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German Politics

May 25th, 2009 No comments

As opposed to last week, this week has been very busy, with five days of work in a row starting on Tuesday and ending tomorrow on Saturday with my 3-hour Mr. Bokeloh lesson. I just got back from my awful Friday lessons, and the last thing I feel like doing now is writing anything, but there are a few things I learned from my students this week that I would be remiss not to record.

On Wednesday I had my first lesson in about a month with Frau Suhr, the big-time controlling department executive at E.ON, and I read through an article with her from the Economist, an article Alan had told me about that criticizes E.ON for Germany’s high and ever-rising energy prices. The author of the article accuses E.ON of fixing prices by controlling the supply, of having a near monopoly over the German electrical infrastructure (E.ON and their top competitor RWE control nearly 80% of Germany’s power supply) and of squeezing their smaller competitors even harder through their control of the power-distribution network which other companies must pay them to use. It was interesting how Frau Suhr knocked down every argument in the article, and fun to see how much pleasure she took in doing so. Apparently electricity prices keep rising not because of any shenanigans on E.ON’s part but because the government keeps imposing higher and higher taxes on the company—not just on the carbon they pollute but on the actual earnings of their employees. In order to stay profitable E.ON and other energy companies have no choice but to raise prices, which they wouldn’t have to do if not for all the political points the politicians can score by taking on the evil energy industry. The power distribution grid, she agreed, gave E.ON an advantage over competitors, but apparently they’ve been trying to sell it since January 2008 and so far nobody has been interested in buying it. And although only two companies control 80% of Germany’s energy, in countries like France and Italy there’s only one company in control and their prices are much higher. Frau Suhr expressed great frustration over the media’s blatant bias and omission of important facts.

It was interesting to hear, as I would have simply taken it for granted that E.ON is an evil corporation that’s raising prices simply to fatten the wallets of its top executives. Sure, Frau Suhr has her own bias, but she has no reason to mislead me and the points she made were quite logical. Apparently the government is much more to blame for the high cost of energy than the energy companies, but the public only hears the government’s side of the story and naturally they shift all the blame to the industry. It makes me wonder if I’ve been wrong about American corporations too, but I’m pretty sure it’s different here where the balance of power between government and big business is not as drastically on the side of big business.

At my first lesson on Thursday, the group with which I normally have good political discussions, only one student showed up but we ended up having a really interesting discussion anyway. It was a woman named Susanne who was born in France but who has lived in Germany for most of her life. We started off talking about an article I brought in by Arianna Huffington, talking about how although everybody is still calling for reform of the financial system it doesn’t look like any real reform is going to take place. But the conversation drifted far and wide and soon enough I was learning more about the German political system than I ever have before. I already knew that unlike in the U.S. where people vote directly for a candidate (or at least for electors who are pledged to vote for a candidate), in Germany they vote for a party, and the party then chooses their leader. The Germans basically know who the chancellor will be for each party, but the idea is for them to vote for the party platform rather than a particular person, the idea being to keep personality politics out of the game as much as possible, considering how well it went with Hitler.

There are more than two parties in Germany but the big two are the CDU and the SPD. Angela Merkel, a very popular chancellor even today, is from the CDU, and most people I’ve talked to agree that having the CDU in power is better for E.ON. The CDU is generally the more conservative of the two parties, but a lot of the governing depends on the strength of the other parties in parliament. For instance, because the Green party was heavily represented over the last few years, the CDU had to work with them in order to get any legislation passed, so as a result the government decided to completely phase out nuclear power by a certain date, I think about 2030 or something. Never mind the fact that there is no alternative source of energy that can keep the German infrastructure operating beyond that date—the Green party is opposed to nuclear power so to get anything done the CDU had to acquiesce, in spite of the inevitable energy crisis their decisions are inviting.

In any case, Susanne said she normally votes for the SPD but she didn’t know who to vote for this time. She said she likes Merkel because when Merkel came into office she was very strong and clear in her positions, but now she’s softened her positions a lot and it’s hard to tell where she stands anymore. I asked Susanne what the big issues were in the upcoming election and what the main differences were between the parties, but apparently that’s also a lot less clear than in U.S. elections. Apparently you can’t quite point to a clear division of ideology between the parties, it’s just that each party has its own specific plans for how to deal with certain issues and the people are supposed to vote for which ever party they think has the better plan. It’s nothing at all like in the U.S. where if you’re opposed to war, sympathetic to gays, and in favour of a woman’s right to choose you vote democrat and if you love war, hate gays and taxes, and think abortion is murder, you vote republican. Things are a lot more subtle with the German system. For instance, both parties say something must be done about the financial crisis, but it’s not like one party is calling for bailouts and more regulation while the other is calling for a spending freeze and more deregulation. Each party has a plan, and the differences between the plans are basically minor details.

One of the issues that’s always touted as extremely important is education. Each party always has a plan for reforming the German educational system, which everyone agrees needs reform, but no plan has ever had a real effect because it’s all just cosmetics and window dressing. What Germany needs is a fundamental overhaul of its education system, as the percentage of uneducated adults in the population is rising quickly. The common vision of both parties is to move Germany from a production society to a leader in science and research. But as so few people actually complete a higher education, that goal is completely unrealistic. Susanne was saying that with the recent boom in the Turkish population things are getting even worse, as many Muslims refuse to put their kids through the Western education system, and as a result you’ve got this huge and growing demographic of uneducated Muslims with no skills to speak of other than basic labour—and Germany already has plenty of uneducated labourers.

Susanne went on at length about the “kids these days” and while half of me felt inclined to dismiss it as the kind of thing that every older generation says about the “spoiled” younger generation, I couldn’t help but think she had a point. I’ve only rarely had a good intelligent conversation with a young German, and to take my class of apprentices as a representation of the German youth I could easily see what her fear was. Every so often I give them a “pub quiz” in which a lot of the questions have to do with science or history and it’s quite often that nobody in the class knows the answer to even a basic question. And these are the smart ones who actually are going through higher education. But Susanne pointed out that in the German system, once you get to the high school level you can either continue on the academic path or simply choose to go to technical school and become a labourer, which many do. Furthermore, you can go through university taking as few classes at a time as you want, so student often bide their time, taking sometimes as much as 10 or more years to get a degree. In contrast with France, student not only attend school from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. six days a week (with a break on Wednesday afternoon—but I still think that’s excessive) but they finish high school at 15 or 16, and are often finished with college and ready to join the workforce at just 20 years old. There have been proposals to send German kids to school for at least a comparable amount of time (like say…9 to 5 for five days a week) but the parents protest that it’s too much for the kids and no serious changes are ever made.

Meanwhile, unemployment is rising while the number of educated, skilled workers is dropping. One of E.ON’s subsidiaries in Brandenburg, for instance, has been looking to hire people for years but even with millions of unemployed Germans they still haven’t found enough qualified people to fill those positions. The system badly needs reform, but nobody is willing to seriously reform it. Susanne is very worried that the basic societal and economic strength of Germany that it has enjoyed since the 50s is slipping away and may be nothing more than a memory once the younger generation, this generation of spoiled brats who know all there is to know about pop music but nothing at all about science or history, takes control of the state. And while part of me still thinks that every generation must feel the same way about the generation following it, a part of me does think that this is a legitimate worry. After all, as the eastern countries continue to get serious about education while the western countries get less and less serious, major global balance of power shifts seem completely inevitable. And as awful as Western civilization may be, it’s not like Eastern civilization (namely China) is much better.

Anyway, after that class I had my lesson with the apprentices, in which I just happened to have another pub quiz prepared for the end of class. While the students did about as well as usual on the general knowledge questions, I thought I’d be making it easier for them by making the second half of the quiz completely about entertainment. There were seven questions where I just gave movie quotes and asked for the title of the movie, and seven questions with quotes from lyrics of songs from the 90s, which I thought would be easy as hell for them. But shockingly they all did terrible. The movie quotes I could understand because all their movies are dubbed into German. The only ones anyone knew were “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse” and “Life is like a box of chocolates.” Absolutely no one had a clue about “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” or “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine” although they had at least heard of the films those quotes are from.

But what really shocked me was the music round. I figured these kids grew up in the 90s like me so they would have heard these songs a million times, like “One Headlight” by the Wallflowers or “Ants Marching” by the Dave Matthews Band. But the only one anyone got was “Come as you Are” by Nirvana. What flabbergasted me was that nobody got “Despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage.” I could hardly contain my disbelief when I was going over the answers with them. “You mean to tell me that none of you have ever heard of the Smashing Pumpkins?! Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness? One of the greatest albums of the 1990s?! What the hell were you listening to all those years!!?” Apparently they were listening to shitty euro-pop the whole time. Before leaving class I let them know they’d all been deprived, and that there was a serious hole in their lives where bands like the Smashing Pumpkins should be.

So that obviously made me more inclined to agree with Susanne. I don’t know what’s going to become of this country when the euro-pop generation takes over, but it doesn’t look very promising.

Weekend In Berlin

May 24th, 2009 No comments

I just returned from a great trip to Berlin, and I’ll spend the next few hours re-living it in writing for the benefit of my future self and anyone else who might be interested. As I expect this to be particularly long, I will divide it up into parts for the sake of those readers who won’t be able to get through it all at once.

1 – Arrival

My train from Hannover to Berlin didn’t leave until 1:30, as when I booked it I’d thought Alan might be in the Chinese embassy taking care of his travel documents for his trip this summer until mid-afternoon. But he called me earlier in the day saying he’d already taken care of it, so we could basically meet up as soon as I arrived. But because my hostel was far away in the other direction, he said I should just go check in and then return to the city centre where we’d meet up. My train arrived at 3:00, and while I was pretty much ready to start the fun right then, I still had the incredibly annoying task of using Berlin’s ultra-confusing public transport system to find my hostel.

I hadn’t spent much time shopping around for hostels before I made my reservation several days before. A place called the JetPack Eco Lodge caught my eye, as it got great reviews and was apparently right on the edge of the city forest. Always a sucker for woods, I booked the place right away, not realising just how far it was not just from the city centre but from any tram station. Unless I wanted to walk for 45 minutes I had no choice but to take a bus. Not only that, but according to the directions provided by the hostel on the internet, I’d have to change busses in mid-stream, from the 110 to the 115. And before any of that I had to buy a public transport pass and take a tram to the “Zoologischer Garten” area. I found the right platform to get me there, and I found a ticket machine, but having just visited an ATM all I had were two €50 bills, and the machine wouldn’t accept that as payment for a €15.90 weekend pass. I went back downstairs in search of a place to buy a pass from a human, but in the chaos of the main train-station (hereafter referred to as the “Hauptbahnhof”) I decided to just fuck it and take the tram without a pass to the Zoologischer Garten, which I thought was just one stop away. It turned out to be three stops, but it didn’t matter because nobody came to check tickets. I bought a weekend pass at the Zoologischer Garten stop, which nobody checked throughout the whole weekend anyway. I would later ask Alan if he’d ever been checked by a ticket-taker in all of his many visits to Berlin, and he said he never has, so it’s quite possible that a frequent visitor to Berlin could actually save money by riding the trams with no ticket and simply paying whatever fee there might be in the extremely off-chance that you’ll get caught.

I found the 110 and rode it to Elsterplatz, where I was supposed to hop on the 115. The only problem was that the sign indicating which busses stopped at that particular stop didn’t include any 115. I waited for the next bus and asked him in German what bus I should take to get to Pücklerstrasse where my hostel was, and he said to take the 115. I said, “there is no 115” and he informed me that the stop for that bus was around the corner. And sure enough there was another Elsterplatz bus-stop around the corner where the 115 supposedly came every 10 minutes. But when it rolled up, I got on and showed the driver my pass as you’re supposed to do, and he gave me a strange look for some unknown reason. I asked him if the bus went to Pücklerstrasse and he said no, that I’d have to take the next one. Okay. A little weird, but whatever.

As I waited for the next 115, an old German lady came up to me and told me that there was a man sleeping on the street. She seemed concerned that he might be sick, and she seemed to think that there was something I should be doing about it. I looked at him and saw him stirring, then told her in my poor German that he had just woken up, but she didn’t seem satisfied. “What should I do?” I asked, but I couldn’t understand her answer. So I changed the subject and asked her if she was familiar with this bus stop and whether the next 115 would take me to Pücklerstrasse and whether it might be faster just to walk. I gathered from her that it wasn’t too far to walk, so I went and walked the rest of the way.

