Germany is a land rich in tradition. This is the sort of sentence you can read in brochures at your nearest travel agent. It is of course true. If you count Homo heidelbergensis, then people have been living in Germany for about 550,000 years. However, every land, excepting perhaps Antarctica, is rich in tradition. And even there, I expect researchers have passed their time concocting traditions for all seasons. They probably perform their own spring rites like the rest of us, only in November and wearing thicker clothes.
Some German traditions have roots stretching back deep into the mists of history. More usually, they pretend they have. Occasionally, you wish others really did go back that far, and those historic mists had included sufficient impurities to have killed them at birth.
We have a May tradition like that here in Nuremberg. It takes place about once every four years. This is known as relegation from the First Division. 1. FC Nürnberg is a football club rich in tradition, and their colours are red and black. Der Club (a nickname which is as familiar as the Gunners or Spurs are in England) have won the German championship nine times. The importance of this as heritage springs from the fact that the most recent triumph was 37 years ago. Compare this depth to the superficiality of those Bayern upstarts in Munich, who seemingly care nothing for history. This year, local papers haven’t issued ‘Katastrophe beim Club‘ editions, complete with photos of sad teenage girls seeking to console their tearful fathers. Relegation has been avoided with two whole games still to play, and they’ve printed souvenir survival issues instead… Complete with photos of dementedly joyous fathers embarrassing tearful teenage girls.
Of course, not all regions mark the post-blossoming of spring by thrashing VfL Bochum 2-1 in front of 44,000 dancing maniacs. Some young Bürger of Berlin have evolved their own style of making merry in May. As dusk prepares to descend, groups of young men gather in the streets of the district of Kreuzberg. When sufficiently provoked, they turn to the task of trashing cars, and employ a method of ignition not envisaged by the motor industry; the petrol bomb. If this happened in Munich, I’m convinced people would emerge from the surrounding houses, armed with sausages and steaks, and commence cooking. The Bavarian State flag is composed of light blue and white checks. It’s best understood as an ever ready tablecloth. However, these young Berliners are more inclined to throw the arriving firemen through shop windows, rather than attempt to feed them Bratwürste. It’s of interest to note that “the annual May 1st riot, often complete with police helicopters” is now included in the events listings of some travel guides.
Another May tradition has sporadically emerged on Fathers’ Day, which coincides with Ascension Day. At some properly equipped petrol stations (ie. ones which sell beer), mysterious gatherings of men can be seen at nine or ten in the morning. The group we witnessed last year had several ingeniously constructed, placard-adorned handcarts, one of which held a barrel. The other available space was used for storing cases of beer. The men stood around chatting and gulping for a while, and then wandered off down the road. I can’t report on where they went or what they did, but I suspect the word handcarted was appropriate at some point. I did express an interest in sating my curiosity on these points, but I was informed by my wife that I wouldn’t want to do any such thing. It would be bad and they can’t have enjoyed themselves at all.
German television has created some traditions which are most regrettable. May is the month when Marianne and Michael commence inflicting open-air Volksmusik on audiences, who really should know better. Volksmusik is not to be confused with folk music. It’s more the equivalent of the most highly sugared Country & Western imaginable, but the taste is even sicklier, and the teeth whiter. Hideous children sing blood-curdling homilies to their mother, who pairs up with her sister in retaliation, by yodelling the delights of a village they don’t come from. Bare-footed former used car salesmen prance around pretending to be gleeful, impoverished shepherds. And should this month’s edition be broadcast from anywhere within a hundred miles of the North Sea, the stage will be littered with the stuffed carcases of seagulls, nailed down in an attempt to add a flavour of salty aired authenticity. Go and yodel at a convenient seagull and see if it sits around waiting for an encore. The reactions of any passers-by would also provide a good indication of the effects of open-air Volksmusik upon the unsuspecting.
In the spring, a young man’s fancy turns to. I wonder what he was thinking about previously. Perhaps they don’t make them the same way any more.
[This article was originally sent to us in 2005. Trevor’s just (April 2006) sent us the following update:]
When I first wrote that two years ago, 1. FC N. survived relegation on the last day of the season. Consequently I did a sneaky re-write, seeing as they were safe by the last but one match. This season was going fine. They were bottom of the table by October. However, things turned a bit around and they were a point above the relegation zone by the middle of December. Then something weird happened.
There was a six-pointer against MSV Duisburg, so a bloke called Vittek scored a hat-trick (with two in the first 15 minutes). 45,000 Franconians stared in happy surprise. This was followed by a six-pointer away to 1. FC Köln. A bloke called Vittek had a hat-trick within the first 25 minutes. Next came Werder Bremen. Vittek was off form and only got two.
Nürnberg are now ninth in the table and, with four games left, ten points above the relegation zone. Somehow or other, they’re closer to qualifying for Europe than going down. It was touch and go against Kaiserslautern last Sunday with a sell-out crowd of 47,000; 2-2 with three minutes left and Kaiserslautern desperately needed the points. So Vittek scored his second of the match, and the visiting players and supporters looked extremely sick. They’d played really well until the 87th minute.