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A trip to the Aran Islands

Leabharlann – that’s the one Irish word I learned and can remember from my recent trip to Ireland. In one part of the country my group and I went to the Irish language is still spoken by many: the Aran Islands in Galway Bay. You can only reach Inisheer, Inishmaan and the largest island, Innishmore (Inis Mór) by boat or plane. If you take the boat and you’re lucky, the weather will be fine so you can stand on deck and try to spot dolphins. During our boat ride to Innishmore it was raining, but it cleared up almost as soon as we arrived, and the sun shone for the rest of the day. Sadly, there were no dolphins, but we saw a few seals along one part of the coast, so our daily dose of cuteness was filled!

aran islands 5Once on the island, you can rent bikes, or if you’re a bit on the lazy side like we were, you can choose a minibus that comes fully equipped with a driver (in our case, a Que sera, sera-singing driver). If you’re romantically inclined, you might want to go for one of the horse-drawn carriages waiting for business at the quay. In any case, when you’re touring the island, you’ll see many of the typical stone walls, which mostly function as enclosures for cattle and which are astonishingly resilient (the walls and cows, just look at them!). There are some green fields that farmers have had to cultivate with seaweed and sand because the island doesn’t have naturally fertile soil.

Innishmore is home to about 900 residents, who mostly live in villages that, to me, seemed more like loose clusters of a few solitary houses than anything else. You can still find a few of the traditional thatched cottages, too. Many families used to live off fishing, but now tourism has taken on a major role. The island’s past and present have been connected cleverly, though. The knitwear from the Aran Islands is widely renowned. You can buy sweaters, scarves, and many other garments sporting traditional patterns. Every fishing family has developed their own pattern, for a rather gruesome reason: sometimes fishermen went missing at sea and their bodies would be washed ashore days later. They could only be identified from the pattern on their clothes. So a Jennings sweater looks different from an O’Flaherty or a Sheehan sweater!

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Like on the mainland, you can find church ruins and a lot of ancient history on Innishmore. One stone fort, called Dún Aengus, was especially impressive. It dates back to prehistoric times and was built right on a cliff with a 60m drop to the sea below. Lying on your stomach and looking down to where the sea is crashing against the cliff is an amazing feeling!

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But a one-day trip is definitely not enough to explore all there is to see on Innishmore. Like me, you’ll probably want to go back and give your calves a work-out biking across the island in order to discover its many stunning sights! Oh, and btw, Leabharlann means library :).

Text & Pictures: Lena Schwarz

Why ice hockey should be much more popular in Germany

icehockey 1I wasn’t too thrilled when my dad told me that we would watch the ice hockey finals of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. Back then, I was eleven years old and all about soccer, American football, and basketball. Ice hockey was the game my brother used to play on our local ponds, not something to watch on TV and get excited about. Then, the game started, and I was hooked. Canada won against the USA, and the game was everything I came to love about ice hockey: fast-paced, rough, and electrifying. After that, though, there wasn’t much hockey on TV anymore. Only the DEL (Deutsche Eishockey Liga) playoffs and that was pretty much it. And then the day came on which pay TV finally began to broadcast the NHL (National Hockey League), and my love affair with hockey continued and quickly blossomed into a lifelong marriage to this wonderful sport. But soon I wondered: why is ice hockey not much more popular in Germany?

Hockey is such an easy sport to follow and the rules are really not hard to learn. There’s also little difference between the basic rules of the NHL and the IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation). The biggest differences are the size of the rink and the overtime procedures. The other differences are so detailed that really only die-hard fans need to know them. The best and most fun way to learn the rules of both the NHL and the IIHF is, of course, by watching hockey games. So you should really start watching games right now, if you want to learn something really interesting for a change 😉

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The only thing I ever had trouble with watching both, DEL and NHL games, were the German words used for basically the same thing. For illegal plays like slashing, Germans say Stockschlag. The result of such plays is not a penalty but simply a Zeitstrafe. At the same time, Germans say penalty shooting when they actually mean shootout (three shots that determine the winner when the game is still tied after overtime), and in English, a penalty shot is something different altogether. So confusing! Yet the weirdest expression is bully. This is the German word for face-off, the dropping of the puck to continue a game. I guess I might be the only one who is bothered by this, though.

Overall, it’s really such a great sport and even though the German national team hasn’t been doing too well in international tournaments and didn’t qualify for the last Olympic Games, things sure look up when you consider the numerous Germans now playing in the NHL, e. g. Tom Kühnhackl, Leon Draisaitl, Tobias Rieder, or Dennis Seidenberg.

Additionally, ice hockey has given me the best memory of my life as a sports fan when my favorite team, the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009 in a nerve-wracking game seven against the Detroit Red Wings, which reminded me yet again why I love this sport so much. So it’s really kind of sad that I can count the hockey fans that I’ve met in Germany on one hand, although everyone I’ve talked to seems to like at least some sports – hell I’ve even met some German baseballs fans. I thought once I’m studying in Augsburg, this is all going to change – they have the Panthers after all. But that wasn’t the case either since the only hockey fans that I’ve encountered were standing in front of the train station getting ready to leave for an away game. Go figure!

In my opinion, ice hockey is also still sorely overlooked by the media, even though it’s gotten better over the last couple of years and the DEL is now shown on free-TV. So if you’re into sports, just do me a favor: go and see a game if you haven’t yet, even if it’s just on TV and see if you like it (I’m sure you will!). Alternatively, start by watching a movie about hockey, e.g. Mircale. It’s about the surprise victory of the US national team in the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid. It’s one of my favorites! And maybe then, ice hockey will charm you just as much as it charmed me 14 years ago.

Author & Pictures: Alisa Lechky