I’m in Ichenheim again, for the first time in two years. It might as well have only been two weeks for all the noticeable change, except for the one giant difference of there being a 21-month old child here now. Now I’m writing another blog entry from this couch like so many times before, although this one feels like a chore as I’d rather just be relaxing.
There are no interesting stories from my second week of vacation. It’s mostly just been lots of relaxing, drinking delicious beer, eating delicious food, and having interesting or silly conversations. There are hardly even any photos worth posting—it’s mostly just pictures of me and Oliver goofing around while drunk. I’ll just briefly recount what each day consisted of for the sake of the historical archives.
On Saturday we had a little party starting in the late afternoon. Amanda came all the way from Berlin and I got to catch up with her. They also invited a colleague of Oliver named Ma Ren who was a really nice and interesting person I’m glad I got to meet, and a woman named Rune from capoeira who was really nice but didn’t speak much English and tended to steer all discussions in directions I had nothing to contribute to. But that turned out to be somewhat lucky, as I went to bed several hours earlier than most of the others.
The party continued well throughout Sunday, at least for Oliver and me. In spite of his hangover, I was surprised when he opened a beer first thing in the morning, and after breakfast began pouring shots of whiskey into our glasses of tea (though that might have been at my suggestion). We finished off the whole bottle and had one of the maddest Sundays I can remember.
Oliver needed all of Monday and even a bit of Tuesday to recover, so we just took it easy those days and watched lots of episodes of Game of Thrones. On Wednesday we got everything ready to go for our bicycle tour of Hannover on Thursday, the one thing I most wanted to do while back in Germany. That involved fixing Oliver’s bicycle (we’d already fixed my old bike I’d sold to them when I moved away) and buying a little bike trailer for Buutsch, the dog.
I said we should get up at 9:30 to give ourselves plenty of time to get to Hannover relatively early, but the way Oliver operates made that rather unrealistic. It took forever just to prepare breakfast, clean up, have a shower, pack the car, and finally get going. In Hannover we also had to stop at the house of is friend Kolya who was letting us camp out in his garden house that night. We got the key and headed to the garden house, dropped off our stuff there, had the obligatory beer, and finally got under way at about 4:00 p.m.
With Buutsch in the little trailer, we made our way to the start of the tour along the river where I used to go jogging. Buutsch hated the trailer and made whimpering noises the whole way. When we were finally at a section of river not too crowded, Oliver let him out and rode with him on the leash ahead. That dog is so full of energy that he ended up pulling Oliver at extreme speeds for the next several kilometers. Oliver had to stop him every now and then just to let me catch up.
The first part of the tour went perfectly. It was dark and cloudy while I would have preferred sunshine, but it was cool to be back in Hannover and to see all the nice parts of it I became so familiar with in my time there. When I’d left I’d hoped to come back and see them again, and now I was finally making that happened.
But after the Herrenhauser Garten and Georgengarten, things started to go wrong. We had to ride through the city a bit to get to the next part of the tour, the Eilenriede (city forest), and there was some construction blocking a part of the route. But Oliver said he knew this area of the city really well and could get us to the Eilenriede without a problem. It turned out he was mistaking it for where he used to live and was completely wrong about where we were, so we ended up going extremely far off course. When we finally checked his iPhone to pinpoint our location, we saw how far we’d gone and because it was starting to rain it seemed like we should just quit and maybe finish the tour the next day. We started to do that and head back to the garden house at Lindener Berg by the most direct route, but Oliver could tell I was upset and decided we should just go to the Eilenriede anyway.
So we got there, found a place to stop and have a beer, but when that was done it was already approaching 7:00 p.m. and I knew we wouldn’t be able to finish the tour before dark. So we started heading back to Lindener Berg by way of the Maschsee, and we were able to take a quick detour to the Hiroshima Gedenkhain very quickly so I could get a picture of the plaque explaining it that Lena had accidentally deleted two years ago and promised to get another one but never did.
When we got to the Maschsee we discovered it was Maschseefest, so it was extremely crowded and we didn’t get too close. In the three years I lived there I never went to Maschseefest, and this made the 4th time I blew it off. Nothing about it looked fun other than the beer, and you could get that anywhere.
We headed back around the Rathaus—also really cool to see in person again—then by my old flat in Calenberger Neustadt so I could see that again. After that we stopped at my favorite Döner Kebab shop to pick up some dinner, then back up to Lindener Berg.
Kolya wanted to come hang out with us there for a bit, and he met us on our cycles on the way back. For the next few hours we hung out with him at his garden house, which turned out to be the most pleasant part of the day. He’s a really nice and interesting guy and he’s interested in Japan so it was great to talk with him. He suggested that he and Oliver come visit me in Japan next year, though I think the odds of that are still very doubtful.
He left us on our own for the night, and we slept in until 11:30 and didn’t get everything packed an underway until an hour later. Oliver didn’t want to ride anymore—his bike saddle hurt his ass too much—but I wanted to finish the tour. We decided to split up and meet somewhere around the Maschsee at 2:00. That gave me plenty of time to head back to the river and ride around the places we hadn’t gone the previous day. It was the nicest part of Hannover (the last territory I’d discovered after moving there) and the day was sunny and much nicer than the previous day. I didn’t have to worry about the dog, and I could put on some music and just get in the zone I used to get it when cycling around while I lived there. That was extremely pleasant, and made up for the previous day’s disappointments.
We drove back to Delmenhorst at 2:00 and after getting stuck in traffic finally arrived back at almost 5:00 (normally it shouldn’t take more than 1:30), and had another easy night.
On Saturday we drove to Emsland in the afternoon to visit Oliver’s daughters and his 8-month old grandson Finn. I haven’t seen his daughter Nele in two years or Ronja in nearly four. Ronja was 16 the last time I saw her and is now a 20-year-old mother, so she looks twice as old as last time. Nele was 15 and is now 17 so doesn’t look too different. Finn is a cute little baby who seems pretty well-behaved. While the girls were getting ready for their evening plans, Oliver and I took Finn to a nearby lake and played with him for a little while, the first time I’ve played with a baby in as long as I can remember. After that we went back and gave the girls a ride to wherever they were going for the evening, then headed back to Delmenhorst.
We stopped at the liquor store to pick up some beer, and I bought a bottle of whiskey on a whim, expecting to sip on it casually throughout the next day. Apparently, Oliver got another thing in mind after I bought it, and we ended up finishing off the whole bottle that night, with just a little help from Lena. We were up until 4:30 in the morning going mad, and were both glad to have one more night of that in what will probably be a very long while.
All we did on Sunday was relax and recuperate, and maybe walk Buutsch a few times. But we went to bed pretty early that night and got up at 8:00 the next morning to be able to have breakfast and get me to the train station to catch my 9:53 departure. I said a nice goodbye to both of them and the dog, and boarded the train to the next part of my vacation.
It’s only been a day and I miss them already, but I think two weeks was about enough time. My friendship with Oliver and Lena is one of the strongest I’ve ever made in my life, so it’s important to see them when I can. It may not have been the most interesting or eventful two weeks of vacation-time I’ve ever spent, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
It’s been a pleasantly uneventful week. Oliver and Lena were working every day, and I spent my days doing all the typical stuff I normally do that doesn’t depend on physical location. Jogging, studying Japanese, e-mailing, watching internet entertainment, and so on. The only difference is that I’ve got to walk the dog twice a day. Also, I’m taking full advantage of the food I can get here but not Japan—in addition to things like chocolate, I ate döner kebab for lunch four out of the last five days.
Oliver got home in the afternoon and we’d usually start drinking then, just hanging out and relaxing until evening when Lena would get home. Then we’d have dinner, go for one last walk with the dog, and go to sleep. Now that Oliver has a week of vacation there should start to be more worth writing about.
There are only a few things worth noting right now. First, it’s interesting to be back in a country where everyone mistakenly assumed you’re one of them. In Japan, everyone knows I’m a foreigner. In America, everyone correctly assumes I’m American. But in Germany, people incorrectly assume I’m German, a feeling I lived with for three years but which is more interesting now that I’ve got the Japan experience to compare it to.
The climate is also something special. It’s not as hot here as America, and not as humid as Japan. It’s about as pleasant as an August could be, and being outside brings back all kinds of intangible feelings I used to experience every day. It’s like there’s this aura of every place you go, and I’m very much feeling the whole northern German aura just as it was when I lived here.
Finally, as pleasant as it is to be back, I have no sadness or any kind of regretful feelings about leaving. It was great to live here when I did, but I’m much happier in my current life situation. Not just because of my job, but I really prefer the Japanese culture as well. I plan to write a detailed comparison of life in the two countries, but I’ll say right now that if I had to spend the rest of my life in one of the two, I’d pick Japan. I’m glad I’ve got another two weeks here, but I’ll still be glad to go back.
I’m back in the country where I spent three of the last five years of my life. It feels like it’s finally the start of my vacation, but it also feels a bit like coming home.
My last week in Japan before the flight was somewhat eventful. On Saturday I attempted to have a karaoke party with a bunch of friends but nobody could make it, so it ended up just being me, Kim, and Enam going out for drinks, with Ben joining us for a little while. I haven’t seen him since the rice planting, but he’s finished his work for JET and is on his way back to the states, so it was nice of him to come say goodbye. And on Thursday, the last night before my flight, Stephen came into town and a few of us went out for an early dinner of okonomiyaki and then took the train down to onjuku beach to join a bunch of other ALTs to watch the annual fireworks festival they have there. That was a lot of fun, and the perfect way to spend my last night in Japan before vacation.
Friday and Saturday were epic. It started like any other day. I got up, went jogging, had breakfast, went to work (speech contest stuff), but when that was over the focus shifted to the daunting objective of moving my physical body halfway around the globe to Germany. I finished packing, cleaned my apartment, emptied the refrigerator and unplugged everything, checked and re-checked and checked again to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything, then headed off on the long long 9-leg journey.
Leg 1 was the standard walk from my apartment to the Togane train station. Leg 2 was Togane to Chiba. Leg 3 was Chiba to Narita Airport.
When I got there it was 3 out of 9 legs finished. It was like I was a third of the way there already!
Of course, Leg 4 was a considerable distance farther than Narita from Chiba. That was the 10-hour flight to Abu Dhabi, which took off at 10:30 p.m. in Japan and landed at 3:30 a.m. in the UAE. I flew all the way over China and India and landed for the first time on the soil of a Middle Eastern country, but it was dark the whole time so I couldn’t see anything other than the occasional lights from cities.
The layover in Abu Dhabi was six hours total, with the next plane not taking off until 9:30. My first experience in a Muslim country wasn’t exactly an awesome one. It was mostly just like any other airport, only with most of the amenities tucked into “lounges” you had to pay the equivalent of 45 euros to enter. They sounded nice—unlimited drinks, internet, showers, and whatnot—but I wasn’t going to drop 45 euros on that. Other than that, the only major difference between this airport and any other was that there were a lot more men in madrassas and women in burkas walking around.
Although I will say that the airline of Abu Dhabi—Etihad Airways—was definitely the best airline I’ve ever taken. Between all the on-demand entertainment, power outlets in every seat, meal menus even for coach passengers, and excellent service, it rose to number one in my ranks right away.
Leg 5 was not Etihad airways but Berlin Air. I felt like I was in Germany already from the moment I boarded the plane, as while the Narita-Abu Dhabi flight had been a wide mixture of cultures with just about half-Japanese, there were no Japanese on the flight from Abu Dhabi to Düsseldorf and I’d say I good 80% of the passengers were German. The flight attendants were German, and while their service was perfectly adequate it just couldn’t compare to the friendliness and enthusiasm of the previous flight’s mostly Japanese crew. Customer service is one cultural area in which Germany and Japan could not be farther apart.
Although that flight was only 7 hours, it felt longer than the previous flight because at that point I was already quite sick of travelling and just wanted the journey to be over. At least it was daytime and I could look out the window. We flew over Iraq, so that was cool, although there was nothing to see but sand and small cities.
But that flight was notable for one very significant landmark in my life. The farthest east I ever went in Europe was Prague. When this flight flew past Prague on its way to Germany, I’d officially crossed every line of longitude on the globe. It took about four years and there was all kinds of hopping back and forth in between, but now I have officially circumnavigated the planet! That was always one of my lifelong goals—to join the club that Magellan started.
