Monday, November 30, 2009

A Final Day in Europe

Well, the day has come. It's my final full day in Europe. Sure I'll still be in Germany for a few hours tomorrow – but it will be confined to a major airport or two, and in a giant airport, countries cease to exist. To the casual observer, anyway. Sure the cans of bear meat may set off your, “I'm somewhere else,” sensors – but aside from that.

So first there was breakfast, and then there was a long email written about The Beatles, and then I was finally able to begin my day. There were only a few places left that I needed to see in order to feel as if I had conquered Berlin (not unlike the French – in one way... in another way, completely unlike them.)

I've since moved from my window seat, to a more comfortable couch, which also has a plug socket near it. A silly boy thought the book he left on the couch, while he moved to a table to eat dinner, would have his place. I don't know what type of crazy thinking that is. That could have just got his book stolen – left behind books are often seen as gifts dropped by fellow travellers. I've left some, I've picked some up others left. But no, this boy came back to reclaim it, once he saw his ploy had failed. His girlfriend was not amused – as girlfriends rarely are. But, they wanted a real table to eat their burgers, not a comfy couch, and as such – their loss in my gain. They have a plug there too, so I don't know why they're acting so grumpy.

The bar has lowered their music, so I can rock some Dealership, and that helps me focus. So too does the fact that the bar just shut down their wifi. On one hand, I can't post what I write, but on the other, I can write it – and the gChats have gone away. Sure it looks like I just cut and ran on them, but that's not the case.

So off to the subway to buy a delightful new ABC day pass. But no, the machine wouldn't take my twenty. Woosh! A subway goes by. Back to the hostel I go to get two tens. Back to the subway. Oh no – ten thirty – the free tour is meeting, and a such the ticket machine is clogged with tourists who can't understand that they just need to push the same button the person in front of them pushed, to get what they want. Woosh! Another train goes by. Woosh! Another train goes by – these things are every seven minutes. That's how terrible it is – one minute until the next train. Good, just got my ticket. Need to validate it though, clogged. That's the train coming in. People may have been pushed, it's hard to say – all I know is I had a validated ticket, and was able to jump on the train before it tore away.

Down the Seven line I went, all the way to the Olympic Stadium station.

This – was a station. No less than eight tracks met up here, and though they were mostly closed off now, I had to wonder what type of use they normally get, or once may have received. From the station I headed across the street, and over to the Olympic stadium. You may have seen pictures of it, but I tell you – it's hard to prepare. Hitler and his Nazi's certainly did know how to make an impact with their buildings.

In front of the stadium stood two large concrete towers, the all black Olympic rings suspended below them. On each tower was a bull horn. It was hard to reconcile the fact that I was standing In front of a great stadium, not some terrifying guard tower.

In front of the tower I set up my tripod, and configured my camera to take a number of shots in a row. Jumping may have been involved, but I like to think that I was, instead, flying. Yes, I must have been flying. That's why all the adolescents in their tour bus were staring at me, and snapping pictures. Understandable.

As the bus unloaded, I felt my time at the Olympic park was at an end. Back on the train, a quick change over, and off to the city of Potsdam.

Why Potsdam? Why not? It's a completely different city, accessible with a Berlin metro pass. That's enough reason for me.

Arriving there, I grabbed a map from the bus tour guide booth. These maps are fantastic, because they already have all the main attractions pointed out for you. And the less you have to think, the more you can explore.

For such a small town, it was pretty big. Much bigger than I would have liked, to be honest. This would be no quick stop. Off I went through a garden, past a skate park, and beyond a war memorial / cemetery. Off I went to a large park with a hut in the middle that the map pointed out – getting there I wasn't sure what the importance was? So I took a picture. Maybe it will turn out to be important, and if so, I want proof that I was there.

And then off to the park – which is the predominant section of Potsdam. It's twice the size of the town itself. It's a huge park. So what's there? A castle – another castle, a Chinese tea house, and then a final castle on the way out. Ohh – there's a windmill in there somewhere too.

Look, I'm sure it's lovely. I mean it must be. But – it's just that it's not offering me anything all that great, and it's so spread out. Walking from the entrance, to the back, to the entrance of the park took nearly an hour. And for nothing all that special. It's a park.

What did pay off was the Christmas market here. Of course there was one here. And confined to one long street, it was a pleasure to stroll along, forgetting for a moment the threatening rain. There was even a carnival here – not to the size and scale of the Sandlot-esque fair that existed in Berlin, but a good sized one, none the less.

With all of these things taken in (and some confusion as to why there's a Brandenburger Tor here too) there was just one thing left that I wanted to see – a small pond in the middle of town. Why did I want to see it? Because the map pointed it out. So out of my way I walked, and when I got there... it was drained. Great. Well, at least I got to walk along in the bottom of it. That's something.

At the post office I wrote some postcards (using the free ones I'd picked up along the way) bought some stamps – which I'm not sure if they were enough, although they did read that they were for postcards, so... and then hopped on the bus to travel one stop back to the train station.

From the train station I made two detours. One was at one of the central stations – here I discovered that showers cost seven euro. Who would pay seven euro for a shower? I'm paying seven euro for my hostel, and they give me showers, beds, internet (although not this second), and free breakfast. Seven euro for a shower? Seriously.

And then it as to the gift shop to spend my final few euro – no good to me later. I still have that ten dollar key deposit too. That'll be useless – ten euro at five in the morning in Berlin, what's that going to get me? Actually – it got me much needed deodorant back in Krakow – so maybe it will pay off here too.

And that was that. Back to the hostel to type up some blogs, and get ready to move on.

It's right now eight o'clock, and I'm going to predict the future, though it's not yet come to pass:

after packing up here, I'll go to the durum doner place, eat a disapointing last meal (although I can't imagine when I'll eat these again, so there will be something special abot that), and then I'll come back – pack up – and maybe watch some Spider-man before heading off to bed, Alarm set to wake me up way too early. Way, way too early.

Berlin's East Side Gallery

The lights just flipped on outside; as I write this I'm sitting on a cushioned stool, laptop resting on a window frame jutting out just enough to accommodate my needs. It's currently my final night in Berlin, and I've fallen behind in posting. I just put the last rushed touches on the previous entry, and will now attempt to construct something of substance for yesterday, while thinking about how I'm going to write up today.

The bar is too lound to close out the sounds with my own music, and my gmail chat is working as a constant distraction. There was no new episode of Stargate Universe this week, but the webisodes have been adding up – and I just discovered lost had those as well, a season back. I am a turbulent mess of what I should be doing, and what I am doing. And honestly, what I should be doing doesn't involve the blog either. What I should be doing is packing and showering – but I keep telling myself there will be time for that later. And there will be if I sacrifice some sleep; I'm no stranger to this. Still – five in the morning is going to come mighty early. Sure it's just six thirty five now, but just watch as it all adds up.

So the day begins with a breakfast loaded up with choco-cereal. You may remember that back in Iceland, I bought a similar cereal specifically because I hated it, and as such I knew it would last as long as it needed to. And it did.

But then, in Prague, I was offered a bowl of coco powder with my cornflakes. The combination of the two was too much to handle. What a wonderful combination. And now, here, I have discovered a cereal that comes premixed – just add milk. You wait long enough until the pieces become just the right amount of soggy and – well, you've not had something that good before. Well – you probably have. But, you, meaning me, has not. I have not.

Ah – you see – there I was distracted again. I wrote on the subway today (not today as in the day you are reading, but today as in the relative tomorrow that is to come) and now I've had to type it up and send it off to she whom will never reply anyway, because that just isn't her style. She whom also distracts me through the gChat. But enough of that, back to the day. There was cereal, and it was good. But it could not complete this whole revolution.

Up I rose from my table near the wall, and off to the east I began to walk. I considered taking the subway, but I thought that that money might otherwise come in handy later down the line. So it was walking for me. Plus – I could always ride back if I really felt like being lazy.

As I headed off I found myself walking past the atomic clock in what is one of Berlin's largest squares. The U, the S, the H, and the M all meet here. It's also here that I'll eventually catch the TXL bus to the airport, oh so early in the morning.

And as this is Germany, and as this is a square, and as it is a month before Christmas – there was, of course, a large Christmas market set up. But not just any Christmas market – no, this one was far closer to a country fair, or other such carnival. Shopping booths were augmented by a grand assortment of rides, and games, and other such things waiting to pull little children close, and send them screaming to their parents for more, more, more, euros!

Roller coasters, large ferris wheels, haunted houses (because London will not get to remain the only city that has silly skeletons wearing Santa hats), an Egyptian ride of uncanny origins, and most delightful of all to me, the Crystal Palace.

