The Unterwasserhockey tournament had come to Budweis, Czech Republic. Teams from Croatia, Slovena, Belgium, Poland and Germany met up to compete in the world's most absurd sport. And as I would soon learn, also one of the most dangerous. The Munich team toughed its way through 5 twenty-minute long brutal losses to highly skills teams from eastern and northern europe. I got battered by flippers, brutalized by pucks, pinned to the wall, the ground, strained my wrist, can't really use my mouse any more, and have more bruises than I can count...it was wonderful.
The sun shined the whole day, and in between each brutal beating, we would take a break on the balcony overlooking the river flowing through this ancient colorful town, eating a banana or two, refueling ourselves with short naps in the sun to prepare for the next slaughterfest. And after it was all over, we opened our warm-welcome-present budweiser beers (the real, czech variety) and celebrated our survival.
What we weren't quite prepared for was the party. Yearning for our sleeping bags-on top of-czech-probably-sweatcovered-gym mats in a soviet area gymnastic hall, we trudged on to the after party and award ceremony, hungry and beaten yet glisteningly exhuberant. A veritable united nations of the unterwasserhockey world-- french being translated to german being explained in english to a czech player, polish being spoken to the attractive czech waitress in hopes of a date, broken italian trying to cross the french-english border, flemish, slovenian, croation, and beer. We received our 6th place award graciously, tossed beer coasters, danced to the hungarian heavy metal band, and ordered extravagant icecream sundaes, wowed at the non-euro prices. As we trudged home in the rain, across the bridge that shuddered as we crossed it, past the romancing couples in the park, the factory near our gym-hotel that seemed to produce mostly steam, through the old-tire-paradise-gokart-park, and then collapsed on our mats under the swinging rings and ropes, I thought...this is what Mark Twain meant when he said „Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.“