It felt great when the plane touched the ground and I knew the flying was over, but unfortunately the travelling was far from over. I’d accidentally bought a train ticket from the Düsseldorf main station as opposed to the airport station, so once I’d gone through customs (which took all of ten seconds) and got my luggage, I had to wait on line at the airport train station to change my ticket. Some of the legs would be altered and I’d arrive an hour later than planned, but there were still 4 legs left to go.
Leg 6 was a short hop from the Düsseldorf airport to Duisberg. After the stress of the ticket situation, I calmed down quite significantly once I was on that regional train. The reality of being back in Germany finally sunk in, as it felt like just a few weeks ago that riding this exact kind of train was routine.
After a 30-minute wait in Duisberg, the longest rail-leg of the journey began. Leg 7 was a 2-hour ride from Duisberg to Bremen on an InterCity train, the kind I used to take every week from Hannover to Helmstedt. Although I was beyond sick and tired of travelling at that point and just couldn’t wait for it to be over, Leg 7 turned out to be the most pleasant leg of the trip. It was a beautiful day and as the train raced through the countryside all kinds of pleasant memories about all the great times I had in this country kept coming back to me. I’m about to acquire 3 more weeks of such memories.
Leg 8 was the final solo-leg of the journey, so the last one that felt like a leg at all. It was on a packed regional train full of crying kids and people with body odor, but luckily the trip from Bremen to the town of Delmenhorst where Oliver and Lena live was only about 15 minutes. As soon as the LED-screen read “Nächste: Delmenhorst” I felt a wave of relief wash over me. It had been a long way since Togane, but I was finally coming to my destination.
I got a bit worried when I didn’t see Oliver at the station. I’d turned on my iPhone’s data roaming momentarily when I knew I’d be late to send him a Facebook message informing him, but I had no way of knowing if he got it until I turned the data roaming back on and saw he confirmed the message. So where was he?
I waited out in front of the station for a few minutes, hoping he was just running behind and would drive up any minute, but soon enough he emerged from the station, I dropped my things, and we had a nice warm embrace, two great friends overjoyed to see each other after two years apart.
Leg 9 barely felt like part of the journey at all. I chatted with Oliver as he made the five-minute drive to the house where he and Lena now live. But when he pulled into the driveway and parked the car, it definitely felt fantastic that it was over. The entire journey from start to finish had taken a total of 32 hours.
I’d already been awake for 41 hours at that point, having only dozed off a few times here and there on the flight, but I was up for at least another 6 hanging out with Oliver and Lena and the dog Buutsch. It was wonderful to be back with them again, and although it had been two years and they’re living in a different place now, it might as well have only been two weeks.
They filled me in on what they’re doing now and I told them what I’m up to as well as all sorts of things about Japanese culture. Later we took the dog for a walk. After that I went to sleep, my epic 47-hour day finally over.
I slept really well and woke up today at 7:30 as though there were no jet-lag at all. Today is Sunday and we’re just going to relax, make a little tour of Delmenhorst, drink lots of delicious beer and eat lots of delicious food. It should be a pretty excellent day.
As for the week, Oliver and Lena have to work so it’ll just be me and the dog for most of the day, but that’s no problem at all for me. Next weekend Amanda will be coming over so I’m really looking forward to that. Things are likely to get a bit crazy. And the following week Oliver was able to take off from work so we’ll do a few fun things like camp out at the East See and drive to Hannover with a couple of bikes to spend the day doing my old bicycle tour there, which I’m also really looking forward to. After that it’s off to Ichenheim for a week of Ichenheim enjoyment, and then back to Japan.
When I passed through immigration at Narita airport this time, the woman checked my alien registration card and told me I have to be back before September or my visa will expire. Well, I’ll be back on August 27th, so that works for me. I’m not even thinking about the return trip now, but after what happened last year it’s quite nice to be completely secure in knowing that when the vacation is over, I can go back.
In my entry on the California trip, I was so focused on just documenting the various events that I forgot to write about the most interesting element. I’ve got a few cultural observations to share, but I’ll start with a quick “update” on the visa situation.
After still getting no word by e-mail yesterday evening (Friday morning in Japan) I called my branch office and spoke with the guy who is normally in charge of keeping teachers’ visas up-to-date. But for whatever reason, it’s not him but the branch manager himself who’s handling my case, and he’s on vacation all week (yes, it was very considerate of him to let me know). He’ll be back on Monday and will get in touch with me then. But I was told something like, “We’re just waiting on the processing of your application now, but getting the visa will be easier when you’re back here in Japan,” which totally confused me because of course I’d thought the entire problem was that I couldn’t get the visa from inside the country. But this guy clearly wasn’t too familiar with my case and just told me to wait until Monday. Before I let him go, I just asked him very directly if I’m in any danger of losing my contract, as this is the fear weighing most heavily on my mind. He said, “No, we’re keeping that here” which I thought meant “here in Chiba” but later thought maybe he meant the physical document of my contract. But either way, he was very cordial and nonchalant the whole time, giving off the impression that everything is fine and there’s nothing to worry about, the total opposite of the branch manager who’s always made the situation sound very urgent and dire. So all in all, while I still won’t know anything until Monday at the earliest, the phone call helped put my mind at ease a little until then.
Now, as for California, the view I had through the Japan-tinted lenses was extra-tinted by my East Coast lenses as well as the Germany-lenses. When I visited Santa Barbara last year after three years in Germany, it struck me how in many ways East Coast / West Coast culture is more different and distinct than the difference between German and American culture overall. German culture overall is very similar to American culture, what with the meat and the beer and sports and politics, but the whole busy, hard-working, rude and direct demeanor of Germans in general corresponds much more closely to East Coast culture than the laid-back, relaxed, casual friendliness of the West Coast.
When it comes to Japan, it’s very clear that the subtle differences between East and West coast culture are extremely minor by comparison with the gaping cultural gap between East and West hemisphere. That said, I found it interesting how some of the cultural contrasts I drew between Japan and New York don’t apply to California, and how some of the contrasts between Japan and California wouldn’t apply to New York. For instance, while there’s a gaping difference in the demeanor of shop clerks in Japan and those in New York/New Jersey, it’s not so striking in California where they’re generally much friendlier. They may not be as rigid and professional as Japanese clerks, but they’re very polite and serve you with a smile, as opposed to East Coast clerks who seem to hate you for making them have to do ten seconds of work.
On the other hand, the laid back and relaxed attitude of the West Coast stands in extremely stark contrast to Japan, whereas the East Coast is a bit more similar. For one thing, Japanese drivers and New York/New Jersey drivers have got to be among the most aggressive in the world, as opposed to Californians who are perhaps the least aggressive (and annoyingly so). And while I’m sure this is true for many if not most East coast workers as well, everyone I had a chat with in California had the same basic attitude about work—that it’s just something you’ve gotta do to get money to afford having fun—as opposed to the Japanese mentality where work is the be-all-and-end-all and fun is just a luxury you can have from time to time, as long as it’s scheduled well in advance.
Then there’s just the basic sound of the way people talk. In southern California they speak very slowly and lazily and with a ton of slang. In New York they tend to speak more quickly and aggressively and with a ton of slang. In Japan they speak quickly but non-aggressively, and always adjust to the appropriate level of slang for all situations, which almost never includes adults talking to one another in a public setting. Germans tend to speak quickly and aggressively like New Yorkers, but with surprisingly little slang.
Other minor tid-bits: surfing is a way of life for many Californians and Japanese, whereas it’s pretty rare on the East Coast and almost unheard of in Germany. Baseball is hugely popular all across America and in Japan but Germans couldn’t care less, while soccer is of paramount importance to Germans and Japanese but not at all to Americans.
Finally, the most interesting contrast between all the cultures is probably religion. Both East and West Coasters are a part of America and therefore more religious in general than Germans and Japanese who are mostly very secular, and yet both East and West Coasters are far more socially liberal than Germans and Japanese, who themselves are actually more socially liberal than Bible-belt America. Both Germany and Japan are considered to be more “conservative” cultures, but their brand of “conservatism” doesn’t even come close to the radical right-wing religious extremism of the conservatism you see in parts of America. That’s unique to that sub-culture, and unfortunately for everyone they don’t have the slightest inkling of just how much of tiny minority they are in global terms because they live in a bubble in which they’re the vast majority, and never spare a thought for the world outside “Amurrica”.
In any case, I’ll end this before it starts getting too political. I just wanted to record some of these thoughts. Maybe I’ll come back to this later and revise some of my opinions, but these are just my general impressions of the different cultures I’m familiar with now. I’ll undoubtedly see things a bit differently and a bit more clearly as I become more familiar with the cultures I know, and more familiar with cultures yet to be experienced.
Well, I’ve been back in the states for three days now and already feel like I never left. The entire life I had in Germany is already starting to feel like one big dream that I just woke up from.
After finishing my last blog entry from Hannover, I spent the next several hours packing up, throwing stuff away, and taking care of a few last-minute tasks like closing my bank account. I had to leave a lot of stuff in my apartment that my landlord is going to have to deal with, but it’s his fault for never getting back to me all those times I called to let his receptionist know I was moving out. I was always told he’d contact me shortly but he never did, and on the last week I sent him a fax just letting him know the situation and that he’d probably have to throw some of my stuff away because I didn’t have time to dispose of it properly. In any case, he has most of my security deposit money and the number where I can be reached here in case it costs him more than that, so as weird as it feels to leave all that there I feel like I did all I could do.
Oliver came by while I was doing that and helped me finish up, then I bid a fond farewell to the flat and we drove to his friend Peda’s apartment in a town called Witten, which is on the outskirts of Dortmund and only a 40-minute drive to the Düsseldorf airport. There we had a pleasant evening, staying up late reminiscing and joking around like old times, and in the morning he drove me to the airport and we said our final farewell.
About 10 hours later I was landing in JFK and my Dad picked me up and drove me back here. The first evening was quite enjoyable, drinking and talking to my parents and my brother Billy, who is now 18 years old and on his way to college at the end of next month.
Saturday was mostly uneventful, but Sunday we all drove into the city (that’s what “New York City” is called around here) to see Blue Man Group, which I’ve been wanting to see for many years and was not disappointed. The music was as great as I knew it would be from the albums I have, but the show was also much more comedic than I’d expected. One of the coolest things was that before the show, one of the stage-hands asked Billy if he’d like to be a part of the show, then took him to the back and told him what to expect. At the end of the show the blue men brought him up on stage, put a little blue mark on his face, then put him in a costume and a helmet and brought him backstage. On the screen it showed him getting splashed with blue paint, tied up by the heals and then smashed against a canvas to make an imprint of his body in blue paint, then the blue men came out on stage rolling a box with some gelatin on the top and it was revealed that his head was actually inside the gelatin. We found out later that it wasn’t actually him getting smashed against the canvas.
After the show we walked to a nearby tavern called McSorley’s, which my Dad says is the oldest continuously-operating tavern in NYC, which didn’t used to allow women up until a couple decades ago, and when they were finally forced to they just didn’t put in a ladies’ room. We each drank some beer there but it wasn’t that great and the place smelled pretty funky so we left after just fifteen minutes or so.
We then drove most of the way back home and stopped at an Irish bar/restaurant for dinner and more drinks, and had a very pleasant evening there before finally coming home.
I contacted a bunch of people when I got back to try and figure out who I can visit and when, but most of them haven’t gotten back to me yet. I’ll almost definitely be going to Brooklyn this weekend and possibly up to Red Hook to see my grandparents next weekend, but it all depends on a lot of things.
As for my overall feelings, it’s actually hard to say. I’m simultaneously glad to be back and sad to be away from Germany, but thanks to Skype I’m able to keep in touch with my closest Germany friends (I’m actually chatting with Oliver as I write this) but it’s still weird to think I won’t be seeing them in person for many years. I’m also extremely excited to be going to Japan next month, but a little nervous that I still haven’t gotten any definite information from them regarding my city-placement or date of arrival. I just sent them an e-mail to inform them of my change of address and phone number, as well as a little “wtf?” (though much more professional) to express my concern over it being only a month before I’m expected to go there and I still don’t have any of the details.
But overall, I really don’t have anything to complain about. My life right now is actually pretty frickin’ awesome when you think about it. I’ve got at least a month of little more to do than hang around, visit people I love, and kick my Japanese-studying into overdrive. I might also do a little driving for Domino’s like old times, as one of Billy’s friends works there now and he said he might be able to get something worked out for me whereby I’m not actually a full-time employee but just on-call for busy evenings. And then next month (assuming all goes smoothly) I’ll actually be starting a new life in JAPAN!!! It’s quite a major crossroads I’m at now, and it’s impossible not to appreciate how monumental it is.
