There are a few things I want to blog about today, the first of which is that I just learned to drive a stick shift. Oh man was that hard. A few days ago, Christian and I went to the police station to ask whether my driver’s license constituted an international license. It was a pretty funny situation because it took not one but five different police officers to figure it out. The part that confused them the most was my height and weight; they were under the impression it was some sort of motorcycle or moped code.
Since I got the go ahead from the police station, Christian has been determined to teach me a few things about driving a stick. Not only was I trying to learn stick shifting, but I was doing it in German—multitasking to the extreme. After grocery shopping, Christian drove me to a deserted street (thank god) and basically said ‘have at it.’ If I give myself a generous compliment, I think I only stalled the car five times. Not too shabby for my first time I think.
The last few days here in Oldenburg have been dedicated to what I consider one of the authentic German sports: handball. For those of you who don’t know the rules of handball, it’s one part soccer, three parts basketball, with a hint of softball. The main rules of handball are: you can’t touch the ball with your feet, you can’t run with the ball for more than 3 steps or 3 seconds, and you can’t step into the goalie’s semi-circle when trying to score.
My oldest host sister, Johanne, plays on a youth handball team for TSG Haten-Sandkrug in the vicinity of Oldenburg. There are 21 girls on her team, 10 girls on team 1 and 11 girls on team 2. Only 7 girls play at a time, one goalie and 6 players on the field. The first encounter I had with handball was at Johanne’s handball match last Saturday. Team TSG Haten-Sandkrug was beat mercilessly 20-8. It’s refreshing to see that parents are the same the world over. In a crowd of parents, there’s the one who yells at their kid too loudly, the one who feels like they know the game better than anything else, and the parent who gives endless amounts of encouragement to every player on the team.
Johanne had the opportunity on Sunday to participate in a professional women’s handball game in Oldenburg. Every Sunday, the women’s professional team invites 28 youth handball players to run on the court with them and last week was Johanne’s turn. Before I went to the match, my expectation was that I would be one of maybe 100 people there. To my surprise, however, there were over 3,000 in attendance and it was a spectacle comparable to a men’s college basketball game. It’s no surprise to anyone in the US that most women’s sporting events have low turnout rates. But in Germany, women’s handball seems to be entirely different. There were strobe lights, spot lights, loud music, and a fan section with lots of enthusiasm. Each team has a traveling band that beats a drum through all 60 minutes of regulation play.
In comparison to the slow-played youth game I saw on Saturday, the professional teams were so incredibly talented and speedy! There was so much energy from the crowd and on the court! There was one play that was particularly exciting. The home team’s best player, Angie Geschke, was allotted one free throw, and similar to soccer, she was allowed to stay at the free throw line and attempt to score.
As Angie threw the ball, the opposing team’s goalie ducked in the way and got hit right in the face. To the referees, it was seen as an intentional attempt at injuring another player and Angie was red carded and got kicked out of the game. When the referee held up the red card, the crowd went absolutely wild. I went wild. It was the worst call of the game and even though it was my first professional handball game, Angie had already become my favorite. Oldenburg ended up winning the game by one point. It was amazing how tense the entire game was and I can fairly say that handball is now one of my favorite games to watch.
In attempt to be a part of German culture, I opted to go to Johanne’s handball practice yesterday, assuming that with my years of playing softball, I could manage to throw and catch a ball twice the size. My expectation was that we would do throwing and catching exercises, but instead the entire training session felt like a gymnastics routine. We practiced forward somersaults, cartwheels, handstands, and round-offs. I’m almost 21 and I know what I’m capable of and what I’m not—and I was quickly reminded that I am very incapable of doing such tricks. Maybe when I return to practice Thursday, things will go a little more smoothly for me.