Put the guidebooks back on the shelf… local expert Ahmed Ahmed has 15 morsels of knowledge you’ll only know if you’ve lived in Birmingham
Birmingham is bostin’. That means great, if you don’t speak Brummie.
It’s not in the South and it’s not in the North. It’s slap-bang in the middle of the country and the UK’s second-largest city.
It’s got something to offer everyone – including the wacky, the wonderful and the downright weird. Here are a few things you should know about Birmingham.
1. The new New Street Station will be amazing (when it’s finally finished)
Been in or out of Birmingham over the past few years? You must have noticed the main railway station is having a bit of a makeover. It’s been serving us since 1846, but the smoky old terminus is ripe for a shiny new look. The council promises ‘a giant light-filled atrium’ and lots more space for the busiest station outside of London, but it’s the arrival of a giant John Lewis that has really got people excited.
2. We have more canals than Venice, and they’re more important too
[john / Flickr / CC]
One of the most quoted facts in town. And true. We have 35 miles of canal to Venice’s 26. But it’s not just about size – Birmingham’s canals were at the very heart of the country’s industrial past. At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, these canals were essential for transporting goods and raw materials, fuelling the boom in British commerce and manufacturing.
3. There’s a time and a place for Broad Street…
Broad Street was once the place to be. I think. During the 80s and 90s it dazzled with nightclubs like the legendary Rum Runner – home of Duran Duran (yes, they were Brummies). Fast forward to 2014 for raucous hen parties and cars full of men playing music far too loudly (presumably cruising for honeys).
Best to try some of our better nightlife spots! There’s nearby Brindleyplace for canalside hangouts, The Jam House for jazzy live music, Hurst Street for gay life, Moseley or Harborne for pubs – the list goes on.
4. The view from the library is awesome
[Gavin Wray / Flickr / CC]
Nine-storey gold and silver temple to knowledge? £189 million. The view from the top at sunrise? Priceless. The new Library of Birmingham opened back in 2013, and leapt straight to the top of any visitor’s must-see list. Whether it’s the the sleek futuristic design, the vintage Shakespeare Memorial Room or the stunning roof garden that did it, 2.7 million visitors visited this library in its first year. Not bad in the age of ‘just Google it’.
5. Two football clubs, both alike in dignity…
Aston Villa FC and the club now known as Birmingham City FC first met on 27 September 1879. Since then, their clashes have been frequent and fierce, with each club rightly proud of its long footballing heritage. City fans – Bluenoses – have their home turf at St Andrew’s. Villans call Villa Park home. Although they’re in separate leagues at the moment, the rivalry burns on. Just imagine the uproar in 2011 when manager Alex McLeish quit his job at Birmingham City by email and five days later took over at Aston Villa. Put it this way: he only lasted a season.
6. Lord of the Rings is basically set here
Tolkien, bless him, had a complex relationship with Birmingham. He spent a good chunk of his early life round here. The green fields of old King’s Heath and Sarehole inspired The Shire. Bilbo’s Bag End is a real farm. But Birmingham’s industrial boom engulfed much countryside, and Tolkien hated that. He got his own back by casting the city as a dark fortress and Brummies as orcs. But we got the last laugh, claiming Tolkien as one of our own. Fans should check out the Tolkien Trail.
7. Birmingham is more than just the Bullring
[Picture: Mike Burke / Flickr / CC]
The Bullring is okay. You can visit H&M, and Topshop, and Zara…. and every other shop you’ll find anywhere else. Shoppers should be MUCH more excited about our many independent traders, from the vintage boutiques of The Custard Factory, to the food and wine shops of the Great Western Arcade, to the ‘world-famous Rag Market’ – number one for last-minute fancy dress.
8. The 11 inspires strange devotion…
Just a bus route? Ha. In 2011 travel writer Nicky Gardner described it as ‘a two-and-a-half-hour feature film starring intriguing characters and backdrops.’ Back in 2005 you could book it for an actual city tour. And in 2014 it was the setting for a critically-acclaimed play. But best of all, one special soul created this YouTube tribute to the bus on 11/11/11. You couldn’t make it up.
9. Every area has its own tribe
[Moseley-dwellers in their natural habitat, at Moseley Folk Festival]
(Warning: stereotypes ahead). Is Moseley populated by Guardian readers who wear beanies and shop at farmers’ markets? Mostly. Know a Brummie who works in a big accountancy firm but can’t wait to quit and launch their amazing startup idea? Bet they live in the Jewellery Quarter. Well-to-do housewife with a passion for prosecco and charity work? Sounds like Solihull (although she’ll tell you it’s not part of Birmingham, technically). You get the picture – the city is an intriguing social mix, and each area has its own distinctive character.
10. Brummies and Yam-Yams are totally different
Let’s get something straight: Brummies are from Birmingham, Yam Yams are from the Black Country. To the untrained ear the accents might sound the same, but they are different. For example, a Brummie might say ‘Y’alroite mate?’ while a Yam Yam might say ‘Ow am yow?’ Trust me, it’s different – ask the experts.
11. We are a celebrity factory!
We gave the world Ozzy Osbourne, Cat Deeley, Jamelia, Dame Barbara Cartland, Benjamin Zephaniah, Laura Mvula, Emma Willis, Liam Payne (you know, from One Direction?), Christina Hendricks (well, through her Brummie dad), Simon Mayo, David Harewood, Steve Winwood, Richard Hammond, Bill Oddie and many more!
12. The new Snobs isn’t bad, but the old one will forever be a legend
A true Birmingham institution, Snobs nightclub opened in 1972 and carved out a special place in the Brummie heart. Friendships were forged and romance blossomed, all to an indie, rock and roll soundtrack. I’ve met people who owe their existence to the night their parents first locked eyes across the sticky floor. So it felt like the end of an era when the club moved to a new location in 2014. Luckily the new venue is pretty impressive, but Brummies won’t be forgetting the original any time soon.
13. Our universities are legendary
[Brian Clift / Flickr / CC]
They regard each other with rivalry, but each of our universities excels in its own field. The traditional University of Birmingham is the red brick star, producing more self-made millionnaires than any other uni in the country. Aston is the employment factory, sending graduates ready and raring into the world of business. BCU leads in creative arts and digital media, Newman University in theology, while University College Birmingham is a top training ground for chefs.
14. There are many religions here, but we all worship food
[Paella by Don Diego at Birmingham Independent Food Fair]
You’ve probably heard of the Birmingham Balti, a curry style cooked up in the 60s and made famous by the Balti Triangle. There are also many upmarket Indian restaurants in Birmingham. But did you know about our brilliant street food scene, as recently reported on Buzzfeed? Or the many independent coffee shops, praised by The New York Times? Or that we have four Michelin-starred restaurants? Plenty for foodies to sink their teeth into here.
15. It’s a paradise for arty types
You knew about the curry and the canals, but did you know about the art scene? Movie-lovers: try the Flatpack film festival or book a sofa seat at The Electric cinema. Digbeth is the trendy post-industrial setting for street art events like City of Colours and Eye Candy. If you like your art ironic and installationey, head to the Ikon gallery. And for the good old stuff, BMAG houses heritage Victorian works, as well as ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman artefacts.
• Ahmed Ahmed is the editor of Dine Birmingham and a regular blogger for WOW247
What other Birmingham knowledge would you share? Let us know on Twitter via @wow247brum
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