Searching for U2 in Dublin

Temple Bar

I’ve always been a big U2 fan. I loved their early music of the 1980s, tuned out a bit in the 1990s, and reengaged with their uneven albums of the past 15 years. I’ve seen them in concert a few times. They always put on a great show, but the concerts earlier in their career were more spontaneous, energetic, and thrilling. They’re getting old now, and in my opinion the recent shows are too over-the-top huge and overly programmed down to the last millisecond.

early U2 photo
U2 in the early days…

Back in 1983, the Irish band U2 was on the War tour across the US.  On Sunday, May 22, they played Northrop Auditorium on the campus of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. This was back in the day when the band played 5,000 seat venues and stadium tours were sometime in their future. I was a college student at the U of MN and months in advance I went with my best friend Laurance to the ticket office very early on the day tickets for the show went on sale. We were excited when we got tickets in the third row. I had finally atoned for my blunder the year before when I didn’t go early enough to buy tickets for the October tour date in Minneapolis. It sold out before I got there.

The show was fantastic, Bono climbed into the audience and sang part of song right in front of us, the Edge’s guitar work was amazing, and the crowd went crazy. When the show was over, Laurance suggested that we go outside to the back of Northrop Auditorium. He had heard that sometimes bands would go out the rear stage door when they left the building. So we hiked around the huge hall and found the stage door.

Irish pub
Traditional Irish pub in the Temple Bar neighborhood of Dublin, Ireland.

A small crowd of young people were standing by the stage door. We waited and waited. Nothing happened. The crowd thinned. People decided they had better things to do than wait any longer. After a long period of time we talked about leaving. But we were diehard U2 fans. This was our one chance to meet them. Only two girls remained with us.

The door opened and Bono, the Edge, and Adam Clayton, the bass player, emerged into the night air. They were friendly and talked with us for 10 or 15 minutes. We didn’t have a camera (smart phones weren’t invented yet), so the only image of the event I have is my memory. I remember that Edge was really short!

Me: “What does your Mom think of your success?”

Adam Clayton: “I dunno. She must like it.”

So much for my expert journalistic instincts in interviewing.

Girl #1 to Bono: “Do you know Mick Jagger?”

Bono, laughing: “Uh, no.”

Girl #2 to Edge: “Did you know Elvis Presley before he died?”

Meeting three of the members of U2 has been one of only three brief encounters with celebrities in my lifetime, along with seeing Wilt Chamberlain lean over a café counter (that dude was tall!), and urinating next to Walter Mondale in the Newark Airport men’s room.

Guinness sign
Yes, every day is a lovely day for a Guinness!

This summer I finally traveled to Dublin, home of Ireland’s favorite musical sons. I wondered if anything related to U2 existed in the city as an attraction. The only information I had was that they came from a North Dublin neighborhood.

In a tourist brochure I found a reference to a “U2 graffiti wall.” The wall was supposed to be on a street called Hanover Quay near the Grand Canal docks in the Dublin Docklands area. The Grand Canal was linked to the River Liffey, which runs through Dublin. It is one of the older parts of the city and quite run down.

Dublin graffiti
Thanks Dublin!

I navigated to the proper spot according to the map in the brochure but there was almost nothing left of the U2 graffiti wall. Many of the old buildings on the street were torn down and new condo towers were being constructed in their place. Only a couple of wall fragments were left. Across the street from this spot was a large anchor mounted in a concrete block. The anchor and the surrounding old brick had some U2 graffiti on them, perhaps as an afterthought when the wall was torn down…

Windmill Lane graffiti
The remnant of the Windmill Lane Studios.

A few blocks away from Hanover Quay is a small street called Windmill Lane. A recording studio was started there in 1978. U2’s early music was recorded at Windmill Lane Studios, culminating in the 1987 masterpiece that was The Joshua Tree. The studio moved to a different location in Dublin in 2006.

Windmill Lane RIP
Windmill Lane Studios former home is gone.

The site has been popular for music fans to visit and leave their creative mark. Because the area is being redeveloped, the building which housed the Windmill Lane Studios was demolished in April 2015, a few weeks before I visited. However, a section of one outer wall still stands, pending a decision on what to do with it. One idea is to preserve it and move it to another location.

Windmill Lane graffiti
More Windmill Lane graffiti.
Guinness barrels
Barrels of beer at the Guinness brewery.

I never made it to North Dublin to see the neighborhoods where the band members grew up. Instead, like everyone else I visited the Guinness brewery, took the touristy factory tour, and drank Guinness from the seventh floor bar (overlooking the unimpressive city skyline of Dublin).  Each night I made the touristic pub crawl through the Temple Bar area. Drinking Guinness beer and listening to live music in a series of small Irish pubs is a most excellent way to spend an evening in Dublin.