I don’t know how frequently I’ll be posting over the next few weeks, but I assume it’ll remain about as frequent as before. If you’re one of my American friends and you’re reading this and I haven’t contacted you, feel free to contact me if you want to meet up sometime and I’d be happy to. I only contacted the people I saw last time but there are plenty of others I’d like to see that I’m just not sure would be interested.
This will be my last journal entry from Hannover. In a few minutes, Lena will swing by to say goodbye to me, and at around 2:00 Oliver will come to help me put the finishing touches on my packing and throwing stuff away. When that’s done we’ll be driving to Dortmund where Oliver knows a guy who knows of a good place to camp, and we’ll either spend the night camping outside or in the apartment of Oliver’s friend. The next morning we’ll head from there to nearby Düsseldorf, from where my plane will take me back to America and the next chapter of my life.
I’ve spent the last few days living pretty much like I always have, spending lots of time in my box but heading out frequently for errands, jogging, or cycling. On Tuesday evening I went out for a little farewell dinner with Amanda, Tom (the guy from Atlanta), and Lena. We’d thought that would be the last time I’d see Lena but when we finished eating she said she didn’t want to say goodbye that night and would make sure to see me on Thursday. That goodbye will probably happen before I finish this entry [it did, and was very sad].
Once Lena and Tom had gone, Amanda kept buying us rounds of beer and we ended up staying there until extremely late at night, getting drunk to the point where I was loose-lipped enough to get into a discussion of my sexual issues, and she was insisting that we go to a sex-worker and get my virginity taken that night so it wouldn’t be such a big deal to me anymore. In a normal state of mind I wouldn’t even consider it, but it was kind of tempting at that level of drunkenness. Still, no amount of drunkenness would be enough to get me to throw my virginity away on a prostitute—sex with someone who’s only doing it for business has no appeal to me whatsoever, and since I’m perfectly content in my long-term virginity (except for a few highly unfortunate side-effects), that’s just not something I was willing to do.
But I had to give Amanda credit for at least trying to help me out, and coming closer than anyone else has. It was a bittersweet farewell when I hugged her goodbye and she rode her bike away, then I stumbled back towards my apartment just as the rain began to fall heavily. I waited in a doorway of a building for it to let up, dozed off for awhile, then got back up and headed home as the sun began to rise.
I had to suffer through the after-effects for most of yesterday, so unfortunately I didn’t squeeze as much appreciation out of Hannover on my last full day here than I would have liked, but the weather was terrible anyway so all I did was go for one last bike ride in the morning.
But after the sun had gone down last night, the power went off in the whole city. One of the things I always found interesting about Germany was that in all the years I’ve spent here (almost 4 if you include my exchange-student year) was that I’d never experienced a single power-blackout. I’m not sure if this one was weather-related or simply the result of an overloaded grid due to the fact that those nuclear reactors aren’t running anymore (that would make my E.ON students very happy) but the fact that the very first blackout I’ve experienced in Germany came on my very last night in Hannover was a bit of a noteworthy coincidence. Of course I went outside and walked around to get a feel for it, heading through the train station (my last time there) and to the Raschplatz on the other side, which is the first place I had to go when I first arrived in Hannover about three years ago. That feels simultaneously like yesterday and a million years ago.
And this morning I went for one final jog down along the river and for a brief time next to the Maschsee, fully aware the whole time that I wouldn’t be seeing any of these lovely, familiar areas again for quite some time. I can hardly believe that my life here is over.
I’ll leave reflecting on my time here as a whole for another day, as right now I’m focused on the logistical nightmare of getting me and all my stuff back across the ocean. For now I’ll just leave you with some pictures of Hannover I took recently, most from the top of the Rathaus and a few from just walking or cycling around.
In less than a week my life here will be over, I’ll be back in America and the entire 3-year-long experience will be nothing more than a memory (and nearly a thousand pages’ worth of journal entries). I’ve been going about my life as though diagnosed with a terminal illness, thinking “is this the last time I’ll ever…?” for just about everything I do. I knew that this past Friday night was officially my last Friday night in Germany, and now every single day is the last [x]day I’ll have here.
Thankfully, my last Friday and last Saturday were excellent, full of experiences perfectly appropriate to be among my last in Germany. On Friday afternoon, Lena picked me up and drove me to Celle where she, Oliver, and I spent the evening in the backyard, playing with the dog, making a bonfire, and, naturally, drinking lots of beer. It was the first time I’d hung out with both of them together in at least a month and it was a lovely time as usual, made a little more emotional by knowing it would be my last night there in Celle. We talked about lots of things, none of which are as important as the fact that we had nice conversations in the first place. I remember them asking me what I’ll miss most about Germany, and while they said “other than the people” the honest answer is that it will be the two of them.
I may never spend the night in Celle again (when I come back to visit they might have moved on by then), but I’ll at least see Oliver and Lena one more time each. Oliver will be taking me to the airport on Friday (we’ll be leaving Hannover on Thursday to get closer to Düsseldorf to be there in the morning of the flight) and Lena will come too unless she has to do something for her studies. If she can’t join us though, she said she’d meet me one afternoon in Hannover to say goodbye. I don’t even want to think about that right now.
On Saturday we had to get up relatively early (9:00) to get ready to go on a climbing-trip that Lena’s friend Simone had organized over a month before. Simone is the same woman who organized the two “Grünkohlwanderung”s I went on, but this time she wanted to try something different and set up a time-slot for us to go to one of these giant climbing things that look like oversized jungle-gyms. It’s where a lot of businesses send their employees to have these “team-building exercises” and that’s what our group of about 12 people would be doing in spite of the fact that we’re not a “team” of any kind and all that binds us together is that we all know Simone or someone who knows Simone.
Honestly, I wasn’t looking forward to it all that much. When I got up at 9:00 after a night of many beers, I went out to walk Oliver’s dog (also very sad to think that was the last time I’d do that) and all I could think was how the last thing I felt like doing was climbing up a giant wall with a big group of people.
We drove into Hannover to pick up a couple of other girls who decided to join, and then another half-hour or so to the southwest of Hannover in a region called the “Deister” which in comparison to the extreme flatness Hannover could be called “mountainous” but really it’s just a lot of hills. It was a very nice area though, and we were hoping for good weather. The morning was nice and sunny but the clouds had rolled in by the time we got there and the forecast called for a chance of rain or even thunderstorms.
Some navigational difficulties made us the last to arrive, but when we got there I immediately recognized a few faces from the Grünkohlwanderungs. In addition to Simone were the lovely Inge and her boyfriend-recently-turned-husband Matthias, and four or five others whose faces I remember but whose names I’ve forgotten. There was going to be a BBQ at Simone’s place after the climbing, and I was looking forward to that more than the climbing itself, so my attitude at the very beginning was very much along the lines of “let’s just get this over with.”
Before we did any actual climbing, there was about an hour of team-building exercises. There was one girl who worked there named Sybille who was in charge of our group (there were a few other people there but no other big groups) and she led us to a big wooden log on the grass and told us to line up on it. She then instructed us to rearrange ourselves in alphabetical order by first name, but we couldn’t get off the log because the grass was water in the Amazon, infested with crocodiles and other nasty things that would eat you if you fell in.
We managed to rearrange ourselves without too much trouble, but as we did she kept moving a pair of ropes on the edge of the log closer to each other (the log was sinking, you see) so we had to squeeze in closer and closer to each other. I’m sure this is highly effective team-building psychology: forcing the people to stand in uncomfortably close proximity to one another must help to create synergy.
Next we had to cross the treacherous Amazon waters to a wooden platform several meters away using only plastic beer crates, but Sybille kept kicking the crates away from us if we used them and then let go. Inge was the first to step out on the crates, and she brought one back over to the log. I’d been standing next to her on the log so I stepped out onto the one she brought, but I lost my balance and “fell in the water”. Sybille didn’t see, and while I was perfectly willing to be “dead” and just watch the rest of the exercise from the side-lines, there was another girl there to assist and she told me to just get back on the crate and pretend it didn’t happen. Then Sybille decided to make things even more difficult and she tied a bandana around Simone’s legs and around mine. “Are you kidding me?” I thought, figuring there was no way I could possibly get across now, but Inge figured out that by keeping two crates right next to each other and both of us moving to one at the same time, she could slowly but surely get me to the platform before going back to help the others.
Eventually we all got to the platform, which was teetering on another wooden log, our objective being to shift our balance of weight so that the platform wouldn’t hit the ground on either side for fifteen seconds. We had a very difficult time with this until I suggested we all stand as close to the middle as possible, at which point we made it for about twelve seconds but apparently that was enough.
Then we had to get across the crates again to a patch of dirt which was also safe-ground, and there was a wall of ropes resembling a spider’s web. Our next task was to get everyone through the ropes without touching them or re-using any of the openings. The group just kind of stood there dumbfounded for a moment, not having any idea how this could be done, but I think I’ve done something like this before (I can’t for the life of me remember where—possibly a Boy Scout trip when I was young) but I seemed to intuitively know what to do. We first had to get a couple of people through the ropes at the bottom with them crawling on their hands and some of us lifting the rest of their bodies up from the back, at which point they could then help others by lifting them from the front. We did this quite successfully, but of course the last two people through had to be blind-folded to make it more interesting.
With that finished I was finally able to un-bind my legs, but now all of us except for Oliver had to be blind-folded and standing in a line with our hands on the person’s shoulders in front of us, and Oliver had to lead us from behind only by tapping on the person’s shoulders in front of him to signal which way we had to turn, and that person would tap the person in front of them and so on until the signal reached the front and the whole group turned accordingly. That was a rather annoying task, but we eventually got to where we were going: a solid wooden wall that we all had to get over.
Once again, I knew exactly what to do because I’d done this sort of thing before, either in Boy Scouts or for high school gym class. I asked someone else to help me lift a guy up by the legs so he could get over the wall, and then he could help raise everyone else up while we continued lifting them by the legs. We got over in an extremely short amount of time, the girl who was in charge seemed quite impressed, and then it was finally time for the last exercise which involved getting us all across a couple of tightropes arranged in the shape of a triangle. I’d done this before as well so I went first to show others what to do (you just hold the hands of a person on the other rope and the next people hold onto you and so on) and we again finished in a very short amount of time.
By then I was already enjoying myself more than I thought I’d be, and after a fifteen-minute break I was ready for the actual climbing. Sybille equipped us all with the proper gear, showed us how to put it on and checked that we had it right, then brought us over and gave a little run-down of the proper safety procedures. She knew I spoke English so she’d occasionally translate for me, but during that part Inge translated for me, revealing for the first time to me that her English is actually quite superb.
Everyone needs a partner for the climbing, so Oliver and I paired up. We first had to climb a fifteen-meter wall with little color-coded climbing-nubs arranged in three rows: yellow was easy, blue was moderate and red was difficult. With me spotting him from the ground, Oliver first attempted the red path but it proved too difficult (you have to actually lift yourself up by the fingertips) so he switched to the blue wall and went the rest of the way up that path. Oliver mentioned before we went that he’s a little afraid of heights, so I was quite impressed by him for making it up there, as well as everything he did at the top. Another girl spotted me while I climbed up the blue path, and while I’ve never climbed up one of these sorts of walls before it all came perfectly naturally. I used to love climbing trees and monkey-bars when I was a kid, and this whole apparatus was like a mega-sized monkey-bars for adults.
But on those jungle-gyms as a kid you’d play by using your imagination. Up on this beast you didn’t need your imagination. It was enough of an adrenaline rush to be up so high and walking across various sorts of obstacles. We all had ropes with hooks that we had to carefully attach to the wires that ran above every obstacle, so there was no danger of falling to your death but it was still a rather nerve-wracking experience.
There were enough obstacles so that our whole group could be up there at once and still not have to wait too often for others to finish, but watching others get across was almost as fun as getting across yourself. Describing what these obstacles were like would be tedious and pointless.
The most nerve-wracking obstacle though was simply a gap of about one meter between one little platform and another. Sybille kept egging me on to do the most difficult challenges, and when I got to that one she insisted I jump across without relying on my safety ropes (which people could easily cheat by holding on to while making the jump). “Just imagine there’s a beautiful woman on the other side” she said. I had no choice but not to chicken-out, and I figured if these platforms were a meter apart but right on the ground I wouldn’t think twice about it. The only different between them being one meter above the ground and fifteen meters was psychological. I hopped across successfully, and even convinced Oliver to do the same.