What is the Crystal Palace? How could it delight me? Did I go inside? No sir, I did not. But it delighted me in the way that all Germans seemingly come to love: Schadenfreude.

Yes this was an exercise in delight as people attempted to navigate themselves through a maze of solid glass – glass so well polished that it was neigh impossible to tell if in front of you was an opening, or another wall. Children who did not heed their parents advice to stay slow found themselves running into, then bouncing off of, panes of glass. Over. And over. And over. It was no boy falling down the up escalator, but for the moments that I watched, all was well.

This market was far larger than the others I had seen, and that was as it should be. After all, this is Berlin. And where better for a large fair? A large fair that kept reaching out east, east, east, in precisely the exact direction of my travel towards the East Side Gallery.

I was told that this was a section of former wall that had been given to street artists, and I thought that that would be a perfect place for me to see in the final days of my European adventure.

The closer I got, the better the Graffiti became. Right next to the gallery were some of the best pieces I've yet come across. And then I reached the gallery.

Right – the East Side Gallery. You would – well, I don't know. I expected graffiti. Which is a certain style. Now – don't get me wrong, I love comic books with all my heart, but imagine walking into a large royal art gallery and finding it full of comic book styled art. Now, personally, I would find that fantastic, flip out, and build myself a nest, never to leave – but your average person would be disappointed, even if they too loved comic books.

This describes my take on the east side gallery. It wasn't graffiti art – it was just... art. Think of the abstract works created by your former classmates in the final days of high school. Now picture these on slabs of concrete wall. They weren't that good back then, and they're not that good now. And that's what it is. Meter after meter of uninspired art. Now, sure, near the far east end there are some good pieces, but... well, I guess I had to come all this way to see it, else I would have imagined it to be something completely different, and far better.

Luckily the end of the wall was near the S-bahn station, and so I jumped on, headed back to the hostel, bunkered down, and prepared to end my travelles – not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Over an hours of Zelda: Twilight Princess cut scenes were watched on youtube (that's almost half contained in the game.) That's right. I watched them. For an hour. I don't need to explain myself to you – to anyone. I feel secure in my, whatever I need feel secure in after doing something as terrible as this.

But then I received a message through the facebook (see, it helps to stay connected) from the guy that I hung out with back in Dresden. He was in Berlin as well, and wanted to meet up. So three messages, and an hour subway ride later, he ended up in my neck of the woods.

Fantastic! Off we went on a quest for the Doner. But not just any Doner, a Durum Doner. Sure I knew where a close one was, but that wouldn't be fun. And it's not the best – so off we went to the Christmas market, which was now full of teenagers become more and more drunk – as seems to always be the case when the sun sets. Strangely there was no puking on the upside down spinning rides. Clearly the Germans do things differently than we do in Canada. The Zipper? The Markham Fair? There's a reason they kept a hose right next to that beast. Man – it would always suck to be in the car just below the guy who pops. And then it spins, and it spins – well never mind, there was none of that here.

There was also no Durum here, so next stop was a wander down the main drag – we passed all number of shops that seemed to cater to the very rich. We passed another market, wallked through the book burning square, and visited some gift shops. Still no durum. It was suggested to me that people might not be buying durum in the same area that they'd buy two thousand euro watches, or Mercedes, but – you know – even the very rich have to love a durum? It's a wrap, there's veggies, meat, tzatziki – what's not to love?

Oh good, it's been demanded that I entertain another on gChat. Good – this will speed things up. Well – that's the price of it. Onward!

We walked all the way down to the Brandenburger Tor and found – no durum. But, I had told my fellow Canadian traveller of the magical butter éclair that was sold at a bakery down by the tor. Surely this would tide things over.

The bakery, of course, was closed.

Back to the train station where we had passed a durum hows ago – but it was fifty cents more than it should of been. On route we found... ... ... doners! But, again, no durum. Straight on to the train station. Once there the extra fifty cents were no longer something to complain about, but rather something to embrace.

And with that first bite? Magical satisfaction. Wandering the city streets for three hours trying to sate my huger, and finally getting exactly what I want? Now I know how Harold and Kumar must have felt.

And with that mission complete, I was at last ready to rest.

And thus ends the day of the East Side Gallery.

O.K. It's seven twenty two – one more post to write.

Back in Berlin

I don't want to think about how much money it cost to spend two days in Hannover. And I won't. Not really. Sure the trains out there, and the train back added a hefty sum for what amounted to very little time – but getting to spend time with one of the best people I've come to know, and strengthening that connection – well it was worth whatever it may have added to my travel costs.

Honestly – I can't over state what a great time I had, and that was completely due to the welcoming environment created by a person whom I had only known for eight hours prior to my arrival in Germany.

Think about this for a moment – you meet someone in a hostel in Helsinki; you talk to them for eight hours over a beer or two, late into the early morning; you don't see them again; two months later, you're invited to stay in their home. Only through travel are such quick and genuine connections made.

It wasn't just that his first act after I jumped off the train was to buy me a tradition German Christmas drink – hot wine with a shot of amaretto – and it wasn't just that he prepared delicious home cooked meals, or opened up his circle of friends to include me as well – no – what I found really incredible was during my last moments in the city.

Whereas some people (most people? ...myself – well, myself prior to this – now I'll have to step up for the rest of ever.) would graciously point the direction to the train station, perhaps hand over a map, or suggest taking the nearby bus – this was clearly not enough for my host. No. He put on his winter gear, and stepped out into the grey, cold, and darkened world, walking me the twenty five minutes from his apartment to the central station.

Once there, I was allowed the opportunity to offer some small token – purchasing a glass of hot wine for he and myself to bookend my time there. This was something I had struggled to do. My every attempt to put money into his hands seemed to fail and falter. When I tried to pay for groceries I was refused – when I thought about buying a kebap for him, I found I was too slow, as he handed one to me. Until this moment all I'd managed was to cover his small bar tab. But – at least now – I was able to offer something once again.

After the drink, I found I still had twenty minutes to wait before the train pulled in. While I would have had no problem finding a bench and reading my novel until it pulled up to platform nine, it was suggested that we head up to the platform together – once more, he'd wait with me, rather than casting me off into the world. The only stipulation was that it needed to be an area where he could smoke his cigarettes; created through the much-practiced process of him pulling out a paper, and filling it from a bag of drum tobacco, ended with a filter previously dumped into the shredded dried plant.

Clearly this was a man with a life of his own, things to do, and people to see – yet here he was taking time out to wait with someone whom he'd now known for two days (and eight hours) on a windy platform – lighter fighting a losing battle to keep the cherry burning.

The sign displayed the much feared warning that the train had been delayed for twenty minutes. I said that I'd be fine to wait it out – but once more, that was shrugged off – late trains could lead to switched tracks, and with most of the announcements coming in in German it would be easier were he to stay.

And so the time was past, not with fixed text on an off-white page, but rather through conversation, and friendship. His last act? Grabbing my bag before I had a chance to, and carrying it down to car 5 were I would bid him goodbye, board the train, find my seat, and start the return trip to Berlin.

So – once more – a great thank you to my host, his delightful flatmate, and their friends who made my time in Germany much more than it would have been.

And there I was – seat twelve, car five... Two hours to go. This time was mostly passed through episodes of the Amazing Spider-man animated series. This time was, specifically, passed with the “The Alien Costume Saga.”

When I got into Berlin, it was late, it was spooky, and it was – well it was o.k. 'cause I knew that I just had to head to the S7, and then go up the U2 and back I would be.

Stepping out of the train, I was met by amplemann. I had somehow forgotten him, my few days spent in the west. And seeing him, was like running into an old friend. They know how to work their promotional merchandising here. And that wasn't the only thing strikingly familiar, and homey. The streets were known, the restaurants had already been scoped out -

Listening to the hostel guy run through the “this is here, that is there, and this is how we be, yo” speech a second time I realized just how silly it is, and how obvious everything they say seems to be. And yet, all that time ago, it was quite important, and calmed oh so many nerves. How jittery can we travellers be without even realizing it?

Aside from some brief internetting, and a long talk about India with a girl from New Zeland, whose father edited Whale Rider, the night was empty and quiet. I grabbed a kebap, sighed at how subpar I now find the ones here, and then headed off to sleep. Only two days left.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Back to School in Hannover

While Hannover is not recognized as being a tourist's city, it's hard to imagine why. In any other country Hannover would be a city not to be missed. It has a war-torn history, beautiful architecture, a pedestrian only tourist strip, and all number of sites worth visiting.

But all that would come later. First stop? The university.