It took about 15 minutes to find and walk to the end of Pücklerstrasse, which is right on the edge of the forest, and then I discovered that you actually had to walk into the woods to get to the hostel. It was about a five-minute walk down a path into the woods until I finally came upon the hostel, which looked like a lodge in some kind of boy-scout summer camp. As I walked through the gate in the little wooden fence surrounding it, a Turkish-looking guy in a green shirt spotted me and I asked him in English where to go for reception. He told me to hang on a second and he called his pretty Turkish wife out to come check me in. As she checked me in I bantered with her a little about the public transport and she explained to me a better way to get to and from the inner city, but even in a best-case scenario it would take about 40 minutes. But she was really nice and the hostel looked pretty decent. I dropped my shit off and took just the necessities out with me, then headed through the woods along a path she had told me would emerge near a bus-stop where I could take the X83 to a tram-station that went directly into the city. When I reached the bus stop I called Alan for the fourth or fifth time during my little adventure and let him know that I’d checked in and would probably get into the city in about 40 minutes, and we planned to meet at the Burger King in the Friedrischstrasse station. I got there without any trouble, and met up with Alan at about 6:30.

2- Pub Crawl

Alan and I chatted for awhile in the station where he’d ordered a tea from one of the cafés there, and I informed him of my priorities for the moment: food and beer. He said that neither would be difficult to find. We left the station and walked down Friedrichstrasse, an area densely packed with bars, restaurants, and clubs. We stopped for dinner at an Italian place he likes, and I ordered a pizza and a pilsner. Alan’s plan was to do a “pub crawl” which started at 8:15 from a nearby street corner. I hadn’t heard of one, or if I had I didn’t remember what it was, but Alan explained to me that it was basically a bunch of tourists going from pub to pub and meeting each other and getting trashed. The pub-crawl we would be going to started with free beer for an hour, followed by a free shot of Jägermeister with every beer you bought for the rest of the night.

After dinner, we stopped at another little bar for a small beer, simply to kill the remaining 20 minutes we had following dinner. It was a nice little bar but the bartendress had a serious attitude about her. When Alan asked her where the toilet was and he went to the bathroom, I think she was making fun of him with the other people sitting at the bar who must have been regular customers and/or friends of hers. I’m not sure exactly what she was saying but the word “toilet” was definitely used. When we left that bar I informed Alan, who found it rather amusing, figuring she had just been laughing at his German pronunciation, which to be fair is pretty laughable.

We reached the street corner where a couple of people were holding signs that said, “Pub Crawl Starts Here” and a few other little groups of tourists were standing around. After just a few minutes the Pub-Crawl guide was shouting at us to queue up and buy our €12 wrist-bands that ended up being a great value, what with all the free beer and Jäger we’d be consuming. He said that they were expecting over 100 people tonight, a lot more than the usual 30-40. They ended up splitting up the groups later on though, so it wasn’t so bad. Once we had our wrist-band on, the girl who was assisting him pointed us in the direction of a club called Zapata which was to be our first destination.

Zapata was mostly empty inside, but out back there was a huge courtyard with a ground covered in sand, a stage in one corner and a beach-bar looking thing at another corner. It was like somebody dumped a piece of the Caribbean right in downtown Berlin. There were a few kegs and Pub-Crawl people tending them to pour free beer to anyone with a wrist-band. With the hundred or so pub-crawlers who came in over the course of the next hour, we more than doubled the number of people there.

Alan and I got our first free beer, which was actually his second and my third beer of the night already, and stood around like the natural wallflowers we both are until a girl came up to us and asked us the basic questions about where we’re from and what we’re doing in Berlin. She was from Seattle and was there with her Canadian boyfriend, and both of them were IT people working for a big German company like Siemens that does all kinds of different things. I turned to try and meet some people sitting next to us, but all I got was that the girl was from Spain and she was working for a tour company. She wasn’t part of the pub-crawl and she didn’t seem too interested in meeting anyone.

The only other person we actually met at the first place was an Australian guy who’s been trekking around Europe for a month or so according to a plan he hammered out completely ahead of time. This was his last night in Berlin, and then it was off to Helsinki. We chatted with him for most of our three free-beers, and then bought one at the beach bar, thus earning our first free Jäger shot. That was probably the point where I went from buzzed to drunk. I also busted out my first cigarette of the night, as I’d figured I would really want one and I’d bought a pack, figuring I’d rather have a pack and give a bunch away than bum one every time I wanted one. It turned out almost nobody else ever wanted one.

We left Zapata at about 9:45, just a short time after the sun had completely gone down, and stumbled out onto the street with a group of what must have been 30 or 40 people. Most were men, and the women who were there weren’t especially attractive. Only one girl really caught my eye all night long but I was fully aware of the beer-goggle factor going on and I didn’t get all emotionally hung-up on her as I often do in these situations.

Our guide gave us the run-down, telling us to stick together and not be distracted by all the food and prostitutes on the street. His name was Timmy, and in my drunkness I shouted “Timmy!” like the South Park character, which made a bunch of the others in the group laugh and repeat it. I was thus officially noticed by the rest of the group, and for the rest of the night we’d all be shouting “Timmy!” at the top of our lungs whenever the guide took us anywhere. Alan asked him at one point if he gets that a lot and he said he did and he “loves it” but we couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic.

At the next place I sat at a table with a bunch of new guys who now thought I was cool as hell for the “Timmy” thing and chatted for awhile as we drank another beer and shot of Jäger. Alas I don’t remember anything about any of them except one fat effeminate guy who was really nice and pleasant to talk to. Ironically, he was the only one all night long who asked me for a cigarette.

The rest of the night just comes through in bits and pieces. There was lots of stumbling around and shouting “Timmy!” The next place where we had a beer and a shot was kind of crappy and all Alan and I could remember about it the following day was that there were a lot of rooms. That was also the place where I talked to the attractive girl because she was right there and I was incapable of feeling nervous. Of course I have no recollection of what I said or what she told me about herself. I think she was American but for all I know she was from Iceland. In any case, I’m pretty sure I didn’t wind up having sex with her, and that was the last interaction I had with her all night. The last place we went was a big fucking dance-club where you could stay as long as you want, and I think I had one more beer and shot before leaving at around 4 a.m.

Alan told me a few interesting things the next day. Apparently at one point we’d stumbled past a group of police officers all lining the street and I started cheering “Polizei! Polizei!” at the top of my lungs. Alan got comments from some people like, “Holy shit! That guy was crazy from the very beginning! And he’s still drinking!” Inside my own head I didn’t feel like I was noticeable at all. I always feel quiet and invisible so it’s weird to think I was the complete opposite for awhile. And that would explain why throughout the night a bunch of guys randomly came up to clink their glasses with me as though we were best friends or something.

Anyway, I left the dance-club just as the first hint of a possibility of a downward emotional spiral presented itself. Dance-clubs do not agree with me very well. Lots of hot girls getting hit on by guys and me standing around not hitting on anyone. Not because of nervousness but simply because the whole point of hitting on a girl is to try and fuck them and I always know in the back of my mind, no matter how inebriated I am, I won’t allow myself to do that.

So I bid Alan goodnight and stumbled out onto the street on my own, now faced with the daunting task of finding my way back to the hostel at night. The lady had told me how to get there from the Zoologischer Garten but I had no idea where I was or how to get there. But there were a bunch of cabs right outside the club and it was just so easy to hop into one and tell him to take me to the Zoologischer Garten. I didn’t think I was that far but it turned out to be the most expensive thing in the world at €16 which pissed me off. Just as we got there I saw a bus about to leave and I hopped on it, realising a few stops later that this bus wasn’t really going anywhere I needed to go. So I got out and found a tram station not sure which tram I needed to take or which direction I needed to go, but the next stop sounded familiar so I got off and walked out to where the busses were and found I was in luck and that the night bus I was supposed to have taken from the Zoologischer Garten stopped there. The only problem was I didn’t know which stop I was supposed to take from the bus. When the bus came I asked the driver and he told me, but I didn’t remember what he said. But at one of the stops awhile later he turned around and told me I was supposed to get off here. And he told me to take my empty beer bottle with me. I turned and saw an empty beer on the ground where I’d been sitting but it couldn’t have been mine and I told him that in my drunken German. Don’t know if he believed me. And for all I know I was carrying an empty beer the whole time…but no, couldn’t be. I was fucking around with my map the whole time, and that required two hands.

Of course as soon as I got off the bus I realised I still didn’t know where the fuck I was. I pulled out my map again for the eight hundredth time, which was now crumpled up and ripping apart. I layed the map on the ground and stared at it for awhile until the names of the streets came into focus, then picked the direction I thought I should go and took off running. I guess I was just anxious to be back at the hostel already and I figured walking would take too long. Drunken night-time jogging is surprisingly easy. If it was any kind of strain at all, I was too drunk to feel it. Luckily I’d picked the right direction and soon enough I was back on Pücklerstrasse. I ran all the way to the end and into the woods. Somehow I didn’t bump into any trees as I ran up the path and reached the hostel. I got to my room where a couple of other people were already passed out, chugged a bunch of water, then passed out. It’s nothing more than a small miracle that I actually got to sleep before the sun came up. I consider that a victory.

3 – Red Berlin

Shockingly enough, I had a nasty hangover the next morning. At least it helped me sleep through the snoring of one of the other guys in the room. But when I first woke up, around 8:30, I decided to stumble over and take advantage of the free breakfast while I could. I ate some toast and cereal, took a couple of aspirin, and plopped back into bed. I finally got up again shortly before 11:00, did lots of shitting and took a shower, which really woke me up because there was no hot water. I then tossed on a jacket and brought a bottle of water outside with me to go for a little walk through the forest. I called Alan and asked him if he was alive, and learned he was suffering just as much if not more than I was, but that he still wanted to do a walking tour which started at 1:00 p.m. from the Brandenburg Gate. I learned from him how to get there and figured I still had some time to kill before leaving. So I took a nice walk through the woods, intending to just stay on one path but not being able to resist the allure of a little trail that branched off from the main way and I ended up getting lost.

About twenty minutes later than I’d hoped to be back at the hostel, I finally found my way back and went inside to get my things together only to discover that I’d left the room that morning without my key, and the other guys had already left and locked the room. I found the really nice Turkish lady who runs the place and learned to my dismay that she didn’t even have an extra key. Apparently the previous guests had taken the key with them when they left the hostel so now she had no extra. She tried calling someone, probably her husband, but there was no answer. So the only remaining solution was to go outside and break in through the window, which she helped me do. I got my things together and left, then took the bus and the tram to the “Unter den Linden” stop where I got out and spotted Alan also on his way to the Brandenburg Gate where the tour groups were assembling.

I learned that he’d been at the club until much later, and didn’t make it back to his hostel until well after the sun had risen. He couldn’t even sleep when he got back, and stumbled around outside for awhile looking at crap the street vendors were selling before finally heading back in and crashing for a few hours. But now we’d both had some sleep and some powerful aspirin and with the fresh air and just one little sandwich before the tour, things were looking up.

There’s a free walking tour, but it was already filled up by the time we arrived so we had to take one of the tours you had to pay for, which ended up being better for us anyway because the tour groups were smaller and the tour had a specific theme. We could choose either the Third Reich tour or the Red Berlin tour. The girl who told us about the tours was actually the Spanish girl from Zapata the night before but I don’t think she recognised me. She was explaining to us that the Third Reich tour was about Nazis and the Red Berlin tour was about Communists, as though we were so stupid we couldn’t have figured that out ourselves. But to be fair to her, she does deal with tourists every day and I’m sure plenty of them are so dumb they actually wouldn’t know without being told. Anyway, Alan wanted the Red Berlin tour so we picked that and paid our €12.

Our tour group was really nice and small, only about 10 people, and our guide was a really nice guy from Amsterdam named Lewis who had learned English and Dutch at the same time growing up so he spoke as well as a native speaker. This was his last tour before he’d be returning to Amsterdam. His first order of business was to get us away from the Brandenburg Gate area, which is normally crowded but was even more insane today because it just happened to be the 60-year anniversary of the formation of West Germany, and there was going to be a huge public party there that evening. That must have pissed off the East Germans, who were also turning 60 but not having a party because…well…East Germany doesn’t exist anymore. Technically, neither does “West Germany” so the whole party was obviously just an excuse for a big drinking party. The Germans will have a big drinking party for just about any reason you give them.

The tour was absolutely fantastic. Lewis took us places that actually aren’t on the official tour, starting with the Stasi Musuem. The Stasi were the secret police of East Berlin, those who spied on their neighbours for the government. Some were paid to do so, and others were blackmailed into doing it because the government controlled everything and could prevent your kids from going to a good school if you refused to cooperate and such. At the height of the Communist regime, as many as 1 out of every 6 East Berliners was working for the Stasi. Lewis actually had a friend whose parents were spied on by their downstairs neighbour, who spent years recording their kitchen conversation and sending it to the government where agents would actually type all of it up and document it. Apparently it turned into something like 20,000 pages of kitchen-conversation, and the only incriminating thing they got from it was that the boy liked chocolate, which you weren’t supposed to be eating in East Germany because it was “Western Imperialist” food.

