Posts Tagged ‘russia’

A Dose of Night-Life

July 2nd, 2011 No comments

It occurred to me yesterday that it was the second-to-last Friday I’d be in Germany, so perhaps I ought to behave like a normal human being in his youth and go out. I checked the internet to see what was going on at all the clubs around and it looked like my best bet was a “Nuller Party” at the Faust, a music club about a 15-minute walk from my flat and right along the river where I go jogging. This is apparently the new thing now—in the last decade, 90s parties—where the DJ plays only music from the 90s—became very popular, and now they’re already doing the same thing with music from the 00s, a decade which somehow went by without ever getting an official name in English, but in Germany I suppose they settled on the “Nulls” and hence the “Nuller Party”.

Only photo taken, just before leaving.

After spending a few hours working up a buzz, I left my flat shortly before 11:00 when the website said this thing was supposed to start. The sun had only gone down about an hour earlier and the sky hadn’t completely darkened yet, so it felt much earlier than it was. But when I got to the club there was nobody inside. I don’t know why I hadn’t realized that if the entry started at 11:00 most people would actually get there later, but because I’d aimed to be there at 11:00 exact I ended up being the very first person to arrive.

A couple of hot German girls came in shortly after me, and though I stood next to them at the bar while ordering myself a beer, they neither spoke to or even made eye-contact with me. Of course I considered approaching them but there was this über-bitch aura radiating from them which is sadly quite typical of young German girls. These were the quintessence of young German bitches, and I felt like I could sense the cruelness of their hearts through the thin layer of surface beauty they possessed, so I didn’t try to talk to them.

I went up to the coat-check counter and asked the girl there when things usually got started at this place, and she said between 1:00 and 2:00. Ah, I thought, now I remember why I never go out. It was already past my normal bed-time of 11:00 and the party wasn’t even going to really get started for another couple hours.

I went outside and walked over to the Gretchen, a beer garden next to the Faust, and asked a woman working there the same thing I’d asked the coat-check girl, and she confirmed what was said. She was nice and she spoke English to me when it was apparent my German was bad, and when I ran out of things to say and walked away she said it was “a pleasure to meet me.” This woman was like the polar opposite of the girls in the club—clearly a wonderful human being on the inside but utterly unremarkable in terms of physical appearance. Why does it always have to be like that?

Anyway, I went to one of the tables outside near where others were sitting (the beer-garden was not as empty as the club) and sat down to roll up a cigarette. A young kid sat down on the other side of the table from me and asked if he could bum a smoke, so I happily obliged his request as his friend came with a freshly-ordered pizza from the food-stand there and sat down on the other side of the table. We got to talking and I ended up spending the next hour with them, and while it’s a fun little anecdote I’m afraid it’ll have to be edited out of the public part of this entry. If you’ve got access to private entries you might want to scroll down now and read the unabridged version.

They were young German boys all of 16 years old, the kind of kids I normally look at with reflexive disdain because they just seem like dumb little punks. But I was in good spirits and they seemed friendly enough so I engaged them in some conversation and told them about how I’ve been teaching English here for a few years and would be going back to America in two weeks. I guess they don’t meet people with quite as interesting a story very often so they quickly warmed up to me and wanted to hear more, particularly about the way things are in America. Ever since Cristiano suggested it in Rome I’ve been telling everyone I’m from New York, so they thought this was extra-awesome because New York City is one of the places they’ve always dreamed of going. The kid who bummed the smoke from me was even wearing a Yankee cap.

I liked these kids, and talking to them reminded me of talking to my younger brother and his friends whenever I’m back home in NJ. They also got major points in my book by attempting as much as they could to speak English to me, even though I was doing my best to speak German. The whole conversation was a weird mixture of English and German, often with words from both languages in the same sentence.

They learned a lot about America from me and I learned a little about what teenage boys in Hannover are like, and when we were finished talking they went home and I went back to the club. They said they were lucky to have met me, so I felt pretty good on my way back in, now feeling like anybody I might meet would indeed be lucky to meet me.

Back in the club it was now about half-past midnight and there were more people there but still no one dancing. I ordered a ridiculously over-priced water to get myself hydrated, then migrated to the back of the dance floor to do a little subtle dancing to the decent-but-far-from-great music that was playing. I was pretty buzzed at this point and seriously considered just letting loose on the empty dance-floor without caring at all how silly I’d look to everyone, but I apparently wasn’t quite buzzed enough for that.