As I said, I've been staying with a couple of students, and part of the student lifestyle - though one often overshadowed by fraternities fighting each other in some sort of slow, stop motionesque form, with sharp swords – is heading to class.

The university is held within an old palace. Because there are more than enough palaces to go around in Germany. Out front there was, of course, a statue of a horse. But strangely enough there was no rider on it. Now, I'm told this mirrors the symbol of the Saxony – but I just can't trust a riderless horse. Not when it seems to be the only one in all of Europe.

Nevertheless, into the university I headed where I passed by a room that the students had taken over in a form of protest. For the past few weeks they have been sleeping in the lecture hall and – I can only assume – watching large movies on the projector and screen included with all lecture hall takeovers. Apparently they are protesting the newly established fees charging students five hundred euro a semester for their university education.

And then? Into the adjacent lecture hall for a thrilling hour of Chemical Engineering. Now you may think to yourself, as an English teacher that Chemical Engineering must have been completely over your head. That subject matter must have made it impossible to understand. But no – the subject matter was not an impediment to my neo-education at all. Mind you, the fact that I was in Germany, and as such the whole lecture was, obviously, in German? Well that may have prevented some of my potential learning.

Still – I could follow along with all the pretty pictures on the power point slide show. One had a big shiny (well made of squares, circles, and triangles) firetruck. Apparently it was about how the force exerted by the hose needs to be counter balanced or the whole truck will go flying backwards. There was laughter at this slide. Apparently it was hilarious. Oh those engineers!

Strangely enough though, I did take quite a lot away from the experience. For the first time in ages I was given the operation to watch a teacher in action. Without understanding the language at all, I could focus completely on the pacing, the tools used, and the connection with the students. This man was a master of the pause. He knew just when to stop talking, how to look around, and when to start back up again.

The tools of personal projectors, and laptop computers? When I get back to teaching I'll definitely need to add these to my arsenal. I can only think of the hours I'll waste pulling together power points, and collective videos and pictures from the internets. Still – my vast knowledge on pop culture should be used for something slightly productive, yeah?

But Hannover isn't all riderless horses, and lectures – no there's more to it. Much much more. Well a little more. No – much more. And the first place one should head when trying to get an understanding of the city? The rathause building. The city hall, aside from being an impressive spectacle to step into, and wander around through (no guards checking you, most doors unlocked – very trusting, these Germans are.) - yes aside from all this, there is another reason to visit this building. The four models of Hannover.

Each of them look as if they have been constructed by the most compulsively obsessed miniaturist forming all the buildings, streets, and features to exact details. And while this, alone, makes for a unique experience (and a way to find your way around the city, if you're without a map) it is the differences between the four large setups that holds the importance.

Model one: Hannover as it was during the seventeen century. It is a moated city, surrounded by walls and guard towers. Few gates allow access to the inner sanctum. And while none of the moats, and little of the walls exist today, many subway stations still hold their name from the old gates.

The final model is Hannover as it exists today, much larger, sprawling ever outward, detailing the streams, ponds, and building of importance, like the Rathause I was currently standing in, and those of lesser importance to the general populace, like the apartment I was staying in. On the model, I could point out the very window I looked through earlier in the morning to judge, correctly, that it was indeed raining.

Then you can look back in time once more, to the city during a golden age. It's 1939, and the streets are packed with the style of buildings one would expect Germany to have built up from the nineteenth and twentieth century. there is a domed building offset from the centre, the Rathouse had been completed, and the train station is in marvelous working order. German efficiency has seen to it that this city grow by leaps and bounds from its medieval beginnings. And for a while, all was good.

It is, however, the remaining model that holds the most importance, carries the most weight, and bears the most inspection. This model, as fully detailed as the other three, shows Hannover as it existed during 1945. It is the aftermath of World War II, and Hannover, being a town of industry, creating tanks to roll out onto the front lines to meet the allied forces in battle, has not been spared.

Not in the least.

Church roofs have been blown away, leaving only foundations still standing, apartments have been reduced to rubble, the train station is nothing more than steel girders, and fragmented coverings. Streets are full of debris, and the town is – much less than it was only six year earlier. Hannover is a city in its final moments.

One can hardly imagine what a land full of rubble that had once been homes, schools, and workplaces would look like. It's something that exists in small frames, and quick cuts in Hollywood movie – but it is never experience on the sweeping scale of a full city nearly wiped completely away.

It's strange to watch the citizens walk past the models, checking them over one by one, passing by with some thought, but little reflection, and then reaching the one of 1945. It is there that most, from small children, to old men and women stop, stare, and for just a moment look as if they will be unable to move on.

I wonder what they think. And I wonder how their thoughts differ. This is not some fantasy reconstruction, no post apocalyptic prediction of things to come. This is a real city; this is their city. The children may wonder, or simply find themselves entertained. The elderly may remember the streets just as they are now shown. And for hundreds more, not unlike myself, they may just think about how anything like this could have ever been allowed to happen – and if something like this may ever strike again.

Just behind the city hall there is a large pond. A small river leads under the street, connecting it with another body of water. This one far grander. And for a moment all I can think about is how I missed seeing it on the models just moments before.

It is a large lake, almost a perfect rectangle. While beautiful, it is orderly, sterile, and without creativity. It was a product of Hitler's grand design. A make-work project for the people. If no work exists, then work will be created, even if it results in people digging on their hands and knees to create an aquatic setting in a city previously without.

A testament to this creation sits at the near corner of the lake. It is a large towering column topped with a man carrying a torch. Engraved into the column's side is an eagle clutching a wreath in its talons. Pointing to the scratched empty interior of the wreath I am met with the statement, “you can guess what used to be in there.”

So much of the city, so much of Germany, seems like beauty and forward thinking wrapped in a cloak made from sins past. There is more guilt here than in the halls of a catholic church. And while it's understandable – the people being taught through school that the war was their fault, and that it is their responsibility to ensure it never happens again, it must make it hard to move on and live in the present. When so many things are dragging you back to a history you had nothing to do with, how will you ever be free to set your own path?

It is important to note, however, that this constant reminding that the current generation must never allow themselves to become as once was, has worked to turn Germans into some of the nicest, friendlies, and most wiling to help and share what they have, people in all of Europe.

Lunch was a chocolate croissant and a Berliner. This is a jelly donut. This is the Jelly donut that JFK proudly claimed he was, when calling out, “Ich bin ein Berliner!” The Germans, being gracious hosts, proudly allowed him this mistake, and worked to create myths, explanations, and reasons why his statement was not only correct – but far more correct than the correct statement would have been. Germans: so willing to help.

There is a subway station here designed to look like “New York City.” The whole interior is covered with commissioned graffiti, and connections between Hannover and NYC. And looking at it, I can only ask why we do not allow for this back in Toronto? Yes we have some historical column reproductions at the Museum station, but really? That's somewhat lacking. Tiles with names? Please. Embrace your future, Toronto – embrace your future.

And then, of course, we walked through a Christmas village. And then we past through a Christmas village, before ending up at, that's right, a Christmas village. You know – Germany may have a higher concentration of Christmas towns than decades later, post-war, guilt. And that's something.

If you want little feet made out of a type of stone that floats on water, or little wooden – things – or even all the hot wine you could ask for then you've come to the right place. Otherwise? You best be moving on. Some of the locals find them a little tacky, and have few good things to say about them – but I'll be honest with you, they're rather quite magical.

In the centre of the largest market there was a pyramid with toy soldiers on it, and a large fan / propeller on top. I'd seen these before, but never knew why the propeller existed. The answer, so obvious to those who live here, is that little versions of these often adorn dinner tables through the Christmas season. They hold a number of candles as well, and the heat from the flames rises, causing the propeller to spin, moving the entire setup.

Back at the apartment, sausages and mashed potatoes were devoured in front of the television, while The Simpson's played with “wrong” voices, speaking in German. Though I'd never seen the episodes before (having avoided the last ten seasons) I discovered that the Simpson's were incredibly simple to follow along with even without knowing what's being said.

After dinner the night ran from Eleven o'clock to four in the morning, meeting up with a group of people in yet another apartment, heading to a club en mass, and then watching as one by one everyone decided to bail on the five euro cover charge, and head out for a kebap instead. Ah – kebaps – the official food of late night Europeans.