We spent maybe an hour and a half up there altogether, and the weather was very weird the whole time. The sun shined for a few minutes, then the clouds came back, sometimes it started raining a little, then the sun would come out again, and on and on. It was actually quite cool for being up there, to have wind, sun, and a little rain all mixed together. Though there were thunderstorms happening in the distance, luckily none of them hit us directly.
The final thing to do was climb a post up to a platform 25 meters high and slide down a long rope to the bottom. Sybille was waiting for us up there to get us connected right and send us on our way. Leaping off that platform and just letting gravity take you down was quite a thrill, and I’m glad one of Lena’s friends was there with her camera to take pictures of the people sliding down. I ended up being the last one off, and then Sybille slid down after me.
We still had about an hour left by the time we were all on the ground, and we used it to give everyone a turn on this big swing-thing where your friends pull on a rope to lift you up, then the rope detaches when you’re at the top and sends you swinging back-and-forth. A big thrill for the first few seconds, and then surprisingly relaxing as you rock gently back and forth.
Eventually it was time to go, and all of us were clearly in great spirits after that experience. Oliver also remarked that it had been way more enjoyable than he expected. I certainly had a much better time than I thought I would, which looking back I think is rather silly. Of course it was going to be a great time—it’s just a bunch of frequent doses of adrenaline pumped you’re your brain over and over again. The thrill of conquering fear, of making it across the obstacle, of jumping off the super-tall platform, and so on. When it’s over, you feel like you can conquer anything.
Sybille told us when it was over that we were one of the best groups she’s had. And just as we were all thinking, “she probably says that to every group” she insisted that she really meant it with this group and then explained how we were different than most groups. I could imagine if most of the groups she does are business-teams, this loose collection of friends and acquaintances who were only there for a good time might have been better.
So after that great experience it was time to go to the BBQ at Simone’s which after a bit of a round-about trip to drop off the girls from Hannover at the train station and check out a nearby location from Oliver’s past, we got there and found everyone from the climbing-trip as well as a few others at Simone’s place. I’d expected to enjoy the BBQ more than the climbing, but I was so dehydrated and so sick of beer from the night before that I just started off drinking water and only had two beers the whole evening. As such I didn’t get as outgoing as I’m capable of and mostly talked only to Oliver and Lena. But being in a big group they were mostly talking to others, always in German, and I found my mind wandering quite often.
During dinner I was sitting next to a couple of guys whom I eventually realized were gay once they started kissing each other in front of everyone. I thought that was fantastic—not so much for them but for the group. It’s my understanding that most Germans are pretty intolerant about that sort of thing, but here was a group of about fifteen Germans and the gay guys could be openly gay in front of everyone without anyone seeming to have a problem with it.
At one point, one of the guys there got us all in a circle for a little game he invented (or stole from somebody else) to test our “social competence”. He handed us all a piece of paper with a number that had to be kept secret. When he called out our number we’d have to fall and the people standing next to us would have to catch us—typical trust-building exercise. He called 6 and Simone went down and I and the person to the other side of her had to catch her. Then he called 5 and Oliver went down. Then he called 8 and everyone else went down, because everyone else had the number 8. That was pretty clever and we all had a good laugh.
After that Oliver and Lena decided it was time to go. I said goodbye to a few people there including Simone, making sure to thank her for the great time. She said the next time we see each other will probably be the next Grünkohlwanderung, but alas it’s highly unlikely I’ll be around for any more of those.
Oliver and Lena were heading back to Celle but they didn’t want to drop me off at my flat because you need a special ticket to drive in the city of Hannover and they were worried about getting caught without one. We had to drive by the E.ON building in Mühlenberg so I said they could drop me off there and I’d take the same tram home that I used to take several times a week.
They pulled into the parking lot near the station and got out to wish me goodbye. I wasn’t sure if this was the last time I’d see Lena, but she assured me that if she can’t help take me to the airport this week she’ll definitely meet up with me before then. Still, we hugged each other tightly and even got a little teary. The real goodbye is going to be very difficult.
So I said goodbye and took the tram back from Mühlenberg to Waterloo station near my flat, which was weird because I’d thought the previous Thursday—my last day of work—would be the last time I’d see that E.ON building or ride that tram. But I knew last night that it really would be the last time I rode the tram in Hannover.
Not wanting to sink straight back into my couch after such a big day, I did a little cycling as twilight turned to night, and went to bed relatively early to recharge more of the energy I’ve been expending. Now it’s my last Sunday in Germany, and once I get this blog entry done I intend to enjoy it to the fullest.
I always try to live for the moment, but in these “final-stretch” periods of my life it becomes downright necessary to appreciate every last second to the fullest, and knowing the end is near makes it easier.
It occurred to me yesterday that it was the second-to-last Friday I’d be in Germany, so perhaps I ought to behave like a normal human being in his youth and go out. I checked the internet to see what was going on at all the clubs around and it looked like my best bet was a “Nuller Party” at the Faust, a music club about a 15-minute walk from my flat and right along the river where I go jogging. This is apparently the new thing now—in the last decade, 90s parties—where the DJ plays only music from the 90s—became very popular, and now they’re already doing the same thing with music from the 00s, a decade which somehow went by without ever getting an official name in English, but in Germany I suppose they settled on the “Nulls” and hence the “Nuller Party”.
After spending a few hours working up a buzz, I left my flat shortly before 11:00 when the website said this thing was supposed to start. The sun had only gone down about an hour earlier and the sky hadn’t completely darkened yet, so it felt much earlier than it was. But when I got to the club there was nobody inside. I don’t know why I hadn’t realized that if the entry started at 11:00 most people would actually get there later, but because I’d aimed to be there at 11:00 exact I ended up being the very first person to arrive.
A couple of hot German girls came in shortly after me, and though I stood next to them at the bar while ordering myself a beer, they neither spoke to or even made eye-contact with me. Of course I considered approaching them but there was this über-bitch aura radiating from them which is sadly quite typical of young German girls. These were the quintessence of young German bitches, and I felt like I could sense the cruelness of their hearts through the thin layer of surface beauty they possessed, so I didn’t try to talk to them.
I went up to the coat-check counter and asked the girl there when things usually got started at this place, and she said between 1:00 and 2:00. Ah, I thought, now I remember why I never go out. It was already past my normal bed-time of 11:00 and the party wasn’t even going to really get started for another couple hours.
I went outside and walked over to the Gretchen, a beer garden next to the Faust, and asked a woman working there the same thing I’d asked the coat-check girl, and she confirmed what was said. She was nice and she spoke English to me when it was apparent my German was bad, and when I ran out of things to say and walked away she said it was “a pleasure to meet me.” This woman was like the polar opposite of the girls in the club—clearly a wonderful human being on the inside but utterly unremarkable in terms of physical appearance. Why does it always have to be like that?
Anyway, I went to one of the tables outside near where others were sitting (the beer-garden was not as empty as the club) and sat down to roll up a cigarette. A young kid sat down on the other side of the table from me and asked if he could bum a smoke, so I happily obliged his request as his friend came with a freshly-ordered pizza from the food-stand there and sat down on the other side of the table. We got to talking and I ended up spending the next hour with them, and while it’s a fun little anecdote I’m afraid it’ll have to be edited out of the public part of this entry. If you’ve got access to private entries you might want to scroll down now and read the unabridged version.
They were young German boys all of 16 years old, the kind of kids I normally look at with reflexive disdain because they just seem like dumb little punks. But I was in good spirits and they seemed friendly enough so I engaged them in some conversation and told them about how I’ve been teaching English here for a few years and would be going back to America in two weeks. I guess they don’t meet people with quite as interesting a story very often so they quickly warmed up to me and wanted to hear more, particularly about the way things are in America. Ever since Cristiano suggested it in Rome I’ve been telling everyone I’m from New York, so they thought this was extra-awesome because New York City is one of the places they’ve always dreamed of going. The kid who bummed the smoke from me was even wearing a Yankee cap.
I liked these kids, and talking to them reminded me of talking to my younger brother and his friends whenever I’m back home in NJ. They also got major points in my book by attempting as much as they could to speak English to me, even though I was doing my best to speak German. The whole conversation was a weird mixture of English and German, often with words from both languages in the same sentence.
They learned a lot about America from me and I learned a little about what teenage boys in Hannover are like, and when we were finished talking they went home and I went back to the club. They said they were lucky to have met me, so I felt pretty good on my way back in, now feeling like anybody I might meet would indeed be lucky to meet me.
Back in the club it was now about half-past midnight and there were more people there but still no one dancing. I ordered a ridiculously over-priced water to get myself hydrated, then migrated to the back of the dance floor to do a little subtle dancing to the decent-but-far-from-great music that was playing. I was pretty buzzed at this point and seriously considered just letting loose on the empty dance-floor without caring at all how silly I’d look to everyone, but I apparently wasn’t quite buzzed enough for that.
So I went back to the bar and ordered a whiskey on the rocks (my current favorite drink) and the guy said it would have to be in a plastic cup, but if I wanted a glass I could just go to the bar at the smoking lounge in the back. I decided to check out the smoking lounge and discovered that there were even more people in there than out in the main area of the club. It was—as you might expect—pretty smoky in there, but not too bad.
I ordered my whiskey on the rocks (amused to see it served in a plastic cup anyway) and took the only empty barstool there between a couple of guys who were also there alone. I sipped from my drink and scanned the room, trying to determine which of these small groups of Germans sitting in the couches in the back looked to be the most promising to approach. As is usually the case with crowds of Germans, none of the groups seemed very approachable at all, which was another reminder of why I don’t go out very often.
I didn’t really want a cigarette, but in the spirit of “when in Rome” I figured I might as well smoke since I was here in the smoking lounge. I took out my tobacco and started to roll one up, and that’s when the guy sitting to my right spoke to me. He asked me if I had any filters, as apparently he had tobacco and papers but no filters. So once again smoking was the cause of my meeting someone. I wonder how non-smokers ever meet people. Seriously—I might give up the habit if it wasn’t so damned useful.
So this guy—who looked exactly like Ron Livingston, star of the movie Office Space and Nixon from Band of Brothers—quickly realized my German wasn’t native and asked me where I was from, and seemed just as pleasantly surprised as the kids from earlier that I was from America (and New York in particular). It turned out he wasn’t a native German either but was actually a Russian, born in St. Petersburg and whose family migrated to Germany as soon as the Berlin wall came down. He said that the fall of the Berlin wall was the most significant historical event of his lifetime and that if that hadn’t happened he would still be in Russia right now. He’d moved here when he was 9, and was now 26. His family is scattered around Germany but apparently he also has an aunt and uncle in Brooklyn, thus providing even more evidence of my friend Mike’s theory that Brooklyn is the center of the universe.
The guy’s name was Jevgeny, and he struggled to speak English to me throughout our whole conversation and while he kept apologizing for how shitty his English was, I thought he was doing just fine. He was deeply curious about America because he never gets to speak to actual Americans. That’s one of the great things about Hannover—it’s not a tourist city so Americans are a rare commodity, and people treat a conversation with you like a rare opportunity. He said that he had a perception of Americans as very stupid and closed-minded, and while he made sure to explain that he wasn’t talking about me, I took no offense because as I explained, most Americans are stupid and closed-minded. He told me a story about someone he knew who was an exchange student in Kentucky, and the family he stayed with kept asking him about Nazis and whether Hitler was secretly still alive. I had to admit that it’s true—when most Americans hear “Germany” they immediately think of Nazis and Hitler—but people on the coasts and in the cities tend to be more sophisticated than these hicks in places like Kentucky.
I was happy to disabuse him of the notion that all Americans are morons, and he complimented me more than once on my intelligence. That’s one great thing about being an American abroad—people judge you by extremely low standards so they’re impressed by you simply for not being a drooling idiot. He had a lot of questions about America and I was happy to explain things to him, particularly about the political situation because most Europeans have no idea that Obama is really just a puppet dangling from the same strings as Bush and Clinton before him.
But I also learned some very interesting things from Jevgeny. He works at a small grocery store in the south of Hannover, and while he didn’t say so explicitly he basically implied that he’s got connections. Apparently all Russians in Germany have some kind of ties to organized crime, and he said that it comes with positives and negatives. The downside is that when Germans find out he’s a Russian, they immediately back away and don’t want to talk to him. On the plus side, nobody fucks with him. He told me that if anyone came up and started shit with me while we were sitting there, he’d punch him in the face without fear of retaliation.