So I went back to the bar and ordered a whiskey on the rocks (my current favorite drink) and the guy said it would have to be in a plastic cup, but if I wanted a glass I could just go to the bar at the smoking lounge in the back. I decided to check out the smoking lounge and discovered that there were even more people in there than out in the main area of the club. It was—as you might expect—pretty smoky in there, but not too bad.

I ordered my whiskey on the rocks (amused to see it served in a plastic cup anyway) and took the only empty barstool there between a couple of guys who were also there alone. I sipped from my drink and scanned the room, trying to determine which of these small groups of Germans sitting in the couches in the back looked to be the most promising to approach. As is usually the case with crowds of Germans, none of the groups seemed very approachable at all, which was another reminder of why I don’t go out very often.

I didn’t really want a cigarette, but in the spirit of “when in Rome” I figured I might as well smoke since I was here in the smoking lounge. I took out my tobacco and started to roll one up, and that’s when the guy sitting to my right spoke to me. He asked me if I had any filters, as apparently he had tobacco and papers but no filters. So once again smoking was the cause of my meeting someone. I wonder how non-smokers ever meet people. Seriously—I might give up the habit if it wasn’t so damned useful. 

So this guy—who looked exactly like Ron Livingston, star of the movie Office Space and Nixon The spitting image.from Band of Brothers—quickly realized my German wasn’t native and asked me where I was from, and seemed just as pleasantly surprised as the kids from earlier that I was from America (and New York in particular). It turned out he wasn’t a native German either but was actually a Russian, born in St. Petersburg and whose family migrated to Germany as soon as the Berlin wall came down. He said that the fall of the Berlin wall was the most significant historical event of his lifetime and that if that hadn’t happened he would still be in Russia right now. He’d moved here when he was 9, and was now 26. His family is scattered around Germany but apparently he also has an aunt and uncle in Brooklyn, thus providing even more evidence of my friend Mike’s theory that Brooklyn is the center of the universe.

The guy’s name was Jevgeny, and he struggled to speak English to me throughout our whole conversation and while he kept apologizing for how shitty his English was, I thought he was doing just fine. He was deeply curious about America because he never gets to speak to actual Americans. That’s one of the great things about Hannover—it’s not a tourist city so Americans are a rare commodity, and people treat a conversation with you like a rare opportunity. He said that he had a perception of Americans as very stupid and closed-minded, and while he made sure to explain that he wasn’t talking about me, I took no offense because as I explained, most Americans are stupid and closed-minded. He told me a story about someone he knew who was an exchange student in Kentucky, and the family he stayed with kept asking him about Nazis and whether Hitler was secretly still alive. I had to admit that it’s true—when most Americans hear “Germany” they immediately think of Nazis and Hitler—but people on the coasts and in the cities tend to be more sophisticated than these hicks in places like Kentucky.

I was happy to disabuse him of the notion that all Americans are morons, and he complimented me more than once on my intelligence. That’s one great thing about being an American abroad—people judge you by extremely low standards so they’re impressed by you simply for not being a drooling idiot. He had a lot of questions about America and I was happy to explain things to him, particularly about the political situation because most Europeans have no idea that Obama is really just a puppet dangling from the same strings as Bush and Clinton before him.

But I also learned some very interesting things from Jevgeny. He works at a small grocery store in the south of Hannover, and while he didn’t say so explicitly he basically implied that he’s got connections. Apparently all Russians in Germany have some kind of ties to organized crime, and he said that it comes with positives and negatives. The downside is that when Germans find out he’s a Russian, they immediately back away and don’t want to talk to him. On the plus side, nobody fucks with him. He told me that if anyone came up and started shit with me while we were sitting there, he’d punch him in the face without fear of retaliation.

He also seemed concerned that he might be intimidating me, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. And he kept saying that I could go any time and he didn’t want to keep me there, but I explained that this was the whole reason I came out—to meet and talk to interesting people. Jevgeny was a very interesting guy. One of the most fascinating things I learned from him is that with his German passport he’s free to go anywhere in Europe except his home country of Russia. When he goes back, they stop him at the airport because apparently all Russians are supposed to serve in the military and he hasn’t, so he has to bribe them every single time to keep from being sent to the army.