At the other apartment I learned a few things –

a.) That people from Poland really do seem to feel disgust at the idea of their independence day. While they love their country they're upset that England allowed Germany to keep some of their land after Germany lost the war – they're upset with Germany for so many reasons, Austria is just as bad, and celebrating a day that happened pre-occupation seems strange to most. Apparently the man I met back on the 11th in Krakow wasn't the exception.

b.) Being from North America makes you an oddity that people want to talk to, much as being from Europe works in reverse back home. And this works well – especially when you can't join the group conversations as you have little to no idea what's being said.

c.) I am god awful as fooseball (or Kicker as it's called here.)

d.) really... really... bad.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Hannover Nights

As I exited the train onto the Hannover HBF platform I quickly made my way down the stairs and towards the statue of a man riding a horse outside the station. There's always a statue of a man riding a horse somewhere close in Europe. That's just how they roll. If there's an open area, or maybe some grass, even a giant patch of unrefined earth well they just need to stick down a brick and mortar pedestal, and then slam a brass horse being ridden by an old man, often complete with a most ridiculous hat, right on top. It is their way.

I got all of three steps from the stairs when I head, “hey? Mike.” I turned around, and there was the guy I met all those months ago in Helsinki, back when Europe was all still in front of me, and travel still carried a sense of danger and fear. But now, here he was – quite a bit taller than I had remembered.

With the first part of this mission complete – meet up, don't get terribly lost, and wander Hannover all night, falling asleep in a ditch somewhere, or under a bridge which I can assure you would be slightly less than nice, but much better than awful – I headed out into the world outside the train station:

It's Christmas time!

All around Germany I had seen these little markets with tiny wooden shops being built in main squares. I had first seen one in Nuremberg, and then again in Berlin, finally in Dresden. But they were, by law (I am told), not allowed to open until a month before Christmas. Today was that day, and here outside of the Hannover train station, the market was in full swing. Christmas trees, lights, Santas (or Blessed Night Man as he is called here – though it sounds better in German) were everywhere to be seen. With my pack on my back, and another on my front – because no part of a body should ever be without a pack. That's just wasted space – I was led to a booth selling hot wine, spiked with amaretto. Wonderful things these Germans come up with.

After downing the insulating beverage, our next stop was the grocery store where all sorts of things would be purchased for my first “real meal” in quite some time. Inside the, “new American style shopping centre,” I was once again assaulted with Christmas. There are no less than one hundred different Christmas trees within this building. True story. And down the escalator by the grocery store there was a quartet of girls dressed as angels.

Well, the girls were dressed like angels if angels wear short white skirts, unfathomably form fitting white tops, and strap on wings, with little fluffy halos.

I have no idea what they were doing. At first I assumed trying to raise money for something, but they said nothing to anyone. And when I asked my German guide what they were all about, he shrugged and told me that he had no idea either.

The walk from the station to his apartment was mostly without pain – though it did choose to rain a little bit. When I finally ducked into an alcove to put the flies on my packs and returned to the unprotected streets that rain had, of course, stopped.

But these annoyances were soon to be forgotten, for after a dozen potatoes were peeled, dinner began to get underway. Fish sticks deep fried to perfection (a treat I'd never ever considered before this moment), mashed potatoes with dill and nutmeg, minced spinach, and dill sauce.

Each bite after sweet sweet bite was savored. You may think – fish sticks and mashed potatoes? What's so delighting about those? You sir have not been travelling for three months, faced with the options of Kebaps or... kebaps. Mashed potatoes and fish sticks? More heavenly that scandalously dressed mall angels.

It was time to get some answers. I had been wondering if the word Kraut, referring to Germans from The Allies in World War 2, was an offensive term, or just a designation. It is more like Kiwi/Pom or is it truly insulting? The few people I've asked in the past have not answered with any sort of clarity. But now I could press the issue and get some straight answers.

Only problem? He was unaware that that term even existed. Well – maybe that's why no one has been able to give it to me straight – the German's these days just aren't aware of the term. Clearly they're watching different war movies than I am. Imagine that.

Off to the cocktail bar. Look – I'll be honest, I'm not really one for cocktail bars, even if happy hour does run all the way until midnight (which make the idea of happyHOUR rather questionable.) But it was, well it was alright. With a group of seven Germans I passed the hours away talking – but mostly listening... to German. But when I heard them say “blah blah blah street fighter blah blah ken and ryu blah blah yokozuna? no. blah blah blah?” I was able to jump in and corrently answer, “E. Honda,” to a chorus of “ahhs.” Good for me. Pop culture – bringing the world together one video game reference at a time.

Paying the bill, and making our way from the bar the owner gave each of us a shot of Jägermeister to thank us for being patient with his mathematics. This was a friendly homey bar the type of which seems to only exist for characters in North American sitcoms, yet here it was.

Sure German law bans smoking inside – but this place? They'll do what they want, they'll do what they please. This owner wasn't the type to let some silly law control his business. And as such, I saw more cigarettes hand rolled in seconds, than ever before in my life.

From there it was a rainy walk to a club called Faust, named after the literary character of the same name. Inside it was – well it was dead – we more than doubled the population, but I found myself constantly in drink, without opening my wallet. It was to the point that I refused all number of free drinks – a sign that I'm growing up. A sign that I didn't want to be in the same shape as these university students when I woke up the next day.

You pay one euro to the bar when you buy your first drink, and then get it back when you return the bottles. Interesting. I wonder how much they lost to returns before this was enacted, and how much they profit from it now? The urinals were also fixed with mini football nets, and balls. You'll do what you will, I'm sure.

Walking beside all number of stumblers, on the way back to the apartment I was told a story about how life exists because of a piece of shared bread, and some oh so random occurrences. One to Siberia, the others to the grave.

I also learned that humour really doesn't translated. This is a fantastic thing to witness. If you're even in another country ask to hear some jokes, and be prepared to remain straight faced and confused. Then tell your best jokes, and wait for the same reaction.

It's really quite something to behold.

Back on the fourth floor, I was made an egg on black bread toast. Such delicious bread – once more Europe pulls through proving that they have truly mastered this staple. And a warm egg, with chili gherkins and ketchup – oh how I've missed you Ketchup – was... well you never realize how much you've missed food until you have it again.

Holding Out For Hannover

I step on a train destined for, well it doesn't really matter does it? You just kind of step on board, and navigate your way through row after row of cramped spaces, collecting awkward looks from old women clutching their bags, men looking back on their last decade, and oy punks, now smug having already stowed their oversized bags.

Choose a compartment, and become one of the six for whom the next hours could lead to new friendships, blossoming romances, chance encounters with all that has ever mattered, and all that ever will – never move your eyes from your feet, unless it's to the window then back. Eye contact could be a dangerous thing. Who knows what chain of events it could spark? After all a Smile on Washington Square cut through the course of personal history that may never be. Just pretend to be asleep.

Outside farms ringed with thin wire, holding in all number of animals, plants, and ideas slowly turn into farms of a different sort – gathering the wind, collecting to up, and storing it I'd imagine, in large bags for Odysseus. Large fans churning through the nights, spinning through day – always the unseeing eye blinking in warning from not so far away.

And then the things that never come to pass are behind. Stepping out into the world, if only for a moment, a town of decoration, and celebration greets you with the sky itself wrapped in a collected ribbon of stars, spiraling down towards a ground it will never reach.

An inner forest sprouts from cold tile, unwashed, unloved, unreflective of its current situation.

Moments later moment are forgot as whistle blow where once steam would have accompanied, and the mythology is better left unstudied, untrespassed.

Once more the world presents you wish choices of number twenty one or twenty three – but lost in confines of numeric classification eyes fail to shift, motions come to pass, and relative time relatively stumbles on its was from dinner date to after hours club, hands clutched tightly, thrust into deep pockets with contents unknown without encumbrance becoming cumbersome.

Conversations that never happen play their way out to ultimate conclusions as the red grass finds itself caught by the urban artificial looseleaf light of transcendent Auroras. Thoughts of fallen pages typed on sea foam, salmon, and marigold sprinkle down from never forgotten, but often ignored aspects of self.

Eyes consider laces incorrectly tied for structural soundness, and comfort in uncomfortable soundlessness. Portals to a passing world. Slowly stopping. Straps restrain, hold back, and take the kindness of others to put right, push forward, and maintain.

Familiar faces forgotten from fathomless features form forceful fundamentals

and humans become giants.

The Dodo's Live in Dresden

That Slaughterhouse Five medallion – it haunts me! It haunts me still!

I woke up, showered, and headed out. I headed right back to the same slaughterhouse, intent on finding the little medallion in the ground. I passed the same green striped building, the same biking ampelmann, the same erotic car wash sign, and the same park. I arrived back at #6 Messering with knowledge of what I was looking for. I – failed.

And it's not that I just kind of failed, I failed gloriously. I hopped under security checks, I ran around in “should have been locked” areas, and I made sure to check the whole perimeter of the building. And still – I found nothing. Nothing. Not a single sign that there was a little numbered medallion in the ground.

