all a fraud. The day flashed before my eyes and I saw us sitting in a bland pub watching the game go by on a screen instead of amongst 70 000 roaring fans.
We turned away from the dismissive receptionist and took in the room behind us. Every bench, chair, and stool was filled with middle aged men wearing Arsenal colours and worried grimaces. Ah looks like we found the right place after all.
A half hour later, a ticket agent appeared and every set of shoulders relaxed. I was shocked to find my name actually printed on my ticket. Hopefully the personalized detail doesn’t mean that they have already looked into my personal fan history and black listed me.
The next few hours were a whirlwind of Munich beer halls. Each one was filled with long wooden tables and benches. So finding table for four was unheard of, and making friends with your tablemates was a necessity. First, we met Hans and Fritz (who knows what their real names were), who must have been twin brothers and both long-time Bayern fans. Despite the difference in our allegiances and languages, raised glasses were frequent and jokes were non-stop. By the time we parted ways I had seen photos of Hans’ most recent tropical vacation, his kids, and his dog. At the next beer hall we finally found some more Arsenal supporters from outside the UK including Austria, Macedonia, Belgium, and Russia.
As we left behind the warmth of the beer halls and began the hour long journey to the stadium we were engulfed in a sea of red jerseys (since Arsenal and Munich share the same colour scheme.) Much like during a religious war, the only way to tell friend from foe was by which songs they sang. I munched on a donut while KC filled me in on the horror stories of European fan rivalries gone wrong.
“People actually hate each other…people get beat up for wearing the wrong colours…people die.”
As the night progressed, I became increasingly certain that the same aggression that once fuelled Europe’s violent history is now poured out in to the football stadium. The similarities continued: The number of women I saw in line for the game must have matched the number of women who crossdressed as knights in the thirteenth century. The amount of land gained by each elbow jab in the entry line couldn’t be much less than that gained in World War I. The fury of the fans after a failed attempt on goal was certainly no different than the average round of heckling before an eighteenth century execution.
Most of all I couldn’t understand why everyone was so angry all the time. Sure our team lost 5-1 in the end. But foul language and hand gestures abounded, even while the score was tied! For a night so highly anticipated, it really seemed like everyone was having quite an awful time. I looked over at Jakob, who was still standing with his hands by his chin holding the last shreds of his birthday wish for a win. I hope he’s not regretting all the effort that it took to get into this game. One look at his face as we left and I knew that fleeting thought had been ridiculous.
“Can you believe how loud that crowd was? Wasn’t Arsenal’s goal amazing? It wasn’t a great goal. But that moment. That was amazing. I am so glad we came to this game. This was the best day of my life. The only day that will be better is the day I become a father.”
Ok one thing at a time honey. Let me just focus on becoming a soccer fan first, because I think I’ve almost got that figured out.
Now who were we playing again?
We almost didn’t go to Salzburg. The train ticket was booked, but the accommodation costs were proving prohibitive. An Airbnb in the city centre for 100$ a night? Good bye budget. Sharing a couch in a university dorm? We’re not really that cuddly. A commercialized charm-free hotel on the outskirts? Boring. So we settled for the worst possible combination of all three: A university dorm turned hostel in a far flung corner of the city with 5’10” twin beds, no soap in the bathrooms, and more negotiations required to get access to wifi than to get an EU visa.
Ok so it wasn’t the end of the world, but after our stellar stay in Prague we felt as if we had dragged ourselves into a mid-90s horror film. Did I mention that I am sure the place was haunted? The first night, there was absolutely no-one else staying on our entire floor. But that didn’t stop the banging of the bathroom doors from echoing into our room and rattling our travel resolve.
The most inconvenient reality of our new home was the complete lack of any self-catering options. Every one of the eight other places we have stayed at so far had, at very least, a hot plate and a mini fridge. In Salzburg, we would be entirely dependant on Yelp and our meagre. neighbourhood for every meal. Goodbye budget.
What we didn’t realize during our first night in “Schloss No Wifi” was that staying in the foothills of the Alps can’t possibly be a bad decision.
On our first full day in Salzburg we embarked on the first hike of our trip. At 4.5km it wasn’t exactly an Alpine ascent, but Jakob vetoed my plans to climb the nearest Toblerone peak. The hike began with a steep path up to a Capuchin monastery, marked out with fourteen chapels, each one dedicated to one of the stations of the cross. I loved the kinetic spirituality of it all. What better way to meditate on Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice than to hike 300 meters straight up?
The views from the top were spectacular:
We made our way down, stopped over at Mozart’s place for a cup of tea, and then began searching for a place to have dinner.
The art of budget travel involves buying most of your food from a grocery store and then finding permissible places to eat it. In the summer, this is as simple as finding a picnic spot. But in the winter, this is a strategic game of how-long-can-I-hold-this-sandwich-before-my-fingers-fall-off? Unless of course there is a Renaissance palace in sight, because where you find palaces you find orangeries. Where you find orangeries you may find a careless night manager who forgot to lock the place after its 4pm closing time. And where you find an unlocked tropical oasis in the middle of Austrian winter, you will find snoopy travellers munching on cheese and napping under the leaves of exotic houseplants.
A couple hours later those same lounging vagabonds were sitting upright in red upholstered chairs in a gold leafed room below a crystal chandelier listening to the moving strains of Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik played by a string ensemble. I tucked my muddy hiking boots under my chair and tried to applaud at the right moments. The guest appearance of an oboist was the highlight of the concert.
“Ah that’s what it’s supposed to sound like.’ I whispered eagerly to Jakob (if you have the privilege of not knowing, I should mention that I played oboe in high school).
He gave a slight nod, barely opening his eyes, so as not to disrupt his experience of the music.
I stayed as quite as I could for the rest of the night, recalling one of the primary rules for a happy marriage to a Kort: Don’t talk during good music.
When we finally made our way back to our corner of Salzburg, “Schloss Small Bed” didn’t seem so bad after all.
“Having no wifi access is kind of nice right?”
“Ya it’s sort of refreshing. Like we are getting a more authentic experience.”
“Like we can be more fully present.”
“So should we hit up McDonald’s tomorrow to check Facebook?”
Now I feel obliged to dedicate this post, which was written with frost-bite free fingers, to Archbishop Wolf Dietrich Raitenau, who built Schloss Mirabell and its lovely Orangerie more than four hundred years ago for his mistress and 15 children who he wasn’t supposed to have. Thank-you Wolf.