He also seemed concerned that he might be intimidating me, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. And he kept saying that I could go any time and he didn’t want to keep me there, but I explained that this was the whole reason I came out—to meet and talk to interesting people. Jevgeny was a very interesting guy. One of the most fascinating things I learned from him is that with his German passport he’s free to go anywhere in Europe except his home country of Russia. When he goes back, they stop him at the airport because apparently all Russians are supposed to serve in the military and he hasn’t, so he has to bribe them every single time to keep from being sent to the army.
Eventually, Jevgeny went home and just like the kids from earlier told me that he felt lucky to have met me, which never stops feeling nice.
Now it was finally time to go to the club area and do some dancing, as the dance-floor was now full of people. I downed another expensive mineral water, then proceeded to weave my way through the crowd and dance to a bunch of unrecognizable songs (I didn’t do mush listening to the radio during the 00s) and see if any of the groups of Germans might be approachable, or better yet if there were any attractive girls I could attempt to flirt with. I was at maximum-confidence, truly believing that any woman I approached would be lucky for the chance to meet me, but things didn’t work out that way.
None of girls so much as made eye-contact with me, and all the attractive ones were dancing with their boyfriends anyway. It’s the same story whenever I go to a dance club—the girls are either taken or totally not into me—and it was one final reminder of why I never go out. Even when I’m smiling, having a good time, and radiating confidence, I just can’t seem to attract anyone. But fuck German girls anyway. There are of course many many exceptions, but generally speaking they’re almost all a bunch of stuck-up bitches. I think I’ve been better off during my three years here for having not had my life complicated by one.
After giving up on meeting anyone new, and quite satisfied at the socialization I’d already had, I went to the coat-check counter to retrieve my jacket and go home. There was a slight problem—the little token they gave me had apparently fallen out of my pocket, and the girl there (typical stuck-up German bitch) gave me this whole, “sucks to be you” attitude like there was absolutely nothing she could do to help me. She told me to wait an hour for people to start going home. Right, like I’m really going to wait until everyone else has gotten their coat before I can get mine and go. I obstinately stayed at the counter and she finally relented. I described my jacket to her and told her that I could prove it was mine because there was a camera in my pocket with some pictures of me in it. She found the coat, found the camera, and handed it to me. Luckily I still had some pictures of me from the last time I was in Celle, and I showed her one of me with Oliver’s dog and she laughed and gave me my coat back.
It was now past 4 a.m. and during my walk home the sky began to get brighter as the sun was already rising. I’d literally been out from dusk until dawn, but in Germany during the summer that’s not a very long time at all.
So that was my nice little night out. I’m quite glad I did that, and while I’ve got no desire to drink or go out again tonight, I’m sure I’ll have myself a few more nights like that before I leave.
I just returned from my last day of work as an English teacher for Planeo in Hannover. It’s been a week of goodbyes, and now the reality that my time here is coming to an end has really begun to hit home. I’ll never teach an English lesson for E.ON employees again. I’ll never even go into those buildings again. After nearly three years of going and coming, it hardly feels real that I’ll never go there again.
The goodbyes began last Friday with my last trip to Helmstedt and my last lesson with the chatty secretaries who were the students I had the longest, and they were definitely the most sad to see me go. On the way back I stopped in Braunschweig to pay a second visit to my Grandfather’s cousin Elisabeth, which also ended with a farewell although we’ve only met twice.
Monday I said goodbye to two classes, the second of which was full of a bunch of guys I really loved teaching, both because of their sense of humor and the fact that they loved hearing me go on at length about American politics. I gave them one final rant, this time about the Obama budget talks and how I now think he has no chance of winning re-election.
Tuesday I had only one lesson, this one with two guys, one of them was Holger—the guy I went to the Coppelius show with many months ago—but our goodbye wasn’t too official as we’re now friends on Facebook and I’m sure we’ll stay in touch.
My last Wednesday lesson was last week but nobody showed up, so I didn’t need to say any goodbyes there.
And today I had my last three lessons back-to-back. The first was the lesson with Mandy, my most beautiful student whom I’ve contemplated asking out many times but never did because I always got vibes of a complete lack-of-interest in me from her. I’d contemplated saying something like, “Now that you’re not my student anymore, it wouldn’t be awkward for me to ask you out. How would you like a boyfriend for two weeks?” I wouldn’t have actually done that but I was spared the annoyance of having chickened-out by finally confirming after all this time that she does in fact have a boyfriend. She’s never directly mentioned him before but when I asked her about her plans for the summer and she said she wanted to go somewhere with her “friend” I asked “your boyfriend?” and she said yes. So now I can feel just fine about never having pursued anything there.
Then it was my last lesson with one of my favorite students, Katja, with whom I spent most of the time talking about politics and making jokes. My sense of humor always seemed to appeal to her so I always enjoyed those lessons. I’m definitely sad about never seeing her again.
And finally, my last lesson was cut mercifully short as the two women who take part had a meeting to go to only a half-hour later. They brought me down to the cafeteria and treated me to a drink as we exchanged farewells and best-wishes.
The last person I bid farewell to was the very nice receptionist at the E.ON building, whom I told it was my last day and I’d be off to Japan now, and of course the first thing she brought up was Fukushima. But she and the other receptionist wished me a very fond farewell and then I left the building, taking a deep breath of the fresh jobless air.
This is the beginning of the end of my time in Germany, but the end of the beginning of my English teaching career. It’s been a fantastic experience, one I think was a great way to start out doing this. It’s going to be extremely different in Japan, but I’ve grown enough both as a teacher and a person to feel ready for it now.
All that remains is to get my affairs in order, enjoy the hell out of these last two weeks, and then head back to the U.S.A. for a month before finally going to Japan. I’ll be in three countries in the next two months. Another one of my life’s major turning points is under way.
I might not be the world’s biggest Pink Floyd fan, but I’m fairly confident I’d make the Top 20. And while I don’t listen to their albums as frequently as I used to and when I do it’s usually their earlier stuff, the album that started it all for me was The Wall. After discovering that as a teenager I’d lay in bed in the dark and listen to it almost every night, deriving not just pleasure from the music but deep emotional catharsis from the meaning (or at least the meaning I perceived) behind it. By that time, Pink Floyd had been broken up for over two decades and it was an absolute certainty that a full-scale live production of The Wall would never happen again, and I lamented being born too late to have seen it. But when I learned to my astonishment last year that Roger Waters was going on tour with The Wall again, I knew I had to go.
Because I’m living in Germany I had to wait for the European leg of the tour, which just came to Germany this month. I bought tickets and saw the show in Mannheim, and last week went to both shows in Berlin. My blog entry for the Mannheim show was written more or less like a typical personal blog entry, focused primarily on my experience, but I’ll try to make this entry a bit more universal and write about the experience. While no experience of a show can be completely divorced from my subjective opinions of the songs, the seats I was in, and the people I was surrounded by—which I’ll describe at the forefront—I will write this as though for any fellow Floyd fans who saw the show and want to re-live the experience, or who missed the show but are curious as to how it was done. Normal readers who are not familiar with The Wall won’t find anything of interest here.
I’d bought a ticket for the Mannheim show as soon as I heard The Wall would be touring again because that was the first show in Germany. Just a day later it occurred to me how awesome it would be to see it in Berlin—what with the whole significance of “the wall” idea for that city, as well as the fact that the last time Roger did The Wall was in Potzdamer Platz shortly after the fall of the Berlin wall, which at the time was the largest concert event ever staged. I bought a ticket for the first night in Berlin, and assumed those two shows would be the only shows I’d see.
But when I looked at the seating chart and saw that my seats for the first show, Wednesday night, were far off to the side of the stage just like they were at the Mannheim show (only on the opposite side of the arena), I wished I’d get to see the wall from straight on at least once. It’s a very visual show and when your view is drastically askew it’s a different experience. I’d also be at the mercy of whomever was seated next to me, and if like the first show it was near people who weren’t all that into it, I’d feel a little self-conscious about getting into it as much as I could. So to remedy both problems I called my friend Oliver and asked if he’d want to join me—he was also into Floyd as a kid, though his childhood was a decade before mine—and I got us two tickets on the lower level of the stadium, directly stage-center.
On Wednesday night I went to Berlin equipped with my camera, got a few nice shots of the actual Berlin Wall, the largest remaining section coincidentally right across the street from the O2 Arena where the metaphorical wall was being built, and eventually found my way inside and up to my seat.
On the first night I hadn’t spoken to any of my neighbors and it made me feel self-conscious throughout, so I made it a point to talk to the friendly-seeming guy to my right before the show started. I learned he was from a nearby village and was seeing the show because he’d wanted to go to the Potzdamer Platz show back in 1990 but didn’t have the time, and this would make up for it. He said he never goes to live concerts so this would be a real treat for him. The people to my left I spoke to at intermission, and while they said they’d driven 200 km to see the show, they “weren’t really big Pink Floyd fans” and they sucked some of the enjoyment out of my experience by basically sitting on their hands the whole time and never getting into it at all. For some reason, that seemed to be the case for the whole audience Wednesday night, who were noticeably less enthusiastic than the audience in Mannheim had been. The audience then were always rising to their feet to dance and clap along, and the applause after the show lasted a solid five minutes until the lights finally came up. On Wednesday in Berlin, only the people in the floor seats ever stood up, there was much less clapping along, and the applause ended the moment Roger left the stage.
The circumstances for the Thursday show could not have been more different, both in terms of my own experience and of the audience at large. I of course had my friend Oliver to my left who was just as psyched about seeing the show for the first time as I was about seeing it again (and finally from the right perspective), and to my left was a middle-aged American couple who were obviously fans. Before the show started I heard the man explaining some of the meaning of the album to the woman, and I would have tried to talk to him but the show started just a minute or two after we sat down. He turned out to be a mega-fan, more enthusiastic than anyone I’ve ever seen at a Floyd show, and his presence was a hugely significant factor in my experience of the Thursday show for good and for ill. Ill because he couldn’t be ignored—he was obviously a little drunk and kept singing along and making loud comments about how “fucking great” everything was—but good because there could be no doubt that this guy appreciated the music. He was carrying on so loudly that the woman in front of me kept turning around with her camera to take pictures of him, which he thought was hilarious. At first it was quite a mental struggle to not let it ruin the show but I eventually figured out how to go with it, which was much easier once I actually spoke to him at the intermission.
I said “I have to talk to you because you’re obviously a fan,” and he immediately apologized and said “I’m sorry, brother, I just can’t help myself. My wife and I came all the way from Colorado for this tour. What do you think of the show?” I told him it was incredible and this was actually the third time I’ve seen it, and he grinned widely and said, “Yeah brother, I’ve seen it like five times!” and he immediately gave me a big hug of Floyd-fanatic solidarity. During the second half of the show, he switched seats with his wife and sat directly next to me, and took my hand to say, “It’s nice to be able to share this experience with you, brother.” So during the second half it was easier not to get frustrated by him. I just figured that’s how I would be if I were just as drunk. He was loudly singing along so I didn’t have to. I could sing along and dance in my chair as well, and I wouldn’t have to feel self-conscious at all because he was way more over-the-top, and my own visible enjoyment of the show would only add to his.
Strangely enough, just like on Wednesday my own immediate seating-surroundings were like a microcosm of the entire audience, and just as my neighbors on Wednesday hadn’t been too into it and the audience as a whole was relatively lame, my neighbors on Thursday were as enthusiastic as you can imagine and the audience as a whole was noticeably more into it as well. It wasn’t just my perception—I’d paid attention to the section I knew I’d be sitting in on Thursday from my seats on Wednesday and that section was seated throughout the whole show. But on Thursday night, when I was in that section, we were up on our feet and clapping along whenever the music was conducive to it. And when the show was over, the applause maintained its intensity right up until the house lights came up. It was strange but fascinating how different the audience-dynamics were for the same show in the same city, just one night apart.
So now I’ll go song by song and describe what the experience was like, mentioning my own personal experience only when relevant, and include any photos I took that came out half-way decent enough to include.
In the Flesh?
The lights go down and the crowd starts cheering. A couple of men dressed in the fascist-uniforms used later in the show drag a man-sized puppet to the center of the stage, and you hear the most famous lines from the film Spartacus as the Roman soldiers demand that the defeated rebel slaves hand over “the living flesh of the slave called Spartacus”. A spotlight shines down on one of the audience-members. “I’m Spartacus!” you hear. Another spotlight on another audience-member: “I’m Spartacus!” Again and again: “I’m Spartacus…I’m Spartacus…I am Spartacus!”
