Saturday, October 25, 2008


When I was a bartender in Westport, Connecticut, I had no special interest in Germany. I worked in an Irish bar called the Tin Whistle Cafe, and if I had a connection to any European country, it would probably have been to my ancestral homeland, Ireland. We sold a fair amount of Guinness at the Whistle, and Irish issues were discussed among some of the regulars. In a way, the job was just an extension of my years at Our Lady of Fatima School, where all the nuns were Irish-American with fabulous Boston accents. One Irish issue I followed in the papers each year was the controversy in New York about gay and lesbian participation in the St. Patrick's Day parade. There was usually a joke about it going around the bar. I'm following a similar controversy in Germany right now that centers on the new mosque proposed for Köln. The intriguing part of this juxtaposition for me is that during the intervening 25 years, my decision to leave the field of mixology for academia has limited my contact with this kind of news.

Yes, I follow the big stuff on KUSU, a National Public Radio affiliate. (And I'm doing a little victory dance right now that I'm not in Utah listening to the deadly dull pledge drive.) But listening is not READING. I love to read a good newspaper and feel there is no substitute. It's a paradox that as a Universitätsprofessor, I can't find the time to read a daily paper. When I tended bar, I picked up all the papers on my way into work and laid them on the bar for customers to read at lunchtime. The Whistle was primarily a nightclub bar, with live music and a fairly young crowd. But during the day, when I worked, it served lunch to a small group of regulars and imported and domestic beer to a slightly larger crowd for happy hour. It was the sort of place where Paul Newman could come in for a quiet lunch and not be disturbed. It was the sort of place where even the bartender wasn't often disturbed. Most days I read the New York Times cover to cover, scanned the Daily News comics and checked the headline on the Post from across the room to test my eyesight.

Here in Essen, I again have the time to enjoy a good newspaper and I've gotten a subscription to Die Zeit. It's an excellent paper and it reminds me of the old days in Westport. They've got a great story in this week's edition about the opening of a new mosque in Duisburg, a city neighboring Essen to the west. The remarkable part of the story is how things are going in Duisburg compared to Köln. A new mosque is also proposed in Köln, but there the new building is being met with an intense controversy. The right wing group, Pro Köln, has organized protests and conservative and neo-fascist groups around Europe are using the mosque as a rallying point. In contrast, the Duisburg mosque has been built and will open today with little protest. The prime mover in the building process has been a woman, Zülfiye Kaykin, and the new mosque is poised to be the center of a vibrant Turkish community in this Ruhrgebiet city that is often called Istanbul am Rhein. One can only hope that the project in Köln will be as successful in the long run.

In the days when I was tending bar, I also did the crossword puzzle every day, often working with one or two of my more literate patrons. The Times puzzle gets harder as the week goes by, but in 100 weeks, it could never get as hard as the Zeit crossword is for me. The conventions of American crossword puzzles, taught to me over the years by my father, (who had a system of doing the Times puzzle with three different colored pens) are not the same as the conventions in Germany. I can't get even the simplest of clues and don't understand why other people bother, since the words don't really mesh in a big grid. I guess there are some aspects of an adopted culture that will always remain foreign.

1 comment:

Charlie said...

Sometime I'd like to learn the 3-pen NYT puzzle method. I try to do the puzzle each day, but I'm only Wed/Thurs competent.