But I know it's there. It must be. This is worse than geocaching. At least they give you hints for that!

But after an hour, what could I do? I had to head back. I came close, and saw more than most of the internets pointed towards. So I didn't feel at a total loss – and walking back, I was treated to the low sun illuminating the brightly coloured glass dome of what looks like it should be a church, but has a sign indicating it's a restaurant.

And then I walked up the pedestrian strip north of the river, watching as all the christmas booths were set up. Christmas is no small deal in Germany. Every town has a Christmas market, and Dresden is said to have the best. So – like so many other times in this trip – I'm missing it by one day. It will official open only a few short hours after I board the train bound towards Hannover – where I'll meet with someone I met way back in Helsinki.

Still – I saw the set up. I can imagine crowds of people, and bright lights, and stalls and stands that are open, rather than boarded shut. It's practically the same! Right?

But no – there will be no Dresden Christmas town for me.

From there I made my way back in the direction of the hostel, but did not stop when I got close – no. I had to head towards Sax Tickets. This is the ticket booth in North Dresden that you might remember existing back in the eighties and early nineties. The place where you'd go and buy all your concert tickets, and perhaps line up outside of for the big shows.

It's lovely not having to pay service fees, or handling charges, or anything of that nature. Nope – you just walk in, hand over your thirteen euro, thirty cents, and walk out with your brand spaking new, hand written, ticket to The Dodo's later on that night.

Once again – I have no idea what this band is, or what they are about – but a show is a show, and it has been a long time since I've thrown myself into one concert after the next. Germany seems like a fitting place to see a marathon of American bands, right? Nothing strange about that.

On the way back, I bought some nutella and bread. Chocolate sandwiches would be my dinner. As would the second terrifying tuna pizza. Two for two euro – it seemed like such a deal when I thought that it was ground beef. But it was not. And it would not be this time either.

So much like Michelle Tanner, I discovered that tuna, no matter how much you may love it, does not combine well with other favourites. In my case: pizza. In hers? Ice cream. You'd think I was coming out ahead in this comparison – but after all, she was but an infant. And fictional.

The few hours leading up to the show were spent in a flux of trying to figure out my plans for tomorrow – would I stay an extra night in Dresden, or would I head over to Hannover? I hadn't heard back from my contact there, and if I wanted to stay here I'd have to book soon. But right at the deadline I received an email. A flurry of back and forth replies ensued. And that was that – off to Hannover.

I cried a little when I saw how much this would cost. And was slightly annoyed by the fact that it would put me in Leipzig for a change over, but not one long enough to even poke my head out and look around.

Then it was off to the show – with much less confusion, and missed street cars this time.

The opening act was named Megafaun. When I saw them, I wondered how long it would take for them to notice me in the crowd. You see, they all looked like me. My size, shaggy hair, beards. And the beard respect is something that is ingrained in all of us hairy beasts. A nod at times, a quick word. Think of it as a secret club – I hear tall girls have one too.

As it turned out, it took no longer than them to start their first song before they saw me, gave me a shout out from stage, and then began playing their set.

Their music was – well, lets just say it was different. It reminded me a little bit of Moxy Fruvious, and a little bit of something that should be found on the soundtrack for Firefly. There was one moment where the lead singer/bassist found a sound he liked, locked it in, and then proceeded to play with it using his laptop for a good three minutes. Normally I'm not sure if this would be a good thing – but, in this case, it worked really well.

After their set, I chatted with them, and they said they play at Lee's Palace every now and then. I'll have to keep my eyes open for them whenever I get back to Toronto.

Next up was the Dodos. This was the band we came to see, and for the first few minutes I wasn't sure that that was really such a good idea. Their opening song left a little something to be desired, but as the set went on, I found myself moving towards the front of the crowd and getting, quite literally, lost in the music. When the show ended and we were talking about what songs we liked, it dawned on me that I hardly remembered any of them at all.

The music itself was a continuous wall that managed to block me from – well, any other thoughts. And for that hour and a half, I was grateful to have it. But, much like last night, and every night, these things end.

Streetcar back, hostel entered, night over. Dresden days are done.

However – before I went to sleep for the night I grabbed a good load of media from one of the guys laptops. All sorts of movies were copied over onto my three empty memory cards: The Bourne movies amongst them – which I've been told I should have watched ages ago. And more than I can actually remember.

There were a number of tv shows that I could have grabbed as well. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia would have been a key one – however, I opted to spend a full card and a half on a show that would fill me with all sorts of nostalgic pride, and terrible terrible memories. That show? Spider-man: The Animated Series. Not the old terrible one, not the new terrible one, but the middle one. The middle one, where the art was solid, and the voice acting was - well, clever at any rate.

And once I watch through seasons 1 through 4 I can finally watch the clone saga that I never caught on television back in the day.

Hey – I am going to have a good long time on boats, and planes, and other such things. I need something, yeah? Well – maybe not. I didn't really watch all that many movies on my laptop thus far, but... when the time comes, I'll be glad for it. Plus – at eighteen minutes an episode? That's a good quick fix.

Watch that crazy red eyed lizard go!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Daultingly Delightful Dresden Day

Today was a day of waking up, trying to get into the good shower before it was taken – failing – and then waiting. Sure there were four other showers but, you know – I'm North American and we're not down with the group lovin' unless, I'm told, it's at a gym. But I do my best to stay away from such things. Feel free to go yourself, “but it has television!” well so does my house.

So after the shower, I was about to head out – when I asked one of the guys in my room, if he wanted to wander down to try and find Slaughterhouse 5 with me. As he was a fan of the book (I really should read it, I know – I know,) he decided that, yes, that would be a fantastic use of time. So off we went. We didn't really have all that much to go on. We had the little bits of information I posted in the previous post about how to successfully get there. But it was enough. It just, you know, took a bit longer than it should have.

Wandering down across the bridge to the other side of the Elbe I came across a sign advertising an “Erotic Car Wash.” I do not know what this is. I did not check the web link. But, this is Germany, and I assume that it's exactly what you think it is – whatever you may think it is.

I found myself looking at yet another Ampelmann, this one has a bicycle. And then we were nearly at the Slaughterhouse. We thought. Well according to the directions I had.

Now, when we got to the area we started to search for the medallion that the Let's Go website told us marked the spot. We came up with nothing. Not a single thing. So we kept walking, searching, kicking leaves out of the way, and cursing the man in the security booth who we assumed would not be happy with our furthered exploration within the barred off zones.

So continue to search we did.

I went around the side of the building, and discovered that people in East Germany do not speak English as many of their west German counterparts do. This did not aid the search.

“I found it! I found it! I think...” came a call, drawing me back to where we had begun our search. The sign with historical information about the slaughterhouse on one side, and a quote from Vonnegut's classic novel on the other was discovered. On this sign there was also a picture of the slaughterhouse. And there, in front of us, was said building, mostly blocked off by the sports academy and conference centre today.

But there it was.

And I thought just one thing: “Time to get closer.”

This is a common thought of mine, and one that bothers a number of my fellow travellers. Especially when we end up, conceivably, trespassing in foreign countries. But, hey, when would we be back this way again? So through the Sports Academy we wandered, to the back of the track ring. There was a fence blocking us from the actual building – and while I still wanted to get closer, that would have only been to touch it. We were in the area best suited for photographs, so why risk ripping my only pair of pants, in an attempt to jump the fence?

Pictures taken, it was time to leave. Still – we'd not seen the medallion. Perhaps it was just the sign that they meant? Perhaps one replaced the other?

There would be time to look into this later. So back to the hotel we headed, taking only one moment to grab a delicious durum doner.

Back at the hostel I was told about a show tonight by the Silversun Pickups. I'd never really heard of them before, but youtube provided me with a sample or two, and I figured, why not go see a show in Germany – what else do I have going on tonight? Torchwood?

So my next stop was off to Sax Tickets where thirteen thirty euro would get me into the show. It's nice buying tickets in a place where the full cost is less than what Ticket Master would charge for a service fee back home. They need to be stopped. Someone do something! But not me, I'm lazy.

And then it was just a matter of filling time before we headed out at seven thirty. This was done with a pizza purchased at Lidl. It turned out to be a tuna pizza. A German favourite. Suffice to say – mistakes were made.

Fast forward past the thirty minutes it took to have directions to the venue explained, and then the process of actually missing a tram by less than a second (my hand was on the door.) The next one would arrive fifteen minutes later.