The Stasi also went so far as to go into schools and show pictures of Big Bird from Sesame Street and if any of the kids recognised the picture their parents would be in trouble because nobody was supposed to be watching Western television. The last super-interesting fact about the Stasi had to do with their interrogation methods. They sat someone on a chair for 22 hours, then let them sleep for 2, then back on the chair for 22 and so on until the person was so delirious they started talking. Perhaps waterboarding would have been more effective…I don’t know. But by the time the suspect left, their scent would be soaked into a cloth on the chair, which they stored in labeled jars just in case they ever needed to use dogs to hunt you down or to find out whether or not you’d been somewhere.

Starting at that museum really set the tone for the rest of the tour, which included all kinds of places of Cold War significance, including two sections of the Berlin Wall. One of the things Lewis talked about which I find to be fascinating about Berliners is that even though we think of the fall of the wall as some kind of great historical moment, there are many who genuinely miss the old days. A lot of people who lived under communism for decades and had everything provided for and decided for them had serious problems adjusting to the western lifestyle where you not only had to make you own decisions like what to eat or what to wear for the first time ever, but you actually had to get a job and provide for yourself. Under communism, every single person had a job (although sometimes there’d be 10 people doing the same job which meant lots of standing around and doing nothing but still taking home the standard pay) and day-care for children was provided for free, something that was greatly missed when the Soviet Union fell. There’s a word for the phenomenon called “Ostalgia”, “Ost” being the German word for “East.”

There were also some really interesting non-communism related facts about Berlin that Lewis slipped into the tour. The pedestrian traffic-signals in Berlin, for instance, don’t just have a generic man standing still or walking, but an actual character called “Ampelmann” who wears a hat and is supposed to be more “relatable” to the common man. Apparently some “traffic-psychologist” (how you get that job I have no idea) had got the idea that people would pay more attention to the traffic signal if they felt they could relate to the person on the signal. Lewis told us that Ampelmann was actually a very popular character who had his own cartoon show to teach kids traffic safety, and you can still buy Ampelmann merchandise like back-packs and action figures. At first I thought he was joking but sure enough we passed a number of shops with Ampelmann merchandise on prominent display. I even noticed one—just a plastic figure of the green “walking Ampelmann”—at my hostel during breakfast the next morning. In any case, it apparently works because Berliners will wait at the crosswalk for green Ampelmann even if no cars are coming.

I could go on and on and on about all of the interesting shit on the tour, but I think I covered the highlights. Between stops we spent a lot of time chatting with Lewis and some other tour-takers, and by the end we were sad to say goodbye. He said he might stop by Planeo if he visits Hannover (that’ll never happen, but it was nice of him to say) and that we might bump into him if we went to the party at the Brandenburg Gate that night. But that was not to be, and both Alan and I gave him a nice €5 tip at the end of the tour to wish him farewell.

4 – Pub to Pub

The tour ended by the largest preserved section of the Berlin Wall which is right along the river, a really beautiful spot. Alan and I stopped for dinner at a café there, then went to walk the distance of the wall, which Lewis had recommended we all do. They’re actually doing work on the wall right now, as a lot of artists had painted murals on the wall after it fell but time and additional graffiti had destroyed them. But now they’re bringing the artists back to re-do what they’d done almost 20 years ago, and then they’ll be covering the whole thing in glass to preserve it.

We didn’t get very far when we came to a break in the wall where you could walk up to the river, where there was an anchored boat which was apparently also a hostel. Alan couldn’t resist checking it out, so we boarded this ship and found it to be quite fucking cool. Because Alan will be coming back again next weekend to pick up the papers he’d ordered from the embassy the day before, he actually went and booked a room there, but not after drinking a tea on the stern out back.

We walked a little farther and came to another little fake beach area along the river through a break in the wall that, like Zapata, looked like a piece of the tropics in downtown Berlin. We ordered a beer and sat on another little boat along the river, this one just a café patio rather than a hostel. But it was really nice sitting there along the river, boat gently rocking up and down, sipping on a beer in the late afternoon as the sun sank slowly over the West.

After that we walked the rest of the wall, then found a train station and took a tram to an area of town where there was a pub that Lewis had recommended called the Dachhammer. This was an area of the city that Alan had never been to before and he was quite impressed with it. Like Friedrichstrasse it was littered with pubs and restaurants but it was a lot greener and there wasn’t as much traffic on the streets. We found the Dachhammer and were the first ones to arrive for the evening, when they open the upstairs which is like a time-warp. The furniture and wallpaper are all authentic East Berlin style, and the atmosphere was just really nice. We drank a beer and had a cocktail, then left to walk around just as twilight was giving way to actual night.

We stopped at another place called Lebowski, which is actually a tribute to the film “The Big Lebowski” in pub form. There are pictures from the movie all over the walls as well as a bunch of Big Lebowski merchandise. Alan got some other weird kind of liquor and I ordered a White Russian, which I felt obliged to do considering the theme of the bar.

I was pulling for us to head to the Brandenburg Gate and check out the scene, but Alan was extremely tired and he had no desire for a huge mob scene. I didn’t put up too much of a fight as I’ve been a part of enough rowdy drunken German parties and as much as I wanted to see it just for the sake of seeing it, I didn’t care all that much. I suggested we just head to a more central area of town from which it would be easier to get back to our respective hostels and have one more beer. We went back to Friedrichstrasse and walked around for awhile before finally settling on the same place from the night before where the bartendress had presumably made fun of Alan’s pronunciation of the word “toilet.” She was there but her attitude seemed slightly better than the night before. We each had a beer and then finished off with another small one, chatting up all along the way about everything from the music playing to what we thought were the best parts of the tour and so on. We also had a lot of fun comparing that tour to the Brewery tour we’d taken in Bruges, which was almost worth it now just for the laughs we get at the thought of how awful it was.

When we left the pub Alan had to head in a different direction than me, so we parted ways for what would be the last time on the trip. Even though we’d each had about seven drinks at that point, it had been spaced out over a lot of time and there were no shots of Jäger in the mix. Normally 7 drinks would have me pretty drunk, but it just paled so much in comparison to the night before that I might as well have been completely sober. I made it back to the hostel without any problems, and even got off at a much closer stop (having studied the maps at the bus stop and put together a game-plan beforehand). Two guys who got off at the same stop came up to me and asked me if I was also heading back to the hostel. Apparently these were the other guys staying in the same room as me, part of a group of 3 guys from Brazil who were currently on a 2-month tour of Europe. I had planned to walk up to Pücklerstrasse and take the straight path into the hostel but one of the guys had a light on his cellphone so we took the more roundabout path through the woods, chatting it up the whole time, before successfully reaching the hostel and going to bed.

5 – Departure

I woke up many times throughout the night, but in spite of the snoring I was able to get back to sleep each time, except at 7:00 when there was some really loud fucking noise coming from the common room. There were arguments and shouting and then music and then maybe some guns going off…it took me awhile to realise someone must be watching a movie, and when I couldn’t get back to sleep I went into the room and found a crazy-looking woman sitting there all alone and watching a DVD. She looked kind of intimidating, but I went up and asked her very politely if she could turn it down just a little. She smiled and agreed, and I thanked her and left, closing the door to the common room behind me. That solved that problem. I got back to sleep right away and woke up just after 9:00, feeling groggy from last night’s alcohol consumption but in comparison to the previous morning I felt super fit and healthy.

I took a cold shower, ate some breakfast, then went out for another little walk through the woods, this time heading to a little lake near the hostel and staring at the lovely reflection of the trees in the water for awhile. That was a beautiful way to start the day. Being out in actual nature totally makes up for the difficulty in getting to the hostel. When I got back I got all my stuff together and found the Turkish lady so I could check out.

She noticed where I’d written my address that I lived in Hannover, and she said it’s an ugly city, and I almost took offense to it but of course she’s right. The buildings in Hannover, especially those in the city centre, are certainly nothing to write home about, but I defended Hannover by informing her that there were many nice areas if you just knew where to look.

Her husband was there too and as I was telling his wife about New Jersey we got into a little chat. His English was great which I learned is because he grew up in the American sector of the divided Berlin and everybody loved the Americans. Apparently in East Berlin they still look on English as an Imperialist language and people only speak it begrudgingly, but the West Berliners still have a very positive view of Americans because the soldiers who occupied their territory were so nice to them. I was thinking that our soldiers in Iraq could learn a thing or two from this historical example, but I didn’t say anything. Why bad-mouth my own country to one of the only Germans I’ve ever encountered who genuinely seems to like America? He told me a great little story from his childhood when he and his friends would steal bicycles and ride them to the American-military-controlled areas where the German police had no jurisdiction. One time a police officer came into the territory and demanded he and his friends hand over their papers (I’m not sure what papers he was referring to) but they refused and there was a big scuffle. The American soldiers came out and tried to tell the police officer that he had no right to enforce German law on this territory, but the officer didn’t speak English and didn’t know what was going on. So he radioed in to headquarters and was told that he had to get the fuck out of there and leave those kids alone. The American soldiers gave the kids a thumbs-up and let them go their merry way.

He too clearly had a sense of nostalgia for the old days of a divided Berlin, but from a different perspective than the East Berliners and their Ostalgia. Among other things, he just loved how the police weren’t the ultimate authority in the city. It’s crazy when you really consider it, but they actually liked being occupied by American soldiers. My how times have changed. Anyway, we ended our conversation with a few remarks about the city of Berlin in general and how dynamic it is. It’s nothing like it was ten years ago, and ten years ago it was nothing like it was ten years before that. The Berliners themselves, at least all that I’ve talked to, are just fascinating people, having lived for so long in one of the front-lines of history.

After that nice little chat I said goodbye to him and took the public transport back into the city where my objective was to visit a museum Alan (as well as the tour guide Lewis) had recommended called the Pergamon, which has lots of artifacts from the ancient world including Greece, Rome, and Babylon. I got to the museum shortly before noon, giving myself about an hour to see as many of the exhibits as I could. It was definitely well worth the entry price—easily one of the most impressive museums I’ve ever seen. As soon as you walk in you’re confronted with a giant reconstruction of the acropolis from the ancient Greek city of Pergamon in modern Turkey, much of which is made from actual parts of the temple that had been recently excavated. Lots of stone columns and beautiful statues depicting ancient Greek myths, which you could hear all about thanks to the audio tour. In another room they had another huge reconstruction of the city gate in Miletus, the Greek city where the world’s first philosophers—Thales and Anaximander—had come from. Through the gate there’s another reconstruction of a gate in the city of Babylon, which I didn’t spend much time on because I did that last, when I thought I was running out of time.

I spent a huge bulk of my time in the upstairs “Dionysus” exhibit, which contained the most valuable artifacts in the museum, genuine statues of different Greek gods, each many thousands of years old. Each God had his or her own room, like a room for Apollo, Aphrodite, and of course Dionysus for whom the exhibit was named. It was so fucking cool to be face to face with statues carved thousands of fucking years ago, each a significant contribution to the ancient’s perceptions of their own gods. With my pre-existing knowledge of Greek mythology I was able to appreciate these artifacts a hell of a lot more than if I had just been learning about them for the first time. I already think Greek gods are cool as hell, and being actually able to touch actual statues of them carved by people who actually believed they existed was…well it was a nerd’s wet dream.

I could have spent way more time there but I wanted to make sure I was back at the Hauptbahnhof on time for my train, so I left the museum and winded up back at the station a full 30 minutes before my train had to leave, which made me slightly angry that I could have spent that much more time in the Pergamon. But it’s not like I can’t just go back some other time. Alan’s been there twice, and I definitely wouldn’t mind going again to soak up all the stuff I missed or just breezed by.

I’m an expert at killing time, so I had no problem with the extra time. I spent the half-hour first walking the perimeter of the station and soaking in the Berlin atmosphere one last time (for now), then buying a sandwich and eating it out on the steps with a nice view of the city. I reached my train platform just as it was arriving, and had a nice pleasant ride back to Hannover. All in all, it was a great fucking weekend. I did spend a lot more money than I’d planned but I can’t think of a better way to spend money than on travel experiences. That is, after all, the very reason I’ve chosen the path in life that I have. And on days like today, after a weekend as fun and memorable as that, it’s more obvious than ever that I made the right choice.

3:00 a.m. Phone Call

May 21st, 2009 No comments

Remember back in the democratic primary last year when everyone was afraid that Barack Obama wouldn’t be able to handle a phone call at 3 in the morning? Well, I got a call at exactly that time this morning and I handled it quite well. It wasn’t about an impending terrorist attack or anything—it was Oliver telling me and I should come over to Lena’s place and hang out with him and Jamie. Having just woken up, the last thing I could imagine myself doing was trekking across the city to go smoke and drink until the sun came up with two already quite fucked-up people, but there was a certain raw appeal to the idea, and it didn’t take too long for me to decide to do it.

