Fritz Walter and The St Louis Cardinals

I AM A St. Louis Cardinals fan,  even here in Germany - in a land where people care about baseball as much as Iowans do the German Premier League.   That doesn't stop me from wearing it on my shirt sleeve in the office, and my coworkers humor me by occasionally asking how they're doing.

So when the Cardinals went down 3 games to 2 in the 2011 World Series a colleague stopped me and asked me if I was disappointed game 6 was rained out,   I explained that it actually might work to the Cardinals advantage because it gives them a day to shake off game 5 and could mean that ace Chris Carpenter would take the mound in an eventual game seven - so the deluge might turn out to be a blessing.

"Ah", he replied. "Fritz Walter Wetter."


Allow me to introduce you to a piece of German sports lore.

Fritz Walter was born in 1920 in Kaiserslautern. A soccer prodigy, he made his first appearance with FC Kaiserslautern in 1937, advancing rapidly to the German National team in 1940.  War interrupted his booming career until he returned again to play for his home team in 1945.

Fritz Walter holding the trophy as he is carried off the field in 1954. 
The legend, however, was born in 1954 at the Miracle of Berne.   That year the German National team was admitted to the Word Cup for the first time since the war.   The highly under-rated team lead by Captain Fritz Walter dispatched superior Turkish, Yugoslavian and eventually Austrian to work their way into a improbable final match against mighty Hungary. July 4th, 1954 looked to be a  rainy summer day.   Prior to the game Walter's chief and friend remarked to him,  "Fritz, your weather."  To which Walter famously replied, "Chef, Ich hab' nichts dagegen (Boss, I have nothing against it.)"

 Rain poured down on the field while Fritz Walter's Eleven chipped away at an early 2-0 deficit.  Masses of Germans, huddled around their radios or in local pubs,  finally heard the call from announcer Herbert Zimmerman of "Tor! Tor! Tor!" when  the German national team scored a 3rd and decisive goal in the 84th minute. Six minutes later, Germany held the title of World Champion.   In historic retrospect, it was perhaps one of those games that was more than just a sporting event, it was a spark of pride returning to a humbled nation after a long and gray period.  

Whether the advantage could be attributed to the malaria Walter contracted in WWII - who, as the legend says,  was never again comfortable playing in the sun -   or whether he simply honed his skills playing in the inclement weather at the Betzenberg in Kaiserslautern, or whether it was the innovative screwed-in cleats introduced by the Fritz Walter Eleven in 1954 remains a debate.    But now, when game day arrives in Kaiserslautern and rain clouds rolls in above Fritz Walter Stadium like a good luck charm, a father might turn to his son with a wink and say "Here it comes finally.  Fritz Walter weather."

So congratulations to the St Louis Cardinals - perhaps aided by a windfall in the spirit of Fritz Walter himself - who made an improbable comeback to capture their 11th World Series title.

Over here in the office, maybe we'll just call it the Fritz Walter Eleventh.

Venice by Day, Venice by Night

PERHAPS we made a bit of a tactical error when we decided it would probably work to stuff all of the kids in the car, drive all the way from Rome to Padua for 6 hours on the road, get unpacked, and then head right out to check out Venice around dusk.  I think we assumed it was a 20-minute train ride from Padua (because that is precisely what we were told) but the total commute ended up being more like two hours, broken down roughly as:

  1. 8 minute ride to the train station
  2. 8 minute ride back home because we forgot the camera
  3. 8 minute ride back to the train station
  4. 10 minutes figuring out how to buy the right tickets
  5. 5 minutes walking to the track
  6. 15 minutes to walk back to the station and find a bathroom for Camden
  7. 10 minute wait for the train
  8. 51 minute train ride into Venice.  