Inside the club:
Red lights illuminate a raised stage, void of everything save for empty instruments. Rows of high school students stream in the open doors, smelling slightly of the cigarettes they just finished outside. Their empty beer bottles line brick walls, purchased cheaply at the gas station down the street – money for the collecting homeless.

Brick walls are traded for bar tables cramped for space as bottle after empty bottle clogs all available space. People stream in and out of bathrooms, mull around in cliques that form quickly, and break apart just as fast, and seem void of purpose, ambition, and direction.

Houselights fall. Elyjah takes the stage, a small German band with only a myspace page to their name. A myspace page without any music on it.

And to be honest? They sound a lot better than I thought they would. Blue lights illuminate, as they rip into music that comes hard, heavy, and fast. Three people in the crowd start to get amped up and move around. A few heads bang. But not enough.

I watch from the back of the crowd, staying far away from the gathered youth. It was a decade ago when I used to look with distrust at the late twenty somethings that made their way to the shows. What were they doing there? They didn't belong.

And so I stayed back.

The music rose and fell – everything in purple under a set up of only blue and red.

And then the music stopped. The opening act was at and end. Silversun Pickups would be out in a few minutes we were told. And against all odds, they were. Set up between acts took hardly any time at all, and just as I was starting to think I should check my watch – which I don't have – the headliners took to the stage.

And in a matter of minutes I was sixteen again, for the second time in a week. Wandering through the crowds to get closer, I let the music hit me and gave over to the head banging, stomping, and spastic movement that was beginning to surround me. A mosh pit opened up in front of me, but once more I stayed back. Tiny little creatures, these German youths.

Sweat straightened hair whipped back and forth, not nearly as much as in years past, t-shirts started to stick, and the concert was fully underway. Eyes closed, everything was considered from people I'd known, to those I'd missed, and conversations never had. The night became a moment in time, and for a matter of minutes there was only a woman playing bass on stage, despite the full band. And at times, that's all that matters. Especially when it's a Gibson Thunderbird in her hands.

Blue, Red, Yellow – flash. A bottle pressed into my hands.

As conversations never explored came to an end, I could feel the music winding down. One more big push. And into the pit I went, allowing myself to be thrown around with the older crowd that had made their way to the front for this moment. Shoes nearly lost, I remembered why we used to duct tape them on back at Warped Tour.

Encores flowed with awkward on stage banter, trying to decide if they'd ever played in Dresden before, and the night drew to a close.

Within two minutes I aged ten years; coats were grabbed, and buses were navigated.

We checked out the after party, free entry with barcode stamp on the botton of our wrist, only to find it void of life, and anyone from the show. Cards in kitchens were played. Specifically a game called [expletive that starts with an 'S']head.

I inquired to the rules, and was assured they were simple. I then had the following explained, where, until we started to play, I distrusted the assurance of simplicity.

Each player gets three cards played face down, one face up on top of each, three in their hand.

The idea is to play all your cards. But you can only play from your hand to begin with, picking up a card to replace whatever you played from your hand. When the pile of cards is gone, the real game begins.

You can only play a card that is higher than the last one played, with the following exceptions – a ten, a three, and a two can always be played. But there's more to it than that. Let us now go over the rules:

two: can always be played, and is the lowest number.
three: an invisible card – the next player must play on the card below it
seven: you must play a card lower or equal to a seven, rather than higher
eight: skip a turn
ten: clears the pile, all are discarded. You play again.
queen: reverses the playing order

Whenever you clear the deck you go again.

The deck is also cleared when all four of the same card are played in order. You can always play more than one of the same card at a time.

You can only play out of order if you can make the pile have all four of the same cards in a row, after at least one of them was played.

Your bottom three cards have to be played blind.

Last rule: before play starts, you can swap any face up card in your piles, with any card from your hand.

Yup – that's the game. And it's a good one. Play continues until there is only one loser. S/he becomes the [expletive that starts with 'S']head.

Getting to Slaughterhouse Five in Dresden, Germany

So you want to find Slaughterhouse 5 in Dresden, Germany? That is an excellent goal. However, you may find it far more challenging than it has to be. There are many websites that may try and direct you to the site, but none of the will do a great job convincing you of what / where it is.

I have decided that I never want anyone else to have to go through the terrible reasearch that I did to try and find the site. So I have compiled all the information you need to know to get to Slaughterhouse 5.

No one else need ever ask "How do you get to Slaughterhouse Five" without receiving a concise answer.

Why Would You Want to See Slaughterhouse Five?
Slaughterhouse 5 served as a POW camp for German prisoners of war. Most notably Kurt Vonnegut was imprisoned there. He was witness to the firebombing of Dresden by the allied troops, and this experience served as ispiration for his novel named after the prison itself.

Use-it map:
[This map points you in the gerneral direction of the Slaughterhouse, however it is off the map – and as such, only a rough guide.]

Letter to Slaughterhouse 5:
[This website tells you that there is a hotel over the old site – but this is not to be believed. Still, there is some information here that will point you in the generally correct direction.]

Let's Go:
[Let's Go tells you there is a medallion marking the spot and poitns you to #6 Messering but does nothing to point out the medallion]

YouTube Video:
[This guy gets it mostly right too, but never actually sees the old slaghterhouse, which is too bad. It can be seen in the skyline of his red roof shots, but – that's as close as he gets.]

Nautiker on Thorn Tree responded to a question I asked and wrote the following:
as regards the plaque: Slaughterhouse Five is part of the 'gravures of war' art project, whereat important places of local war-history are marked by small steel-capsules set into the ground. each capsule contains a text consigning the 'biography' of the place. read here [] for more, alas it's German only. the capsules aren't designed for tourists, they look like this [] (Slaughterhouse Five is No. 63), so you'll probably have seen it without noticing.

How to get to Slaughterhouse Five
These directions will get you from the Neustadt Station to the site. Walk southwest on Antonstraße and cross the Elbe on Marienbrucke. At the end of the bridge, make a right, and then cross under the train tracks. Then make another right and you'll find yourself walking parallel to the bridge, back towards the river.

You'll come to a street crossing with Ampelmann and his bicycle. Cross over, then cross again, and you'll find yourself on Pieschener Allee. Walk down this street, passing by a giant green striped smokestack across the river, with an open green field on your left. Eventually you will come to Messering. Keep straight on.

You'll see #1 Messering to your right. Keep going. You'll notice a few things when you've reached the right location.

To your left you'll see a big green hill – you can climb that for a good view of the lots. You'll also notice you just passed a sports academy. This is #4 or 5. You'll notice you're standing between #5 and #7 Messering. I am yet to find a sign saying Messering #6. But that's Messer Dresden. There's a statue in front of it, and there's a security gate to stop cars.

Another thing that will tell you you're in the right spot is seeing the ruins of the Slaughterhouse itself. This can be best viewed from the Sports Academy. This may also seem obvious, but how can you tell if that's the right building? Turn around. See the bus stop? See the raised ground behind it? There's a sign there. It has two sides. Side one has the history of the Slaughterhouse in German, and the other side has a quote from Vonnegut's novel. The history side has a picture of the building for all to see.

You will also notice at this point that you could have taken the #75 bus all the way here.

The Slaughterhouse
I would recommend yo walk down into the Sports Academy, passed the tennis courts, to the track ring. This will offer you the best views of the Slaughterhouse. The meat freezer that Kurt Vonnegut was locked in is under the Messer Dresden building. Apparently there are tours that allow you to visit these areas for twelve euro. Some of these tour websites are hosted on wordpress though, so go at your own peril.

As for the medallion in the ground? The one with the number 63 on it? I never saw it. And I snuck past security, ran around the lots, and did my best to check for it. If you ever come across it please take a photo and send it my way, along with how to get to it.

I hope this has helped you in your quest to follow in the footsteps of Kilgore Trout. Best of luck. Hopefully this helps answer your question, "how do you get to Slaughterhouse 5."

GPS Co-ordinates: N51.06887 E013.71688

Monday, November 23, 2009

I Rather Like Dresden

All eating issues aside, I rather like Dresden. And I think I saw enough of it today to have constructed a very good understanding of the city – the way it lives, breathes, and carries on. Honestly – it's the type of city that I think I could live in. For a while anyway.

This morning, prior to the buffalo belly, I headed out to explore the city north of the river. But before I could go anywhere, I needed to shower. This hostel has five male showers. Two of them are together, two have no shower curtains, and one has a door. This hostel – to all those without European sensibilities, has one shower. Luckily it was unoccupied.

So after that time of cleansing, I was able to find cleanish clothes, and hit the streets.