So I rolled out of bed, having just gone to sleep about 2 hours beforehand, tossed on some clothes and headed outside into the dead of night. I caught a tram to the main train station, where I waited on the platform for another tram, surrounded by a lot more people than I expected, all of them probably under 30 and all of them definitely drunk. It was quite a different atmosphere than the day-time or early-evening Hannover I’m used to.

I made it to Lena’s place at quarter to 4, and was greeted by the very drunk Oliver and Jamie. Lena was away, so they were smoking right in her flat, which she normally doesn’t allow. I was offered a beer, I cracked it open, and let the madness ensue. Nothing like waking up after 2 hours of sleep and getting your drink on at 4 in the morning.

The next few hours were quite enjoyable. The guys were already wrecked by the time I got in, but they kept at it like champions, continuing to drink and smoke until well after the sun came up. Naturally there was music blasting the whole time, and I guess Lena has cool neighbours as well because nobody said anything.

Of course I can hardly remember most of the conversation that was had, but one thing stuck out when we were talking about work. Like me, Oliver is self-employed, and like me, he could take on a lot more work if he wanted to but we’re not the type to work really hard and deprive ourselves of fun for long periods of time for the sake of short intervals of fun. All three of us agreed that it’s better to just take each day at a time and enjoy the moment. Fuck working your ass off for the sake of a future time. Work as much as you need to be as comfortable in your life as you need. And when it comes to travel, Jamie said it really doesn’t take much money anyway to get whatever you’re looking for. And if you can’t find what you’re looking for, he said, you can always find a damned good substitute.

After a few beers I was quite nicely buzzed while Oliver and Jamie were completely knocked out. Oliver went to bed, then came back a few minutes later, then went to bed again, then came back a minute later and gave both of us a particularly affectionate hug, then finally went to bed for real (I think). Jamie passed out on the couch at about that time, and I left to journey back to my place through the early morning (about 6:00) Hannover atmosphere, which is actually quite fucking pleasant, especially when you’ve got fuck-all to do during the day.

So things all came together quite nicely yesterday. Earlier in the day I’d found slips in my mailbox informing me that packages had been delivered. On Sunday I’d ordered a rug from e-bay and a really cheap little TV (so I could make use of the $300 Wii I still have) and both came on the same day. There were no addresses on the slips saying where I should pick them up, so I called Amanda and asked her what she knew about the German package delivery system. She asked me if there was a neighbour’s name on the slips, and I saw that indeed on each slip there was a name I recognised from the names on the other mailboxes in the building. Apparently when you’re not home, sometimes people with a package delivery will just leave it with your neighbours. Weird. So I went and met my neighbours. The black lady who lent me her umbrella the other week had my TV, and a young couple living one floor above me had my rug. Having the TV is nice, but the rug really makes this place feel like an actual apartment finally, and it absorbs all of the annoying echoes I’d had to deal with up till now.

I may try to get some lesson-planning done for next week, but it’ll mostly be a very relaxing day. Tomorrow I go to Berlin, and I’ll meet up with Alan who is actually returning Saturday while I bought my ticket until Sunday. So unless he extends his stay I’ll have one night in Berlin all on my own, which means I might try to talk to strangers at the hostel or something and actually meet people.

But in any case, I feel like I’m a hell of a lot less isolated than I was a month ago trapped in that old money-sucking apartment. Whether it’s trips outside Hannover or early-morning drinking sessions with friends, it almost feels like I’ve actually got a life or something.

Studio Gig

May 20th, 2009 No comments

At my lesson with Mr. Bokeloh on Saturday at Inlingua, Irina gave me a print-out of an e-mail from a little company called Paul Productions that’s looking for native English speakers for a recording of an English language CD for a textbook. On Monday I gave the number a call, and set up an appointment for today at noon to go in and do a test recording to see if they wanted to use my voice.

It was an interesting experience. I use a lot of these textbook CDs for listening exercises with my students, and I always wondered about the people who speak on them. I figured they must be voice-actors who can’t find any other work. But apparently they just go to language schools and ask for teachers to come try out. At least that’s how this particular textbook company is doing it, hiring Paul Productions to take care of all the recording aspects for them.

I walked into the little recording studio and met Dirk Austen, the guy in charge of the CD project. He spoke enough English to communicate everything to me that I needed to know. He was the only one in that part of the room, as there were two guys in another room behind a glass wall, apparently working on editing some other recording. Herr Austen handed me two scripts, one a dialog with a radio announcer in which I was to play the role of a financial expert, and the other a monologue where I read the part of a fitness instructor giving exercise instructions.

It took Herr Austen a short time to get the recording program set up, then he set me up with a microphone in front of stand to put the paper. It was kind of nerve-racking, but I did the reading quite nicely. I just went back to my old high-school days of reading the morning announcements, which I was told I did quite well so I figured I had a good chance. Herr Austen would sometimes ask me to repeat the line, to be more serious or take it slower, but for the most part I only did one take per line. When it was done he spliced it in with the recording of the other guy he’d done earlier and made it into an actual dialog.

The whole process only took about 20 minutes, then he thanked me and told me he’d let me know if he wanted me back. I went my merry way, and about a half hour later I got a call from another lady who works there, the one with whom I’d set up the appointment, saying that Herr Austen had liked what I’d done and he wants to use me for the recording, just as long as the client approves. So that’s pretty cool. It looks like I’m actually going to be one of those mysterious people on the language CD in some random textbook! Talk about a chick-magnet! “Hey, have you heard that Financial English for Intermediate Learners CD? That’s me, baby!”

The whole thing makes me wonder if maybe I should have gone into voice-acting.

Categories: Personal Tags: , ,

Balls II

May 19th, 2009 No comments

I was ready to go jogging at 2:00 today, but I got a call from Alan about going to Berlin this weekend. He’d called me last night and said he might go as early as Wednesday evening because none of us have lessons on Thursday or Friday, and I said I’d like to come but probably not until Friday. I had called him earlier in the day to find out if he’d made any definite plans yet but he hasn’t. At any rate, after the call I took some time to go on-line and buy a train ticket, which takes awhile when you’re price-hunting, which I was. But I ended up getting a really good deal, a round-trip to Berlin from Friday to Sunday for just under €50, when normally it’s over €100.

But once that was done I was ready to head out. I was going to do the Maschsee again, but I figured I was ready to go back to the river/park run again, elongated as it may be from the old point of origin. So quite spontaneously, I decided to do that.

About five minutes into the run the thought popped into my head that it would be pretty funny if I saw the girl from yesterday again, the one I’d tried to stop and say hello to but who roller-bladed away without a word. And not twenty seconds later—I’m completely serious—who should I see running along the path towards me but the same fucking girl! The monumental improbability of the coincidence blew my mind to a level of orgasmic flabbergastation, and I’m still reeling from it. I’ve only seen this girl a few times here and there around the city, but not one single day after actually trying to approach her, there she is again, and had I not left at the exact time as I had and had I gone to the Maschsee instead of the river, I wouldn’t have seen her at all! It’s almost like she’s some kind of Tyler Durden-esque figment of my imagination that keeps appearing whenever I think of her.

But there she was, running straight up to me. My brain was still in the grips of the unlikelihood of it all, but as she passed I looked directly at her, gave her a huge grin, and ran on by. Her eyes met mine as she passed, and I’m positive there was a smile on her face as well. She had recognised me. And when I smiled at her, she smiled back.

That instantly turned yesterday’s feeling on its head, as while I had felt slightly proud of the balls it had taken me to do that I still felt like a fool having undergone the world’s fastest rejection-on-wheels. But all that is overshadowed by what happened today. Now it’s completely certain that I’ve made an impression on her. Whenever she sees me in the future she will recognise me, and if I smile and wave to her she may just return the gesture.

Of course, I had planned to wave and say hello the very next time I saw her only yesterday, but I hadn’t expected the next chance to come the very next day! So in the few seconds I had to make my move, all I did was smile. And at first I kicked myself a little for not having done more, but the more I reflected on it the more I realised that my intuition had been smarter than my brain. Had I smiled and said “hello” it might have been creepy. It being only one day after the first encounter, she may have got the wrong idea—that I might be stalking her or something. And she almost certainly wouldn’t have waved back and I’d have felt twice-rejected. But by merely smiling and running on I accomplished two things—with the smile I acknowledged my awareness of her and at my silly behaviour from yesterday, and by running on rather than stopping and trying to get her to talk to me again I proved I’m not some crazy obsessive stalker-type guy. Just a smile was the best thing I could have done. Next time I’ll actually wave and say hello, now that she knows I’m not coming after her.

In other news, last night I had yet another dream in which Jessi was by my side and very much in love with me, and naturally it felt fantastic. That never happens with the other girls, which is because they almost never gave my subconscious any positive energy to work with. Jessi on the other hand, during the brief time in which I knew her, gave me lots of care and kindness and…dare I say it…love. Certainly not “love” in the sense that I love(d) her, but little gestures borne out of a loving heart. And so when she appears in my dreams it’s like an echo of that love that she really gave to me. And perhaps a little bit of love from her was enough to last a lifetime. Such a pathetically romantic notion, but I like it.

I suppose that’s the kind of person I’ve chosen to be, and I have no regrets. I am a pathetic romantic, and completely unapologetic about it.

Categories: Personal Tags: , , ,

Balls at the Maschsee

May 18th, 2009 No comments

Living in a city of half a million people, you wouldn’t think that you’d see some of the same strangers again and again by chance, especially because whenever you’re specifically looking out for someone who caught your eye (Lu in Frankfurt, Bike-girl in Hannover) you never see them again. For months, the only person I noticed seeing on several different occasions in several different parts of the city was a big fat guy with a Hitler moustache, whom I only noticed because he’s just so hard to miss. As for beautiful women, there have been almost no multiple sightings.

One girl I do see on a regular basis is one I mentioned awhile ago, a girl I noticed at the Helmstedt train-station whom I thought might have been Petra. It turns out she wasn’t Petra, but I continued and still continue to see her whenever I leave Helmstedt at the normal time on Friday. I’ve even resolved several times in my head to approach her, but I just haven’t been able to bring myself to do it, mostly because by the time I’m heading home on Friday I’m pretty exhausted and I just want to board the train and take a nap, not exert all kinds of effort by trying make this girl’s acquaintance. In any case, last Thurday I was thinking about her at a random time while walking through the city and I resolved in my head to just fucking say hello to her the next time I see her. But by some extraordinary coincidence, only minutes later I spotted her walking along the street in my direction with a boyfriend at her side! I was both disappointed and extremely relieved. Now that I know she’s taken I have a damned good reason not to approach her.

That’s a bit of background to the completely unrelated story of what happened today. I was jogging along the Maschsee, when about halfway through the run I spotted a beautiful girl on roller-blades heading in my direction. Spotting beautiful girls while jogging is by no means rare—it happens at least half-a-dozen to several-dozen times every run. But as she got closer and passed me by I noticed that this was a girl I’d actually noticed not once but twice before, in totally different parts of the city. She’s one of the only two girls I remember spotting more than once, the other being this drop-dead gorgeous Arab girl whom I’ve seen a couple of times near where I used to live at Goetheplatz, a heavily Arab/Turkish area. The girl at the Maschsee was white but with brown hair and eyes with the loveliest face atop a perfect body. Her face is such that it just feels like I know her somehow, which is probably why I’ve noticed her three times now. The face just exudes this feeling like she must be a really nice, cool person.

After she passed me by I started thinking about what would have happened if I’d stopped her and started talking to her. This was, coincidentally, the same part of the Maschsee where the infamous bike-girl incident took place way back when I first arrived in Hannover. I felt almost like I’d made the same mistake twice. But she was on roller-blades and I was on foot, and I knew it was possible that I’d see her coming around again before long. I ran through all kinds of scenarios in my imagination about going up to her and asking her if she speaks English and if she has a boyfriend and telling her I’ve seen her around before and I just had to take a chance and ask her on a date because she was too beautiful not to try. Each scenario ended with her telling me she had a boyfriend but at least being somewhat flattered that some American guy would be so taken with her that he’d actually interrupt his jog to try and talk to her.

After about ten minutes of all these fantasies, while keeping my eye open for her to come around again, fully resolved to approach her if she did, I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw her actually coming around again. My heart stopped for a second as I spotted her way down the path, and for a split second I considered forgetting the whole idea. But this was the Maschsee, damn it, and I wasn’t going to let yet another chance to meet a beautiful girl slip through my fingers. Plus, all the endorphins from running were flowing thus giving me this artificial sense of self-confidence. I stopped running, took out my I-pod earphones, and waved her down as soon as she was within speaking range. “Excuse me,” I said, and she looked right at me with those beautiful eyes but said nothing as she passed. It only took an instant for reality to diverge from imagination, and as she rolled on by I just said, “Hello,” and turned after to run alongside her but she was already rolling away and not slowing down or looking back. I realised I must have frightened her. It should have been obvious that some strange guy approaching you out of nowhere would be frightening. It was silly of me to expect otherwise. But I just turned around, remarked that “I tried” to myself, tossed my earphones back in and finished the jog.