Here then, at last, was the view back to the mainland as the sun was setting over the causeway: 

The tiredness was setting in on all of us the minute we walked out of the train station, and to top it off, sometimes being a tourist means standing in long lines. In this case, we started our Venice tour with a 30 minute wait in the Vaparetto (water bus)  ticket line, only to find out the Vaparettos were striking in a few hours and for the rest of the day tomorrow.  So we splurged for a chance for a one-way ride down the main channel to Piazza San Marco.

And, allow me to state the obvious: Venice is beautiful at night.

Of course, it was beautiful.  It's hard to take a good picture at night riding on the back of a Vaparetto, but a few pics turned out good enough to capture the environment of Venice lit up.

We reached Piazza San Marco assuming the crowds would have cleared out and headed back to the main-land.  Boy were we wrong!  It was hopping!  Music, dancing, lots of ritzy people, and lots to see.

We then meandered through the back streets of Venice (without a map) searching for the train station where we started, stopping for supper and snacks along the way.

Here the kids spy a Morano glass store featuring lfe-like glass balloons. Good souvenir?  No...500€ per balloon.


Did I mention Venice is beautiful at night?

We got back to the apartment at about 11:30pm and bedded everyone down.  We slept in (it was needed).   Once we got moving the next morning, we boarded the kids back up onto the train with much more efficiency and headed back for more.

And allow me once again to state the obvious: Venice is beautiful by day.

Anna bought some Murano glass.

Where is a pleasant passing tourist who could take a family picture when we need one!?

 Venice is beautiful....but it requires a lot of walking (unless the water bus isn't on strike the ONE day of your life you plan to visit)... and like many sights in Italy we discovered it is not stroller-friendly (so many arched bridges with only stairs), which meant we had to keep constant watch and hold of Jazlynn all day.  That makes a long walk a gazillion times longer, even with Gelato stops in between.

Even so, it was worth it, and our family got to check another famous sight off our list.

When in Rome....

After spending 5 days in Liguria exploring Pisa, Cinque Terre, and getting in some serious beach time, we packed everything back up in the van and headed further South for three nights in Rome.  We arrived in Rome after an uneventful 5 hour drive, where our van barely fit down the alleyway to our apartment.  In the course of parking the van two inches from the building in order to make way for other cars, I bumped into the neighbor's potted flowers...while he stood by and watched.  A start worthy of the Senneff Sieben.

Rome.  Whoa.  Rome is gritty.  It is noisy, bustling, and full of people.  It's dirty, completely chaotic,  sometimes smells funky, and if you can believe it, some of the buildings haven't even been updated for almost 2000 years.  We had to take a 20 min (packed!) bus ride and then a short metro ride to get from the apartment to anywhere, and it was the first time in all of our travels that I've felt like I needed a shower every time I stepped off the public transportation.

 But the eternal city makes for an interesting destination.

The next morning the metro dropped us off outside of the Colosseum, where we first stopped by the Roman Forum and started our "Roman Shuffle."

Tickets in hand, we skipped past the lines and walked right into the Colossuem (good tip, Rick Steves!):

And then, paraphrasing Forest Gump, we just started walking...

To the Victor Emmanuel Monument, built as a symbol of Italian unity....

To the Trevi Fountain, where one throws a coin in the fountain in order to ensure a return visit to Rome is in their future....

There were a few other people at the Trevi fountain:

And then to the Spanish steps (via Burger King).  Can you find Melissa and the kids?  They are in there!

We only spent one full day in Rome (it was plenty for the younger set), the next day opting to head just outside town to check out the ancient ruins of Ostia Antica.  But that evening while Melissa was putting the younger 3 down and packing us up for our drive to Venice, Anna, Chase, and Dad took a night stroll through Rome to see some of the sights from a different perspective:

 There were a few other people at the Trevi fountain:

So how was Rome?  It was dirty, loud, bustling, packed, expensive, not kid-friendly, hot, chaotic, smelled sometimes, full of pick-pocketers (we were prepared, thanks again Rick Steves), and made us feel like taking extra showers.

But I wouldn't change a thing.