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Paradigm Shift

October 31st, 2009 No comments

Things returned to normal this past week, but my life is by no means the same as it was before the big vacation. As I slipped back into my regular habits, I realized just how different things are now from the way they were before Krissi came. I’d even go so far as to say that my life has officially entered a new paradigm.

For the better part of this year, I was half-expecting Krissi to come and to travel around with her for a couple of months. I was never completely sure it would happen right up until it actually did, but my actions and whole day-to-day outlook on things was always tempered by the possibility of this potential awesome future experience. I got this cheaper apartment (which I would probably have done anyway but the Krissi thing was undoubtedly a huge part of the incentive), I lobbied for a lot more work over the summer, I pinched pennies for the sake of having as much money in the travel fund as I could, even going so far as to let my landlord’s mistake go uncorrected and thus not pay rent for the months leading up to the vacation. Basically, the entire year revolved around this two-month period of time, beyond which I couldn’t care less. Traveling around with Krissi, in my mind, would be the experience of a lifetime and if I went bankrupt or died afterwards, who cares?

But now that’s in the past. It was an awesome experience (though naturally it didn’t live up to my ridiculously high expectations—as I expected it wouldn’t) but now it’s over and I don’t have that to look forward to anymore. It must be something similar to when a couple gets married, spending the better part of a year planning the wedding and honeymoon and looking constantly forward to the date, and then when it’s over there’s nothing to look forward to anymore and all that’s left is “what’s next?”

And that’s where I’m at in my life right now. What’s next? And the answer is simple: move on. I’ve spent more time in Germany than I expected to already, and thanks to my travels with Krissi I now feel like I’ve gotten the most of it and I don’t need to stick around anymore. So it’s time to turn my sights to the next destination in my life, which is Asia. That is the current end toward which I shall be working. Before, it was the traveling with Krissi. Now, it’s moving to Japan or another Asian country.

Of course, this won’t happen overnight. I still have this financial bullshit to worry about, though I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to work that out soon enough. Yesterday evening, there was a Planeo teacher meeting, and before the meeting I asked Frank if he could pay me a bit early for November’s work, which will therefore allow me to survive through December without having to go into debt. Hopefully by January I’ll have some additional work with another language school. I began the application process at two other Hannover language schools on Tuesday, and heard back from the Carl Duisberg center the following day, saying that they had nothing available right now but would keep me on file if anything came up. So we’ll see how that goes.

Incidentally, I met Penni, the woman who stole my Thursday classes from me, at the teacher meeting. She’s a very large middle-aged woman who reminds me of a lot of teachers I had throughout my school years. No surprise—she’s been a teacher for decades, and all kinds of teaching. It’s no wonder the classes she took found her more helpful than me. Still, I couldn’t help but resent her, as I always will simply because of the circumstances and not because of her personally, though I probably wouldn’t like her even if that shit hadn’t happened just because she reminds me so much of teachers I’ve hated.

Anyway, the financial crap will hopefully sort itself out soon and then all I’ve got to do is sit tight, save my money, and wait until I’ve got a nice cushion of capital with which to relocate. Once I feel comfortable enough with the size of my bank account, I’ll start applying for jobs in Asia and hopefully be there by the summer or early fall.

That’s a long way off, but not so long that it won’t affect my actions and day-to-day outlook on things. For instance, it’s not like I’ve been looking for a girlfriend at all while I’ve been living here, but I’ve certainly entertained the idea numerous times. Then on Wednesday, while I was jogging, I spotted that girl again, the one I attempted to ask out by the Maschsee and she just roller-bladed on by. I gave her a big smile as she passed, and I made sure to see if she smiled back and she did. Immediately I began thinking about what to do the next time I see her—perhaps wave and say hi, perhaps even turn around and run beside her and attempt to officially meet her—but I stopped myself because A) I’m finally alone again and I like it so why try and change that? and B) I’m going to Asia soon enough so I might as well just not even try. It’s the same mind-set I’ve gotten into every time I’ve been living somewhere and the End has been in sight, from leaving Frankfurt to before moving to Santa Barbara to before moving back to New Jersey and finally before coming to Hannover. I never really try to get a girlfriend, but when I know that I’m going to be leaving a place in the near future I don’t even entertain the possibility. It’s even more pointless than usual.

So that’s the new stage my life has entered. I’ve got a new end in sight and as much time as I need in order to get there. I’m ready to leave Hannover already, but I do like my life here and I like the Western comforts, so over the next several months I will make sure to appreciate them while I can. But I’ll definitely be glad to leave them behind and go live in a country where just about everything is unfamiliar. Then my life will really be in a new paradigm.

The Bloody Health-Care Endgame

October 28th, 2009 No comments

It’s been a long, brutal battle that progressives in the United States have been fighting this year to get real, solid health-care reform enacted. These soldiers—the progressives—have fought battle after battle, backing up their commanders on the field—Democratic senators and congressmen—as well as the general himself—President Barack Obama—and in each instance the battle has ended with a cease-fire agreement—a compromise—that the soldiers did not like but decided they “could live with”. Now as we approach the end of the war the soldiers find themselves engaged in a final brawl between a commander they hardly respect—Harry Reid—and a treasonous weasel who should have been hanged long ago—Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticuit, who has vowed to join a Republican filibuster of the Health Care bill if it contains a public option. Lieberman, who has been secretly fighting on the side of the Enemy—private insurance companies—the entire time, can not be punished for his treason, as he knows he will never win back the support of Democrats no matter what he does, and when his term ends he can make his treason official by either earning a fat paycheck on the board of directors of one of these private insurance companies or simply switching sides to join their army—the Republicans, who will welcome him as the Hero who Killed Health Care Reform. The only option for the progressive army now seems to be an attempt to recruit a soldier from the other side—Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine—whom they can only get by making yet another concession, a trigger for the public option designed to never let it be triggered, a concession far too great for them to be willing to make.

And what hangs in the balance anyway? If the progressive army prevails against Lieberman even without recruiting Snowe, what exactly have they achieved? A public health insurance option available only to those currently without insurance and to those living in states in which the political leadership decides not to opt-out of the plan. That’s not what they’ve been fighting for, of course. Many have been fighting for a single-payer system, a health insurance industry free of a profit-motive altogether, in which the government pays for everyone’s medical expenses without regard for increasing the bottom line, satisfying the shareholders, or providing the C.E.O. with a high enough salary to purchase a few extra summer-homes. Most of the soldiers have long-since given up on that idea, and have instead been fighting tooth-and-nail over the past few months for a public option, a government-run insurance company, to merely exist in the marketplace and compete with the private-insurance companies, something available to everyone so that those unhappy with their profit-driven insurance company could switch to the non-profit public option and thus force the private companies to lower their prices in order to compete. These soldiers have one last commander in the field—Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon—who is proposing an amendment which would create just that—a public option available to everyone—but which hardly has a prayer of passing. Instead, the opposition has been so strong that what the progressives are fighting for now so desperately is a public option available to 5% or less of the population—something so watered-down and impotent as to be virtually ineffectual within the broken system they’ve been trying so hard to fix. If the Enemy, the private insurance companies, come out of this war with nothing more than 3% of the market to compete for, it will be almost akin to a victory for them.

The only thing about the Bullshit Public Option that everyone is now pushing so hard for that is the least bit satisfying to progressives is the potential it has to one day grow into something larger—and that’s the only reason the Enemy is still fighting it, now by unleashing Lieberman as the final obstacle in its path. If a government-run insurance company is created to cater to those without health insurance, and those who are lucky enough to be eligible for the public plan like what they have, then what’s to stop a future army of progressives from taking up arms again for the purpose of expanding this program to make it available to all Americans? The Enemy knows that it’s much easier to expand an already existing program than to enact a new one from scratch, which is why they’re fighting so hard to prevent even this compromise-to-end-all-compromises from seeing the light of day.

No, if those who have been fighting for real Health Care reform all year want to see a bill actually get to the floor and receive an up-or-down vote, they’re going to have to watch Commander Reid bend over for either Joe Lieberman or Olympia Snowe, and make yet another concession, this time to kill the public option altogether or impose a trigger-that-will-never-be-triggered, thus destroying the last remaining shred of anything resembling real reform and handing the Enemy a total, blow-out victory. Remember, one of the concessions that has already been made is an Individual Mandate, meaning the Enemy will receive millions of new victims (customers) who will now be required by law to buy their evil product. Without a government-run option available to people without insurance, they will have no choice but to buy their insurance from the private industry, who unfettered by competition will proceed to bleed them dry through insane premiums, and find any possible loophole to deny them coverage when they actually get sick.

How did it come to this? How is it that proponents of Health Care reform are fighting so hard now for this bullshit watered-down pussy-ass public option compromise? And how is it that they might not even get that? Exactly who or what is to blame for all of this? It’s not entirely Joe Lieberman’s responsibility, as if it weren’t him it would be someone else, and if any Republican at all were actually acting on good faith in the best interests of the American people, he wouldn’t even be an issue because then we’d have the 60 votes necessary to move the bill to a vote without him. It’s not all Harry Reid’s fault either because while he may suffer from a complete lack of testicular fortitude, he can’t do anything about these ridiculous rules that say although you only need a majority to pass a bill, you need a super-majority to allow that bill to be voted on in the first place. Nor is it entirely the fault of Max Baucus, the asshole who spent all summer watering-down the health-care reform bill in a faux effort to achieve “bi-partisanship”, nor is it the entirely the fault of Olympia Snow, who very cleverly flirted with the idea of voting for the bill just so that all of this watering-down for the sake of “bi-partisanship” could actually seem justified. Nor is it the fault of the corrupt and spineless Blue Dog Democrats like Ben Nelson, Kent Conrad, Blanche Lincoln, and Mary Landrieu, all of whom oppose the public option in spite of majority support among the people of their own states and overwhelming majority support among Democrats. These are just players in the system—a system that has always rewarded these kinds of players because they’re the ones who are able to sell their votes in behind-closed-doors negotiations, where all the real legislating in this country is done. This is just the way the system works, and no one person within the system has the power to change it.

So what about the general himself—Barack Obama—the man supposed to be leading the charge for real Health Care reform? Well, apparently “real” reform to him is whatever can pass—not necessarily anything that will actually make a difference. He’s been consistent throughout this whole debate in terms of his words—he believes that a public option is the best way to keep insurance companies honest—but his actions have consistently displayed his willingness to throw the public option overboard for the sake of the passage of a bill, any bill, that he could then point to and claim victory. “Look, I got Health Care reform passed!” he can say, and I suppose he genuinely expects to get credit for it.