I’m not quite sure how to feel about it. I suppose I should believe that it’s completely up to me how to react. I can either be proud of myself for having grown a pair for once or feel shitty about the rejection, although it wasn’t so much of a “rejection” as it was a girl running away from a strange guy she’d never met before. I know that if I ever see her again, I’ll smile and wave to her, and maybe she’ll recognise me and stop to find out who I am now that I’ve made some kind of impression, albeit a creepy one. Or maybe she’ll turn around and run away again. They always run away. And when they’re on roller-blades it makes it a lot easier.

In any case, I can at least take pride in having somewhat made up for my shameful pussy-behaviour with the bike-girl way back when, and reinforce my opinion that it’s not entirely my fault I’m alone. If I was a really hot guy or if I had any kind of aura of attractiveness whatsoever, that girl might have stopped and said hello to me. But I’m not attractive at all so she just kept skating. And as I always do, I just let her go, turned around and ran the other way.

Categories: Personal Tags: , , ,

BBQ in Celle

May 16th, 2009 No comments

I’ve been far more social than usual recently, and I’m not sure how much of that is due to the coming of warm weather and how much is just a coincidence.

The Bruges trip, like all travel adventures that involve other people, was just about non-stop socialisation. I had a few days this week where all I did was work, but I went out on Thursday night to the good old Pub Quiz and last night to Oliver’s place in Celle where he was having a nice little get-together involving alcohol and a grill. He had originally planned for it to be a big party, but the weather wasn’t so good and a few of his friends were sick anyway so he downgraded it to a small gathering that ended up including me, Lena, Alan, and one of his Irish friends, a really nice guy named Jamie.

After a particularly boring Friday at work yesterday, I came back to my flat, took a little nap, went jogging around the Maschsee, then got ready to head to the train station where I’d be meeting Alan and Lena on the platform for the train to Celle. I got there first, followed shortly afterwards by Lena, but Alan wasn’t there when the train arrived. I gave him a call to let him know the train was leaving, and Lena and I tried to hold the doors for him, but we were told to get inside and let the train leave. Alan came running up to the platform a few seconds after the train started rolling. A few seconds there cost us 45 minutes after arriving, as we waited with Oliver in the train station for Alan to arrive. But once we were all together, we got in Oliver’s car, stopped at the liquor store to buy some beer, then finally got to Oliver’s place were Jamie had just broke open a bottle of wine to begin the festivities.

Things move very slowly at Oliver’s place, so while I’d planned on taking an 11:08 train back to Hannover and thus getting a full night’s sleep before my 3-hour lesson with Mr. Bokeloh this morning, before we knew it it was 10:00 and we hadn’t even started dinner yet. But that only meant we had to crash at his place and take a cab to the train station early the next morning.

The evening itself was just about as pleasant as it could be. The beer was great, the food was delicious, and the conversation was funny and interesting. We sat out on Oliver’s patio the whole time, which thankfully is covered so when it started raining later on we didn’t have to go inside, and were instead able to just appreciate the sound of the pouring rain on the roof right above us, something you don’t get to hear very often in Hannover.

I don’t remember too much about what we talked about exactly, but there was a lot about travel experiences, drug experiences, and even a little bit about dream experiences. I’d mentioned my dreams from the previous night, which were some of the craziest I’ve had all year. One of them that I didn’t mention involved Jessi, and if I wasn’t all but over her already I would have considered it one of the best dreams of my life, as in it she was very much in love with me and at one point I just had her locked in my embrace, as she sat on my lap with her arms and legs around me while we made out quite passionately. It sure is fucking nice of my brain to treat me to an experience like that. But the one I had later on—the one I told them about—was far more bizarre. I was out at some dance club with Krissi and everyone was doing drugs. I found myself smoking LSD with a guy who seemed nice enough but who turned out to be completely evil—like, Satan seeking to extinguish all light in the universe evil—and he wanted to skin me alive just to try it. For some reason I was willing to go along with it as long as he only skinned my foot and the area around my shin. And while the knife going into the skin hurt a little, it was a mostly painless experience.

The only really noteworthy portion of conversation I can remember came towards the end of the night as we were just standing around the open grill which we were now using as a fire-pit and staring at the fire. The discussion had somehow come to cultural differences between North Americans and the rest of the world, and I asked Jamie the same question I asked my advanced students a couple of weeks ago about whether among friends everything is a competition. Jamie said that it’s true all over the world—that in groups of friends there’s always a dynamic of who’s the coolest, who has the most money, who has the hottest girlfriend and whatnot, but it seems to be more prevalent in America. So we settled on the hypothesis that while competitiveness is human nature and it’s to be found everywhere, it’s more actively encouraged in the U.S. than most anywhere else.

At about 1:30 in the morning we went inside and listened to a really kick-ass band from Jamie’s hometown in Ireland, absolutely blasting the music which apparently wasn’t a problem because both of Oliver’s neighbours are the kind of people who used to blast their own music all night long when they were younger and now they didn’t mind.

I slept surprisingly well yet again on Oliver’s couch, and got up at 8:00 to be ready for the cab that Oliver had arranged for 8:15. He actually got out of bed to come wish us goodbye.

This should be a very enjoyable week, as Thursday is a bank holiday and E.ON is giving its employees Friday off, so my two busiest days are gone. As for Tuesday, since Frau Suhr is on vacation, Frau Eggers can’t make it either, and I’m finished with Mr. Hennicke, I’ll only be having one class that day, and thus one class in the whole week. Then, if everything goes according to plan, I’ll be going to Berlin with Alan and Amanda this weekend. The immediate past and the immediate future both look great!

The Bruges Afterglow

May 13th, 2009 No comments

Like the spiritual high after an acid trip that lasts for several days before subsiding, a good travelling adventure stays with you for several days as well.

Monday was mostly a recovery day, in which I spent most of the time writing and lesson-planning. That was also the day when the O2 technician came by to hook me up with internet access. I was told to wait from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m., which might have been extremely inconvenient if I’d had anything else to do during that time. But by the time 12:30 rolled around I was getting a bit nervous, and I called the hotline to ask what I was supposed to do if the technician didn’t come, and they said I’d just have to make another appointment. But much to my relief, the guy came around at 1:41 and five minutes later I was checking my e-mail, ecstatic at the feeling of once again being connected to the rest of the world. The only other thing I did Monday was to go do a lesson at Inlingua with Mr. Hennicke, the soldier.

Tuesday was a much longer, much much busier day. I was scheduled for four different classes throughout the day, two of which were brand spankin’ new and one of which was only the second meeting ever, the last of which (actually the 3rd of 4) was Mr. Hennicke. Because I had to zip all over town I shelled out the €5.30 for a public-transportation day-ticket and rode the bus to an area of town called Hemmingen where my first lesson would be. It’s a group of 4 accountants at E.ON, all of whom are at the intermediate speaking level. I went with my standard introductory game-plan of discussing vocabulary for personality traits and getting to know the students, all of whom seemed really nice. One of the four wasn’t there so I don’t know about him, but I really liked the other three. A very outgoing woman named Simone, a shy but good-humoured guy named Christian who’s lived in the same small village all his life and has never even travelled outside Germany, and a cute woman named Vera whom I would be a lot more attracted to if she weren’t one of those horse-freak people. In addition to my standard routine I played a game Alan played with Amanda and I on the car-ride back from Bruges, in which you say three things you’ve done in your life, two of which are true and one of which is a lie, and the people have to guess the lie. In my case I said I’ve jumped out of a plane, I’ve met Barack Obama, and I’ve seen Pink Floyd perform live. The others have to ask questions about each thing before guessing the lie, so you get to tell a bit of each story. They all guessed that I hadn’t met Barack Obama, though I was able to lie convincingly as it’s not that far from the truth—he did stay at my hotel in Santa Barbara.

I had about two hours of free time before my lesson with Ms. Eggers, another E.ON executive who works in the same office as Frau Suhr, currently on vacation, and I used it to head to the Planeo office to order an Accounting English book for the new course and print some materials for other classes. By the time I got to Frau Eggers, a really nice woman but not nearly as politically opinionated as Frau Suhr, I was so tired that I actually found myself fighting not to doze off during the lesson. But I got through it all right, then came back to the apartment and got a good 30-minute power nap in before having to head to Inlingua for what I’d thought was going to be a hellish 3 hour and 45 minute marathon of class, with 1 and a half hours of Mr. Hennicke and 2 hours 15 minutes with a new student who’s taking a triple-shot of the 10-lesson crash-course Inlingua offers, a 42-year-old guy named Mr. Bokeloh. I decided to eat out and stuff myself nice and good before those classes, but just as I was finishing up and getting ready to head in to class, Frau Giesecke (whom I’ve now taken to calling by her first name, Irina) called me and said there was a problem, that Mr. Hennicke had actually had more lessons than he paid for and so I should wait until 7 p.m. to come in.

I was a bit sad that I won’t get to say goodbye to Mr. Hennicke, whom I really quite liked, but it was a damn lucky thing I got to go back home for an hour because that meal I stuffed myself with gave me gas in the worst kind of way. I spent the entire hour farting up a storm, and had it all out of my system by the time I went in to meet Mr. Bokeloh. As I got in, Irina told me about how Mr. Hennicke had taken too many lessons, that I should have realised “18 lessons” really means 9 because each lesson is actually 2 lessons, so I’ve been claiming payment for about 12 lessons too many. Irina will hide the lesson card and hope none of her superiors finds out, but it’s probably a good idea that I don’t claim payment for the 2 lessons I did with him in May. So that’s 56 Euros down the drain, but I’m happy to lose it if it reduces the risk of getting Irina in trouble. I owe her a lot—she is, after all, the person who hired me and thus the reason I’m in Hannover in the first place.

As for Mr. Bokeloh, he’s one of the least typical Germans I’ve ever met. For most of his life, he’s been a musician, playing keyboard for various “Top 40 cover-bands” so he’s familiar with the English language due to all the lyrics he’s memorized, but he’s not always sure about the meaning of the words. That confirmed my suspicions that whenever I hear German cover bands singing English songs, they don’t really understand what they’re singing about. That would explain the laughably bad pronunciation of some of them, like the Miller’s Blues Orchestra that played at Rheinfest both times I went. But for the last two years Mr. Bokeloh has been working for a company that sells some kind of automobile tuning device so he wants to learn a lot of technical vocabulary. It was a very difficult lesson because I had to fill 2 hours and 15 minutes having gone in not really knowing what level he was at, and he turned out to be much more of a beginner than I’d expected. I’d brought a couple of really interesting articles about the music business, figuring a lot of time could be filled simply by chatting it up about music, but the articles were way too advanced and his speaking skills way too poor for that to work. He was, however, able to express a lovely idea to me when I asked him what music means for him. He said that music is pure emotion, and that life itself is music. Everything has a note, from the birds in the sky to the sounds of motorcycle engine roaring down the street. Essentially, life is a song and each day is a different note. I love that idea, and although I’m sure I’ve heard it before in another context and expressed slightly differently, I think it’ll stick with me throughout my whole life.

So anyway, Mr. Bokeloh was a much more laid-back kind of guy than most Germans, sporting a shaved head and wearing jeans and leather, talking quite casually about his impending divorce. He seemed to like the lesson, as off-the-cuff as it was, and I had a good feeling leaving there at 9:15. I have to go in for another 2 hours 15 minutes on Thursday, 3 hours on Saturday, and then do it all again after a one week break. Then it’ll be another week without him, and finally one more week with him, so that’s a hell of a lot of time to fill with automobile vocabulary, grammar exercises, and extremely basic texts. If he wasn’t such a cool guy I’d be dreading it.

That night I spontaneously decided to watch In Bruges, which defied expectations. Not only was it absolutely captivating emotionally—it’s essentially all about guilt and wanting to kill yourself—but it was exciting, intelligent, and funny as hell. Easily one of the best films I’ve ever seen. Not to mention how cool it was to see all of these places I’d just been a couple of days ago. Some of the places they go in the film were places we hadn’t gone, but a lot of it took place in the central city square which we crossed all the time. There was also a shot in the film where the lead character is looking at that painting from the Charles the Bold museum where the judge gets skinned alive, as he contemplates the horrible thing he did and how justice demands he be punished. One of the things I liked most about the film, and probably the reason it wasn’t nominated for more awards than it was, is the portrayal of American tourists. Every American character is a total fucking asshole, the most sympathetic among them being a racist midget. I felt that the aversion I feel to other Americans abroad was validated. But overall, it was a great film and I’m glad I waited until after going there to see it, so my opinion of the city wasn’t tainted at all by the opinions regarding it expressed by the main characters, some of whom call it a “fairy-tale city” and one of whom, the lead character, calls it a “shit-hole”, even expressing the sentiment that Hell might be like being stuck in Bruges for all eternity.