Let me tell you, there is an amazing vibe North of the Elbe. That's a city with life. There are small shops, surplus shops, arty shops, and wall after wall covered in some of the best graffiti you will ever see. There's an entire car lot where the trees, the poles, the very ground itself becomes a living canvas, coming to life with each new artist's addition.

And strangely enough, one of them was of Dexter, from his eponymous laboratory. I'd not thought of him in ages, until yesterday's Dee Dee reference.

The streets here breathe. And once you leave the graffiti behind, you enter a district where the facts of houses have been turned into art pieces by the residence. Since the fall of the wall, the people have been taking the city back from the GDR ways, adding colour and spice where only grey strength and unity were placed before.

Here's a disconcerting thought for you: You know how you feel young right now – as if everything is new, and the past is just a backlog of stuff? A collection of memories – but all old, and gone – whereas you're in the present, looking towards the future with plans and thoughts and ideas of what to do? You know how you feel as if who you were years ago wasn't really you, and you're finally at that stage where you're grown and ready to embrace what you have planned for? Well – you're going to feel that way the day before you die too.


Like when the best ice cream store in Dresden is closed, due to it being Monday – that doesn't even make sense to me.

After wandering up and down and through the living city, I realized that I had to eventually leave it. I had to say goodbye to the urban expanse that I so loved, and cross down to the south of the river. I just wouldn't be a proper tourist if I didn't check out everything that was going on over there. On the plus side, this did mean a brief walk along the path beside the moving water. But then there was backtracking, and windy bridge crossing, and trying to make my way over to the main part of the city.

Just across the bridge I found myself in the main tourist square. It was here that I glimpsed the Ontario: Canadian Steakhouse. And, well – we all know how that turned out. Still – the buffalo burger? Very tasty – and with fries and onion rings, it really wasn't all that over priced at 10 euro 90. I mean, I wouldn't have been able to justify that price earlier on in my trrip – but you'd hardly pay more for something of that size, at that type of restaurant back home. And, you know, again – it was delicious!

So there I was, cold, stuffed, and aware the the sun was sinking – standing on the wrong side of the river. Well I still had a few more things I wanted to see, so off I pressed. Yup, there was the domed building, and there was the old church, and I think that is the castle, and over there is probably the theatre-whatever. Inside there's some porcelain. And, oh look, it's a jousting arena. Just like in that movie with that guy who played Joker and then offed himself. Ahh jousting. If only they were on ostriches, in space, and could fly.

[random interruption: “When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed. Say something once, why say it again?” - I agree Talking heads, I agree ]

So then off to see the nymph statues, and wander around on top of the public square, getting lost, and not knowing how to get down. Oh look – it's the group of Canadians again. Good for them, How can I justify the school board to send me on free trips? That sounds like a good idea. I'll have to talk to some of these international group teachers at some point.

From that point on, I had kind of seen everythign that Dresden had to offer. Sure there will be more random street walking, and more paths explored, and some parks to the south that I want to check out – not to mention the walk out of town to see Slaughterhouse Five – but none of these things could be done now. There was just one more thing to check off.

You may recall Ampelmann from Berline – well, here in Dresden, in one crossing only, he has been replaced by the Ampelfrau. Ah yes, she is a plucky lady who is willing to tell you just what is what, and ordering you around: walk now, stop walking, ok fine – continue to wak. Ys her word is law. It seems such a shame that the two will be forever separated in their own distinct crossings. Perhaps someone will join them together. I just had a terrible vision of rule 34.

Well, having seen that, and then briefly examining the shopping area, I was convinced that that was all I could do – plus, you know, I needed a nap. So rather than walking my wayback, I hopped on the streetcar, and rushed on back home.

I attempted to recreate the settings that placed the world in perfect order last night, but they failed – as right they should. The world was in perfect order last night, today there are slight deviations.

So, with the day being done, and ten thirty falling upon me (quite earlier than the three in the morning from yesterday) I will head off to leep.

As a final note, I'll let you know that I had my clothes washed today. I should have enough to get me through the next week, and a spare set for the flight home. All on the plane will rejoice at this news.

It's strange handing over your clothes, and being told they'll be washed – not actually doing it yourself. But, hey, who am I to complain? All is right and well. And tomorrow – well tomorrow I'll sleep in. Especially if it's raining. And that? That will be lovely.

[authors note: a group of Aussies and a Canadian girl are chatting across from me. By this point in my travels I can tell who will sleep with who within about a minute of the conversation starting – 85% accuracy. So why all the games? You don't care about what opera he saw – he doesn't care about what you bought for your ex (note the stressing when you mention eeeeeeeeeeeeex) boyfriend. Enough with the games. Just make your excuse, leave the third guy behind – or well, you know, and get on with it. Kids today.]

Don't Eat While Travelling

There's a reason that I hate eating when I'm travelling. And surprisingly enough, to me anyway, it has nothing to do with cost.

For the first time in ages, I have money. I have a pocket full of euros, and all too soon they're going to become completely useless. So why not drop them on delightful things like food? Well I'll tell you why! Eating will destroy your day of exploration in no less than two ways. And the thing is – I knew this already! I knew it – and I told myself, no no, it's not true. I've just been so concerned about price. But I was lying to myself. Lying to myself so as I could take a big meaty bite of Buffalo.

When you eat, two things happen. The first is that you have to sit around in a bloody restaurant. Now, I got to sit outside on the patio – and as chilly as it was, this prevented me from losing my mind. I got to watch the two statue people interacting with a group of forty children all with Canadian flags sewn to their backs. This entertained me for about two minutes. That was not enough. But constantly moving around, and wearing chair blankets to try and stay warm also provided some entertainment to the experience.

Let me tell you about how restaurants differ in Canada, than they do at “Ontario: Canadian Steakhouse.” ... I know, I know, alright? But how could I resist? A Canadian restaurant? An Ontario restaurant? I had to know. There was a mountie saluting me on the door! I wonder how many Canadians have actually seen mounties? I once had the pleasure of being woken up in the middle of the night, and being told to stand with my hands in the air, unmoving, as a mountie searched me and my car. He did not like the Buck knife 119 special six inch fixed blade he saw on the seat beside me. Bears. Bears, I told him. Bears. And it was true. And all was well. And then he made sure no one bothered my car so I could get a good sleep for the rest of the night. Mounties – good people.

It's also important that you become aware of the Toronto Salad they had on the menu. What is in a Toronto salad, you may ask? Let over garbage from the strike? Tears of innocent from having nothing but losing sports franchises? Fingers from hipsters who need to learn when to keep their mouths shut? Nope. It was a garden salad with prawns. We love prawns in Toronto, apparently.

I have never eaten, nor seen eaten, a prawn in my life.

It's enough to make you wonder how far off mark all the Mexican restaurants and Texas steak houses are. Do the people from there see them and giggle inside?

So there I was, ordering my meal. And then I waited ten minutes, twenty minutes, thirty minute – and then! Nothing... Finally my meal came. By this time, I had watched the sun, high in the sky, start to lower down to the horizon. I then ate my giant beastial food – which was delicious. And for a time, all was forgiven – until it took twenty minutes to get the bill and pay that – which once again leads to my belief that we should pay our bills before we eat – then you can just get up and book at the end.

Look – if there's a couple and they're deep in conversation, don't rush the bill – but if there's a single guy in the freezing cold, quit smashing glasses, and bring him his bill!

Still – the buffalo? Delicious.

So the sheer amount of time eating takes away frm the already limited daylight is the first strike against the activity. The second? Once you have a belly full of buffalo beef, you are no longer ready to set out with vigor across a strange city. Digestion begins. And you slow. And your mind slows. And next thing you know you're looking around for a streetcar to take you back to the hostel and nap.

Eating – just don't do it! Nothing good comes from it. Wait until the sky is dark, the night is upon you, and then – only then – feast to your hearts content.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Internet Unruly - In Dresden

I am being forced to write this by an internet devoid of any human emotion or feeling. Though I wish for nothing more than to relax on a couch and watch or listen to streaming media from beyond the pale, the computers link to the interconnected network in virtual space fails me.

And it does not fail me in the way that I can simply accept than a void exists. No – it fails me in such a way that sending still works, while receiving falls flat.

But wait, you say, couldn't you listen to one of the many podcasts you've recently inherited? No. No I can not, thank you oh so much for inquiring. No – because I have been sending my video to youtube for some time now, and to listen to those podcasts would force me to inter... Wait – the podcasts are not on an SD card, but on a thumbdrive! Success will soon be upon me!

But wait – where is that thumbdrive? Where is that thumbdrive?! Ohh – winter and lemon chocolate. I forgot you still existed, but no matter how wonderful you are, you will not allow me the comfort of digital media if I shove you into my USB slot. No – you'd probably only cause a sticky gooey mess, forever voiding my F drive.