What he doesn’t seem to realize is that the army that has been fighting his cause all year—with shockingly little actual leadership from him—is not full of blind sheep who worship him as a demi-god. Progressives are not Republicans who just line up behind a charismatic leader-figure and repeat whatever they’re told and excommunicate all who think differently. Progressives follow their ideals, not leaders, and when the leaders they supported for the sake of those ideals wind up betraying those very ideals, they find a new leader. Barack Obama raised a lot of hopes when he took office, particularly with regard to real change in the Health Care system, and if something passes without a public option which he then claims is a victory, those hopes will be dashed and Barack Obama can expect a very tough re-election campaign in 2012 as all his disillusioned followers stay at home, unable to summon the will to go out and cast a vote for this fraud a second time.

The war is almost over, and in its wake lies the blood and corpses of Hope and Change—the Hope that was born and cultivated last year when a young black man with a bold progressive agenda actually managed to rise to the rank of the President of the United States. The general of an army of progressives which had mobilized to put him in that position—a position from which he could continue the fight and make a real difference in the lives of Americans—he would finally bring about the Change the American people were starving for, the Change he promised they “could believe in.” But in taking on the Enemy, the general and his commanders turned and sold out the very soldiers who were fighting for them for the sake of a bullshit Peace Treaty they could call a “victory”.

If the public option passes, it will be a victory, but one so close to a defeat as to make very little difference in terms of the faith that progressives have already lost in Obama. If it fails, it will be a defeat, the progressives will know it’s a defeat, and the moment Obama rises to the podium to declare it a victory, as he inevitably will if any bill whatsoever gets passed, that will be the end of his presidency—the last and largest casualty of this long and bloody war.

Alone Again

October 25th, 2009 No comments

This morning I woke up early to walk with Krissi to the train station and wish her goodbye. I can’t remember a time I’ve ever felt such drastic mixed feelings simultaneously. As we hugged each other goodbye, she boarded the train, and I waved to her as it rolled out of the station, I was both unmistakably sad that she was leaving and overjoyed that I now finally have my normal life back. I don’t know when I’ll see her again—I may never see her again for all I know—and for all of the annoyances I did genuinely enjoy a great deal of things about having her around, so when she left I knew implicitly that I was losing something. But I also knew what I’d be gaining, as I’ve been looking forward to it for weeks now—solitude. And as the kind of person I am, however it is I came to be this way, I greatly value solitude, and I finally have it back.

Our last few days together were pleasant enough. We hung out with Amanda on Thursday night, and on Friday afternoon we went back to the Sprengel Museum to see everything we hadn’t seen the week before, including giving a closer look to the Art & War exhibition. That night we were pretty much obligated to go out and get drunk, so after drinking a few beers and Jäger shots at my place we ventured one last time into Hannover’s Friday night-life. We assumed we’d end up at a club somewhere but nothing was going on in any of the places we checked. So we just drank at the Böse Wolf, then headed into town, drank at the KGB, and had one last beer at the place we’d danced during our first Friday Night drinking session two months ago, before wrapping up the night with one final Döner Kebab, Krissi’s last one ever (and my last one for a long time).

And last night, while I hadn’t planned or wanted to drink, we nevertheless wound up drinking again after going out to eat at the restaurant right on the opposite corner from where I live, the Pfannkuchen Haus. Krissi felt that with only one more night in which delicious German beer would be available to her, she kind of had to take advantage, which I understand. I plan on going for at least a week now with no alcohol whatsoever, a plan that both my brain and my body should greatly appreciate. We didn’t go out at least, but stayed in and watched episodes of Home Movies which I’m glad she really liked as well as Bill Maher’s Religulous, which she also really enjoyed, and which led to the last deep conversation we’d have, this one about mankind destroying ourselves and how neither of us thought that was a particularly terrible thing. We didn’t talk much before going to sleep, and before I knew it the alarm we’d set for 5:30 was ringing. Thanks to it being Daylight Savings night, we actually were able to go back to sleep and get another hour before she really had to get up, and then while she got ready I drifted back off to sleep until 7:00 when I got up to go walk her to the station.

Now the apartment is empty again, I’m really enjoying the silence, and I’ve got a whole day ahead of me in which I can and will do pretty much nothing. I already took care of my lesson plans for the week, but I do want to clean the apartment back to the level I had it just before Krissi arrived, and afterwards I’ll probably go out for a walk because it is, unfortunately, a rather nice day which means I can’t help but feel obliged to take advantage of it.

We’ll see how it goes over the course of the week. How long will it be before I start to really miss her, to regret how I didn’t take enough advantage of her presence while she was around and that I failed to appreciate what I had? At least I know enough about myself to expect that, just as I knew before she even came that I would eventually reach a point where I’d start looking forward to her leaving.

Categories: Personal Tags: , , ,

Company, Final Week

October 22nd, 2009 No comments

Two and a half more days, three more nights. Then she’ll be gone, and I’ll have my sweet, sweet solitude once again.

One day in the future I’ll probably look back on this period of time and want to slap myself for not appreciating every minute of her company while she was here, but I just can’t help how I feel right now. I want to be alone—I haven’t been truly alone in two months—and she’s the one thing standing in the way.

Of course it’s not her in particular. If it were almost anybody else I’d probably have gone completely insane a long time ago. It’s a testament to how well we get along that I’ve made it this far without exploding (though I have come close several times and then pulled myself back with some lame excuse about “just fucking with her” that I’m pretty sure she didn’t believe anyway). What bothers me is just having someone around—someone who’s there all the time.

Still, there are specific things about her that annoy the shit out of me, and while I feel like a fucking bastard for mentioning anything about them I know they’re really not that bad and I want to write them down just to remind myself, when I do look back on this and hate myself for being such a bitch, that it wasn’t as wonderful as it might look in hindsight. I’ve already mentioned the snoring and she knows full well just how aggravating that is to me. But the other thing that really gets to me is how she always needs to have music going on in the background, but she’s so picky about music that I never know what the fuck to play. “Put on some tunes, eh?” she’ll say multiple times a day (just the word “tunes” makes me want to tear my hair out now), and when I tell her to put on whatever she wants she can’t decide because she’s apparently sick of everything on her I-pod. I can’t ever fucking figure out what to play because she hates way more shit than most people hate and even the stuff I thought she likes she’ll say that she’s sick of them or she never even really liked them that much in the first place. As for me, when I’m alone I just enjoy the silence most of the time, but she can’t handle that. When she’s gone I can’t wait to just sit in complete and utter silence for hours. I think I’m looking forward to that more than anything.

One good thing about this is that I’ve really looked forward to going to my lessons and I’ve enjoyed getting back into teaching a lot more than I thought I would. Just being able to get away from her for a few hours here and there has made it worthwhile. Of course, that was mitigated somewhat by getting sick on Sunday, a really nasty stomach bug that gave me horrible cramps and diarrhea, but the symptoms always seem to magically disappear when you’re actually in the midst of a lesson, thanks to that whole altered-state thing that happens while you’re teaching. But the sickness did give me an excuse to just lie in my bed and sleep while I was back here, rather than “go out and do something” as she always wants to do even though there’s nothing to do that we haven’t already done and most of what there is to do is just walking around which she insists it’s too cold to do (even though it’s not). So for a couple of days I’d just lie in bed and she’d go out to a store or whatever, giving me a few hours here and there of precious solitude and silence.

I was going to do this anyway, but I asked other teachers if I could sit in on any of their lessons to help me with some ideas to improve my teaching method. I could have waited until next week but I specifically wanted to do it this week, and I went on Wednesday to sit in on a very experienced teacher’s lesson, both as a way to get ideas for teaching and a way to avoid having to spend the whole day with my “what do you want to go do?” houseguest. Yes, I understand that you’re only in Germany for a few more days and you want to get the most out of it, but for one thing I’m broke as shit and for another there really is nothing to do except walk around, which you don’t want to do.

So the only thing we ended up doing all week was visiting Oliver in Celle on Tuesday night, which I enjoyed a lot except for the period of time when she kept asking him what kind of stuff there was to do in Hannover, but even he couldn’t think of anything we hadn’t already done. And tonight we might hang out with Amanda again, hopefully at Quiz Night.

As for the lesson which I sat in for, I was surprised at just how little I actually learned from the experience. This is the new big hot-shot teacher that Planeo just hired who is going teacher-to-teacher and sitting in on everybody’s lessons to give them pointers and facilitate discussion amongst all of us teachers to help us learn from each other, so I figured if I could learn from anybody it would be from her, but all I basically learned was that what I’ve already been doing has been pretty much standard anyway. I wouldn’t say it wasn’t valuable—just seeing what a teacher with 20-years’ experience is doing is inherently valuable—but the really good thing was that it gave me more confidence in what I’m already doing. I was starting to get the feeling that I was really half-assing it and I was in danger of losing even more classes because there was something “real” teachers do that I wasn’t doing, but it turns out I’m doing what everyone else does. There were definitely a few little tips and hints that I will put to good use, but for the most part it was just nice to see that the difference between what I do and what someone with 20 years of experience does is not actually all that large.

Anyway, I might make this a private entry because I do feel shitty about bitching about my friend in a public forum, even though it’s only stuff she’s already aware of, but I don’t know. This is really the core of the dilemma of posting a private, personal journal online. These are real thoughts and feelings, the kind of I would totally document without a second thought if I wasn’t sharing it with anyone, but the fact that I am and that she or some friends of hers could read it somewhere down the line just doesn’t sit well with me.

Luckily, I know for a fact that one person will read this long before anyone else, and he can tell me what he thinks. So what do you think?

Categories: Personal Tags: , , ,

Underemployment

October 17th, 2009 No comments

This was the week I “returned from vacation”. I was supposed to have a Thursday full of classes and a big chunk of lessons on Friday. Instead, because I lost all my Thursday classes and one of my Friday lessons cancelled on me, I just had one lesson all week. It hardly feels like the “vacation” is over at all—except that I’m having a lot less fun.

As for what I’m doing about the underemployment situation, I’ll be looking for new work starting Monday. I already sent an e-mail to the Carl Duisberg language school, the place I applied last year and which agreed to give me lessons but couldn’t until I got a work permit. By the time I got a work permit I already had enough lessons with Planeo to just forget about them. I hope they didn’t take it personally. At any rate, I’ll also stop by two other language schools on Monday afternoon—the Wall Street Institute and Berlitz—as well as maybe poke my head back into Inlingua just because I technically already work for them and maybe they just need a reminder. I hope Frau Giesecke still works there.

