Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Oger, Elimination and Goodbye

    All good things come to an end, as does my time here in Herten after being eliminated from the playoffs. After a tough loss in the first game of the semi-final round, we traveled to Nuremberg and had our hopes dashed in heartbreaking fashion. We lost both games by 2 points, missing threes at the buzzer in both attempts.
    Nuremberg is one of the big money teams (i.e. they have some high-paying sponsors who pump a lot of money into their team in hopes of winning the league and moving up divisions), and has some big players (literally).

This guy is 7'3"! That is bigger than Shaq. Hack, the guy guarding him is 6'9" and it looks like he is playing against his older brother who is just bullying him in the post.

His shaggy beard only adds to his oger mystique.

But despite the money and physical size, we definitely should have won both games. We were up in the 4th quarter in both games, by as much as 11 in the second game, but collapsed both times at the end. Our defense was great, keeping them under 70 in both contests, but we couldn't hit a shot from outside and missed way to many free throws for playoff basketball.

Unfortunately I got hurt the night before the first game and couldn't do anything but support the team from the bench. This was literally the first time I had missed a game since before high school. With plans for med school in the future, this is likely the end of my organized basketball career (hello Men's Adult Rec League!). 

Knowing this going into the last game made watching from the sidelines all the more painful and frustrating.

While this wasn't how I imagined my career ending, I have few complaints about the where basketball has taken me.  While I never really learned German and the NBA isn't knocking on my door, I have literally seen the world, met my best friends and created some memories that will last a lifetime. Thanks to everyone who has helped me over the years: teachers, coaches friends and of course my family. None of this would have been possible without you.

I am leaving Germany on Thursday to fly to Cape Town. There I will be volunteering at the Desmond Tutu HIV clinic for a few months before returning home. I don't think I will continue the blog down there except to post some pictures for the family, so thanks again to everyone who has been keeping up with me these 7 months; I enjoyed writing and talking to you all about my experiences more than I ever thought I would.

Bis bald und nochmals vielen Dank für all eure Unterstützung!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

USSR, Carnival and Purple Cows

     On Saturday we hopped in our team vans and trekked 5 hours south for the second game against Breitengüssbach. Whether it was overconfidence, fatigue, or just our general knack for playing poorly on the road, things did not go as planned.  Despite some poor shooting (especially from me) and some foul trouble (also me), we were up 4 with under a minute to go. We then proceeded to make 1-4 freethrows, give them an open three, and then get a ridiculous foul called on a made off-balance floater with 3 seconds to go. 
    With the game tied, their best player missed the free throw.  Marcus got the rebound and was pushed out of bounds, but instead of calling a foul, the ref gave the other team the ball and ANOTHER chance to win the game. Now I know how team USA felt at the 1972 Olympics against the USSR. They ended up missing the final shot but beating us in overtime. Not only did this make the ride home miserable, but the twenty extra minutes that we wasted in overtime made me miss the end of Williams-Amherst Elite 8 game. Talk about a double-whammy.
     Thankfully the ephs didn't need me huddled over my computer screen nervously pressing the refresh button on my internet to speed up the buffering of the webcast to get the job done.  The only disappointment is that I won't be able to make it to Salem to cheer them on in person. Go Ephs!
       We played again last night and pulled through in the do-or-die game, winning the series and guaranteeing at least two more weeks of playoffs!

After the game a reporter gave me a newspaper clip with a picture after one of the games my parents went to. I have no idea what the article says, but at least the picture looks good (I'm pretty sure I remember Parker being to the left of me in this picture-sorry big guy guess you didn't make the editor's cut).

     Similar to Mardi Gras in the U.S. and Carnival in Brazil, the Germans celebrate Karnival right before lent. The festivals start at 11:11 am on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday and concludes on Rosenmontag (Rose Monday) with parades and floats. Similar to our Halloween, everyone dresses up in random costumes and the little kids bring bags to collect candy in. Here are some of my favorite costumes:

Even our cheerleaders got in on the fun for the game.

While these costumes definitely could have used some work, they were much better than the Halloween outfits they had on. Flashback...

For whatever reason I noticed a surprising number of cows...