Today I had completely off, but I kept extremely busy. I spent the entire morning lesson-planning, particularly finding shit I could use for my lessons with Mr. Bokeloh, then I ran some errands, walking all over town from the Planeo office to the bank to one supermarket after another. During that time I also got a text-message from Oliver, so I called him and found that unfortunately he can’t take me to Ikea this week, but he may be having a barbecue at his place in Celle this Friday night, so that’ll be cool if that happens.

After my talk with him my phone beeped to let me know I had less than one euro on the SIM-card, which meant I had to fill it with yet another 15 Euros. Having just filled the fucking thing last week, and again the week before, I figured now would probably be a good time to do what I’ve been meaning to do for months and inquire about a flat-rate monthly plan so I wouldn’t have to worry about “topping up” all the fucking time. There’s a Vodaphone shop right across the street from my apartment, so after unloading my groceries from the first grocery store I headed over there to make my inquiry. It turns out I had to get a whole new phone, but now for just €30 a month I can get unlimited calling and nearly unlimited text-messaging. It took forever to get the whole deal set-up, because the girl at the counter was also helping a deaf couple (I don’t know how rare or how common it is for two deaf people to get together) so she had to communicate with them by writing everything down on sticky-pads. Communication with me wasn’t much easier I’m sorry to say, as my German still pretty much sucks. But she was really nice and got me all set up, even helping me configure it so that it both vibrates and rings at the same time. If she had been just a little less big-boned I would have been quite attracted to her, although she was quite cute for a big-boned girl anyway. I had to give her my passport and everything to get it all set up, and I made damn sure to get it back this time.

But hilariously enough, I also had to give her my bank card, and about 45 minutes after I left, just as I was returning from the second supermarket and getting geared up to go out for a run, my new phone started ringing and who else could it be but the girl from the shop, telling me I’d left my bank-card there! So in full jogging-gear I hopped across the street and popped into the store, taking my card back. The irony was too rich for me not to share, so I asked her if she understood English and she said a little, then I gave her the extremely-condensed, basic-language version of the story of leaving my passport at the place when I got my first phone and how they didn’t call me for days so I went all the way to Berlin to get a new passport. She laughed at the story and I thanked her for calling me back so soon, then I left again, this time with her saying “goodbye” and “have a nice day” in English.

From there I went straight to the Maschsee for the first jog I’ve done in nearly two weeks, as I’ve been sick the whole time. Even now there are still some lingering signs of a cold, but it’s just about completely subsided. I haven’t circled the Maschsee in many months, not since my second or third week in Hannover, but now I’m a bit closer to it than I was before and it being a shorter-distance than my normal route (now even further elongated due to the move) I figured it would be best to get back into the swing of things by running a shorter distance before moving up to the longer river + park run. The jog felt fantastic of course, aided by the fact that it’s one of those fuck-you-in-the-arse beautiful days with the perfect temperature and perfect smattering of fluffy-clouds in the sky, and I listened to uplifting music as I made my way around, completely unbothered by all the happy couples walking around or sitting by the water. I was feeling pretty tired by the time I made it all the way around, but I kept it going for another five minutes or so to speed up the time it took to get back to the flat, which is a 15-minute walk only about a 5-minute jog from the Maschsee. It was nice to jog a different path than the one I’m used to, and I may even do it more often now that I’m a bit closer (it used to be a 25-minute walk), though I still think the river + park run is nicer.

Anyway, I’m now feeling quite spiritually sound and I’m ready for a nice sober night of mildly entertaining things, then hopefully getting a nice long chunk of sleep before tomorrow’s marathon of classes, which will hopefully go just as smoothly as yesterday. There’s no doubt in my mind that most of the positive energy of the last few days has been due to the fantastic weekend I had, which is just further proof that I made the best decision of my life when I decided to make a career of teaching English and travelling the world. Nothing compares to the afterglow of a particularly good travelling experience.

In Bruges

May 11th, 2009 No comments

My sickness lasted all week, but by Friday I felt it subsiding. When I finally finished my last class in Helmstedt I was really looking forward to getting back home and lying around doing nothing all weekend and hopefully restoring myself to full health. Amanda was going to take me to Ikea that afternoon, but other than that I had no plans.

But just as I was leaving class and heading towards the train station, Amanda called me and said that she didn’t want to go to Ikea—that she would rather go to Bruges. She and Alan had apparently decided spontaneously to take that trip they’d been talking about for months and drive to the city of Bruges in Belgium, a place they both wanted to go after seeing the 2008 film, In Bruges. The question posed to me was whether I wanted to come along.

This was a much more difficult dilemma than it would have been at any other time. I was still feeling a little sick and I was absolutely dead tired. I felt no energy or desire to head off on some crazy adventure to Belgium that would most certainly involve lots of walking around and drinking. But on the other hand, I’ve been living in Europe for over 8 months and I still haven’t really done any actual travelling to speak of, which was the whole fucking point of this overseas English-teaching career in the first place. I just haven’t had the money to do so up until this point, but now that I’ve got the new place and I’m sitting on a comfortable sum of money in my bank account, I knew this trip would definitely be something I could afford. It would simply be unforgivable of me to sit it out.

So I reluctantly agreed, and about a half hour after getting back to my apartment (3:30) Alan came and knocked on my door, and we got in Amanda’s car and began the long European road-trip to Bruges. The drive itself lasted about 6 hours, but we were able to pass the time quite nicely with little things like a deck of Trivial Pursuit cards (which were in German so Amanda had to do some translating) and some other games like “6 degrees of separation” where you have to connect two actors through the movies they’ve been in with other actors. We stopped twice along the way—once for gas and snacks, and another time for a quick dinner at Burger King just after crossing the border into Holland. We were in Holland for less than half an hour until we got to Belgium, and we finally got to the area near the northwest sea where Bruges is located as the sun was going down, around 9:30.

I haven’t seen the film so I didn’t have any idea what to expect as far as the aesthetics of the city go, and most of the Belgian countryside was boring as hell so I didn’t expect much. The area immediately surrounding the city was pretty unremarkable as well, but the city itself is completely enclosed in a circular moat, which once we crossed and drove under the gate to get inside, it was like a completely different world. I learned more and more about the history of Bruges during the course of the trip, but apparently it’s a medieval city built around the 11th century, and it’s definitely still got that medieval feel to it. Nearly all of the streets are narrow cobblestone, and the buildings are all extremely old and attached to one another. It’s like a wall of little houses stretching out hundreds of metres, with no spaces or alleyways between the buildings. There’s a little network of canals that also runs along the city and many little stone bridges crossing over them. If it weren’t for the cars parked along the side of some of the wider roads, it really would have felt as though we’d just travelled back in time several centuries. During the day, there were almost as many people travelling by horse-and-carriage as there were by car, though bicycles were by far the most prevalent form of transportation.

About an hour before we’d arrived, Amanda was suddenly struck with the fear that she’d made a mistake in reserving a room at the hostel. Alan called the place and found that indeed we didn’t have a reservation for Friday and Saturday but actually for Sunday and Monday, and that they were completely booked for the weekend so we couldn’t change our reservation but only cancel it. But we stopped there anyway just to see if maybe we could sweet-talk our way in, or at least get some help finding another place. The place was called the “Bauhaus” and it was a St. Christopher’s hostel—the same St. Christopher’s that owns the infamous London hostel where I got pissed on. And as soon as I walked inside to the extremely crowded, extremely smoke-filled, extremely loud-music playing, drunken-assholes-everywhere atmosphere, I had to turn around and walk right out again. It was in fact just like the atmosphere from that London hostel. I was actually quite glad that we had made a mistake and that we wouldn’t be staying there.

Alan had a hard time finding someone at the bar slash reception desk who could help us out, let alone hearing them talk over all the music and commotion when they did, but he eventually came outside again and said there was a place just a little up the road called “Charlie Rockets” that might have rooms available. So we drove a bit further into the city, crossing one of the canals, and came to the other place. It was also one of those hostels with a loud bar downstairs, but this was much less crowded and the smoke in the air (unlike Germany, Belgium has yet to impose any kind of no-smoking-in-bars policy) was much less oppressive. At first the reception guy said they didn’t have any rooms, but Alan asked him to check and apparently they had a cancellation so the three of us could stay in a room with four beds, which basically meant we’d have a room to ourselves, unlike at the other hostel where we would have had to share. So we really lucked out there.

We were all more than ready to have a beer at that point, but we still had to take care of parking. The reception guy spoke terrible English, but as French is one of the two official languages in Belgium (the other is Flemish) and Alan speaks French (because he’s Canadian), he was able to ask for directions to where we could park the car for two days without it being towed. Apparently the directions were pretty bad, however, and we ended up driving around lost for awhile looking for this place called “The Swan” where we were supposed to park. We even asked a few people walking along where “The Swan” was, and Alan even got out and went into the Irish Pub to ask around, but nobody knew. We ended up driving outside the city to get back inside the way we came in, then took a turn we hadn’t taken the first time and were lucky enough to find it.

So we parked, unloaded our shit, and headed up to our room which was through this labyrinth of stairs and hallways (up half a set of stairs, through a couple of doors, down a set of stairs, up a spiral staircase, through a hall, up another set of spiral stairs) until we reached the room, which consisted of two sets of mattresses and a bunk-bed, as well as a surprisingly nice bathroom with a shower-tub but no shower curtain.

It was now 11:00, and we were finally ready to start drinking. I was feeling like complete shit at that point, my sickness having not completely subsided, but I knew after a couple of beers the pain would go away. We had our first drink at the bar in the hostel, and then headed out to check out a few more places. We walked all the way back to the Bauhaus and passed a bunch of bars along the way. They wanted to get a drink there but I was quite vocal about my objection to going inside that place, but that had definitely been the most “hopping” joint we’d seen and they just wanted a quick one. But once we got there and they went in (I didn’t even go inside) they came out a few seconds later, logic having prevailed. Not only was the smoke almost as thick as it might have been in a fucking fire, but the music was so loud you couldn’t hear someone shouting into your ear right next to you.

So we walked back down the road and stopped at the next place, a bar called The Crash which was playing Neil Young’s “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World” when we went inside so that was pretty inviting. We had resolved not to drink two of the same kinds of beer, so after Alan went and bought a round of a beer called Jupiler, which was the most heavily-advertised beer in town, with signs for it outside of nearly every bar, I went and bought a round of the next kind of beer down the list, and we headed off to the next place, now quite significantly buzzed.

The next place we tried was called Primus, and only about a few seconds after we got in we decided to get the hell out, as this place was filled with “trailer-trash”, just a bunch of leather-clad, scummy looking people who were probably locals who drank there every night and gave the impression that they didn’t like outsiders coming in. The next place we tried was the complete opposite—a little too high-class, but full of locals who also didn’t seem to like outsiders coming in. A lot of the places were empty except for a few people, and it seemed like the only way they managed to stay in business was with a few people who came every night. If they lost just one customer, we could imagine, they would go out of business.

One of the quieter, more upper-class bars however, was a bit more inviting, so we stopped there for awhile. It was quite the juxtaposition from the Primus, with low-key Leonard Cohen music playing instead of hardcore rock music, but it was a pleasant atmosphere and the bartender seemed nice. We ordered three beers, he asked us whether we wanted light or dark, and we said dark. We didn’t expect him to come to our table a minute later with three different types of beer, but he’d picked his favourite three beers and poured us each a glass. I got the one he said was his favourite, a brew called Liefman’s Golden, which had some kind of Oak flavouring and turned out to be one of the most delicious beers I’ve ever had, which is saying a lot. Apparently Belgian beer is just as good on average as German beer. But one thing about Belgian beers is that they tend to be a lot stronger. The average percentage seemed to be about 5.5%. But at this place, my beer was 8%, Amanda’s was 7%, and Alan’s was a whopping 11%. We were well on our way to drunk after leaving that place. But before we did we struck up a conversation with a woman from another table who was a local from Bruges, who spoke good English and told us a little about the city and recommended a few places to go the next day, which we tried to see but never actually got to. We learned some interesting things however, like how when the city was built it was actually on the sea and it had been a big trade-town, but since the ocean had resided it wasn’t so any longer. Tourism, also, has just recently become a big industry, whereas only a short time ago very few people actually visited.

We stumbled around the city for a little while after that looking for somewhere to satisfy our munchies. One place Alan went into and very politely asked the waitress if we could order food there, and she very rudely told us that there were cafes around the corner. Apparently it had been another one of those posh places where they didn’t like drunk tourists coming in and fucking up the atmosphere.