I’ll also try and figure out how to take out an ad somewhere to try and attract private students who can pay me under the table, which could prevent my going into debt in December, which now is pretty much an inevitability. I just sent €200 from my German bank account to the American bank account to pay off my last credit card bill, thus reducing my debt to $0 so I’ll have a clean slate going into December when I’ll suddenly need to borrow almost $1000 again. But at least some of that, I’m sure, can be covered by my parents in lieu of any Christmas presents. So the situation isn’t that dire—it’s just annoying that I now have to fucking worry about it again.

Another bit of irony has to do with my doctor’s visit back in September, after which I went on about how great the “German Health Care” system was. Well, I forgot that I don’t have German health insurance—my health insurance is from a big private international insurance company, and they turned out to be no help at all. Upon returning from vacation I had two bills waiting for me in my mailbox: one from the doctor and another from the office where the blood tests had been done—blood tests that had yielded absolutely no helpful results and I ended up getting better anyway, just as I would have without seeing a doctor at all. They totaled €170, or about $250. I asked around and discovered that I had to pay these bills myself, then send all the information, including a form filled out and signed by the doctor herself, to the insurance company who would then decide whether or not to pay. The catch is that my plan has a $280 “excess” which means that for each years’ medical expenses, I have to pay the first $280 and the insurance company only starts paying once my expenses go above that cutting point. My insurance agent said I should go through all the paperwork anyway so I could reduce my balance to $30 in case I needed treatment again. But because my policy renews in October and the treatment happened in September, I asked him if the balance would just revert back to $280 anyway, and he said it would. So basically I’ve been paying $100 a month for the last year for absolutely nothing. The one time I went to see a doctor, I ended up having to pay the whole thing myself. Fucking goddamned private insurance companies, man. I thought that not living in the U.S. I wouldn’t be getting screwed by them, but apparently they’re the same wherever you go. Which makes perfect sense, of course. The whole idea of a profit-motive in health care is just inherently twisted.

Anyway, I’ll be teetering on the brink of bankruptcy (yet again) for a long time. At least it provides me with an excuse not to go out and do stuff all the time with Krissi, who always wants to go out and do stuff while I’m more of a stay-home-and-do-jack-shit kind of guy. But we did manage to do one interesting thing this week, as Friday is free-entry day for the Sprengel Art Museum here in Hannover. After I got back from work we went to the museum and spent a few hours there checking out all the crazy modern and surrealistic art. The best stuff we didn’t find until right at the end—a special exhibit on “Kunst and Krieg” (Art and War) by various soldier/artists with drawings depicting their experiences in various wars, mostly WWI. Some pretty fucked up crazy images, a lot of it bringing to mind the whole “Goodbye, Blue Sky” sequence from the film of Pink Floyd: The Wall, which must have been partially inspired by these kinds of images. It was really giving me chills, but we were only half-way through when the announcement came on that the museum would be closing in 15 minutes and everyone should make their way towards the exits, so we had to rush through the second half. Either way, it was really cool, and it’s nice to know this museum is there which I can visit for free every Friday, although that particular exhibit won’t be there much longer.

Today is Saturday and our only plans are to go shopping for a Halloween costume for when she gets back. I’ll hopefully also get a call from Oliver inviting us to spend the night in Celle, which I could really go for right now as a nice break from the daily sameness. One more week of this and then it’s back to my life of total solitude when I can finally go back to doing whatever I want to do whenever I want to do it. And while every now and then I have a momentary flash of “I’m going to miss having Krissi around” I know that once she’s gone I’m really going to appreciate living alone more than ever before. As much as I hate to admit it, and as fucked up as I know it makes me, I’m now looking forward to her leaving almost as much (but at least not quite as much) as I was looking forward to her coming.

Swift Kick in the Balls

October 13th, 2009 No comments

Two minutes ago I checked my e-mail to find a notice from Astrid, the second-in-command to Frank in terms of Planeo administration, informing me that some of my students from Thursdays in Helmstead had asked for another teacher while I was gone. Lara, the lawyer, apparently found her substitute more helpful, which doesn’t surprise me, but also some of the students from my North Carolina group, my favorite class. It wasn’t Andreas because she said she had yet to hear from him, so at least I know he didn’t betray me, but I can’t believe Christine would have turned on me like that either. Monika, I know, was never as into my teaching style as the others, so it’s no surprise there, but Suzanne was never around so I doubt she would have had much of an opinion. Still, it sucks to have been tossed away by my students like that.

What’s worse, as a result they’ve taken all of my Thursday lessons from me, including the apprentices, a class I also really enjoyed and whom I believe (or would at least like to believe) enjoyed being taught by me because I made the class as fun as possible. They, I’m sure, didn’t ask for a different teacher, and I’m downright positive some of them are going to be a little pissed off about it, but in order to save on travel costs for their teachers, they’re just giving all those lessons to the woman Penni who did those substitutions. I don’t know who that is, but she must be pretty good if the other students decided they’d rather have her as their permanent teacher.

This also really fucks me up financially, especially considering I just got the ball rolling on correcting my rent payments to my landlord. I called his office yesterday and he returned the call this morning but we couldn’t figure out what the problem with the payments was and he’s going to call me back this afternoon once he has his banking information in front of him. I got the impression that it’s no big deal to him and I don’t see any reason he won’t go along with my plan of paying him double the rent for the next five months in order to get squared up with him. Thursday was responsible for about 36% of my monthly income.

So suddenly my expenses go up while my income goes drastically down. It’s like I’m practically back where I was a year ago when I was still struggling to get enough work to survive. All because I went on vacation.

I’ll be going in to the Planeo office tomorrow to discuss this with Astrid, who wrote that she has to wait and see if they can give me any other lessons in replacement. If they can. It doesn’t sound good.

All of a sudden I’m once again teetering on a goddamned financial brink, unsure of whether I’ll even be able to stay in Germany any longer or if I’ll have to give up, go back to New Jersey, and search for another job. The only consolation is knowing that now I do have a year of experience, that I’ve got references at Planeo who I’m sure will put in a good word for me, so it will be easier to find a job than it was before. And considering that Myson was able to get a job in Korea with no experience whatsoever, and that Alan actually began his career in Japan, I’m sure I’m not going to be completely fucked no matter what. Still, I wasn’t quite ready to leave Germany yet, and if I leave now it’ll be under a cloud of debt to my landlord which will put me in just as bankrupt a situation as I was when I left Santa Barbara.

This fucking sucks.

Categories: Personal Tags: , , ,

Grand Finale: Dresden and Leipzig

October 11th, 2009 No comments

I’m back in Hannover now having returned yesterday. Traveling was fantastic, but I’ve really been looking forward to a day like today when I won’t do anything but sit on my ass and recover some much-needed energy. I’ve got plenty of time to write about the last few days of the trip, so I’ll attempt to do so with appropriate detail.

1 – Leaving Prague (08.10)

On our last morning in Prague, Krissi and I just got up early, had some breakfast at the hostel, then killed the last couple of hours first by checking out a church that we’d passed by on the free walking tour and were interested in seeing. The tour guide had told us an interesting legend about the church, that one night a thief snuck in and tried to steal the golden necklace from around the statue of the virgin Mary, but the statue came to life and grabbed the man’s arm, trapping him there until the priest arrived. The priest discovered the man, who was now ready to repent all his sins and renounce thieving, but the statue wouldn’t let go so the priest had to hack off his arm with an axe, at which point the statue returned to its pose of praying. The fucked up thing is that the priest hung the man’s arm over the entrance inside the church as a warning to any future potential thieves, and the arm is still hanging to this day.

We couldn’t remember the name or location of the church, so we went to the Old Town Square where the free tour was gathering, and found Mike, our guide for the castle tour who also does the free tour, and asked him about it. Mike kindly pointed us in the right direction so we were able to find it, go inside, and see that indeed there was a disgusting, black, shriveled rotting arm hanging above the entrance. It was a nice church otherwise, and we found the statue of the virgin Mary, although no necklace around her neck. The whole thing just makes me wonder from whom the priest got that arm, because the story is obviously some bullshit he made up to impress his parish and put the fear of God in them. I gather that most medieval priests were probably seriously fucked up in the head.

After seeing that we still had about an hour to kill, so we walked along the river in search of a nice café near the castle to sit and have some tea. We were running out of time by the time we arrived there so we couldn’t find any really nice places and just got one at a café in the metro station, after which we rode the metro to the second of Prague’s two train stations and made it with plenty of time before boarding the train to Dresden.

2 – So It Goes in Dresden (08.10 – 09.10)

When we arrived in Dresden we didn’t quite know how to find the hostel, but being back in a German speaking country I was able to ask people at information booths and whatnot for instructions, and found the place without much trouble. The receptionist at the front desk who checked us in was also very helpful in pointing out where the sights were and where the night-life was. She also took note of the fact that we were only staying one night and told us quite bluntly that one night was plenty of time for Dresden, as apparently there’s not that much to see or do. You basically just walk around the Old Town and check out the buildings, or go into a museum if you’re so inclined.

It was only 4:00 when we headed out, but we were both very hungry so we stopped for a very early dinner of Döner Kebab before heading to the Old Town. We’d both been craving Döner for awhile because it was almost impossible to come by in Prague. We’d only found one Kebab stand in the entire city, which didn’t look very good, and one in the train station right before we left. But Dresden was absolutely littered with them—nearly one on every street corner—and we window-shopped until we found the one that looked the most promising, which was right across the street from another one that looked almost exactly the same. It wasn’t the best Kebab ever, but it satisfied the craving.

With that taken care of, we walked to the Old Town, and along the way I explained to Krissi why I wanted to see Dresden in the first place, about the fire-bombings in 1945 and how the city was reduced to nothing but ashes and rubble. I also told her to read Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, as in addition to just being a great fucking book, a lot of it has to do with Vonnegut’s own personal experience of having been in Dresden during that fire-bombing, and seeing all those civilians get blown to smithereens by the Allied Forces for no good reason. So it goes.

The Old Town was very impressive, having structures that apparently either survived the bombing or were just perfectly reconstructed afterwards. There were a few awesome-looking buildings laden with more statues than I’ve ever seen in any one place. The “Zwinger” complex in particular was rather incredible, looking like an ancient Roman pavilion lined with hundreds upon hundreds of sculptures, each completely unique and many just awe-inspiring to look at. The other buildings all had some charm as well, but unfortunately there just weren’t very many of them. We were pretty much finished walking around by the time the sun was setting over the Elba river, and we decided to kill the next couple of hours before the night-life time began by going back to the hostel and looking up possibilities for what to do the next morning or the following afternoon in Leipzig.