The band in every pub played U2 music at least once or twice in every set. That was OK with me, because I still haven’t found what I am looking for.

Temple Bar
The Temple Bar in Dublin.

Walking the Streets of Munich Again

Munich store

After spending six months living as an expat in Munich in 2013 I had come to know and love the city. It’s a great place to visit, but an even better place to live (except for the weather….).

leaves on building in Munich
Fall in Munich.

On my first afternoon back in town I wandered the streets of the Haidhausen district. The day was brisk but with a sturdy leather jacket on I was warm enough as I window-shopped. I stopped for a latté (yes, I drink coffee now, blame it on the last Christmas present I gave to my wife – an espresso machine) and sat outside to watch the Saturday shoppers get their purchases in before the stores closed on Sunday.

“You know, I don’t believe I want to live in a country where you have to stay open on Sunday to do business. You shouldn’t have to work on Sunday.” (See That Thing You Do, you’ll be glad you did).

The Germans keep the tradition of Sunday closures going. I think it’s a good thing.

Haidhausen cafe
A cafe in Haidhausen.

Despite it being November, the sun peaked out from the clouds for an extended stretch of time. Between the sunshine and the coffee I got so warm I had to take my jacket off. Everyone else walked by bundled up in boots, heavy coats, scarves and hats. Bavarians seem to do that whenever the temperature drops below 60 degrees Fahrenheit or the calendar says it’s no longer summer.

Sufficiently jazzed on caffeine, I walked over to the Ostbahnhof (east train station) and caught the U-bahn (subway) to the city center. On the way I dutifully stopped and waited (as I learned to do in Berlin) at all of the “don’t walk” pedestrian lights, even if there were no cars in sight. Because that’s also what you do when you’re in Munich.

Munich street scene.
A typical Munich street scene.

At Marienplatz (the main square in Munich), I spied the glockenspiel on the Rathaus (city hall), but the figurines were still and silent at this time of day. Since Oktoberfest was over, there were very few tourists in the square. Instead, local residents were crowding into the smaller shops and big department stores to start their Christmas shopping. Unfortunately, the big, outdoor Christmas Market (Christkindlmarkt) was not yet open. The Christkindlmarkt is a big street market associated with the four weeks of Advent. It started in Munich in 1310. I’m sure they sold different stuff back then. Or maybe not…

Munich store
Christmas decorations on a department store

I missed my chance to drink glühwein again (first tasted in Seefeld, Austria, but that’s ok. Drinking hot wine while outside in winter in a cold climate is not my favorite pastime anyway.

Seeking some fortification after surviving on airplane food for the previous day, I went into the Augustiner Restaurant, a Munich landmark that is the prototype of the Bavarian beer garden. The monks started brewing beer here as early as 1328. I ordered a half liter of hefeweizen (wheat beer) and peered at the menu, trying to decide which kind of sausage I should have.

Deciding I had had enough sausage during my expat stay, I opted for the weinerschnitzel instead.  You can’t go wrong when ordering a good schnitzel when in Bavaria.

Aaahhhh… Schnitzel, hot fries, and a wheat beer in a Bavarian beer hall.  Seeing the men in their beer-drinking outfits of lederhosen (leather pants) and feathered caps, the women in their dirndls (dresses) with low cut blouses, and waitresses carrying giant pretzels in one hand while hoisting multiple one liter beer steins (“ein mass”) in the other, brings on a warm fuzzy feeling of nostalgia in me. And I’m not even German.

I think I need to return to Munich once a year for the rest of my life.

toilet sign
German humor! Extremely long compound words!

Starkbierfest!

beer mugs
beer hall crowd
The band and part of the crowd at the Paulaner brewery hall.

The first thing I noticed when I walked into the beer hall was that the floor was sticky. Stout middle-aged women dressed in dirndl dresses clutched multiple massive mugs in each hand as they pushed their way through the crowd to the tables (what strong wrists!).  A little of the beer in each mug found its way to the floor during the trip from the tap to the drinker.  The air was stiflingly hot and humid from the crush of thousands of revelers.  The band was loud as it cranked through what must be Bavarian oldies.  Most people were standing on the benches lining the sides of each table, swinging to the music and singing to the top of their lungs.

This was my first experience at the Starkbierfest – the Strong Beer Festival – at the Paulaner brewery in Munich, Germany.  It was a Thursday night and the place was packed.  Friday and Saturday nights are sold out months in advance. I had forgotten to get my friend Iris’ cell phone number so that I could text her to find out where she was in the crowd.  She had reserved a table of ten.  I wandered through the giant room, trying to find my friends and colleagues. It was a lost cause; there were simply too many people there to find a particular individual.