Then all the lights turn off and it gets very quiet. Suddenly you hear a lone trumpet player standing somewhere in the middle of the left side of the arena playing “Outside the Wall”. You’re probably getting chills at this point, especially if you know what’s coming. It goes on for a short while, longer than it does on the album, and just when you’re about to slip into a more relaxed state—BANG!!! Off goes the first round of fireworks along with the first notes of “In the Flesh?” blaring across the arena at top-volume. The crowd erupts as the band behind the not-yet-built wall plays.
Then the man himself, Roger Waters, walks out on stage and the crowd erupts with applause again. He waves hello to those sitting stage left—they go wild. He crosses to stage-right and they go wild (I rise to my feet and wave when I’m up there, just in case he might take notice). He turns to the rest of the crowd and everyone is thunderously applauding until some stage-hands put him in uniform and he starts to sing: “So you thought you might like to go to the show?” After the verse is sung the special effects really kick into gear: a fireworks display that you’d have to see to believe, and finally a model airplane flying and crashing into the top of the right side of the wall, knocking off a few bricks and bursting into flames beyond.
The Thin Ice
On the screen there’s a picture of a soldier, which fades to a picture of a notebook page with some information about that soldier typed up on it: Eric Fletcher Waters, 2nd Lieutenant in the 8th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers of the British Army in World War II, who died at Anzio on 18 February 1944 and left his son Roger to grow up without a father. The first brick in the wall.
Then there’s a picture of a Muslim woman who might look a little familiar to some. The picture fades to a notebook page of information about her: Neda Agha-Soltan, January 23, 1983 – June 20, 2009. I hadn’t seen this at the first show because my view of the screen was blocked, but I’d noticed her picture on the wall during intermission without knowing she had already made an earlier appearance. For those who don’t know, she was the woman whose gruesome death from a bullet-wound was caught on tape during the 2009 Iranian uprising after the stolen elections. Her death really made that whole event hit home and I was personally moved by it enough to write several blog entries about it, and I found it very moving that Roger would feature her so prominently in the show.
As the song is sung the screen cycles through several more pictures of dead soldiers and political activists along with their names and basic information. It’s half rock-song, half-memorial, and unless you’ve got a drunk American singing along at the top of his lungs next to you, it’s impossible not to be moved by it.
Another Brick in the Wall, Part I
Everybody knows “Another Brick in the Wall, Part II” so the music at the beginning of Part I sounds familiar enough to everybody to get them excited and cheering for what they know is coming next. I personally love Part I and find the words much more moving than Part II: “Daddy’s flown across the ocean, leaving just a memory. A snap-shot in the family album. Daddy, what else did you leave for me?” While my biological father didn’t die in a war, I did have to grow up without him and it undoubtedly had a similar effect on me as it did on Roger, which is a huge part of the reason the album spoke to me so deeply when I discovered it. “Daddy, what’d you leave behind for me? All in all it was just a brick in the wall. All in all it was all just bricks in the wall.”
It’s a very dark number, with nothing but a bit of red light like waves projected across the stage as Roger plays bass alone in front of the wall. I’m getting chills on all three nights. On the third night Oliver turns to me and points out the goose-bumps he’s getting. The drunk American guy to my left says, “I’m in heaven,” which I can’t help but smile at. So am I.
The Happiest Days of Our Lives
The sound of a helicopter can be heard and a spotlight emerges from behind the left side of the unfinished wall and finally lands on a single audience member. “You! Yes, you! Stand still, laddy!” Then…BUM. Ba-BUM! Bum, bada bum, bada bum, bada bum, ba-BUM!
This is what everyone recognizes from the radio and they all go nuts. Even the third time around I’m still getting chills from knowing what’s coming and knowing just how much the audience is going to love it. “When we grew up and went to school, there were certain teachers who would hurt the children any way they could…”
I’m not exactly sure, but it’s either now or during the next song that the stage-hands bring out and place the first few bricks on the stage to start the construction of the wall. It definitely happens very subtly and unceremoniously, and on the first two nights I’d been so into the music that I hadn’t even noticed they’d started building the wall until it was under way.
In any case, the anticipation in the air is palpable, some hands are already clapping, and everyone braces themselves for what they know is coming next. “…but in the town it was well-known when they got home at night their fat and psychopathic wives would thrash them within inches of their lives!”
Another Brick in the Wall, Part II
Then come the most famous (and most mis-interpreted) lines of any Pink Floyd song of all time: “We don’t need no education. We don’t need no thought-control. No dark sarcasm in the class-room. Teacher, leave them kids alone. Hey, teacher, leave them kids alone! All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.”
Everybody is singing along, lots of loud cheers and “woo-woo”s are erupting from the audience (especially from drunk Americans) and I’m remembering how this was the very first song by Pink Floyd I ever heard that got me to take notice of Pink Floyd, and eventually to buy the whole The Wall album (once I realized “Comfortably Numb” was also on it).
The second verse is even more memorable as it’s where the kids sing the lines, and Roger’s got a troupe of kids who come out on the stage and sing the verse before breaking into an awesome dance-session during the always-excellent instrumental section. The giant-inflatable teacher is lowered and the kids do a bit with that before leaving the stage.
Then the music changes to an unfamiliar piece of music at the end of the song, presumably to give the stage-hands some time to get things prepared for the next piece.
But on the second night in Berlin, this unfamiliar piece of music goes on for a bit longer. Roger steps back out center-stage and…what’s this? He’s singing new lyrics! For a moment the significance of what’s happening doesn’t register in my mind, but then I suddenly realize that this didn’t happen the other two nights. I tell Oliver as much, then take out my camera and start a video, only to capture the last couple of lines of the song.
This is when Roger pauses for a moment to welcome the audience and say a few words specific to where he is. In Mannheim he’d mentioned a few dates and places and asked if anyone in the audience remembered them—which I believe were dates and locations of previous shows he’d done in Germany. In Berlin, on both nights, he mentioned the Potzdamer Platz show and how that was a night he’d never forget. On the second night, he started by confirming that the extra lyrics to “Another Brick in the Wall” he’d just sung were indeed new—that it was the first time he’d ever done that. So I got to witness just a minor little bit of Pink Floyd history!
But whatever minor variations he makes to it based on where he is, the speech apparently always ends the same way. Back when they did The Wall the first time, they recorded a video in England of Roger playing “Mother” at Earl’s Court, so “as an experiment in time-travel, and at the risk of seeming somewhat narcissistic” Roger shall now “endeavor to sing a double-track vocal and play acoustic guitar along with a younger, miserable, fucked-up Roger from all those years ago.”
And so the projection on the wall during “Mother” is just Roger Waters from 1980 playing “Mother” at Earl’s Court. There are also a few little extra goodies, most notably what happens when he sings “Mother, should I trust the government?” On the right side of the wall the words, “No Fucking Way” appear, and on the left the words, “Auf Keinen Fall”. I assume the words on the left are some version of “under no circumstances” in whatever the native language of the country he’s in happens to be. The crowd, of course, loves it.
In the new version of the show, “Mother” is apparently a metaphor for the government, and there’s an animated security camera on the screen the whole time, the Big Brother who always keeps its eye on you, that “will always find out where you’ve been”.
Goodbye Blue Sky
One of my favorites in terms of the wall-projections is the new take on “Goodbye Blue Sky”. The Gerald Scarfe animation for the film is probably the best of all the animations in the film (it’s certainly his favorite) and while it may be somewhat disappointing that they go with a different animation, it’s reminiscent enough of the original to stay true to its spirit only with a meaning much more relevant to the world today.
“Did you see the frightened ones? Did you hear the falling bombs? Did you ever wonder why we had to run for shelter when the promise of a brave new world unfurled beneath the clear blue sky?” These lyrics and the original animation for them were clearly inspired by the memories of English children during the war as the Germans repeatedly bombed London.
The updated animation for the show, while still featuring war-planes dropping bombs, puts a different twist on it as the bombs are all in the shapes of various symbols. First the Christian cross, then the hammer-and-sickle of communism, and several other political and religious symbols including the dollar sign. But then the bombs start taking the shape of corporate logos, first Shell then Mercedes and McDonalds so on. For some reason, the crowd in Germany started applauding wildly when the Shell and Mercedes logos were dropped. Are they applauding because they like those companies or because they hate them? I could never quite figure that out.
But the meaning is clear enough for any idiot to understand. Whereas the fascist-dictator types of yester-year made their attempts at world-domination with bombs, today’s fascist-dictators are in the form of corporations or religions, whose attempts to spread their ideologies and/or products are just as much an act of violence as the bombings of London in WWII.
It’s absolutely brilliant, and Oliver remarked as much on Thursday night. But for me, at least on that night, the experience was somewhat ruined by the drunk American and his wife who had left before “Mother” and returned now with fresh beer and pretzels. Irony.
I fucking love this piece of music, but most people find the animation far more memorable. Even before I saw the film I always found this part of the album particularly intense and moving, but of course Gerald Scarfe’s animation of the two flowers that look like they’re fucking is an incredibly powerful image. The real treat of seeing it live is that while you can watch the original animation on the screen, it’s extended down to the wall—which at this point is really coming along. You see the flowers on the screen but their stems on the wall, so it’s like you’re finally getting to see the whole image of something you’ve only partially seen before.
What Shall We Do Now?
I always hated how they cut this from the studio album, as it’s one of my favorite pieces of music of the whole show due to its power and intensity. Seeing it live is really something else because the intensity is at its maximum potential and you can really feel the music blasting through your body.
It’s the same animation from the film after the female flower devours the male and flies away, only it’s much bigger because it’s being projected across the entire wall. “What shall we use to fill the empty spaces where waves of hunger gnaw? Shall we set out across this sea of faces in search of more and more applause?”
The banging of the drums, the iconic image of the face emerging from the wall and screaming (I bought a T-Shirt with that image on Wednesday night and wore it on Thursday), and then the powerful litany of lyrics which I couldn’t resist but loudly sing along to (accompanied by my drunk American friend, of course) while making sure to really derive as much appreciation of those lyrics as I could because this would be the last time.
“What shall we do now?” is a song about the wall itself, about the things we do from behind our walls and some of the things we use to help build them. It’s one of the most angry pieces of music Pink Floyd ever did, and I’ve listened to it many many times while furious about the bullshit circumstances of modern life that we’re trapped in. “Shall we buy a new guitar? Shall we drive a more powerful car? Shall we work straight through the night? Shall we get into fights, leave the lights on, drop bombs, do tours of the east, contract diseases, bury bones, break up homes, send flowers by phone, take to drink, go to shrinks, keep people as pets, train dogs, race rats, fill the attic with cash, bury treasure, store up leisure, but never relax at all…with our backs to the wall?”
My heart is racing a mile a minute when it’s finally over.
This is one of the only three songs from The Wall that David Gilmour has a writing credit for, and it’s the least good one by far. In fact it’s one of my least favorite songs on the album and one that if I hear out-of-context on the radio I barely even enjoy. It doesn’t really work too well on its own, but heard in context it’s still a perfect part of a perfect album.
The projections on the wall during this song get a little X-rated, and I’d be surprised if Roger didn’t get some complaints from parents in the United States who were dumb enough to take their kids to see Pink Floyd’s The Wall and expect it to be family-friendly. There’s a very long section with a topless woman dancing, which I’m sure doesn’t phase a European audience at all and the few parents with kids their probably didn’t care.
On the radio the song can sometimes sound like garbage, but live before your eyes it sounds fantastic and it’s even hard not to dance to. Not a highlight, really, but not a lowlight by any means.
One of My Turns
The next couple of songs are a bit strange for a rock concert due to the subject matter. “One of My Turns” opens with a film-projection of Pink’s girlfriend coming into the hotel room and doing her whole, “Oh my god, what a fabulous room!” monologue.
The song itself is very dark and melancholy at first, and while most of the audience seems to fade out at this point there are always a few cheers at the opening line: “Day after day, love turns gray, like the skin of a dying man.” I was surprised-but-not-all-that-shocked to hear the drunk American singing along to that, as he did…after all…have his wife right next to him.
