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 J├Ągermeister 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.

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