Portnoy’s Stammtisch

Fear and loathing in Brandenburg

Fear and loathing in Brandenburg
Photo: DPA
Welcome to Portnoy’s Stammtisch, The Local’s new column pondering life in Germany. In his first dispatch, Portnoy opines on US President George Bush’s last visit to the Fatherland.

Vegas really is an alternative universe. After a week of playing craps at the Mirage I didn’t even know Bush was going to visit Germany, let alone that it would be part of his farewell tour of Europe.

I first learned about it in a non-descript watering hole in the Delta terminal at JFK. The bar was the only place showing the Germany-Poland game when a news blurb on the tube mentioned George’s pending valedictory European jaunt. But despite my ignorance, I seemed to be the only one in the bar that cared about W’s decision to grace the Fatherland with his presence one last time.

Somehow I was a little irked that Bush and I would be heading across the Atlantic within days of each other. Mostly because I’d be forced to watch news report after news report of his every move in Germany. I like to watch the detail-oriented news in Germany, except when it’s filled with Bush minutiae like the size of his entourage or the kind of shirt he’s wearing.

Only, just days after returning from Las Vegas, I haven’t had to. Nor has anyone else. In the Hauptstadt, all anyone cares about is the European Championships. I had thought the hype over the tournament had peaked before I left. Should Lehmann really be in goal? But I figured that was about it and packed my bags for a trip to the one country that doesn’t really give a damn about soccer – or football to the rest of the world.

I was in Vegas when the Euro 2008 started, but missed the opening match due to a hangover. I stopped by the Sports Book at a certain upscale casino for the Portugal-Turkey match. The cling-clang of the slots, the general hum of several thousand people and the anticipatory whispers about the final Triple Crown race lent the game a certain air at first. A World Cup atmosphere, reminiscent of Germany two summers ago.

But we were all terribly distracted by the two pro Sumos and their girth gambling in the nearby for-rich-people-only area. They were betting more than I or even you make in a year. It was both fun and painful to watch. More so than Turkey and Portugal. A few days later I got on a plane home, to Berlin.

Upon landing, I found the city had transformed itself. With my wife guiding our trusty Volvo, I was shocked to see that every third or fourth car had not one but two flags protruding from its windows. There were flags from other nations – France, Germany, Turkey or even a combination of countries – something rare during that magical World Cup summer in 2006. When we got home, is seemed every restaurant, café and souvenir store had dusted off the flat screens they’d bought for the World Cup. The gay bar in our building even opened two hours early to afford a chance to watch the early match.

But it made me curious – had Berlin extended some sort of welcome at all for Bush? “There’s no one protesting but every Kraut politician there is has come out to take a potshot at W,” one colleague informed me while George and Angie were holed up in a Schloß in Brandenburg. While they were likely talking about what he’d do to follow up his stellar turn as leader of the free world, Angie and George put on casual duds to take a stroll. Maybe she was hoping for another classy backrub.

Now that he’s moved on to other European capitals it’s pretty clear she simply ignored W’s pleas to sever Germany’s remaining economic ties with Iran (profiteering was never a Halliburton monopoly). But maybe they were just enjoying some down time. In the pictures from the summit, they resemble the car dealers that were sharing my Vegas hotel and would appear at the pool late in the day, tired from an afternoon of conferences.

And it would seem Germany is finally tired of hating Bush – seven and a half years of incandescent rage will apparently tucker out even the most ardent German protestor. Then again, maybe they were just distracted by the soccer tournament.

After all the glitz of Vegas I was certainly happy to return to hype of the sincere art – Berlin decked out in flags, a decent German beer in the hand and a Euro match on a flat-screen TV outside the gay bar.

Since a good German Stammtisch is a place where pub regulars come to talk over the issues of the day, Portnoy welcomes a lively conversation in our Discuss section.