But the hostel only had one computer with free internet access and I didn’t feel like paying for another hour as I had earlier, and that particular computer was being used by three young girls so I had to wait in the lobby for awhile. The receptionist told the girls that other people need to use the computer but apparently they needed at least 10 more minutes of MySpace time and that would be it. But while I waited I just picked up some pamphlets and figured we might do a bus tour or something the next day. One of the girls came around to where I was sitting, and I told her in German that it was okay, that I didn’t need the computer anymore so she and her friends could stay longer.

By then it was pretty much late enough to go out drinking anyway, so Krissi and I headed out. The first place we stopped at was a small, darkly lit little place which both of us found appealing, and the bartender there looked like he might have also been the owner. We liked his style too—sporting a beret and a thick, Luigi-like moustache, chain smoking the night away. Unlike West Germany, smoking in bars is always allowed in East Germany, I assume because the East Germans have all been through enough real-life shit that they couldn’t care less about meaningless trivialities like second-hand smoke in public places. “Seriously,” I could imagine them saying to any politician who dared pass such an ordinance, “we spent half of our lives being told what we can and can’t do, and now you want to tell us we can no longer smoke in a fucking bar!? Well, thanks but no thanks for your health concerns, Stalin, but I think we’ve earned the right to smoke indoors.”

We left that place after only one drink and passed by a bunch of bars, looking for another good one, until we passed a place from which we heard some pretty bad-ass music playing. We went inside and went downstairs, where we found a few people jamming on some instruments—a drum-set, guitar, and keyboard. At first we thought they were a band, but when they finished playing they just set the instruments down and resumed drinking, the guitarist actually taking his place behind the bar, where he remained nearly the rest of the night serving drinks. He told us in German—then in English when it was clear we didn’t understand—that we were welcome to pick up an instrument and play if we wanted, but neither of us do so we declined.

As the night went on more people poured in, and occasionally one or two would take up some instruments and jam. We knew we’d stumbled on one of the best possible places in town, so we knew we’d probably spend a lot of time there. After two beers when we might have otherwise gone off in search of an even cooler place, a few people who looked like serious musicians came in and started setting up, so we knew we had to stay. One by one they finished setting up and started playing—the drummer, the keyboardist, and a guy with an acoustic guitar. After only a few minutes of jamming, another guy—a really effeminate kid with long blonde hair—stood up and grabbed the bass, got it all set up and joined in, totally kicking ass and making the sound even better. He seemed to kind of piss off the acoustic guitarist though, whom he was now completely drowning out, so the guitarist picked up the electric and the jam continued. A short while later, a dude with an electric violin joined in and now the sound was fucking spectacular. We drank a few more beers and stayed there for at least another hour, over the course of which different people would leave their instruments and make room for others to head up and jam. The whole thing kicked incredible amounts of ass.

But after awhile we decided we’d spent enough time there and we should head out, so we went out into the night in search of one last place. We found another bar which had a good DJ doing his thing, but it was relatively empty and we only stayed for one beer, as we were now both adequately drunk and didn’t feel the urge to get any drunker. Of course now we had the drunken munchies, and as we’d eaten such an early meal I figured we might as well eat again, and for the first (and hopefully the last) time in my life I got a second Döner Kebab in one day, this time at the place right across the street from the place we ate at earlier, which must be part of the same business because it was exactly the same thing.

We got back to the hostel, passed out, and woke up the next morning way earlier than we expected, at 7:45. I decided to get up then and there, as most hostel-goers seem to set their alarms for 8:00 and I wanted to beat the rush to the showers. I’d checked the previous afternoon and found that of the five showers in the men’s room, only one had a door that you could actually close—the rest didn’t even have shower curtains so you’d just have to get naked in front of everyone. Most Europeans have no qualms about that sort of thing, but having grown up in America and taught that my naked body is something to be horribly ashamed of, I’m still not quite ready to disrobe in front of strangers. Luckily, I got to the shower with the door before any others.

We ate some breakfast—which I really didn’t need because I still felt full of kebab, then I bought some WiFi internet and spent the next hour looking up stuff to do in Dresden and Leipzig. We’d decided against the bus tour because it was just too expensive, but I couldn’t find anything else we might like to do except check out the art museum, but the museum was closed for renovations until next year. So I figured we’d just walk to the Old Town again, maybe check out both churches they have, then walk back to the main train station and head out, as the regional train to Leipzig left every 20 minutes after the hour and I figured that would be the perfect amount of time.

But nothing quite worked out according to that plan. The first church was closed, and I just couldn’t find the second one. It wasn’t on my map or anything and it wasn’t where I remembered passing by it the day before. But we couldn’t search around for too long because we had to get to the train station or be stuck in Dresden for yet another hour with absolutely nothing to do, while meanwhile in Leipzig, according to the internet, there was plenty of stuff to check out.

I’d miscalculated the time it would take for us to walk to the train station, as I’d been using maps of different scales the whole time and a fifteen-minute walk by the scale of the Prague map actually ended up being a thirty-minute walk by the Dresden map. When we were really cutting it close I finally gave up and bought a tram ticket three stops away from the station with only ten minutes to spare. We got to the station with only two minutes to go, and ran to the train, not having time to buy a ticket, and boarded just a second before it took off. I was nervous about having boarded the train without a ticket but I figured if we just went up to a conductor and explained ourselves—therefore making it clear that we weren’t trying to get a free ride—they might just cut us a break and charge us the normal price. But we walked both lengths of the train and couldn’t find a conductor. We did however find a sign that said in German, “First buy a ticket, then board the train.” So we decided that maybe we’d hop off at the next station, rush to a ticket machine to buy a ticket, then hop back on. We might manage that in a two-minute window if the machines were right on the platform.

The next station was Dresden-Neustadt, the second main train station in Dresden, but as we rushed along the platform we realized there were no ticket machines to be found. We had only a split second to decide whether to board again or whether to give up and play it safe. We decided to play it safe, and watched the train roll away as we went downstairs to the ticket machines to buy our ticket, then just wait around for another hour until the next train came. We didn’t expect to have a hard time finding a seat because the last train had been virtually empty, but for some reason the next one was almost completely full. But we were able to find some seats and sit down, and before I knew it we reached Leipzig, the last stop on our adventure, which was to be the setting for a much bigger coincidence—the most fortuitous traveling coincidence I’ve ever experienced.

3 – Leipzig’s Big Day (09.10.2009)

It had been mostly a whim that brought us to Leipzig on that particular date. It could have just as easily been a day earlier or a day later, or we might have passed it by altogether or done a different city. But there we were, arriving in Leipzig on the 9th of October, 2009, without any idea that this hate had any significance whatsoever.

And as we walked to our hostel, literally right across the street from the train station, there was nothing to indicate that anything special was happening. The front desk agent who checked us in said nothing, and the map he gave us which pointed us in the direction of the Tourist Information center was just a generic map with a walking-tour route through the Old Town with info on each major location.

We went to the Tourist Information center to ask somebody what we should make sure to see, as I knew almost nothing about Leipzig other than the fact that it was the city of Johann Sebastian Bach and had been part of the Soviet Union along with every other city in the former East Germany. We waited on line at the info center until a girl came up to us and asked us what we wanted. I just said we were here for one day and wanted to know what we should see. Immediately, we could tell that she was perhaps the worst Tourist Information employee of all time, as she just handed us a map, circled the entire Old Town, and said we could walk around and “see your favorite sights”. Well, obviously, but what should we see? I asked her in these exact words: “What is the one thing we can’t miss while we’re here in Leipzig?” She just shrugged and handed us a pamphlet for some Amazon Rain-Forest exhibit at a museum on the other side of the city, then repeated that we could walk around and “see our favorite sights”. Once it was clear that this was all the help we were going to get, we thanked her and left.

The little walking-tour map that the front desk guy at our hostel had given us was actually better than the official map, and I figured we could spend the afternoon following the route on the map and stopping anywhere that seemed interesting. The first stop on the map was the train station, the largest dead-end train station in all of Europe (which I was skeptical about because they’d said the same thing about their station in Frankfurt) but we’d already been there so we moved on, heading down Nikolaistraße to the Church of St. Nikolai, the next stop on our tour.

It was here we got our first indication that anything special was going on. There was a sign on the door that said that for today, because of [incomprehensible German] the church would not be opened until 16:15, which was still a couple of hours away. There were news vans and journalists standing outside the church, so we knew something was going on but we still didn’t know what.

Then we walked down a bit further and found what seemed like a demonstration, but signs with a big black-and-white picture and the words, “Leipzig ‘89” written on them. There were also a few banners with today’s date: “9 Oktober 2009”, so we now knew that there was some kind of celebration happening today. It must have had something to do with the end of Soviet Rule, because the Wall came down in the Fall of 1989 and this was 20 years later, but the Wall fell on 9 November, so what was going on here? Maybe they just picked this day because it was a Friday that worked for them?

When we reached the Augustusplatz point on our map, a large square outside the Opera House, there were even more banners and posters and news vans and journalists, including one van you could go inside and learn about the events leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall. There were all kinds of dates there so this van must have been touring Germany all year going to different cities of significance in the lead-up to the reunification. There was a little stand with pictures and pamphlets outside the van, and Krissi picked one up and asked a woman who worked for this van-tour project thing if she could take one. The woman answered in English that she could, so I decided to also ask straight up, in English, if the date of October 9th had any particular significance for the particular city of Leipzig.

Well, yes, actually it did. Apparently exactly 20 years ago to the day, there had been a peaceful protest of 70,000 Leipzigers which began outside the Church of St. Nikolai, and it sparked protests all over East Germany that led directly to the collapse of the Berlin Wall. (The story our tour guide Inez had told us at the end of the Berlin Wall, about how the government thought they could appease the people by pretending to open up travel between East and West but really put too many restrictions for it to actually work—only then to have that news delivered by a fool who didn’t realize the plan and just said they were pretty much opening up the Berlin Wall for good—was the result of these protests that had begun that day in Leipzig).

Unbelievable. By pure dumb luck, we’d arrived in Leipzig on the 20-year anniversary of what is pretty much the most important date in the city’s history. We were sure that night that everyone would be out celebrating and partying—thus making for the perfect end to our little tour of Germany.

From there we continued our walking tour, next heading up downtown Leipzig’s tallest building to check out a spectacular panoramic view of the city. The weather was also perfect—completely clear with blue skies and a temperature that made you never think of the temperature. The view was awesome, and it only cost €2 so that was nice.

After that we went to the City History Museum of Leipzig, which was the perfect thing for us to see on that day. In addition to works of art by Leipzigers depicting the general feeling of life during Soviet rule, it had all kinds of artifacts from the period of time between the end of Nazi rule and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Video footage of various moments of historical significance were also prominent, and as I read the captions and picked up the ear-pieces to listen I found that I knew enough German to get the gist of everything. So that was a nice little history lesson to reinforce our understanding of the day’s significance.