So we went into the Irish pub, where we knew we’d be welcome, and got another round of big, strong-ass beers to finish the night. Apparently we had two beers at that place, but I only remember the first one. That was definitely where I crossed the line between buzzed and drunk, as evidenced by the fact that the conversation somehow turned to my lack of a sex-life, which is not a topic I tend to delve into unless I’ve heavily under the influence. But Alan and Amanda, especially Amanda, seemed particularly serious about getting me over this whole hang-up I have about sex, even going so far as to say that tomorrow we were going to find a brothel and get me laid. I’ve always had the most firm conviction that if I ever lose my virginity it would not be with a prostitute, but Amanda put forward an extremely convincing argument that going with the sex-worker was actually the best way to do it, as they knew how to deal with everything and would be open to all kinds of weirdness, and they also would have a particular sensitivity when dealing with virgins. I was drunk enough at that point for all of this to sound quite reasonable, and to actually think that maybe at the age of 25 in the city of Bruges would be the perfect time and place to finally have sex for the first time and be done with it.

We stumbled back to the hostel, stopping at a little late-night hamburger stand in the central city square along the way, then back to the hostel where we navigated through the maze to get to our room. I threw on my night-clothes, lied down and passed out, neglecting to drink lots of water before going to sleep, which turned out to be a huge mistake.

The next morning we all woke up with a hangover, and with me still being sick on top of it I was really in a bad state. Amanda mentioned something about how I was supposed to get laid tonight and I said “I take it all back” as with a sober mind it couldn’t be clearer to me that my resolve not to lose my virginity to a prostitute was actually a pretty good fucking resolve to stick to for someone like me.

We had missed the 8:30-10:30 breakfast that we’d paid for when checking into the hostel so we would have to go out to find food, and after we all showered (the floor getting completely soaked due to the lack of a shower curtain) we headed out into the city and began the search for a place that sold eggs, which Amanda wanted, and waffles, which I wanted (because this was Belgium and I figured waffles were a necessity). Obviously, we’d all been picturing a diner, but there’s no such thing as a diner in Bruges which once we realised we settled on a little hole-in-the-wall stand where you could buy sandwiches or snacks, one of the snacks being a waffle covered in chocolate syrup, which is what I got and it wasn’t the least bit disappointing. Apparently Belgians really do know how to make a waffle.

I hadn’t been able to shit that morning in the hostel, but after breakfast I felt like it was ready to come out so I kept my eyes open for a toilet, which is damn tricky in Europe because most places don’t let customers use theirs, and you have to pay to use public toilets. I finally found one though, right across from a really old church, and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was almost worth the 50 cents. It was extremely clean, it didn’t stink at all, and the stalls had doors stretching all the way to the ground so it was like you had your own private room to do your business. It was one of the most pleasant public-toilet-shitting experiences I’ve ever had. Unfortunately, I discovered it was mostly gas, and just a few minutes after unloading the gas I was filled with it again.

But we pressed on in search of a tourism-information place in the hopes of getting a walking tour of the town. This took a lot of stumbling along, standing around and trying to get our bearings and whatnot, as we were all still suffering from “the stupids” from the night before. I was in a particularly bad state having almost completely lost my voice, so I tried to speak as little as possible. My voice was strained throughout the whole weekend (and it still is even today). One of the good things about having such a bad hangover, however, was how unaffected I was by all the beautiful women and girls around. It also seemed to me that the women and girls in this town were kind of ugly on average, so that made things easier as well.

Eventually we found an Information place and I just sat on a bench while they looked for information. Alan and Amanda got back with a little do-it-yourself walking-tour guidebook, as apparently there weren’t any live guides, and we resolved to walk along the recommended route and read the descriptions ourselves of every point of interest.

As it turned out, we weren’t too good at giving ourselves the book tour. We got to one of the churches and the description we read didn’t seem to describe it at all, and we were never sure we were at the right place. Once we got to the second place, the Church of Our Lady, and couldn’t spot anything the book told us we should spot, we just gave up on the whole thing and went inside the church to check it out ourselves. It was actually a really impressive cathedral, with beautiful marble statues and stained-glass windows, and that whole medieval Christian aura still faintly perceptible throughout the giant hall under the big Gothic arches. I fucking love medieval cathedrals. Can’t get enough of them. But I haven’t been in one in a long time so it was particularly nice.

Once we’d taken in that place for a long enough time we stumbled around some more, discussed a few other things we might want to do that we didn’t end up doing, like taking one of the many boat-tours of the canals we were seeing, or climbing up to the top of the tallest steeple in town for a nice overhead view of the city. Instead we found ourselves stopping for tea and ordering a waffle with strawberries and cream that turned out to be so delicious that we had to order another one. Apparently Belgians really do know how to make a waffle.

But after that we split up for awhile, as Alan wanted to use the internet and Amanda wanted to just walk around. I had to take a fucking nap, so I went with Alan back to the hostel, where I’d seen a sign that said they had internet access. As Alan dealt with the computer issue I lied down in bed and recharged some much-needed energy. About an hour and a half later I got up and went downstairs looking for him, and I asked where the internet access was but was told that it wasn’t working and there was an internet café just across the bridge. So I walked to the café but didn’t spot Alan there, then walked a bit towards the centre of the city in the hopes of running into them but I couldn’t find them. None of our cell-phones worked, so I figured the only chance I had of rejoining them was to go back to the room and wait for them to come get me.

Luckily I was only waiting about 15 minutes before both of them came through the door, apparently having met at the internet café where they’d looked for things to do. The plan was to go on a tour of a local brewery and then get some dinner. So we took a nice walk through some of the back-roads of the city to get to the brewery, stood in line for a ticket, drank a beer while waiting, and then took the 45-minute tour of the little brewery which ended up being one of the lamest tours any of us has every taken. They squeezed about 50 people into each tiny little room, and the one tour-guide said everything first in Flemish and then in bad English, clearly spending much less time on the English explanations which were all quite boring anyway. Like, “This machine is where the malt goes. Then it goes to this machine. This machine is where it used to go. Now we are going to the next room.” Occasionally she would forget the English word for something. I tried to remember just one little fact to be able to say I had learned something, but no interesting enough facts were presented. I thought I might have something when she went into the four main elements of beer but she trailed off before finishing. Apparently the four main elements of beer are malt, water, and hops.

The only saving grace was the climb to the roof of the brewery from which we got a really nice view of Bruges, thus making up for having not climbed the church steeple. But even that was an ironic part of the tour because it had nothing to do with the brewery itself. It seemed like they were squeezing whatever shit they possibly could into the tour to fill it up. There was even a room with nothing but a bunch of empty beer bottles and beer glasses behind a glass case—just regular old beer bottles and glasses with no particular significance to the brewery or even Bruges itself. Apparently it’s a Belgian tradition for every beer to have its own glass, which was the only point of the whole room.

When the tour was finally over we got our complimentary beer and sat at the brewery just making fun of the tour for about twenty minutes, which almost made the whole thing worth it. We’d been very polite during the tour because our guide seemed like a nice enough lady and we didn’t want to be rude, but it felt very good afterwards to finally vent about what a pathetic rip-off that had been. It was as though we’d paid €5.50 to basically just wait 45-minutes to have a beer. When I asked what brand of beer they brewed here anyway, it turned out none of us even knew, and we died laughing.

From there we began our search for a reasonably-priced restaurant, which took at least an hour because there were just no reasonably-priced restaurants to be found anywhere near the middle of the city. The prices only started going down when we got back to the street our hostel was on, and of all the places we actually ended up at the Bauhaus, where at least it was early enough that it wasn’t crowded, the music wasn’t blasting, and the air wasn’t thick with smoke. We actually had a pretty nice meal there, and drank a couple more beers over the course of it but because we also filled our stomachs we didn’t feel much of an effect in spite of the more-than-average strength of them.

After dinner I wanted to go drink at another place but they wanted to just hop over to the bar section and have another one right there, which it was still early enough to do without getting caught up in the late-night madness. Still, I found that to be a rather un-enjoyable portion of the trip, not least of all because of the table of hot girls sitting right next to us to remind me of how miserable I am. It’s basically just the knowledge that I don’t even know how to begin to approach them, and the near-certainty that if I did try to approach them I’d be shot down anyway. Alan and Amanda also happened to be having a conversation about longevity and getting old, and I just couldn’t avoid the overwhelming desire to just be dead already and not have to face the awful prospect of growing old and alone, which is exactly what’s going to happen to me unless I somehow undergo a complete alteration of my personality.

It was twilight by the time we left there, and the atmosphere in the city felt really nice. We all wanted to walk around for awhile, maybe stop at one more bar, and then go to sleep. Amanda was extremely tired and Alan had to keep pressing her not to just go back and go to sleep right then and there. But when we got back to our hostel Amanda asked for the key so she could run up and take a piss. Alan waited downstairs for her while I waited outside, not wanting to miss the twilight atmosphere and suspecting that once Amanda got back up to the room she wouldn’t be coming down again anyway. Indeed, after about ten minutes I saw Alan head up the stairs, and I waited even longer outside as the twilight gave way to complete night, just staring at the architecture around me, the cobblestone streets, the people walking by, listening to all the different languages I could hear and reflecting on the fact that this is one of the most unique places in the world, that this is one of the most unique moments of my life, and basically just appreciating the Now to the fullest extent possible. I knew that by the end of the day tomorrow the trip would be over and it would all just be a memory, but one of the many memories that would stick with me for the rest of my life. The idea that I was living that moment now and that I never would again felt very profound.

Finally, Alan came back out and confirmed my suspicion that Amanda was done for the night, and I suggested we head out to one more bar and then call it a night. We walked back to the central city square by the big church, and walked by all of the many cafés around but none of which seemed to be a good place to just stop and have a drink. I wanted to walk along a canal at night so we did that, and came by chance to what was probably the most beautiful spot in the city, with the water running along some beautiful buildings, hanging under a lovely green tree, and all of it reflecting from the almost perfectly still black water of the canal. We stood there and soaked that in for a nice long time, occasionally pointing out to each other some other aspect of the beautiful sight we would notice. At one point I saw a couple sitting next to us and trying to take a picture of themselves, and I offered to snap the shot for them, which they appreciated. As much as happy couples off on a European vacation piss me off (and there were a hell of a lot of them in Bruges) it was almost like a “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” kind of thing, as I would now forever be an element of their little romantic trip, having taking that nice romantic picture of them in front of that lovely scene.

After realising that the only actual bar bars in the city were the ones we’d been to last night, I suggested we head back to that place that had the really good beer, and Alan agreed that would be a good idea. I ordered another of the delicious Oak-flavoured Liefman’s beer again, and Alan ordered something else, a beer with only 4.5% alcohol content, very weak for Belgium. He finished that one pretty quickly and then got one that was 8%, while I just took my sweet time with the Liefman’s. We had some pretty good conversation over the course of the next hour, with topics ranging all the way from why it’s so fucking hard to get women to much more philosophical things like what do the differences between perceptions of God, good and evil, and the after-life in different religions say about different cultures and about humanity in general. I was almost glad that Amanda had gone to bed, as a one-on-one setting tends to allow for much greater depth of conversation, and Alan is much more interested in these academic sorts of topics anyway. We’re also both on a similar page when it comes to women, as while he’s definitely had more experience than me he also suffers from being shy and far-too-nice, and we both lack whatever that “aura” is that draws women to the kind of men they tend to go for.

Anyway, we went back to the hostel and had a good night’s sleep after that, waking up the next morning in a much better state than that previous day. Although we’d probably drank the same amount of beer, we’d taken it much more slowly and with quite a hearty meal in between. I also remembered to drink lots of water before going to sleep.

The plan for our last day in the city was to split up for a few hours, as a friend of Alan’s was coming to the city to spend some time with him. An Indian girl named Lisa whom he’d met during his year in China has been living in Brussels which is only an hour away by train, and he had gotten in touch with her when he knew he would be coming to Bruges to see if she’d come hang out. She would be meeting him at 11, and the three of us would get together around 2 p.m. for one last drink and then hopefully be on our way out by 3.

We took advantage of the breakfast we’d paid for this morning, which turned out to be quite a pathetic little assortment of one kind of toast, some cereal, and some hard-boiled eggs. So I had an egg and some toast, then went back up to the room until the others came back, packed up and left. We put our stuff in the car and then parted ways. It being Mother’s Day, Amanda wanted to stop in an internet café to call her mom in Australia or at least send an e-mail, and I figured since I wasn’t getting service in Bruges and I was expecting a call from my mother it would be good for me to send her an e-mail letting her know she wouldn’t be able to reach me until later on.