Ah victory at last – it was caught hiding within my sun glasses, one arm broken – silly thumbdrive. Now reveal your secrets to me! We Are Scotland, indeed. Ah – Stop Making Sense – The Talking Heads. Sure it's not a podcast, but it's great – and it takes me back to two of my good people. The one and only DD (shortening the Don-Don... eventually it will become Dee Dee, a la Dexter's Lab. This is how the inside of my mind works. Terrible.) And it takes me back to old housemate Matty P – who really should be out here with me, but instead he's a music spy. Which is all very well, but it means that he's in Canada – which is all fine and well, but...

Hmm, but enough of this. The first and second crises were averted and now all is well. And I have delightful music streaming through my cheap headphones picked up from the train back in Spain. It's also worth nothing that this is the third pair I've gone through. The one from IcelandAir died some time ago, and one earbud fell off the first pair I swiped from the SpainTrain. I'll have to scope out some new one soon. I'm looking at you AirBerlin – you and your flight out of this crazy continent. (Apparently I feel spaces aren't required when two consecutive words both require capitalization.)

So lets get down to today, shall we. Are you sitting back, preferably with your legs read? Because Italo Calvino, in If On a Winter's Night a Traveller..., says that's the only way to read. One of my legs is up as I type. But it's less for comfort, and more as a makeshift table.

I often wonder how these blogs would differ if I didn't work in a public field where I need to maintain some sort of sense of professionalism. I tell you this – that is the one thing you have to accept if you go into teaching – you lost your private self to a very real extent. Whenever I throw up a video on youtube, I have to make sure it's very tame – and even wandering around in my hometown, I need to be aware that people who should not see me as less than professional are often out and about. World travel – it's somewhat freeing in that respect – but the world is a very small place. (never mind what I said a few days back, that was a metaphorical largeness.)

So – where did my day begin? Right. Well it started out with me dragging my bags into the hall early in the morning to start packing, and rearranging without disturbing the others in my room. One door down, I shared a knowing smile with a girl doing exactly the same. And I wondered – that moment, how many times had it played out in these halls? And how many times was it destined to play out – over and over again. In some cases things would progress very differently, depending on the situations, and the lives intertwined. A multiverse collapsed into a single hallway. One hundred monkeys, one hundred typewriters – and nothing but time.

And then I closed my zipper, nodded my head, and walked on by, turning around only as the elevator doors began to close.

Breakfast. Check out. Key Deposit returned, and exchanged for a subway ticket.

My youtube upload just finished. Finished with a heart wrenching error of failure – but finished. So that's that. No more youtube in Dresden. I'll just wait until I return to Berlin, and there I'll toss them all up again. That's fine. I rarely upload my videos day of, and often find myself adding them to past entries. In most cases if there's no video when you read, you can bet one was recorded and is waiting to be uploaded.

I've also thought about audio uploads, but I don't know where I'd host those.

Oh I don't think I'll ever finish this blog entry. I keep getting sidetracked with urges to write those emails I talked about a few days ago. I'm just in the right state for them right now. Those who knew me a decade ago will understand, and those who were there through the April – June of my first year working at UHS will understand too. But only that first year – only the first. It's night. I have good music. There seems to be no pressures from the world. And I just want to write. Sounds about right to me.

Tonight's the type of night during which I could fall in love.

I've used this saying before, and no one has ever seemed very clear on what I mean by it. It has been met with a sense of complete unknowing, moments of awkwardness, and terrible attempts to explain it.

To be honest, I'm not really sure what it means myself, but I do know when I feel it. And I feel it tonight. It was almost there way back in Helsinki – but not quite.

If I were forced to describe it, I would say it was when conditions were right that everything seemed good in the world, safe, perfect. And where there were no fears for the future, no thoughts about what should be being done, only the moment. It brings me back to watching suns rise through Golden Griddle windows – knowing that it's probably time to go home and sleep, it's notebooks exchanged, read, and discussed inside a Tim Horton's more comfortable, and lived in, than my own home. It's canoe paddles on the wall, and finally being let into the big secret that is The Beatles. It is the people looking to you for answers, and you actually having some to give.

I don't think I've ever fallen in love during these moments. But perhaps that's the point. Perhaps it's the feeling of what I've been led to believe love should feel like. Perhaps – well it doesn't matter. Over thinking it would probably just destroy it. That's just the term I use for the state of being I find myself in right now.

I'll make no excuses for my blog- but I will stand back from the last few pages and say that that's probably something Nemesis would have written (No – not him Laura.) And that's alright. One needs that in a Nemeses relationship, doesn't one?

Best to take advantage of these moments as they come so infrequently.

So – how did my day continue? I went to the train station, and found myself waiting in a large line for McDonald's. Now I should have known by the large posters on the wall that I was too early for real meals, and that only breakfast was being served. But I had to make sure. It was eleven twenty after all.

But no – curse the Germans and their love of this meal. I would need to hold out for ten more minutes before making my buddy Stew proud, and ordering a most desired McRib sandwich. The people here didn't understand when I took pictures of the meal. They must have thought my crazy, mad, insane. Like I found the man in western Canada taking pictures of a chipmunk (“you can never have too many pictures of wildlife.”) They didn't realize, as I didn't then, that these things were oh so rare back home.

But – meal eaten, I boarded my train, and began the process of traveling from the Known of Berlin, to the Unknown of Dresden.

I had no seat reservation. And I didn't know what this meant. However, I just sat down in one of the seats that didn't have a name tag on it, and hoped for the best. As I received no complaint from the delightful man who came to punch my ticket, I assumed that all was well. And I'm sure it was.

The train ride was an exercise in staying awake. Much as I would have liked to drift away and find sleep, I did not. I forced myself to stay awake, as I was not getting off at the last stop, nor the second last stop – but rather, I was to disembark on the second stop. Sure this was hours away, but what if my eyes closed for but a moment, and failed to reopen in time.

And what if I was on the wrong train? When we pulled into a station not listed on the plan this became a very real fear. This is always a fear I have when boarding a train. Sure, it's nearly impossible to be wrong when you read the marquee overhead but – Sometimes we are all neurotic. (Got my camera, yep – laptop, check – power cords (cords should have an a in it. An a that can be converted into scissors cutting a string.), good – notebook, done.)

But as things turned out it was the right train, as well it had to be, and all was well. Except for the woman in my car who had this perfume. I don't know what it is – I'm sure it's meant to smell nice (she was probably late twenties, early thirties – down with the trends.) but – well, sometimes I think I smell nice, and then I remember when the clothes I'm wearing were last washed (fun fact: today was a new clothes day. So no grungy funk today.)

The perfume reminds me of one that an ex-girlfriend of mine once wore. It didn't smell good then, and it doesn't smell good now. Well – maybe I'm just retconning it due to the mnemonic image. Hmm – maybe I should delete that. It's not a very long list of people who fit that category – what if they were to read? Oh, who am I kidding – none of them would read this – and if they were to, well I'm fine with them knowing how awesome I am now.

By the way, it wasn't you – nope, you either – yes. Yes, you're the one with the perfume. Sorry to say, but it's true.

Anyway – two hours of that and I was in Dresden. Getting from the station to the hostel was pretty simple. There were signs, and it took all of two very literal minutes. Once there I was offered a choice between the six person dorm, and the ten person dorm. I could take whatever one I wanted – it would be the same price. More people were in the six person dorm. So to the six person one I went, paying three euro a night less than others in that room, for who am I to refuse meeting people, while perceivably saving money?

I met a guy who seemed at the end of his journies thinking more about going home than staying out any longer. He claimed that travel just wasn't for him – and while I tried t talk him out of this mindset, I got to thinking – if you really did feel perfectly fine at home, not traveling the world, how fanatic would that be? Me – I feel I may never be satisfied, because wherever you are, there are so many places you are not. And because of that you may never find yourself happily situated anywhere – always planning your next escape.

But these thoughts would wait – I had to hit up Lidl for groceries. I was not prepared for the low cost groceries. It had been so long since I'd seen this chain. I ended up with yogurt, beverages, and zaziki sauce with pita (kind of.) It was not the best of meals, nor was it the worst. And we'll leave it at that.

And that brings us to now – well to hours before now. But those hours were filled with conversations with aforementioned traveller, and those bring us to now – nearly three o'clock in the aye em. I had plans for this night – plans to do nothing – but they were filled. And that's alright. But now, now, I must sleep if I'm to wake tomorrow and explore the city of Dresden, which I best get to, as it looks like rain could be coming in any day now.
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