The next few stops on the tour weren’t as interesting—shopping districts, the Old and New City Hall and whatnot, but the second-to-last stop, the St. Thomas Church, was pretty fucking awesome as it was where Bach himself worked during the entire latter part of his life, from 1723 to 1750. His remains were buried right there outside under a big polished stone. We also learned from the tour map that the Boys’ Choir, which is the oldest in Germany (started in 1212) and was directed by Bach himself during his time there, sings there every Friday night at 18:00. It was currently 17:00, and we figured we simply had to check it out.

We killed the remaining hour by looking at the last stop on the tour—just a road right outside of the Old Town with a bunch of restaurants—and then back to the Church of St. Nikolai to see if it was now open. It was indeed open, but the crowd outside and inside was so thick that we stood there for ten minutes without moving an inch (although I’m pretty sure we made it onto German television because there were a shit-load of cameras there scanning the crowd).

We left and went back to the St. Thomas church with 15 minutes to spare. It was €2 to get in but we gladly paid, then took a seat in a giant hall and waited. They’d given us a program on the way in, which I was surprised to see was actually a program for a genuine church service, with a sermon and prayers and everything. So for the first time in fuck knows how many years, I actually attended church.

And it was safe to say that it was the most kick-ass church service I’ve ever been to. It opened with a few words from the priest about the significance of the date, then kicked into gear with the choir director playing Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D on the organ as a special tribute to the date, which meant we got to hear my favorite Bach piece in the actual church where Bach fucking worked. After that bit of awesomeness, the boys began, and holy shit were they awesome. I had been expecting something nice and pleasant but these boys were just mind-blowingly good. I was getting chills up and down my spine and all over my body, the sound of it was just so amazing. They sang five little pieces, then the priest delivered a sermon I surprisingly understood much of—pretty much about the role God played on this night 20 years ago—then everyone was invited to sing a hymn along with the boy’s choir, a couple more pieces by the choir alone, everyone rising for the German Lord’s Prayer, and finally two more amazing pieces by the boys. There was never any applause or anything, and when the last piece was over everyone just got up and left.

That was probably the highlight of the day. What followed was by far the lowlight—the biggest disappointment of the entire trip. It hadn’t occurred to us that there might be some big event going on in town at a certain time to celebrate the anniversary, so when we left that church we just decided to satisfy our hunger and go to one of the restaurants on that street from the end of the walking tour. The fact that the street was like a ghost-town and pretty much every restaurant was totally empty should have clued us in to the fact that something was going on, but we’d never been to Leipzig on a Friday evening before and for all we knew this was how it always was.

It wasn’t until we’d already sat down and placed our dinner order that Krissi said, “Do you think something is going on in town right now?” and I asked the waitress in the best German I could muster if there was indeed some kind of celebration happening right now. She said there was but it was in the city, then she asked her colleague something and told us something about 8:00. I assumed that meant it began at 8:00, and since it was now 7:45 I guessed that if we ate fast enough we’d get there at 8:30 at the latest and it would probably still be going on.

So we scarffed down our food, which was excellent but we weren’t focusing on enjoying it because we were too concerned about missing the Big Event, and after 8:00 more people started coming to the restaurant and we began to get this sinking feeling like whatever was happening had already happened. Nevertheless, we quickly paid and got the hell out of there, but as we reached the Old Town we just saw thousands of people all walking out, in the other direction.

At that point we knew we’d missed it, that the waitress must have meant that it ended at 8:00, and we were kicking ourselves left and right for not fucking realizing that something was going on before it was too late. It hadn’t even fucking occurred to us that there might be some major gathering of all the people in Leipzig to gather at the St. Nikolai Church or the Augustusplatz at dusk to hold candles and sing a song or something to celebrate the big 20-year anniversary of their city’s biggest night.

We tried to mitigate our huge disappointment by telling ourselves things like we didn’t miss anything we’d been planning to see anyway, that it was still really cool that we got to see what we did and that had we arrived at Leipzig one night later we would have missed the whole fucking thing and been much more disappointed. But we knew it was of no avail. We’d missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be there when an entire town came together to commemorate the most significant event in its history. Instead we’d gone for fucking dinner, and been too dense to realize that the fact that the streets were empty actually meant something.

We ultimately decided to blame that god-awful bitch at the tourist information center, as she could have—really fucking should have—told us what was going on, that it was a big day in Leipzig and everyone would be gathering in the square at dusk to hold candles and sing a song in celebration. I mean, I actually asked her: “What is the one thing we can’t miss while we’re here in Leipzig?” and she just handed us a goddamned rain-forest exhibit pamphlet. Seriously, she should be fired and burned at the stake for that shit. What the fuck?! I mean What. The. Fuck?

Anyway, we got to Augustusplatz where the scene was still pretty crazy. Thousands of people were still there, lights were flashing on all the buildings with words about the big anniversary, and a giant “Leipzig ‘89” was spelled out in candles in front of the steps of the Opera House. As we walked back to the hostel along the streets which had been cordoned off to road traffic by the police, we passed several platforms right on the tram tracks (also cordoned off, of course) with about five performance artists each painted all grey or red and dressed in grey and red clothing of the East German style, standing frozen in motion, I suppose to remind people of the melancholy atmosphere of the time. On one of the platforms there was actually a little seven-ish-year-old girl sitting at her mothers’ feet with a look of the utmost boredom on her face, and I couldn’t believe they actually dragged her into that. “Don’t worry, honey, it’ll be fun! You just sit there looking sad and not moving for several hours!” She must have had no idea what she was getting into. Either that or her mother promised to buy her ice cream every day for a year after that.

Still disappointed, but glad that we at least got to see way more interesting shit than we would have seen had we arrived on any other date, we got back to the hostel, got our shit together for our last night of drinking, then headed back through town, still swarming with people, and down to the night-life area on the road where all the websites said it would be.

I’d thought there would be a lot more people out celebrating, but in that area it was mostly young people who were just kids during communist times so it was just an average Friday night to them, and the atmosphere didn’t feel much different than other German cities on a Friday night. We stopped at the first place we came across because it had been a ridiculously long walk to get there, and got a shot of Jäger and a beer, agreeing that after we took the shot we would no longer bitch and moan about how we’d stupidly missed the most significant event of the whole fucking day.

And we abided by our pact. As we went from bar to bar we talked about everything but that bullshit, and only mentioned the significance of the day in a positive light—like how fucking cool is it that we were even there on this date in the first place? And let’s not forget that Boys’ Choir. That was definitely a priceless experience.

We were hoping to find some live music but we didn’t get any. Just an 80s bar, an Irish pub, a bar that seemed like a gay bar but might not have been (we only thought so because guys were all talking to guys and girls to girls and the bartenders were definitely dykes), then one last place which turned out to be really pleasant with friendly bartenders and a good atmosphere. On the way back to the hostel, our long 30-minute walk, we stopped into a Kebab shop for one last Döner (I don’t think we’ll be eating any more of those) which turned out to be the absolute best, most delicious one I’ve ever eaten.

When we finally got back to the center of town it was only 2:00 a.m., but we were shocked to find that the streets were now practically empty. We’d figured that on such a significant date, and on a Friday night at that, there would be people wandering the streets with open beer, singing and celebrating all night long. But either everyone had gone to bed, they were celebrating in their own homes, or it just wasn’t as big a deal to them as all the hooplah had made it seem. For one thing, I know many East German people actually miss the old communism days, not that you’d have gotten any impression of that from the signs and banners, or even the history museum. Perhaps this was simply a night of commemoration of the big peaceful protest, and they’re saving the Big Party from a month from then, November 9th, the day of the actual fall of the Berlin Wall. But it’s possible that most of them, while proud of their city for what it had done, actually represents a change worthy of celebration—that things sucked then and now they just suck in a different way. That tends to be the attitude of most East Germans I’ve talked to.

But we stopped into an Irish Pub for one last drink, and asked the really cute English-speaking bartendress what was going on. She said she hadn’t been upstairs (it was a basement bar) for hours and was surprised herself to hear that there was nobody out there. But apparently that was the situation, and I found it downright fascinating. Germans usually never miss an excuse to have a wild drinking party, and I’m sure that during next month’s big November 9th celebration in Berlin (which I’m now seriously considering going to) they’re going to be drinking and singing well into the morning. But that’s Berlin, a city with a character all to itself, and you’ll have both East and West Germans alike participating which means enough of them will actually feel like the fall of the Wall was a good enough thing to celebrate all night.

So after that, our last beer of the trip, we walked back to our hostel, fell asleep, and woke up the next morning to a city that showed practically no indication that anything special had happened there the night before. All the big screens and things were gone. A few banners remained but everything was just as clean and spotless as it had been the day before. We left our bags in the luggage room of the hostel and spent our last hour walking around before it was time to go, and it seemed like any other German city on a Saturday morning.

When it was time to go we got our bags and walked across the street to the train station and boarded the train for Hannover, which I was amused to find is actually one of the trains I take back from work in Helmstedt when I’ve got to switch over in Braunschweig, as it begins in Leipzig and ends in Köln, stopping in Braunschweig and Hannover along the way. I listened to Pink Floyd on the whole way back, in amazingly good spirits while reflecting on what had been, overall, a totally fantastic life experience. Naturally, there were plenty of snafus, frustrations, and disappointments (some major disappointments) but overall it was every bit as awesome as I’d hoped it would be, and in some ways even better.

And that concludes the documentation of my travels around Germany with Krissi. With Strasbourg and Prague as added bonuses, we got the full German experience. If you count Berlin and Hamburg as a kind of “prologue” then we really hit all the major cities. We got Cologne in the West, then Ichenheim for a taste of small village life in the Black Forest region, the Bavarian Alps for a tour of Germany’s most excellent location for natural beauty, the obligatory trip to Oktoberfest which was even more fun than we expected, and finally two of the most famous East German towns with Dresden and Leipzig, concluding on a day of great significance for the city we finished in, the 20-year anniversary of not only Leipzig’s most historic day, but one of the most historic days in the history of Germany. All in all, I now feel like I’ve gotten the most out of my time in Germany, as even after living in the country for two years I’ve never had such a clear impression of the culture and history throughout the entire nation—its differences and similarities and what binds it all together. Now more than ever I feel I’m ready to move on and discover another part of the planet, hopefully to learn and absorb just as much about that place—probably Japan—as I have about Germany.

The high from the last two months’ travel experiences will eventually wear off, but it will always be a part of me, and will be remembered, just as I’d hoped, as one of the greatest overall experiences of my life.