I like the song for its sudden switch from melancholy to rage as the music picks up speed and Roger sings the angry lyrics: “Run to the bedroom, in the suitcase on the left you’ll find my favorite axe…” and runs around the stage. On Wednesday night when I was up in the stands he sang most of the song right in my direction, and I put my hands up and waved a lot in case he might notice. I think he might have because I was the only person in the section who appeared to be getting into it, and I’m pretty sure he pointed right at me when he sang, “Would you like to learn to fly?”
Don’t Leave Me Now
This is the darkest, most subdued song on the album and it’s almost hard to listen to, so it’s very strange and even a little uncomfortable to see it live. He’s singing about how desperately he wants his woman back in spite of how badly he treated her. There’s a picture of a woman’s face projected on the right side of the wall and as he sings lines like, “I need you, babe, to put through the shredder in front of my friends” or “to beat to a pulp on a Saturday night” blood starts pouring from her nose and eyes.
I shouldn’t have been surprised at all, but when the American guy started singing along to this song I could hardly believe it. He even told his wife that it was his favorite part. On the other two nights the audience was a little disturbed by this, but here was a guy who was loving it. So on the one hand while it totally ruined the mood to have someone singing along enthusiastically to such a dark and disturbing piece of music, it was at least nice to know that someone was appreciating it.
But once he sings, “Why are you running away?” and the music picks up, the piece becomes extremely impressive visually as the inflatable wife drops down on the left and green slime appears to drip down the wall in a projection. It’s actually one of the most powerful visual moments of the first half of the show.
Another Brick in the Wall, Part III
Suddenly you hear the sound of a TV station switching, there’s a projection of a French guy on the TV apparently selling something, and this goes on long enough for you to get really annoyed by his face and voice. Then there’s the famous scream and the sound of something smashing against the screen. The channel switches to a brief clip of Barack Obama saying something about national security, something smashes the screen again, and it keeps dividing into smaller and smaller fragments with more and more stations blasting at once until one final smash gets the lyrics going:
“I don’t need no arms around me. And I don’t need no drugs to calm me.” Because they reprise the most famous song of the album and because they capture the entire meaning of the first half, I’ve always considered these to be among the most powerful lyrics on the whole album, and I sang along with them while making sure to appreciate their meaning. “I have seen the writing on the wall. Don’t think I need anything at all. No, don’t think I need anything at all! All in all it was all just bricks in the wall. All in all you were all just bricks in the wall.”
The Last Few Bricks
The climax of the first half of the show gets under way as this piece of music not-on-the-album blares forth. It’s a completely instrumental number reprising “The Happiest Days of our Lives”, “Young Lust”, and “Empty Spaces” which as the title suggests provides enough time for the stage-hands to insert the last few bricks into the now almost-finished wall.
It’s a rousing piece of music that gets everyone going again after the last few more-subdued numbers, and visually it’s also one of the most remarkable. It looks as though some of the bricks are flying away even as they put more bricks in, and it was enough to make Oliver go “what the fuck?” before he realized it was just a projection.
Goodbye, Cruel World
I didn’t have a clear view of this iconic moment from the show on my first two nights because the angle was wrong, but from straight ahead I could see Roger singing the last few lines of the first half of the show through the last remaining hole in the wall. It’s a pretty powerful moment and would be even moreso if there wasn’t a bunch of “woo-woo”ing going on the whole time, and my drunk friend sucked up most of the potential for appreciating it by singing along loudly, but once Roger sings, “Goodbye all you people, there’s nothing you can say to make me change my mind…goodbye” and they put that last brick into place…you can’t help but feel chills.
On Wednesday night, the guy on my right who had come because he’d missed the Potzdamer Platz show twenty years earlier was clearly impressed by the first half of the show. When it was over he turned to me and said, “finish?” and I laughed because I thought he was joking. But when he didn’t come back during the second half, I realized that he’d probably thought that was the whole show. The poor guy had paid for the ticket and gone to all the trouble of coming there just to see a show he’d missed twenty years ago and now he missed the entire second half! It’s possible he found a better seat somewhere but he didn’t strike me as the type to go looking for one. I’m almost positive he left half-way through and while I feel bad for him, apparently he felt like he’d gotten his money’s worth anyway.
I can just picture him describing the show to his friends: “You’ll never believe it. They built an entire wall across the stage! It was incredible!” And if his friends know anything more about it, they’ll ask, “And how about when they knocked it down at the end of the show?” And he’ll say, “No, they didn’t knock it down,” to which they’ll respond, “Are you sure?” and he’ll say, “No, they just built the wall and it was over,” and they’ll say, “Um…we’re pretty sure the wall comes down at the end of the show…did you only stay for the first half?” And he’ll say, “There was a second half?” and then he’ll either break into tears or hysterical laughter.
Funnily enough, on Thursday night the people to Oliver’s right turned to ask him if that was the end of the show, so apparently people thought the first half was impressive enough to stand on its own as a complete show in its own right.
Intermission on Thursday was also when I talked to the American couple and made peace with the drunk guy, right before I embarked on a long and treacherous journey to the restroom.
During intermission the projections on the wall are all of pictures of people who died and sent in pictures and information about their lost loved ones to Roger who includes them in the show. It’s a really lovely thing to do, and I made sure to read about at least a few of them.
On Thursday I also took some time before the second half started to explain to Oliver how the whole concept of The Wall stage-show came to Roger, how after the success of Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd started playing bigger and bigger gigs and the audience was composed less and less of true Pink Floyd fans and more of just generic rock-and-roll fans who were there for the spectacle and not really to listen to the music. Feeling increasingly cut off from the audience, Roger came up with the idea of actually building a wall between the band and the audience, and in the music made a more universally-appealing story by including different themes of isolation that work on a personal as well as a political level.
Oliver commented on how ironic it was that they were playing at this big corporate arena and all this capitalist-bullshit was going on when the show itself had a message that was very much against that sort of thing. Exactly.
I feel like I’m writing this about almost every song, but “Hey You” really is one of my favorite songs from The Wall (it’s David Gilmour’s favorite, incidentally) so of course hearing it live is great. The only problem is that it starts before much of the audience has finished going to the bathroom and buying more beer, so people are continuing to flood back in throughout half the song.
There’s not much going on visually during this song either, as the entire band is behind the wall and there’s nothing but a still and solid projection of stone bricks across the wall to give it more texture. But there is a little animation going on during the awesome guitar solo in the middle, culminating with the famous lines: “But it was only a fantasy. The wall was too high, as you can see. No matter how he tried, he could not break free. And the worms ate into his brain.”
I sang along with my drunk American friend, now seated in the seat right next to me where I knew he would remain. He’d taken my hand as the song began and expressed his appreciation at being able to share the experience with a fellow fan. My feelings were mixed but if I was going to enjoy it I had no choice. “Together we stand. Divided we fall.”
Is There Anybody Out There?
A giant pair of eyes are projected on the wall and the spotlight shines down on random audience-members as the band sings the line “Is there anybody out there?” four times until the soft, lovely melody takes over.
Alone in the dark, it’s a much different song. When I was a teenager I’d ask myself “is there anybody out there?” and it had a real meaning to my lonely, isolated self. But here and now, there were lots of people “out there” and they clapped and cheered whenever the question was asked.
I made peace with the fact that this is what seeing The Wall live is like—it’s not going to be anything like it was when I first fell in love with the album and listened to it alone in the dark every night. While I may have been able to have a few fleeting flash-backs to the emotions of that time, this was an experience of an entirely different nature, and rather than lament what it might have been had I been able to see it during that period of my life, I should simply appreciate it for what it meant to me now.
Another sad, slow song, this one dominated by piano. Part of the wall, the far-left part that’s already built even when the show begins, opens up to reveal a little mock-up hotel room with Roger seated on a chair in front of a table and a desk with a TV as he sings the song. “Got a little black book with my poems in…”
This was actually most enjoyable for me on Wednesday night, as from my seat way off to stage-right I was much closer to Roger than I was from stage-center or stage-left as I’d been in Mannheim. As I snapped a few photos it occurred to me that it was probably the closest I had ever physically been to Roger Waters and the closest I’d ever be. When he turned around to sing to our section of audience I made sure to wave again, and to take note of the fact that this was the only time I could really make out his facial expressions with my naked eye.
Also from that vantage point I was able to see what was playing on the TV-screen, just some stock footage of warplanes that I then noticed was also being projected across the wall at large.
This is a beautiful song and probably the most under-appreciated of the album. It’s very short and very sad, with simple yet powerful words. “Does anybody here remember Vera Lynn? Remember how she said that we would meet again some sunny day?”
When I saw Roger on the Dark Side of the Moon tour with my friend Corey who loves this song, he played it as part of the encore and it was so unexpected that nothing will ever compare to the feeling we got then. Knowing that it was coming was something different.
But there’s a short little video I don’t understand that plays when he sings, “Vera, what has become of you? Does anybody else in here feel the way I do?” of a young girl in a classroom who starts off smiling and then suddenly bursts into tears, walks up to the teacher and wraps herself in his arms, apparently having just heard or witnessed something devastating. But the others in the video are still smiling, and the whole audience starts applauding. Not knowing the context I just found it to be a very moving little piece of video and I feel strong empathy for that girl, but maybe it’s a more well-known video and I’m just missing the point entirely because I don’t know the context.
Bring the Boys Back Home
When Roger played this during the Dark Side tour, I was so moved that I sang at the top of my lungs so loudly and strongly that I wouldn’t be surprised if Roger heard me all the way from on stage. I had wanted the American audience to listen to the fucking words and think about them, as their timeless and universal relevance is even more relevant to America today: “Bring the boys back home. Don’t leave the children on their own…no…no. Bring the boys back home.”
Again, knowing it was coming made it slightly less moving during the show, but the projection on the wall made it very powerful nonetheless. With scenes of war and destruction following one after another, a quote by Dwight D. Eisenhower is cut up and projected line-by-line across the wall between the scenes:
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.
Powerful words, never more powerfully delivered.
Just as your chills from “Bring the Boys Back Home” are subsiding, you hear the sound of knocking, the voices saying, “Hello? Time to go…he keeps hanging up…it’s a man answering…hello?…time to go…are you feeling okay?…” and the chills immediately start up again. The drunk American next to you says “time to go” and you take a deep breath. You hear the hum of the voices grow louder and louder drowning out the chaos until suddenly, one last “is there anybody out there?” and then…
The first note. The chills reach their maximum intensity. “Hello…hello…hello…is there anybody in there? Just nod if you can hear me. Is there anyone at home? Come on…come on…now…I hear you’re feeling down. I can ease the pain…get you on your feet again. Relax…relax…relax…I need some information first. Just the basic facts. Can you show me where it hurts?”
What can be said about the best song of all time performed in its full context live before your very eyes? It’s the best thing in the world, one of the most awesome and intense experiences that someone who appreciates the music as much as I do can ever experience.
The thing is—I’ve now seen it live seven times. The last three were at these shows, the time previously was The Australian Pink Floyd (if you want to say that doesn’t count, you’ve never seen them do it), before then were the two Dark Side tour shows—the second of which was the second-most intensely awesome concert experience of my life—and the very first was and always will be the most intensely awesome experience of my life, concert or otherwise: seeing the one-time-only Pink Floyd reunion at Live 8.
So unfortunately it loses a little bit of its power by the seventh time, but that’s not to say it doesn’t still reach deep into my soul and rip it into a billion tiny little shreds. It’s only to say that during the verses it’s harder to stay in the moment, to not think about the guy next to me, to not try and compare it in my head to all the other times I’ve seen it and to think about how the meaning has changed since all those years ago alone in the dark.
But when the final verse is sung it all comes around, because the difference in who I am between then and now is one of the elements of the song’s meaning, and recognizing how after all these years the song still holds such a revered place in my soul in spite of everything that’s changed is enough to put my mind right where it needs to be to appreciate the solo: “When I was a child, I caught a fleeting glimpse out of the corner of my eye…I turned to look but it was gone…I cannot put my finger on it now…the child is grown, the dream is gone. And I have become comfortably numb…”
From behind the wall, a singer rises on the left to sing the choruses, and the guitarist rises up to play the first instrumental and then the heavy guitar solo at the end—the most awesome piece of music of all time. I hadn’t seen them on my first night because my view was blocked, but when I noticed them on the second night I got chills. On the third night, seeing them both from straight on, it was something else entirely.
Roger moves around the stage and bangs at the wall as the solo gradually increases in intensity, and I’m sinking more and more into the music and squeezing out every ounce of appreciation I possibly can from what is likely to be the last time I’ll ever see it live (I’m greatly relieved that my drunk neighbor is lost in silent appreciation as well), and then the projected wall breaks open to reveal a shining sun behind as the song reaches its climax.
