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  • Jacob Sweetman: Felix comes down from the mountain


Jacob Sweetman: Felix comes down from the mountain

Winter is here, and in Berlin we know because the papers have started to talk about the skiing. Yes, even in flat Berlin. The Sportsdesk looks over the precipice so you don't have to.

Image for Jacob Sweetman: Felix comes down from the mountain
Photo by Christian Jansky

There are signs that Berlin is ambling slowly into the winter. A panicked look at the clock on my phone says that I am late for work, later than normal, but it is only trying to fuck with me. I know that. A huge flock of Geese passed overhead the other day, a flying V of intent with their straw hats on, bags packed and the smug looks on their faces of those who are sensible enough to be getting the hell out of here. The cat spends even more time asleep than normal. And I want to do the same.

Yeah, it’s another winter. The signs are all there. The next one comes with the papers. The Berliner Zeitung carries an interview with Felix Neureuther, the darling of German skiing, in which he details his ambitions for the year starting a couple of days ago in Austria with the absurd first World Cup race of the year, the giant slalom. Even here in Berlin – this wasp laden former swamp where the water level is so high that it needs garishly coloured pipes snaking through the city to enable the building of the latest godforsaken project that will run over time and over money, and where the land is flatter than a GZSZ wannabe’s spin off single – the skiing season is big news.

I know this. I turn on my computer to watch some nonsense or other instead of doing something productive with my extended evenings and it bombards me with a soft-focus advert so cloying and asinine that its only respite comes with the knowledge that the protagonist will soon be throwing himself off the side of a mountain at great pace with only a couple of sticks lashed to his feet for protection. Yeah, it must be Winter because Procter & Gamble are telling me to buy Pampers, Head & Shoulders, Ariel and Oral B all at once because Germany’s best skier does, and look at how much he loves his mother. It runs for what feels like hours, but is actually three minutes and 30 seconds long.

Three minutes and 30 seconds of him telling the story of his Olympic medal winning skier Mum, and how much they love each other, how much their love symbolises the amounts of cash that we should give to Procter & Gamble. For the record this was almost two and a half minutes longer than it took Felix to throw himself down the mountain at Sölden the other day, and a lifetime longer than it took him to conclude his second attempt. You see, that’s where everything went wrong for Felix. Fifteen seconds in his bindings came off on his left boot and the ghost of Sir Isaac Newton bellowed away at him, laughing his little arse off as the Bavarian realised that the old Englishman had been dead right about gravity all along. No amount of Pampers could cushion that blow.

Even here in flat-as-you-like Berlin though, the bounce of his bones on the impacted snow was felt. The papers mourned his ill fortune, but tried to focus on the positives for the rest of the year, his chances of coming back, his hopes for the already ill-fated and startlingly ill-appointed Sochi Winter Olympics. Because Berlin still takes her winter sports very seriously. More people watch the Eisbären than any other sports team here bar two. Claudia Pechstein generates more column inches with every doomed love affair and failed comeback than Knut the polar bear would if he scaled the Reichstag and raised the red flag in imitation of Yevgeny Khaldei’s famous, and famously staged, photo.

But the excitement, for me, comes in the boring guys (and, sadly, they are almost always boring) throwing themselves down the sides of the mountains. Felix Neureuther came back from a life threatening heart defect to throw himself down those preposterous slopes again, but I don’t need to see the sugar coated adverts to remind me of that and, to be honest, I would rather he kept quiet. He is certainly no Matti Nykänen, the brilliant arsehole Finnish ski jumper who once replied to the question “What do you think of before you jump?” with the gloriously stupid and wonderfully, obscenely, drawled “I think of pussy.”

So Berlin will continue to keep her fingers crossed for Felix, and I will too. It means that it is the winter and I can just flick to Eurosport and live out their balls of steel lives by proxy. Obviously I would do the same if I had the chance, but I can’t. I’m in Berlin, and it’s just too flat.