High and Low in Prague

October 8th, 2009 No comments

It’s our last night in Prague, and since neither of us felt like drinking we went back to the hostel a little early (midnight) and I’m going to use the next few hours to write about the trip.

The most important thing we wanted to do in Prague was to take the free tour offered by New Europe, the same tour we took in Berlin and Hamburg. We found their meeting place outside a Starbucks in the Old Town Square shortly before 11:00, and waited around until the tour began.

Our tour guide was a Welsh guy who seemed a bit shy in person bus was totally animated during the tour. He was really funny and made the whole thing very fun and interesting. As expected, we got a nice run-down on Prague’s history, all the way from medieval times, through the 30 Years’ War, and of course the Nazi and Soviet occupations. It’s a pretty interesting city, and because it wasn’t targeted for bombing in the war, most of it has survived intact unlike German cities, which allows it to preserve its old and beautiful atmosphere.

The tour ended by the Charles Bridge after Huw, our tour guide, told us the story of the end of the Nazi occupation and how civilians kept up the resistance while waiting for the American soldiers who never came, and how afterwards they got only 3 days of peace until the Soviets came and forcefully “liberated” them into their oppressive regime which lasted another 40 years.

It was 2:00 when the tour ended, and while we could have then gone on to take the Castle Tour we decided to save that for the next day and instead just do a little more looking around. We crossed the Charles Bridge and checked out the Lennon Wall, which is basically just a big wall with John Lennon-inspired graffiti all over it (the funniest piece of graffiti says “Ringo is better”). Then I asked Krissi if she wouldn’t mind checking out the Jewish museum we’d passed on the tour, as it sounded like something I’d really like to see, probably out of my strange twisted tendency toward emotional-massochism.

To my surprise, she agreed, and we went back to the Jewish museum and lined up to buy a ticket. Of course you couldn’t just buy a ticket for the museum—you had to get a ridiculously high-priced day pass to every single place in the Jewish quarter including several synagogues we had no interest in going to. But we coughed up the money and went inside.

The first few rooms were simply of walls with the names of all 70,000 Czech Jews who died in the Holocaust, a pretty overwhelming sight but nothing I haven’t seen before. The upstairs room was what I really wanted to see—a display of drawings made by children in concentration camps who were allowed to undergo a kind of “art therapy” whereby they’d be given crayons and other materials and told to draw how they felt. Most of those kids were later sent to Auschwitz and gassed, so seeing those drawings was an unbelievably heart-wrenching experience, especially the ones where the kids drew things like holding their mommy’s or daddy’s hands as they left the camp with smiles on their faces. Some of the drawings were incredibly dark as you’d expect, but a lot of them made it clear that they really believed that eventually everything was going to be okay and life would be better for them. The drawings themselves were hidden in floorboards by their teacher when the shit went down and the Nazis tried to destroy all records, and while the names of the kids were erased their drawings survived as the last indication that any of those kids ever existed on this planet. It was just an amazingly powerful experience that nearly overwhelmed me, and at some points I had to concentrate so as not to break down crying in front of everybody else at the museum.

After doing that, then walking through the Jewish cemetery which some believe was the inspiration behind the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin which we’d also seen, we just went back to the hostel and got our things together to finally do laundry, which badly needed doing. The closest place, as recommended to us by the front desk guy at our hostel was a place called Laundryland about fifteen minutes away. We took our stuff and followed the directions on the map, had a hard time finding it until we realized it was actually a place in a shopping mall, and when we got there were surprised to find that of the 10 washers and 3 dryers in the place, all but 2 washers were out of order and only 1 dryer was functioning. Luckily both washers were free but the dryer was occupied and there was a line of 3 more loads of laundry waiting to be dried before ours, so it took way longer than it needed to be since we didn’t know of any other laundry place we knew this was our only option.

Once that annoying task was finally finished, we went out for dinner and then to the Astrological Clock in the Town Square (Europe’s oldest working machine) where a Pub Crawl that our tour guide had recommended was gathering. The pub crawl took awhile to get started, but soon enough we had paid our dues and were in the first place of the night for “Power Hour” which meant an hour of free beer and shots of vodka, rum, or absinth, all of which were significantly watered down with something else. I just drank about three beers, took two vodka shots, and one little half shot of absinth just to try it, but at the point I’m at now that was hardly very much. It just did the job of getting me buzzed enough to open up and talk to people.

I met a few random people from Canada, Australia, and Sweden, but spent the most time talking to a German guy (with a particularly beautiful girlfriend) about politics, both in the U.S. and the recent German election. He saw the movie Sicko so he knew how fucked up health care is in the U.S. and he doesn’t understand why it’s so hard for us to fix the system. But I was more interested in what he had to say about the German election, because unlike most of the people I’ve talked to about it, he was significantly liberal and quite disappointed by the election results. He wanted a coalition of the SPD and the Green party, but instead they got the more conservative CDU and business-friendly FDP, the very group of people who he sees as responsible for the financial crisis. He also pointed out to me that the head of the FDP, who will now serve as the Foreign Minister (in Germany the Vice Chancellor is also the foreign minister) is an open homosexual, which he thinks will hurt the image of Germany in some Eastern countries where they won’t take him seriously. He insisted he had no problem with homosexuality but some Eastern or Middle-Eastern countries probably won’t take Germany as seriously as they might otherwise do with a woman and a gay man running things.

At any rate, it was soon time to go to the next pub, which was more of a music club and it was still a bit too early for any of us to feel like dancing. I felt myself getting a little depressed there and I didn’t talk to anyone but Krissi continued chatting with the Australians we’d met at the first place. Luckily we were gone soon enough, and at the next place Krissi and I just sat at the bar and for some reason got into a little talk about the meaning of life and what was the point of everything. I just gave her the whole existential spiel about how the point is whatever you decide it is, and that I was perfectly content with my point—just to have as many experiences as possible while I’m alive. Getting my head back into that deeper mind-space actually cheered me up a little bit, and I felt as we got to the last place that I was indeed having a worthwhile experience.

But the last place was a big dance club, and as such my mood steadily sunk as I danced in close proximity to, but never with, a bunch of hot girls who had no interest in me, one in particular who was unbelievably smoking hot drop-dead gorgeous but seemed only interested in dancing all sexy just for the sake of dancing and rebuffed almost every advance any guy made on her. Now completely drunk and once again stricken with sexual frustration, as dance clubs always fucking force upon me, I told Krissi I was finished and I wanted to go, but she wanted to stay and I ended up just sitting down and watching the hot girl rebuff a bunch of guys, which somehow made me feel slightly better.

Then at one point the weirdest thing to ever happen to me at a dance club happened, as I turned my head and noticed a relatively cute girl (super hot body but only a decent face) actually looking at me and smiling in a kind of inviting, “why don’t you come and dance with me?” kind of way. Now I’ve spent a lot of time—way more than I would have liked—in bars and clubs just waiting to notice a woman who might be interested in me but it just never fucking happened. Suddenly it was actually happening. This cute girl was actually interested enough in me—me—to give me the eye. I couldn’t fucking believe it. So naturally I get up and go up to her and start dancing, but for some reason I open my mouth and ask her if she speaks English. She said no and followed it up with some completely incomprehensible language which might have been Czech but could also have been Spanish or Italian for all I know, and the next thing I know she was laughing and walking away. No idea what went on there—perhaps after getting a closer look at my face she realized I wasn’t worth it, or maybe I just wasn’t forceful enough, as judging from the looks of things it seems that guys at dance clubs are supposed to grind up on girls and shove their dicks right against their legs, which of course I would never be able to do even if I was shit-faced beyond imagination.

So basically it was just a huge reminder that I have absolutely no hope with women whatsoever. None of them are interested in me and even if they are, I can’t follow it up and seal the deal. I sat back down, Krissi brought out a couple of other beers, and I just blurted out my violent emotions, just letting loose all drunkenly and saying how I really wished I was dead, how I felt like slashing my wrists open and bleeding all over the floor and whatnot.

So Krissi’s response is to tell me that I don’t have it so bad—to think about the Jewish museum and all those kids who died in the concentration camps and how they had it way worse than me. That was just about the absolute worst possible approach she could have taken, as I nearly lost it. “Why the fuck would you bring that up?” I said, so loudly that I’m sure other people in the club heard me even over the blasting music. I proceeded then to explain/rant about how that just makes me want to die even more, and to wipe out every last member of the miserable human race with me because Jesus fucking Christ what a fucked up species we are to do that to people—to fucking children. And the absurdity of Krissi’s notion that making me think of murdered children is going to make me want to drink more and dance dance dance the night away!? Fucking ridiculous. After that I couldn’t even take another sip of my beer I was in such a god-awful state.

So it was obvious to Krissi at that point that I was in fact completely finished and as long as we stayed there I was just going to be in this awful suicidal state. So we left the club, hopped in a cab, rode back to the hostel and went to sleep. Neither of us have any idea what time that was.

But we got up the next morning around 11:00, surprisingly without much of a wicked hangover—mostly just feeling dehydrated, still drunk, and hungry. We took showers and left the hostel by noon, got some breakfast/lunch at a pizzeria, then eventually wound up back in the Old Town Square by 2:00 for the Castle Tour. This tour lasted about 4 hours and went through the Castle District of the city. I’m not sure if it was the tour guide, the hangover, or just the fact that the history of this area was inherently less interesting than the others, but I found myself way more bored on this tour than any other I’d taken, phasing in and out of paying attention while the guide rolled out his facts and dates. Some things were pretty cool, like the house they used as Mozart’s house in the film Amadeus, the house where the astronomer Tyco Brahe lived, and the kick-ass gothic cathedral in the middle of the castle, but for the most part the tour felt like it was dragging.

Afterwards we looked for St. Francis church, where Krissi had read they had organ concerts every night and we wanted to find out about getting tickets because we were both interested in seeing some kind of concert. We found the church but there was no ticket office or anything, so we went to the Tourism Information bureau and learned that the organ concerts were all over, but that there was going to be a Mozart/Vivaldi concert going on at the Municipal House at 8:30. It was a bit pricey and we’ve both been spending way more money than expected, so at first we weren’t sure about it, but over dinner I put it quite plainly by saying, “How awesome would it be to see a Mozart concert in Prague?” and that pretty much sold her on the idea.

So after dinner we bought the tickets and walked over to the building where the concert was held. It was just a little place—not a big concert hall or anything—and it was merely a group of about ten musicians, all either on violin or cello, but the acoustics were really good and as soon as the first song was played, Pachabel’s Canon in D, I knew this was the best fucking decision we’d made of the entire trip. From the depths they’d been in the night before, I suddenly felt my sprit soaring with the unbelievably lovely string music, topped off by knowing that we were hearing this in fucking Prague, the favorite city of Mozart himself. A few songs later, mostly Mozart and Vivaldi as advertised, a solo violinist came out and fronted the group for the rest of the hour-long show.