The most intensely-felt notes are always right at the very end when you know the solo is just about to wrap up and there are only a few seconds left before this incredible experience is transformed into a mere memory—a memory you’ll take with you for the rest of your life. When it is finally over, you (if you’re like me) immediately rise to your feet and applaud furiously, then turn to your friend and exchange a few “wow”s and “holy fucking shit, man”s.
That’s the highlight of the show, but it’s far from over.
The Show Must Go On
It’s almost impossible to follow “Comfortably Numb” with any other song, especially on the radio when it’s almost always something incredibly weak by comparison. When Pink Floyd without Roger went on tour it was usually an encore and usually followed by “Run Like Hell”, and when Roger went on tour he either followed it with a song called “Each Small Candle” which is brilliant or, on the Dark Side tour, that was simply the very last song.
But the only song that is a truly perfect follow-up to “Comfortably Numb” is “The Show Must Go On”. It’s nice and soft and melodic and lovely, the perfect lead-out from what came before and lead-in to what comes next.
In the show, this is the moment when most of the band now relocates to the front of the wall so you can see them for most of the rest of the show. You also get the additional verse which isn’t on the studio album but I know from the live album. It introduces the next part of the story in which Pink now descends into madness and sees himself as a fascist dictator. “It was just a mistake, I didn’t mean to let them take away my soul. Am I too old, is it too late? Where’s the feeling gone? Will I remember the song? The show must go on…”
In The Flesh
Roger Waters loves to perform this live. It was the opening song of the show on his last two tours, and it works well as an opener but even better in context. He’s there dressed in his fascist uniform, the wall is covered with awesome projections of the double-hammer emblem, and the spotlight shines on random members of the audience as he points them out and demands that they get “up against the wall.”
When he says, “If I had my way, I’d have all of you shot” he points to a few audience members, then takes out a fake gun and shoots at them during the end of the song. Ironically, the best vantage point for this was from my seat on the far upper right in Mannheim, as he seemed to be pointing and shooting directly at me.
It’s quite the spectacle, and it’s probably the most quintessential The Wall you can get—they even bring out the infamous Pig.. During this number you have to just take a step back and appreciate what you’re seeing, especially because you know it’s almost over.
Run Like Hell
After “In The Flesh” Roger steps up and asks, “Are there any paranoids in [insert name of city] tonight?” and a few random people cheer. I’m not a paranoid, so I don’t cheer, and apparently the drunk American isn’t paranoid either because he remains conspicuously silent. To those who do consider themselves paranoid, Roger says “this is for you. It’s called ‘Run Like Hell’” and the song begins.
Like “Young Lust” this is another song written partly by David Gilmour that works faaaar better in context than out of it. At this point in the show people are ready to get on their feet and clap along to what is really the last big rock-and-roll number of the show.
Oliver gets to his feet and claps along right with me, though the guy standing in front is a German guy who really isn’t into it at all and only stands up reluctantly when everyone else does. But his lack of enthusiasm is more than made-up-for by the over-enthusiasm of my drunk friend, whose presence I’ve now completely grown to appreciate (especially after his good behavior during “Comfortably Numb”).
There is a slight bit of awkwardness when it comes to rocking-out to a song like this however, which is augmented by one of the clips that gets played during the solo. It’s a clip I was actually already familiar with, a leaked video from an Apache helicopter in Baghdad that shows the gunner targeting and killing a couple of reporters whom they mistakenly believed had a weapon. From the video, (eventually made famous across the internet under the title ‘Collateral Murder’) it’s clear that the gunner acted impulsively and recklessly, that had he been just a little less trigger-happy he would have confirmed that those people were no threat to anyone. So after watching this tragic scene of two actual people getting killed, it feels very strange to immediately start clapping and dancing again, but there’s a certain artistic irony in that as well.
At the end of the song the names of the aforementioned victims—Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh—are projected onto the wall with the message, “We will remember you.” We certainly will.
Waiting for the Worms
This is another one of those under-appreciated but totally awesome numbers in the show, but it totally kicks ass and I love it. “You cannot reach me now, no matter how you try. Goodbye, cruel world, it’s over…walk on by.” It’s the last truly intense moment before the wall comes down, and it basically serves to make the transition from Pink’s fascist-dictator phase to the moment where he faces judgment. “Sitting in a bunker here behind my wall…waiting for the worms to come. In perfect isolation here behind my wall…waiting for the worms to come.”
Another one of those iconic moments comes at the end when Roger is ranting and raving through the megaphone and the marching hammers are projected larger-than-life against the wall. That’s one of the most powerful animations of the The Wall film, and also one of the most simple (apparently it’s just eight drawings repeated over and over). Seeing it live is as awesome an experience as you can imagine.
Oh man, just thinking about the moment when the incredibly loud, incredibly intense marching beat of the previous song suddenly and without warning stops and the piano takes over for this brief little haunting melody…that’s one of the most awesome moments of the show as well.
“Stop!” Roger sings and everything gets dark and quiet. “I wanna go home!” my drunk neighbor sings so loudly that Roger can probably hear him. “Take off this uniform and leave the show. But I’m waiting in this cell because I have to know…” And I join him in singing the last line because I also have to know: “Have I been guilty all this time?”
Some time during the marching hammers, so smoothly that nobody notices, they remove all the instruments from the front of the wall and now the stage is completely bare expect for Roger and his wall.
He moves around the stage and sings all the voices of the characters from the trial while the projection is, with just a few brief exceptions, the exact same animation from the film. “Good morning, Worm, your honour. The crown will plainly show the prisoner who now stands before you was caught red-handed showing feelings…showing feelings of an almost human nature…this will not do.”
The judge calls the schoolmaster who regrets not having “flayed him into shape” because his hands were tied by “the bleeding hearts and artists”.
Then during the “Crazy…toys in the attic I am crazy” part there’s a new animation as it look like the wall detaches from itself and spins around. I couldn’t see it from my vantage point the first two nights but on Thursday I could tell that Roger actually ducks to avoid the projected wall as it looks like it’s going to hit him while it spins.
The wife is called and she lambastes Pink for not talking to her often enough and for going his own way, and the mother comes in to beg the judge to let her take her baby home.
Finally, the judge—the giant ass—decides that “the evidence before the court is incontrovertible” and “there’s no need for the jury to retire.” The way Pink made his wife and mother suffer fills him “with the urge to defecate!” A funny little bit of animation that was cut from the film pops up now as another character pokes his head through the wall and cheers him on.
“Since, my friend,” the judge continues, “you have revealed your deepest fear, I sentence you to be exposed before your peers…tear down the wall!!!”
It would have been awesome if the whole audience rose to their feet and started chanting “tear down the wall!” along with the pre-recorded voices from the album, but alas everyone remains seated. Roger runs around the stage, pumping his fists in the air, eliciting some fist-pumps from the crowd, until finally he exits to safety as the wall starts to sway, back, forward, back, and then finally the bricks start toppling over from the top of the wall to the bottom, crashing in a mess at the bottom of the stage.
Outside the Wall
The crowd immediately leaps to its feet in rapturous applause, which continues as the stage-hands push some of the bricks back to make room for the band to come out again and play the final song. Some sit down while they sing, but the true fans remain standing.
“All alone or in twos, the ones who really love you walk up and down outside the wall. Some hand in hand, some gathered together in bands. The bleeding hearts and the artists make their stand. And when they’ve given you their all, some stagger and fall, after all it’s not easy banging your heart against some mad bugger’s wall.”
More cheering, a bit more playing, the last two lines are repeated, and then it’s over. Roger thanks the crowd and the cheering and clapping goes on, then the music starts up one more time as each band member walks off the stage to Roger’s introduction and we clap for each of them individually.
Finally Roger thanks the people up on the left, and if it’s Wednesday I’m there to cheer and “woo-woo” when he does. Then he thanks some of the people on the floor and then looks straight ahead and thanks the people in the back. If it’s Thursday, that’s when I cheer and “woo-woo” the loudest. He thanks a few more people up front and then turns to those way up on the right and thanks them up there, and if it’s Friday in Mannheim that’s where I am from which to cheer and “woo-woo” before he finally walks off the stage and leaves.
If it’s Wednesday in Berlin the crowd stops clapping as soon as he’s gone and the lights go up almost immediately. But if it’s Friday in Mannheim or Thursday in Berlin, the crowd goes on cheering wildly for another five minutes, the sound not dying down at all, until the lights finally go up. On Wednesday Roger only told the audience, “You’ve been very warm and welcoming” but on Thursday he said, “You’ve been a great audience and that means a lot to us” so perhaps he could discern the differences in the crowd on both nights.
From back-stage I’m sure the band could hear us cheering until well after the end of the show and I hope they derive much satisfaction from that even after touring all this time.
Unfortunately there can be no encore because the stage is covered in wall-rubble, so when the show is over it’s over. After the lights went up on Thursday night I exchanged a few more words with my drunk American friend, whose name I then learned was Bob. Kind of a coincidence, as I remember talking to a Bob with Corey after our second Dark Side of the Moon show, though I suppose the odds of two random American Pink Floyd fans being named Bob are not that small. We learned he and his wife had been following the European tour for a couple of weeks but that this was their fifth and final show. I wouldn’t have minded seeing it five times either. Hell, I could have done ten or twenty…
Bob explained that he’s been a huge Floyd fan since he was a kid, but that he was only 18 when The Wall was on tour the first time and he missed it. He did see Pink Floyd without Roger Waters but that was the only Floyd show he’d seen before. He said he’d been to a lot of big concerts in his time but this was by far the best. I explained that I was a “next generation” Floyd fan, that I’d discovered The Wall as a teenager and it changed my life, and that I always regretted having never been able to see it live but that now I’d finally fixed that. I didn’t ask about his wife, but she at least enjoyed the music enough to go to these shows with her husband and put up with his behavior during them, so in that regard he’s clearly a lucky guy.
Oliver and I wished Bob and his wife a fond goodbye and then went our merry way. At one point we went out to the balcony of the arena and heard a street musician playing near the parking lot. I wondered if he was a band-member or roadie who just liked to randomly play for the audience as they left the shows, so we decided to check him out. At first I thought that’s what it might be because he didn’t have a hat or a cup or an empty guitar-case out to solicit donations, but after we’d been standing there for awhile and a decent crowd had gathered around him he stopped playing in order to solicit. “For those of you who have a little money and give, I thank you. For those of you who have nothing and give anyway, I really thank you. For those of you who have nothing and don’t give, I thank you anyway. But for those of you who have a little money but don’t give, I’m not gonna say anything because you know who you are.” Very effective. I gave him a few euros.
It was fun to watch him play there in the middle of the road as the cars and the taxis rolled right by, and he was pretty damned good too. Someone asked him to play “Stairway to Heaven” and he did the first couple of verses before getting too bored to continue. He mostly just kept playing a few lines from one song or another and then instantly juxtaposing it with a completely different song, playing everything from “Blue Moon” to “Smoke on the Water” to “No Woman, No Cry”. We stayed there and enjoyed it for about 20-30 minutes. A little encore of our own.
I won’t post the other videos because I don’t want to infringe on any copyrights, but that’s not an issue with this one:
Oliver and I hung out in the general vicinity for a few more hours before going to sleep at our hostel. He told me, as well as his girlfriend Lena when she called him on the phone, that it was easily the best live show he’s ever seen. He’s seen a lot of big concerts including Led Zeppelin and David Bowie, but he said they were shite compared to this.
As for my impression, I’d say The Wall was easily the most high-quality show I’ve ever seen, but I still enjoyed the Dark Side of the Moon concert with Corey more and I don’t think any show will ever top that. But seeing The Wall with Oliver was easily a close second and I don’t think anything ever will knock it out of that position.
I spent the whole next day and night with Oliver as we drove back from Berlin and I spent the night in Celle with him and his dog, having a very nice time as usual. We were going to cycle around the Steinhuder Meer on Saturday but the forecast called for rain so we had to postpone that, but it was a nice evening anyhow.
But I couldn’t escape the sadness that it’s over now. I’d been looking forward to those shows ever since I bought the tickets a year ago, it was great having them in my future, and now they’re in my past. But such is life. We can only move forward. The show must go on.
Just a guy sharing his thoughts and experiences as he wanders his way through life and the world. Here you'll find stories from the life of an American living overseas, and the occasional thoughts on political or philosophical topics.