Eventually, Jevgeny went home and just like the kids from earlier told me that he felt lucky to have met me, which never stops feeling nice.

Now it was finally time to go to the club area and do some dancing, as the dance-floor was now full of people. I downed another expensive mineral water, then proceeded to weave my way through the crowd and dance to a bunch of unrecognizable songs (I didn’t do mush listening to the radio during the 00s) and see if any of the groups of Germans might be approachable, or better yet if there were any attractive girls I could attempt to flirt with. I was at maximum-confidence, truly believing that any woman I approached would be lucky for the chance to meet me, but things didn’t work out that way.

None of girls so much as made eye-contact with me, and all the attractive ones were dancing with their boyfriends anyway. It’s the same story whenever I go to a dance club—the girls are either taken or totally not into me—and it was one final reminder of why I never go out. Even when I’m smiling, having a good time, and radiating confidence, I just can’t seem to attract anyone. But fuck German girls anyway. There are of course many many exceptions, but generally speaking they’re almost all a bunch of stuck-up bitches. I think I’ve been better off during my three years here for having not had my life complicated by one.

After giving up on meeting anyone new, and quite satisfied at the socialization I’d already had, I went to the coat-check counter to retrieve my jacket and go home. There was a slight problem—the little token they gave me had apparently fallen out of my pocket, and the girl there (typical stuck-up German bitch) gave me this whole, “sucks to be you” attitude like there was absolutely nothing she could do to help me. She told me to wait an hour for people to start going home. Right, like I’m really going to wait until everyone else has gotten their coat before I can get mine and go. I obstinately stayed at the counter and she finally relented. I  described my jacket to her and told her that I could prove it was mine because there was a camera in my pocket with some pictures of me in it. She found the coat, found the camera, and handed it to me. Luckily I still had some pictures of me from the last time I was in Celle, and I showed her one of me with Oliver’s dog and she laughed and gave me my coat back.

It was now past 4 a.m. and during my walk home the sky began to get brighter as the sun was already rising. I’d literally been out from dusk until dawn, but in Germany during the summer that’s not a very long time at all.

So that was my nice little night out. I’m quite glad I did that, and while I’ve got no desire to drink or go out again tonight, I’m sure I’ll have myself a few more nights like that before I leave.

Conservative Cowardice

April 17th, 2010 No comments

I’m sick and tired of conservatives acting like their position on foreign policy is one of strength while Obama’s is one of weakness, when in fact it’s the exact opposite. They need to be called out for the despicable cowards that they are.

In my last piece, I wrote about the fundamental differences between liberalism and conservatism as attitudes towards the government’s role in society, and my analysis was very broad and not focused exclusively on the United States. I wanted to give conservatism fair treatment as my goal was to get both sides to recognize what common ground we might have. This week I’m going to focus on conservatives only in the United States and their attitudes on foreign policy, and I’m not going to be nearly as kind. My goal here is not to spark a dialog but merely to rant about something that’s been sticking in my craw since all those republicans started throwing a hissy-fit over Obama’s new nuclear policy last week.

For those of you who don’t know, Obama announced that Russia and the United States had both agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals by a third. Purely a diplomatic move, but enough for the republicans to jump all over it and claim that somehow only being able to destroy the world 66 times over instead of 100 makes us all less safe. But much more importantly, Obama declared that we would not use nuclear weapons to retaliate against a nation that attacks us if that nation does not itself have nuclear weapons and is in compliance with international treaties. So if Zimbabwe attacks us, we promise not to nuke them. As for the real threats—Iran and North Korea—we can still nuke them because they’re not in compliance with the treaties.

Of course the republicans are going to ignore those caveats and completely distort Obama’s position to the point of absurdity. Everyone from Newt Gingrich to Sarah Palin was saying that Obama was somehow stripping this nation completely bare of its defenses. “He said he won’t retaliate if another country attacks us! He’s basically inviting other countries to attack the United States and telling them we won’t do anything in response!”

Actually—no, that’s not what he said, you unbelievable dipshits. He said we won’t use nuclear weapons to attack a country that complies with international nuclear treaties. In other words, you give countries an incentive to comply with those treaties, thus reducing the threat of nuclear war. He didn’t say we wouldn’t retaliate at all. But just ignore that. Sean Hannity insists that’s what he said—and Hannity would never misrepresent the president’s position.

