The Test of Manhood
A true warrior stands fast in Hamburg
14th December, 2003
Hamburg. The Shamrock Bar.
Last time I was here (see this episode)
the Shamrock chewed me up and spat me out like a used rag.
Now, after weeks of independent travel, after a year of the worst that London could throw at me,
I thought I was ready. Ready to go back in.
My manhood was at stake. What was I to be? A devil-eyed rakehell with fire in his belly and danger in every glance,
or a pale yellow-green confectionery, sitting in the corner looking mopish and complaining about his bowels?
There was only one way to find out. The tests.
1. He Wins Respect through Deeds
The fair was in town. What fun! If a fair comes to town in the Ireland, it only adds up to three creaking waltzers, a rocking horse
for the kids and a pack of dirty carnies trying to chat up the local slags with offers of tonic wine and a chance to see where the animals are kept.
As this was considered stylish and exotic, they usually succeeded. But Hamburg does nothing small scale. The Hamburg Dom lasts a month and covers a square mile with rollercoasters, gravity dumps,
bumper cars, beer halls and sausage tents. I wandered into the Dom once to buy a pizza and couldn't find my way out for two hours.
They also sell drink. Beer, glühwein with a shot of rum, and vodka pickling a fig. I knew I shouldn't have eaten that fig,
but Richard told me that I wouldn't win respect without it. Respect from whom? I slurred. "From these drunks at the bar whom noone knows,"
he insisted. "Now get this down you."
'This' was a series of peppered vodkas. The next day I woke up. What happened? Richard told me.
"After trying, unsuccessfully, to chat up a woman who looked like a Russian wrestler, you insisted on dancing gaily in the
middle of the floor. All by yourself. I wanted to applaud, but I was afraid someone might think I know you."
2. He has Learned Non-Attachment
Hamburg was a free and Hanseatic city of the Holy Roman Empire for hundreds of years before the union of Germany in 1872.
It has retained this independent spirit in its people, and its fierce love of trade in the great docks, the largest in Europe.
We took a tour round the harbour, past rows of giant cranes and the thousands of ship containers that stretched to the horizon.
Even discounting the drugs, arms, laundered money and illegal body parts, half the wealth of Europe must have been stacked up before us.
I thought about nipping home for my pen-knife. But what good would millions in freight do me?
After two nights on the glühwein I'd be lucky to survive a cup of tea.
Even the Reeperbahn, the old haunt of excess, normally so much fun, seemed suddenly to be full of seedy sex bars
and furtive men acting uninterested and then slipping into darkened clubs. I don't belong here! I thought,
hiding in a shadow and pretending to be interested in a lamp-post. Careful
to glance every naughty image I passed, I sidled out.
I put away the things of the flesh, and concentrated on holding my stomach and groaning.
3. He has Mastered the Things of the Earth
The elegant old warehouses along the Elbe have been converted to new purposes. But always with sharp trade in mind.
Richard and I found a new place: The Pepper
"What a great idea!" We apid our two euros to enter, and went looking for jalapenos and devilish hot sauces...
and found black pepper kernels. In little trays. With signs in German telling us that, if we ground them up, it would make ground
black pepper. And other little trays. Containing black pepper. For Sale.
What a great idea. Someone had taken an ordinary shop, stuck the word "Museum" on the front, and was now charging two euro a pop
for the right to come in and do some shopping. And it was full! The Museum/Shop was crowded with German strollers, all clustering
round rubber dummies of men with shovels and captions that read: "This is what farm workers look like."
The concept took me. Richard runs a pub, and works hard for his custom. I saw a new approach. Don't run a pub anymore!
Call it a Museum of Irish Pubs. Fire all the staff, get in some rubber dummies representing what "bar staff look like", and charge a
fiver a head for people to come in and fondle your genuine used beer mats for ten minutes. A sure winner!
I'm still waiting for the royalties.
4. He is a True Warrior
Every man believes deep down, that under all the soft living, the flabby muscles and the nervous job working in an office cubicle
for fifteen years, he still has the heart of a warrior. That if danger threatens he can still cut mighty swathes through
his enemies and save the day.
It's not good to prove him wrong.
The Hamburg Dom has a special section, the Hexendorf where medieval tribesmen invite you to try your hand with the axe,
the catapult and the bow. I have always believed that archery was the sort of thing I ought to be good at. Agincourt.
Crecy. Blood of heroes. Yes, I thought, today I may look like a pale and geeky desk appendage, but at any minute I could leap
onto my horse, gather my bow and arrows and ride the wild steppes.
I can't ride a horse.
And now I can't shoot an arrow either.
It was deeply humiliating. I had ten goes. By the fourth I stopped shooting them straight into the ground. By the seventh
my little finger was really sore. By the tenth I had lodged exactly one arrow, not into the target, but the wall some
distance behind it. And to add the final insult, at least thirty other blokes turned up, with their girlfriends, to tell me
what I should have done. Richard put an arrow in the apple, dead centre. Girls gathered round.
I walked off, upper lip trembling. After all, if I'm no good with a bow, what hope can there there be in this modern world?
I walked to the axe throwing stall.
The first axe bounced off. I corrected my stance. The second axe lodge in the wall. I narrowed my eyes.
It's there! Dead centre. The axe sliced straight through to the wall and the apple was blasted to smithereens. Yes! Hooagh!
Take that you poofy bow and arrow boys. While you're hiding up a tree I'll be cleaving heads!
Now Conquer the World
So it was done. I may have a sore head, sore stomach, a blister on my archery finger, and maybe I even
fart too much after a night on the pickled figs. But none of that matters. I am good at doing a sport that has no
possible practical application but involves smashing stuff up.
I pass the test. I am a man.