...and girls dressed like pippi longstockings. The cow epidemic was obviously related to the global support of Williams quest for a National Championship, but the pippi longstocking observation was a little more tricky until I realized the surprising connection between that and stereotypical German Fraulein.

Minus the beverages, I think the resemblance is pretty clear.
The coolest part of the parade were the people on the floats throwing candy. Everyone would just yell "Haaallllllloooo" and wave and then get pelted with assorted sweets and popcorn. My height was an advantage in collecting the most candy, but it also made me an easy target; I saw more then a few kids delighting in successfully hitting me in the head with lollipops from moving floats.

They also had some cool marching bands:

In other news, I have created the perfect NCAA bracket and therefore expect to win the ESPN bracket challenge. With the money from that, and the $20 I will win from my family pool (I can finally officially bet on NCAA games!), I am thinking about bringing a Chipotle chain to Germany. These people desperately need to be made aware of the wonders of mexican food.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Berlin, Boot Testing and Beat Downs

        I want to first apologize to those of you loyal readers (probably just my parents) who have been holding their breath, sitting on the edge of their chairs, and filling with anxiety/worry/anticipation since I missed my first blog update last week. I promise to make up for this absence with some interesting cheerleader shots and other pictures for the next two weeks.
        Going into our final regular season game we had some pressure to win to help our playoff seeding. For the third time this year we made the trek to Berlin, this time to play last-place Bernau. In our first two trips we had four players foul out of each game and were so short on players one game we had to finish the game short-handed. Not surprisingly, we lost both games. Taking the importance of the game and our seeming proclivity to foul in Berlin, the decision was made to take a whopping 8 players with a no-fouling game plan....
      Luckily the referees swallowed their whistles for most of the game, and despite some interesting basketball tactics from the opposing team...

... and a late comeback run, we sealed a 4 point victory and clinched second place in the Northern division.

    I was able to spend the night in Berlin with my family and Nicole who was able to make quick visit. On Sunday we revisited the East Side Gallery to see the graffiti on what remains of the Berlin wall and then crossed Berlin to see the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Museum.

        Sachsenhausen was primarily used for political prisoners and acted as the headquarters for German efforts to undermine the American and English economies through counterfeiting and distributing large amounts of U.S. dollars and British pounds. Part of the plan included dropping millions of pounds over Britain to weaken the British currency. I wish that there was a similar plan for a drop over Herten in the next few days.
        Similar to the camp I went to in Vught, the perimeter of Sachsenhausen was lined with two fences and a gravel 'neutral zone' where prison guards were instructed to, and rewarded for, shooting any prisoner who stepped on the gravel.

         This memorial commemorates the liberation of the camp by Soviet soldiers. It was apparently redone multiple times to eliminate the sense of the prisoners as victims and the Soviets as heros, instead making prisoners in front look more like brothers in arms against a common force with the Soviet soldier in the back. 

       This seemed slightly ironic when I learned that after the war, the Soviet secret service, the NKVD, used the camp to house their own prisoners. Of the 60,000 prisoners detained there over the camp's five year existence, most had ties to the Nazi party or were arrested for hindering the establishment of Stalinism.  These camps were kept hidden from the Western world.

       One of the most interesting things we saw at the camp was the boot testing track the Nazi's installed. There was a semi-circular path in the main yard made up of six or seven different surfaces ranging from dirt/mud to rocks and tar that were used to test the durability of different German army boot prototypes. The camp commanders strapped 40 pound packs on the prisoners to simulate the load a soldier would carry and had prisoners walk back and forth along the path for up to 20 miles a day. In between laps, the prisoners had to do various calisthenics to mimic the actions of German soldiers.

     Also made a return trip to Cologne, this time to check the Cathedral out at night. I think the picture speaks for itself.

        On Friday we hosted the first round of playoffs and rewarded a sold out crowd with a 22-0 start. Our quick start earned 2 thumbs up and proved to be insurmountable for Breitengüssbach. 

Our league splits Germany in half, with 12 teams in both the North and the South.  The playoffs pit the top 8 teams in the North against our southern counterparts in best of 3 series. On Saturday we will travel down to Breitengüssbach to hopefully sweep the first round. Despite our easy win last weekend, we have seen that anything can happen on the road in this league so we definitely aren't taking anything for granted.