All of this is stuff you already know if you follow the news. Plenty of ink has been spilled over the disingenuousness of republicans on this issue. They’ve chosen to go with their old narrative of “democrats are weak on defense” so they’ll pounce on anything that smells the least bit like weakness, including not reserving the right to drop H-bombs all over Zimbabwe if we feel like it.

But I feel like something very obvious has been largely ignored in all the analysis of this issue, and it goes far beyond the nuclear news of last week. I really wish republicans would get called out on this more often, because it strikes right at the heart of the image they like to present and completely undermines their posture of strength in the face of the president’s weakness: these people are cowards.

Last week I wrote about the underlying principles between conservatism and liberalism, but I left out the underlying emotions behind those attitudes. In terms of economic policy, liberals are motivated by compassion and conservatives by selfishness. In terms of foreign policy, liberals are also motivated by compassion (let’s not drop bombs on innocent civilians unless we absolutely have to) but conservatives are motivated by fear.

Obviously, Gingrich and Palin are just playing political games and I doubt they’re seriously afraid that Zimbabwe is going to invade, but the people who take them seriously do have such fears. There are a lot of brown people walking around in turbans on the other side of the world and they all spend their entire day plotting and planning the best way to slaughter Americans. You never know when a loose nuke or some kind of biological weapon is going to find its way to the Palookaville Wal-Mart and kill all your neighbors. The only reason the Wal-Mart is still standing is because George W. Bush kept us safe for so long—fighting them over there so we wouldn’t have to fight them here—but now Obama is doing everything he can to undo what Bush did. He is a secret Muslim, you know.

But even the conservatives who aren’t batshit crazy like that are still motivated by fear. Reasonable commentators like Bill O’Reilly have consistently supported things like water-boarding and other forms of torture, and there couldn’t possibly be a more cowardly position than that. Since the birth of our nation we’ve abided by certain principles and not torturing prisoners has been one of them. Liberals have remained true to this principle, saying first that torture doesn’t work but more importantly, even if it did work we’d rather maintain our honor and be slightly less safe than sinking to their level—going “to the dark side” as Dick Cheney so famously put it. Conservatives, on the other hand, have acted like frightened children. Please, torture them! Torture them all! He had a bomb in his underpants! He might know where more bombs are! How could you just read him his rights and give him a lawyer when there could be more underpants bombers on the way to the Wal-Mart as we speak?!!

It’s really pathetic, and they should be called out on it far more often than they are. Instead, we let them get away with acting as though they’re the strong ones, the ones who are willing to do ‘whatever it takes’ to protect America. Newsflash: that’s not strength. That’s the definition of cowardice—to be willing to do whatever it takes to stay safe.

It’s like a soldier who grabs a civilian to use as a human shield against the bullets flying at him, and when the civilian dies he says, “See? I had the strength to do whatever I had to do to save myself. If an innocent person had to die, so be it. I’m still here. See how strong I am? Where’s my medal?”

So now they’re twisting it around and saying that Obama’s new nuclear policy is a sign of weakness, as though dropping nuclear bombs on a country with a fraction of our military power is the bravest thing in the world. No, you fucking assholes, that’s the most cowardly thing you could possibly do.

The strongest, bravest thing to do would be to eliminate nuclear weapons altogether and have a level playing field. Now, if you attack us, we have to fight you through conventional means. And it’s not like our conventional army isn’t the strongest in the world by far anyway. Do we really need nuclear weapons to fight Iran or North Korea? It took us about a week to march into Baghdad—it wouldn’t take too long to get to Tehran or Pyongyang either—no nukes necessary.

But Obama didn’t even say we wouldn’t use nukes against Iran or North Korea—his declaration was specifically designed to exclude those very countries from the exemption from nuclear retaliation. So what are you still screaming about? Calm the fuck down already. If Kim Jong Il really scares the piss out of you so much, you can still drop a nuclear bomb on his head.

You’d think we could all just agree that we shouldn’t use nukes on a country with no nuclear weapons, but apparently not. The conservatives are too scared to even concede to that. They want to reserve the right to nuke anybody and everybody, as anything less would be weakness.

For the last time—your position is the weak one. You are the cowards. You are the ones who want to bring a bazooka to a fist-fight. And if that’s not cowardice, I don’t know what is.