I finally went to the lobby and tried to get a beer from the bartender.  She said I had to be at a table to be served any draft beer. I explained that I couldn’t find my table and I hadn’t even had anything to drink yet.  She pointed to the wall across the lobby where there were lists of table holders.  Aaahh!  Of course, this is German efficiency at work, even in the beer hall.

I finally found the right table.  It was near the front of the hall not far from the band. Iris was dressed in a fancy dirndl and standing on the bench.  Surrounding her were her friends and new acquaintances, all standing on the benches, swaying, drinking, and singing.  It was now about 8pm and some of them had been there since 4pm.  It’s easy to meet new people and make friends in this situation. Everyone is there to be friendly and have a good time. Most of the women were dress in dirndls, a traditional Bavarian costume.  Most of the men were in lederhosen (leather pants) with white shirts and suspenders.  Some even had on the traditional mountain hats.

lederhosen
Traditional Bavarian menswear.

One guy at our table had on lederhosen but they were split down both inseams and hung on his legs like chaps.

“Dude!” I screamed over the music. “What happened to your pants?”

“I don’t know!” he yelled. “I bent over to pick up a beer mug.” He shrugged his shoulders and smiled.  He didn’t care about his pants or the fact that his blue underwear was showing.

S and L with beer mugs
Big mugs in this place.

We got the waitress’s attention to order a beer.  The beer is called strong beer because it has a 9% alcohol level, instead of 5% for typical German beers and 3.2% for common American beers.  The beer comes in heavy clay mugs holding one liter (about 33 ounces – almost three cans or bottles).  So drinking a mug is like drinking eight or nine cans of Budweiser.  Hhhhmmmm. It tasted like a heavy ale, full of body and flavor.

I hoisted my mug, stood on the bench to watch the band, and tried not to fall over as the guy at the table behind me kept leaning over to talk to someone while sticking his butt out and bumping me.

The band had finished their medley of German oldies and segued into some well-known American rock and pop songs.  The crowd loved it.  Everyone sang along and pumped their fists into the air at the right times. I slowly drained my mug. I ordered another.

beer mugs
Which one is mine again? Things are looking a little blurry.

As I worked my way through the second mug, things started changing.  It was getting later, the crowd was getting wilder, and the band was getting louder. I was enjoying myself.  I even sang along to several songs on my personal banned song list, such as “I Will Survive,” “We Are Family,” and “American Pie.” I knew I had had enough when I found myself nodding my head to the beat and doing the arm motions to “YMCA.”

new friends
My new friends. What were their names?

I couldn’t finish the second mug. It was too much for me.  The band was done and the crowd headed for the exits. I stumbled to the U-bahn station hoping I would get on the right train and not end up in Austria.

There was no way I was making it to work by 8am the next day.

Battling in the Bundesliga

soccer play

For-tun-a! For-tun-a! For-tun-a!

Tens of thousands of fans yelled as the Fortuna striker lined up to take the penalty kick.  The goalie for the opposing team danced back and forth on his toes, trying to guess which way the striker would kick the ball. The cheers reached a crescendo as the striker ran to the ball. He kicked to the left corner of the goal in a low hard shot. The goalie guessed the ball would come in that direction and he jumped full length milliseconds before the kick with his padded hands outstretched.  The ball hit his fingertips and deflected wide of the goal post. The fans groaned together in a giant “Ooooooohhhhhh.”

Fortuna fussball game
For-tun-a!
Fortuna logo.
Fortuna Dusseldorf, founded in 1895.

It was only two minutes into the game and the crowd was already in a frenzy.  I think that all the pre-game drinking might have had something to do with it.  While on the train to the stadium I saw a healthy percentage of the fans drinking from open bottles.  That’s one way to avoid high stadium prices. The fans were easy to identify because all of them wore the red and white of Fortuna Düsseldorf.

bundesliga logo
Fussball – soccer to the Americans.

This was a mid-season Bundesliga match between Fortuna and SpVgg Greuther Fürth in the top fussball league in Germany.  Fortuna had toiled for years in lower leagues but had recently moved up to the top league.  However, if they finished as one of the last two teams in the league standings at the end of the season then they would get “relegated” back down to the second league.  At this point they were comfortably in the middle of the pack.  The leader of the Bundesliga was the powerful FC Bayern München. This club was hated by other fans for their longstanding successes and their ability to build a championship team by outspending their rivals.

soccer play
A Fortuna midfielder is hooked by a defender.