But it being Sunday, the internet café was closed until 1 p.m. so Amanda and I just moved on to the next thing she wanted to do, which was take a tour of an art gallery. She said I could do whatever I wanted, but I had no interest in just walking around alone and I had nothing in particular I wanted to do, so I went with her to the “art gallery” which actually turned out to be a historical museum, and the exhibition there was all about a 15th century Flemish monarch called Karle de Stoute, or Charles the Bold. Entry was 9-Euros for adults, but as luck would have it the price was only 1 Euro for anyone age 6-25. I showed them my California driver’s license and got in for just 1 Euro, though I did have to shell out a couple more Euros for the audio-tour, the price of which I split with Amanda, thinking we could both just listen at the same time. But those things are designed for only one person to be able to hear at a time by holding the speaker directly against their ear, unless you crank the volume way up which is very obnoxious to do in a museum. So Amanda went on ahead of me while I walked about through the rooms, not really paying much attention to all these artefacts which to me had no historical context (I’d never heard of Charles the Bold) until later on after I’d learned a bit more about him and got more interested.

I finally ran into Amanda again in the last room, and she took the audio-tour from me because she wanted to go back and listen to a few descriptions of things. At that point I went through the entire museum again, and appreciated everything a lot more now that there was an actual context behind it. Charles the Bold himself wasn’t all that fascinating—just another typical medieval asshole who fancied himself the second coming of Alexander the Great and spent his life in the pursuit of trying to expand his empire—the Bergundian empire—until he pushed too far and started losing every battle instead of winning them and finally getting his ass killed. But as much of a loser as Charles the Bold was, it was still cool as hell to see all of the genuine artefacts from his kingdom if you thought about it in the broader context of history, that for about a thousand years there lived hundreds of guys just like him, and that throughout this time Europe was pretty much this vast tapestry of kingdoms and walled cities like Bruges, with territories constantly shifting as men of ambition were constantly going off and starting battles, spilling blood and raping women, then commemorating their achievements with songs and works of art, as though this kind of barbaric behaviour was somehow the greatest glory a living being could achieve.

The most fascinating pieces in the museum to me were two tapestries commemorating events from the life of Julius Caesar, one in which he triumphantly rides his horse into battle while you see his soldiers slaughtering the enemy, but Caesar himself and his soldiers are clad in the armour of the Bergundian, rather than the Roman, army. The other shows Caesar’s triumphant return to Rome, in which he is also wearing the armour of Charles the Bold and the depiction is actually of a typical Bergundian, rather than Roman, triumph. In addition to simply being beautiful and full of rich detail (like you can tell every person depicted in the tapestry has a story) they just say so much about the mind-set of these kinds of kings, constantly trying to live up to an imaginary ideal that they never quite reach, and in spite of constantly being surrounded by lackeys lavishing them with praise they must be completely miserable their whole lives.

I can just imagine how awful it must have been for Charles when off on some military campaign (naturally) he learned that his first child was born, and it was a daughter. Mary of Bergundy must have been a particularly miserable person as well, first used as a pawn by her father who tried to auction her off to whatever king he could get the most land from, then being orphaned at age 12 as her father got killed in one of his pointless battles. Mary herself (quite beautiful, actually, if the portrait was accurate) gets killed in her 30s after being flung from a horse, and her young son, Philip the Good, is not accepted as the new monarch until much later in life. Finally, the last piece in the museum is a rather graphic painting of a judge who was found guilty of accepting bribes getting skinned alive as a message to other judges who might think of putting profit above justice. And being skinned alive was probably one of the more humane punishments they had going around at the time.

Anyway, I totally ate that shit up like a total nerd, absolutely lost in my imagination of medieval European history. It also enriched the atmosphere of the city itself, as I was now looking at it through slightly new eyes. But the next couple of hours were spent pretty much trying to kill time. Amanda and I found a hotel willing to let us use their internet in the lobby to e-mail our mothers (apparently Europe has Mother’s Day too), then we went and took a little boat-tour of the canals, which was rather relaxing but a bit over priced at €6.70 for a half-hour. Finally, we met up with Alan and Lisa, then found a nice little place to sit and have a drink and talk. I didn’t have a drink though because I knew it would just invite a head-ache later on, and I still wasn’t sure I’m completely over last week’s sickness. (I’m still not completely over it as of the time of this writing).

Lisa seemed like a really cool person, having also been all over the world teaching English. She’s been living with her boyfriend in Brussels for about four years and she’ll be living in Holland for the next four years as her boyfriend earns a Ph.D. in linguistics at one of the schools there. When we were heading out, and Alan and Amanda went to the bathroom and I found myself sitting alone with her, she asked me about myself and I felt cornered, like how could I possibly compare my stupid life to hers? She asked me, “What do you do when you’re not teaching?” What the hell do I do when I’m not teaching. “Not much,” I said. “I’m actually a pretty boring person.” When in doubt, self-deprecate. “I write a lot. And I go for walks.” She said there’s “nothing wrong with that” but didn’t ask any follow-up questions. The thing is, I actually am a pretty boring person on the surface. The interesting aspects about me only become visible when you really get down to the depths of my personality, but that takes time. How the fuck am I supposed to get a girlfriend if I can’t think of anything interesting to me off the top of my head? Just another reason it seems pointless to even bother trying. I can only imagine how terrible I’d be on a date.

It was 3:30 already when we parted ways with Lisa and walked back to the car. Much to our surprise, there was a city-marathon going on that day, which made driving out of the city an extremely complicated process. Every way out seemed to be blocked by the path of the runners, and as small as the city was it took us a full half-hour to find a way out, with many a K-turn and illegal drive through a pedestrian zone along the way. But we eventually escaped from Bruges and got under way with the 6-hour drive back to Hannover, which we made go faster by playing some of the games we all play with our English students.

I went to sleep about an hour after returning, and spent the morning writing this entry. I have no regrets about the trip—it’s about fucking time I did some travelling—and I look forward to doing a lot more of this in the future. Amanda’s going alone to Dublin next weekend, so I won’t be going anywhere then, but the following weekend we’re planning to go to Berlin for some drinking and craziness. But the Bruges trip was just what I needed. I came to Germany for the opportunity to do more travelling around Europe, just like I did during my exchange-student year, but I made the mistake of paying too much rent and not being able to afford going anywhere. Now that the rent situation has been rectified, I can finally start doing what I’d wanted to do all along, and fill that big gaping woman-shaped hole in my soul with a lot of crazy adventures through interesting parts of the world.

Sickness, Sobriety, and Dream Death

May 5th, 2009 No comments

With the help of the medicine I got, I was able to get a full night’s sleep on Sunday night, while I had no such luck last night. But yesterday I also did a shit-load of running around. My lesson with Mr. Hennicke, the soldier, got cancelled so I had yet another day without any work, and I used it to the fullest. After heading out in the morning to deposit half the security deposit money I’d got back from the old apartment in the bank and breaking other into smaller bills, I went to a supermarket (Pennymarkt) and then a Schlecker (which is like a Rite-Aid without drugs) and while I was there I got a call from the refrigerator people who wanted to come deliver my fridge a couple hours ahead of schedule. I said it would take me 5-10 minutes to get home, and they said it would take them the same amount of time to get there. So I walked back to my place and found them waiting outside the door for me, and they brought it inside and I paid for it, thus making this place feel that much more like an actual apartment. I’ll tell you, going for just those three days without a fridge really makes one appreciate the technology a hell of a lot more than usual.

After that I headed to Planeo to go online and get my blog-fix as well as continue my downloading. While I was sitting downstairs there doing my thing, Tom from Atlanta came by and used the computer they have to print some stuff, and I chatted with him for a little awhile about the Nazi rally on Friday (apparently the Nazis never even made it into town, and the whole thing was just a big counter-demonstration by self-righteous Germans) and bitched about the bullshit going on in American politics. As much as I have this strange natural aversion to other Americans when I’m abroad, it’s nice to have someone else who at least keeps up with the American news as closely as I do, and who probably gets his information from pretty much the same sources. We talked about how much we hate Tim Geithner and the fact that these bailed-out banks are still using their influence to screw over taxpayers, and made fun of the ignorant Tea-Bagging crowd until he had to go do a lesson.

When I’d had enough blogging I left (leaving my computer there to continue downloading of course) and went on a long trek through the city to pick up more crap. One of the many coincidental parallels between now and the time I first got to Hannover (others include not having any work and getting sick) is not having a ticket to ride the tram. My 6-month pass ended in April and for some fucked up reason I couldn’t get one going from May 2009 to April 2010, so I have to wait until June to get my 12-month pass, but when I tried to buy a 1-month pass for May with my credit card (I didn’t have enough money at the time to pay for it without credit) my card was rejected so I didn’t get it. And after some consideration I realised that I only really need the tram on Tuesdays, so I’ll just buy day-tickets every Tuesday for 4 or 5 Euros and save myself the ridiculous 72-Euro one-month ticket price. So just like my first month in Hannover, I’ve been walking everywhere.

I walked all the way from Planeo to the train station and around back to return to the cheap place Alan had recommended, and picked up some mats for my bathroom floor, another hand-towel (this one for the kitchen) and a pretty decent 10-Euro toaster because it’s becoming less likely each day that I’ll hear back from the old landlady’s family regarding the possibility of buying her toaster and other stuff. After dropping that stuff off I headed out to the other supermarket where I buy most of my food (Rewe), and in addition to picking up stuff that I could now finally buy again thanks to my new refrigerator, I bought a baking rack, another little cooking pot, and an oven mitt from the Eurocent (a.k.a. dollar-store) across the street. When I got back to my apartment I realised the baking rack I bought was supposed to have two pieces but it only had one, so now I just had half a rack and since I had nothing else to do I walked all the way back to the supermarket to exchange it, which ended up being a much more complicated process than I’d assumed it would be. Finally, when all that was finished I headed back to Planeo, read a few more blogs while I waited on a bit more downloading, came back home for a nice frozen-pizza dinner while watching an episode of the show I’ve been downloading, then played a computer game until it was time to go to sleep.

I haven’t recorded a dream in this journal for a long time but the one I had last night absolutely warrants an account. I was back home in New Jersey, looking at a website my parents recommended that lets you keep up with what’s been going on in the lives of people you used to know in high school. On the front page of the site was a picture of a girl who looked vaguely familiar saying she’d recently died, and on looking a little closer I saw it was Robyn, a really quiet girl I’d known since middle school and who had gone out with my somewhat-friend Drew for most of high school. I knew her for a long time, and as we had gone to the same middle school we stood in the same group together every morning before class for 3 years, which looking back I realise is kind of odd because we all made other friends after those first few weeks but we never broke our habit of standing in the same place that we’d stood at the very beginning. Anyway, although I knew her well I was never really close to her, and if I was to find out in real life that she’d died I would probably just react the same way I’ve always reacted to hearing that kind of news, which is to contemplate death in general for awhile and then go back to doing whatever it is I would have been doing anyway.

But for some reason in the dream it hit me hard. I was shouting and screaming and crying and carrying on like a madman, like this was the most devastating news I’d ever heard. My parents didn’t know that I knew her, and I insisted that I knew her really well and we had been very good friends and this was just awful. I ran outside in the middle of the night, running through the streets and crying, finally collapsing on the ground and just bawling my eyes out. At that point Drew came up to me, and I calmed down a little because I knew that having dated her for so long it must have been so much worse for him. I explained that I’d just heard the news, and he seemed touched that I would be so affected by it. Then we started talking, and got into a really deep philosophical conversation that I wish I could remember in more detail because I know it was extremely coherent for a dream. I asked him how he was handling it, and he said he was just doing his best not to think about it, playing stupid computer games to pass the time. I asked him if maybe it was better that he not try to avoid thinking about it and instead confront it head on. I was explaining to him how I thought that her life now only had meaning through what her impact was on other people, and since he was very significantly impacted by her presence in the world, the way he felt about her was very important.

We talked about death and the meaning of life, and I was saying that it’s all just chaos, even going so far as to explain quite clearly why I believe it’s impossible that there’s any kind of overall meaning to everything. Even if there’s a God who knows everything about the universe, I said, He would have no way of knowing that this wasn’t just one universe among many. And even if there was a God of all those other universes combined, He wouldn’t know whether all those universes weren’t just a part of something bigger, and so on to infinity. I think it was around that point that I woke up, taking a second for my brain to register the fact that Robyn is most likely not dead (how fucking weird would it be if she was?), and that I haven’t spoken to Drew in years and will probably never see or hear from either of them again.

I spent the next four hours trying to get back to sleep until finally giving up around 9 a.m. I haven’t done anything yet today except write a little philosophy, but soon enough I’ll be going out to run some more random errands and head to Planeo to get my computer up and downloading before actually working for the first time in over a week. I’ve got a new student, so that’ll be interesting, and shortly after I’ll be meeting with Mr. Hennicke again, and then it’s once again nothing but free time until Thursday. I’m going to try to take it as easy as possible tomorrow, as I would like to be feeling better by this weekend if at all possible. I’d assumed I’d be doing a lot more drinking during this week, but thanks to the sickness I’ve stayed sober, and now I’m getting sick of being sober.