We didn’t do much after that—just walked around and popped into two different bars for two different beers, then came back to the hostel where I wrote this entry. Prague is definitely a fantastic city. It’s beautiful, fascinating, and there’s plenty to do. My only complaint is that it’s so ridiculously touristy that you can’t walk down the road without hearing American accents every few seconds, which I find annoying but I guess it can’t be avoided. As for my mood, I feel pretty good right now, but I’m sure those spirits will continue to rise and sink as the trip nears its end. But at least I know for sure that we definitely got the most out of Prague while we were here.

Adventures in Bavaria

October 5th, 2009 No comments

After five days of travel, I’ve finally found a little stretch of time to get caught up with the journal. I’ll have to squeeze every part of our trip to the Alps, as well as the brief visit to Oktoberfest and Regensburg afterwards, into one entry. Four different towns and two very different types of activities (hiking vs. beer-drinking festival) but at least one common thread runs through all of them—they all took place in the area of Germany so distinct and unique in terms of culture and dialect that it’s practically its own country: Bavaria.

1 – Garmisch-Partenkirchen (30.09 – 01.10)

On our first day in the mountain town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, we woke up at 6:45 with the intention of hitting the trail as soon as possible. We got ourselves ready and took a bus to the nearest Information Center where we asked about possibilities for hiking that day, and picked the route that seemed to suit us best.

We rode the bus to the Olympia Skistadion, where I suppose a part of some Winter Olympics many years ago was held. Behind the stadium is where the trail began, beginning with several hundred meters of road and finally wandering into the Partnachklamm, a really beautiful gorge that you climb up and up and up until you’re looking down at the little mountain stream about a hundred meters below.

We continued on and up, already feeling quite tired, until we reached a little clearing with a couple of houses on a big mountain field with goats grazing in a pen. It looked like the trail only continued through their private property, we weren’t sure which way to go. We ended up picking a direction that led us back down the gorge until we finally saw a sign pointing us back in the other direction. We got right back to the clearing, but this time saw other hikers going along the trail that looked forbidden, so we followed them until reaching another intersection where we didn’t know which way to go. Having just passed an old German lady who seemed nice enough, I went back and asked her in German which direction we should take to the ‘Partnach Alm’, the first little peak on our tour of several peaks to get to the top. Due to my terrible accent, which I’d deliberately laid on quite thick as I often do in these situations, she answered in English and proceeded to bust out her hiking map and give us superb instructions on which route we should take. Feeling extreme levels of gratitude to this mysterious old German lady who was apparently in amazing enough shape to go hiking alone, we continued on our journey.

We reached ‘Bayern House’ shortly after that where we got our first good view of the village below, the continued on up to another little peak called the ‘Jochspitze’, which required lots of steep, strenuous hiking. Finally we came to the first ‘major’ peak—the Kreuzeck, which had its own cable cars running up to the beer garden the Germans had put there. As such, the trail got a lot more crowded now with people who don’t like to manually climb up to the top but instead just take the cable car and walk around. We could have stopped there but we still had another hour and a half before the day’s final destination: the ‘Osterfeldkopf’ (literally ‘Eastern Field Head’) which required even longer stretches of steep, strenuous hiking. When we finally spotted the beer garden on the top of the hill it was still another good twenty minutes of extremely difficult walking, now even harder due to the relative thinness of the air.

But we finally reached our goal, a beer garden 2 vertical kilometers up in the mountain, and we took our seat with a spectacular view and treated ourselves to a nice rewarding brew there on the mountain.

After debating what to do next we finally decided to walk back down to the Kreuzeck along a different path and then take the cable car down. We were a bit worried we might miss the last cable car because we thought the last was at 4:30 and it was already 3:00, but I figured we’d be able to make it considering it was all downhill. But Krissi hates walking downhill because it hurts her toes and knees, so we didn’t make very good time, arriving at the cable car station just before 4:30, and I was so concerned by the time we were making that I barely appreciated the spectacular views (though I made sure to force myself to do so every few minutes).

But when we got there it turned out that the cable cars would actually be running until 5:30, so we went and got ourselves another beer, then rode down the mountain at 5:00. Unfortunately we missed the bus at the bottom of the mountain by just a couple of minutes and had to wait another 45 for the next one, but to make a long boring story short we got back to the hostel about an hour and a half later, then went to eat at the same Italian restaurant again before going back and passing out at around 11 p.m.

The next day we asked the lady at the front desk for a bit of an easier hike, and she recommended we walk up Wank Mountain (it’s pronounced differently) so that’s what we did. Of course this ‘easy’ hike turned out to be quite difficult as well, as we’d come to understand that when you’re talking about hiking the Alps there’s really no such thing as easy the way people used to the mountains of New Jersey or Santa Barbara might think of it. We were so sore and out of breath even by the time we reached the half-way point that we considered riding the cable car the rest of the way to the top and then walking down like the rest of the cheaters do. But after stopping for a little bit to eat some fruit and trail mix we got our energy back and decided to go for it. Two hours later and lots and lots of zig-zagging up the side of the mountain, we finally reached the summit. Unlike the other peaks, from this mountain you actually got a good 360˚ panoramic view of everything from Garmisch-Partenkirchen 1600 meters below to the Austrain alps in the other direction. The only downside was that it was a particularly hazy day so things weren’t quite as crisp as they could have been.

At any rate, we drank our obligatory mountain-top beer, then rode the cable-car back down into town. We’d considered taking the car up to the Zugspitz, the highest peak in the German alps at just over 3 vertical kilometers, but it was such a hazy day and the peak was enshrouded in a cloud anyway so we figured the €47 it would cost to get us up there just wouldn’t be worth it. Instead we took the bus back to the hostel, got ourselves packed and ready to go, then killed 45 minutes before the next bus to the train station came by playing ping-pong outside the hostel. We reached the train stations just a few minutes after one train to Mittenwald had left so of course we had to wait an hour for the next one, which we spent walking around, buying a few random things at the drug store (sun-tan lotion and whatnot) then sitting on the train platform with our I-pods until the train came to get us.

2 – Mittenwald (01.10 – 04.10)

Unlike the hostel at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the place we were staying in Mittenwald was a little family-run bead & breakfast only 5 minutes from the train station. Getting in was quick and painless, and another ten minute walk brought us into town where we stopped for an incredibly delicious meal at a little place called the “Kleine Kartoffelsack” (‘Little Potato Sack’). Mittenwald is a much smaller town than Garmisch-Partenkirchen and I liked it a lot better, but I think Krissi prefers bigger towns as there was really absolutely nothing going on. So we just got a bottle of cheap wine from the supermarket and brought it back to the bed & breakfast, sipping on it and watching the news on my computer followed by some German television which was in our room.

This bed & breakfast, called the Schmuzerhof, was easily the best place I’ve ever stayed overnight in Germany. For basically the same price as the hostel we got our own giant room with a TV, big bathroom, and the most comfortable beds and pillows I’ve ever slept on. We’d had our own private room in the hostel in Garmisch as well, but it was much smaller and the beds had been extremely hard and uncomfortable. On top of that there had been a huge group of 10-12 year old kids occupying our floor who were running around screaming and yelling all afternoon and evening. At first I’d thought they were part of a tour group but after two nights I began to suspect that they all lived there, that they were orphans or something whom the government paid for them to live in that particular hostel.

In any case, the Schmuzerhof was fantastic and getting out of that super-comfy bed in the morning was no easy task. But we managed to get up at a reasonable time and head into town to find an information center for hiking recommendations. We decided to do an easy hike the first day and a longer, more difficult one for the last day. The woman at the tourism center sold us a map and sent us up a little ‘mountain’ to the southwest of town, which was actually more like a hill. It was supposed to be an hour and a half climb to the top but we did it in 45 minutes, getting there shortly after noon. That was the only time we reached the summit of our climb and didn’t stop for a beer, though we could have.

From there we walked down the other side of the hill to a lake called the ‘Lautersee’ and walked around that for awhile, stopping at one edge for some more of our trail mix. Another 30 minute walk brought us back to the village, and it still being relatively early we decided to go to the cable-car place to the Karwendel, the tallest peak reachable from Mittenwald. It was the least clear day of the trip, and the top of the mountain had been enshrouded in cloud all day up until the time we actually were walking to the cable-car building. But the cloud was back by the time we got there and we had to decided whether to spend the €16 for the round-trip ticket or wait until the next day when it was supposed to be clearer but when we knew we’d be on a longer hike and might not make it back in time. Because we had nothing better to do we spent the money, then rode to the top of the mountain.

It was a pretty spectacular ride, but by the time we reached the peak, a little over 2 vertical kilometers, we were literally inside a cloud in the sky. As we walked out we felt the cold, thin air and the whole lifeless landscape shrouded in cloud looked awesome and other-worldly. We walked out and to the edge of the mountain where you would just stare into the white abyss of nothingness, looking down as the side of the mountain and the cables to the cable car just disappeared into nothingness. But if you looked long enough, occasionally there would be a break in the clouds and little patches of scenery would become visible for a moment, such as a few of the rooftops from the village or another part of the mountain, before disappearing again. At one point it became clear enough to get a really good view of everything, but the clouds quickly thickened back up again and there was nothing to see. Krissi seemed disappointed that the view was obstructed but I thought that in many ways this was even cooler than it would be on a clear day. I mean, we were literally inside a fucking cloud in the sky. Between me and Krissi standing five meters away you could actually see little cloud whisps blowing by.

As we sat there in silence, I suddenly noticed my phone indicating a text message was being received. How odd to get a text message at the moment like that, but when I opened it up I saw it was the automated message sent to your phone whenever you’re roaming. “Wilkommen in Österriech!” it said. Apparently we’d crossed the mountain-border to Austria, which was totally awesome because it meant we could technically add one more country to the list of where we’d been on our trip.

Once we’d had enough of the cold we went inside and had our obligatory beer, listening to the pop-music station they had playing in there for some awfully non-atmosphere-appropriate music, and took the last cable car down.

We dropped our stuff back off at the Schmuzerhof, then went out to dinner again, this time at a place for some spinach rizzoto which was good but a little too cheesy, not nearly as good as the potato sack. We bought our cheap wine again and the fell asleep in much the same way as the first night.