After fifteen minutes of spirited but indecisive play, a Fortuna forward received a long pass from a midfielder and streaked towards the goal.  Two Greuther Fürth defenders challenged the Fortuna attacker.  The defenders misplayed the ball and the Fortuna forward darted between the defenders on a clear path to the goal.  The goalie came out to meet him in a desperation move as the attacker drilled an arcing shot.  The ball curved around the goalie and into the back of the net.

The fans jumped to their feet and erupted as one: Tor! (goal)  The goal scorer was mobbed by his teammates in a wild celebration. The fans sang the team song and congratulated each other on their loyalty to Fortuna.

Would a visit to a Bundesliga match be complete without a beer and a pretzel?  Of course not!  At halftime the fans streamed out to the concourse to load up for the second half.

soccer game pretzel
Who is that man in the background?

The rest of the game was uneventful.  There were some shots on goal but no more scoring.  As the clock wound down the fans left their seats in a happy mood.  Their team had gained three points in the standings with the 1-0 win. Relegation to the second league was getting less likely with each passing week.

One thing stayed in my mind as I followed the thousands of fans to the U-bahn:

TOR!

Polska Polka Party

dancers

My extended family in Poland really knows how to throw a good party.  We were staying with my aunt and uncle in Laka, a small village near the town of Pszczyna in southern Poland.  Since we were there, they decided to invite my other aunts and uncles and all of my cousins to a big barbecue party. Many of the cousins didn’t see each other regularly despite living only a few hundred yards from each other.  I hadn’t seen some of my cousins in 13 or 27 years.

dancers
Roll out the barrel!

It was a Saturday in September and one of the last good days of summer.  Around 1pm one of my cousins started a wood fire in the grill.  After he had some hot embers, he mounted two giant hams on a large spit.  He tended the fire the rest of the day.  I started calling him the Grillmaster.

Everyone arrived around 3pm.  The hugs and kisses seemed endless.  Then it was time to party.  The first thing on the agenda was to eat dessert.  In Poland, the dessert is often served before anything else.  Many kinds of home-made cakes were brought out of the secret basement pantry.  Tea and coffee were served.

The polka band started playing during dessert.  The band consisted of my cousin’s two sons, Martin (17) and Kuba (12).  Martin played the accordion and Kuba played the bass drum.  The boys played with spirit and energy.  Polka songs all sound the same to me.  Still, it is happy music and great for getting a party going full steam.

the boys in the band
Martin and Kuba, our polka band

The first wood smoked ham was ready.  It was taken off the spit and sliced with a giant carving knife.  It tasted delicious.  The aunts had prepared potato, rice, and cabbage casserole dishes to go along with tomatoes from the garden.  I skipped all of that to concentrate on the ham and fresh bread.

ham on the grill
It tasted delicious!

Cases of Zywiec beer appeared.  Since I was there, some of them were actually stored in the fridge to be cold for the American guest.  The rest were room temperature.  Some people mixed beer with a couple of different things.  Some people liked their lukewarm beer with a fruity syrup.  I tried that and it tasted awful!  Others poured half a glass of beer and then dumped Coke into it.  I didn’t try that because it just looked bad to me.

After dinner it was time to drink vodka shots and some combustible Greek aperitif that tasted like it should be used to scour the barnacles off of a ship’s hull.  During the drinking I noticed that quite a few of the family had disappeared from the table.  I thought that’s pretty normal when 40 people are gathered.  Some people have to fix more food, make phone calls on their new cell phones, or walk off some of the beer and vodka buzz.

Then the band started up again and a dozen people danced out of the house.  They were dressed up in costumes like it was Halloween.  We had a Native American chief, Charlie Chaplin, cowboys and cowgirls, women dressed as men, and men dressed like the prostitutes I saw standing by the side of Polish highways.

party dancers
It's early for Halloween... do they even have that here?

The costumed people danced with wild abandon.  They brought the party to life.  They got everyone to leave the food tables and dance like crazy people.

When we were all tired out from dancing, the second ham was ready to eat.  We all sat down to a second dinner.  This time we also had Polish sausage and some strange substance that was cooked on the grill in tinfoil.  I thought I’d try some of that mystery food.  It turned out to be blood sausage.  I took one bite and that was enough for me.  It was nasty stuff.

As the sun set, more beer was consumed, more vodka shots were downed, and the conversations got louder and funnier.

Everyone enjoyed being together again, like in the old days when we were all so much younger.  Time passes but the bonds of family remain.

To see a short video of the Polska Polka Party dancing, click here.