Krissi was up before me the next day, as I’d had a somewhat rough night due to what appeared to be allergies the night before giving way to an extremely dry and plegm-filled throat which was quite painful every time I woke up. When I went downstairs to join Krissi for breakfast I learned she was having the same problem. We figured it was allergies but we knew it might also be some kind of bug. It definitely mitigated the enjoyment of the day somewhat, but it couldn’t ruin it completely.

We were going to hike up to the ‘Hochlandhütte’ (High Land Hut) and back down again (there were no cable cars going there) and the woman at the tourism office had given us instructions for which bus to take and which stop to get off at. We got off at the recommended stop but it looked nothing like what the map said it should look like. We’d already gotten a late start so I was worried we might not have enough daylight for the five-hour hike if we had indeed screwed up.

I asked a German guy walking along the trail to point out where we were on my hiking map, and he confirmed that we were in fact not where we wanted to be. But he was an extremely helpful fellow, and gave me all kinds of advice on routes to take and which trails were more beautiful or more strenuous and whatnot. He turned out to be more helpful than the woman at the tourism office.

We ended up walking all the way to where we were supposed to have started, but then going up the mountain a different way than the woman had recommended, a way which turned out to be more strenuous but also way more beautiful and rewarding. This was serious hiking, much moreso than any of our previous trails. The path wasn’t a wide road with lots of steps built in and little benches all over the place, but genuine hardcore follow-the-marks-on-the-trees-or-you’ll-get-lost kind of hiking, where you had to consciously decide where to put your foot down at each and every step. It was quite steep and intense, but your mind was occupied enough not to really feel it.

And before we knew it we were at the highest elevation of the day. It was only half-way to the Hochlandhütte but the second half was all along the edge of the mountain, some of it pretty sketchy, in that one false step would send you tumbling to your death, but all at pretty much the same elevation. It was a really nice part of the walk in any case because you constantly had a good view, and we were extremely lucky that our last day there was also the clearest in terms of weather, and this was probably the nicest of all the trails we’d taken so we really had saved the best for last.

We reached the hut without much difficulty, only taking it slow on some parts of the mountain where you had to hold on to the wire they’d hammered in there or risk slipping off the edge. When we got to the hut I was shocked to find that they actually were serving beer there, as there were no cable cars or roads there to speak of. Someone must have either walked up there with all that beer or else had it delivered by helicopter. But leave it to Germans to have cold beer waiting for you in the middle of the fucking wilderness. Apparently they’ll find a way.

So we had our last mountain-top beer and then continued along the edge of the mountain to the next trail down. It was a long grueling walk down, first with about a hundred little zig-zags through the woods and then along an actual road, which despite its straight-forwardness was actually the hardest on the legs due to the sustained downhill decline. We were both in significant pain when we finally reached the base.

From there we just walked straight into town where I found a pharmacy that was still selling allergy medicine. I wasn’t sure we’d be able to get any because it was not only Saturday but a national holiday (Germany’s reuinification day) so everything was close including supermarkets. But I got some allergy medicine and some cough-drops, then we went to the nearest restaurant, a Chinese place, so Krissi could try what German Chinese food was like. I’d warned her that it wasn’t very good, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it quite delicious (though it may have had more to do with having just hiked for 6 and a half hours through the mountains with only some trail mix for nourishment) and it winded up being the best Chinese food I’ve ever had in Europe.

Because the supermarkets were closed we couldn’t get our cheap wine again, so we went into a nearby sports bar (quite possibly the only bar like that in all of Mittenwald) and bought a few beer bottles to take back to the hostel with us. We spent the night watching the German-dubbed version of “The Empire Strikes Back” on TV, which I helpfully translated for Krissi knowing both enough German and enough about the movie to allow her to follow the plot.

The next morning we both felt a bit more sick, but it was less of a phlegm-in-the-throat thing than a full-on virus kind of thing so although the allergy medicine had helped me sleep better I was now unsure as to what the problem was exactly. But I took two more allergy pills before we left, which might have been a mistake because it totally zonked me out. In any case we said our goodbyes to the nice German lady who ran the bed & breakfast, took our five minute walk to the train station and boarded the train. It had been four days of strenuous activity and our bodies were feeling it, but it had been an undeniably worthwhile experience.

3 – Munich and Regensburg (04.10-05.10)

Neither of us were feeling particularly excited about going to Oktoberfest. Every German I’ve ever talked to about it has been quite discouraging about going there, saying it’s extremely crowded and it’s mostly tourists and whatnot, but Krissi knew that her friends would never forgive her if she went to Germany during Oktoberfest and didn’t even go check it out. Besides, I haven’t felt quite right about having spent so much of my life in Germany and not having been to one of the events that Germany is most famous for.

So we got off the train in Munich and looked for a locker to store our very heavy and annoying backpacks. But nearly every locker-section of the train station had been closed off by the police for some inexplicable reason. The only room with any lockers left had a line outside that looked at least 30-minutes long, and we weren’t sure there were enough lockers there for everyone anyway. So we decided to just take them with us.

The line outside the tourist information center was also very long, so we just grabbed a map and walked the distance to the festival area ourselves. As we approached we were stopped by police who told us our backpacks were too big and we’d have to let them search them if we wanted to go any further. It’s a bitch to pack these bags so we weren’t too excited about having to unpack and re-pack again, and the police officer, who seemed like a nice enough guy, warned us that we would be checked again once inside. I told him about the locker situation at the train station and he said that they normally had places for people to leave there bags but for some reason they didn’t have that option today. But he told us not to worry—that after two beers everything would be fine.

We managed to walk into the festival area without getting checked again, finding it very much like a carnival in the U.S. only with less rides and more beer-gardens, but we knew to get the real Oktoberfest experience you had to go in one of the giant tents and get served a “Maß Bier”, one of those giant glasses of beer you always picture when you think of Oktoberfest. We went up to the first tent and approached the security guy, expecting him to search our bags and then let us in. But he said they weren’t allowing any backpacks in the tent today, which immediately pissed us off to no end. What the fuck, Munich? First you don’t let us store our bags anywhere and then you don’t let us into a drinking tent with our bags?

At that point, Krissi had her pictures and we were about ready to just get the fuck out of there and leave, but we figured we’d try another tent. This time, the guy let us in after making me dispose of my water bottle and searching our bags. So we got into a genuine Oktoberfest Beer Tent and found that it was everything we’d pictured. A big band of men all clad in Lederhosen playing Bavarian brass music, waiters and waitresses also in the traditional garb carrying six to ten giant glass mugs of beer to any of hundreds of picnic tables, all packed to the brim with drunken people pounding back their beer, stuffing themselves with Bavarian food, and many smoking cigarettes.

We’d been warned that you can’t buy a beer unless you have a seat, so we knew we had to find a table but it seemed at first like an impossible task. We walked the whole length of the tent and didn’t spot so much as one free place. Most of the tables had reservation slips on them. But just as we were beginning to despair, a waiter pointed us in the direction of a table with a couple of open spots at the end and told us in German that it wasn’t reserved until 4:00. That was three hours from then.

So we took our seats, ordered a couple of beers, and breathed a sigh of relief that we’d actually made it and we were now going to get a taste of the genuine Oktoberfest experience. Our beer came along, we toasted and drank, figuring we’d have one and maybe one more after that before getting the hell out of there. As we drank, the people sitting next to us raised their glasses to toast about a hundred times before we finished the first glass. So we ordered a second one as well as a giant pretzel and continued.

About half-way through the second giant beer I noticed that I was now significantly buzzed. The atmosphere, it seemed, had gotten to me. Either that or it was the mixture of the alcohol and the allergy medicine, but soon enough I was feeling the whole jolly vibe of the place get ahold of me. We started talking to our neighbors, some tourist from Thailand and some genuine Bavarian Germans from a nearby town. They were amused that we were from New Jersey but the conversation didn’t really go much beyond that point. But the band started playing again, everyone was singing and clinking their glasses together and it was all the clichés you envision it to be.

Before I knew it we were having a third glass, and our first friends went away so we slid down to the center of the table and met the people on the other end, whom we’d be toasting with again and again from then on. Replacing us at the table was a German family of four, with two young kids, one too young for beer so he just drank soda out of a little mini-beer glass, but the other who only looked about 12 but apparently old enough for a genuine beer. Both looked like they really didn’t want to be there, but after about 15 minutes the atmosphere seemed to envelop them as well and we were toasting with them just like everyone else.

But after that third beer I was officially drunk, and we both knew it was time to go. We stumbled out of the tent, snapped a few more pictures, then made our way out of the merry festival area and back to the train station, where we missed our train by about two fucking minutes and had to wait 45 more for the next one. In my drunken state I was quite aggravated by this, so without a word I left Krissi on the platform, went and bought some water, then stumbled outside for a cigarette. I don’t know how those two little tasks took up the whole 45 minutes but before I knew it I looked at the time on my phone and saw it was time to go. I found Krissi again on the platform and we boarded the train.

I was dozing off throughout the whole train ride, and I was so unsure of myself that I kept asking the ticket-checkers whether or not this train actually did go to Regensburg, the town where we had our hostel reservations for the night. It seemed to take much longer than I expected, but we did eventually get there, and we managed to get to the hostel and get into our room in spite of the fact that there was no staff there. It was actually the night-time security worker who showed us in and gave us our key, then a couple quick recommendations for a bite to eat and place to drink.

We had our kebab dinner, then went to an Irish pub for one last beer. I was ready to pass out, and had been for quite some time, but somehow Krissi was still going at it, and she stayed up for awhile doing shit online with my computer while I passed out as early as 10 p.m., only to wake up later at 2 a.m. with the worst headache of my life and tossed and turned for the next four hours attempting to get back to sleep.

I still had the headache when I forced myself up at 9:00, got myself together and left the hostel with Krissi around 10:00. We walked to the train station to drop off our stuff and buy the few remaining tickets we’d need for the rest of our journey through Germany (from Prague to Dresden, Dresden to Leipzig, and Leipzig to Hannover), then spent the next hour and a half just walking through the lovely little town of Regensburg, where I’d been once before with the exchange student crew. Krissi and I didn’t do much—just walked along the Danube, checked out the nice cathedral they have, and wandered around the streets of the Old Town before getting back to the station and beginning our journey to the next destination on our tour, Prague, where I currently sit after a nice easy evening of dinner and non-alcoholic beverages (I needed a day of recovery), finally writing down this journal entry.

There are five days left on this trip, and they should be quite enjoyable, assuming this annoying sickness, whatever it is, goes away. Prague is a lovely and fun city, and I’ve always wanted to see Dresden and Leipzig, so I’m looking forward to those as well. But I don’t think anything will compare to Bavaria. As I expected it might be, that was probably the best part of the trip, perhaps the highlight of this entire time I’ve spent with Krissi this Fall.