dijous, d’agost 11, 2005

Rainbow Tour 2005 Travel Log - Day 14 - Wednesday 7.20.05

Lübeck bound...

I was up with the cocks' crow, so to speak, and had breakfast with Dörthe. Then I collected my needful things in my rucksack (may as well call it that since I'm in Germany...) and went down to the Photo Dose to get my last set of photographs. I then hopped on the U-bahn (U2 line) and rode down to the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) and bought Täglichkart (day-long ticket) for the whole HVV transit system. This card would allow me to ride all the Hamburg metro area transport for the day, including the round-trip to Lübeck and the subway.

One note about the subway in Hamburg, the U-bahn, or Unter-Bahn. It's a very easy and efficient way to get around the city; it seems like there is a stop within two blocks of nearly everything, and like the metro in Rennes, it operates partially on the honor system. Once you buy your ticket you're on the honor system. There are no regular conductors or machines to verify that you have a ticket. Periodically however, transit authority personnel will set up flash inspections for tickets, and if you don't have a valid one, you will be fined. Unlike the the system in Rennes, the U-bahn is not 100% automated, altho ticket purchase is. The trains still have drivers at the helm.

Some other cultural notes about today's Germany... one: let the pedestrian beware. Bicycles are major modes of transportation in the flatlands of Niedersachen and Hamburg, and most streets have a bike lane, or permit the use of cycles on the sidewalks. In the case of especially busy streets like Osterstraße the bike path is marked out specifically along the pedestrian sidewalk. That means there is about 10 feet of sidewalk for pedestrians, about three for the bikes, and a further foot or so to allow pedestrians to stand at crosswalks. That sounds wonderful in theory, but in practice the reality is the some bike riders weave in and out of the bike zone attempting to pass plodding pedallers, and their zig-zagging can bring them in all too close proximity to walkers. Moreover as a pedestrian, it is very important that when you're crossing the street, you look both ways not only for cars, but for the cyclists as well. The natural tendency for many Germans is to hug the side of the pavement nearest the shops as this way they are less likely to be clobbered by pushy bikers. A second item of note is that jaywalking and crossing against the crosswalk safety signal will soon net you a 5€ fine. The Hamburg authorities are sick and tired of people crossing the street against the light and getting smushed by automobiles and causing traffic tie-ups.

At any rate, back to my train ride. After I got my ticket I had only a short wait for the next train to Lübeck, a small city north of Hamburg, well reputed for its old 16th-17th century architecture. After my train left the station, in less than an hour I was in Lübeck. The walk from the Hauptbahnhof there to the city center was perhaps 15 minutes, and as I cross the Stadtkanal into the original city, I caught a glimpse of the old city. Lübeck is indeed a very pretty city, especially the Rathaus at the center of the shopping district, but truth be told, it's not a very interesting place. After about an hour strolling the streets I decided that now I had seen Lübeck, there was no point in ever coming back. It's pretty, it's quaint (and it has a very scarey marionette museum, ewww), but as the Germans would say, langweilig, boring. Just as I decided that Lübeck was a bit of a snore, the skies opened up again, and even armed with an umbrella I got soaked from the mid-drift down. On my way up to the city center earlier, I had noticed a nice, clean, well-lighted restaurant called Luzifer where I ordered a very tastey salad and spaghetti bolognaise washed down with another Warsteiner. After lunch I strolled around the old city some more, and then headed back down the hill, across the Stadtkanal and to the Hauptbahnhof to catch the 2PM train to Hamburg.

During the train ride, both hin und zurük, I was, as usual now, accompamied by Jean-Marc and Mathieu. Reading the novel was emotionally difficult for me. So far from home and the reality of the life I had left albeit temporarily behind, and always with too much down time going from place to place allowing me to think too much. Il n'est pas facile après tout à s'identifier avec des personnages fictifs, mais c'est ça, je me sens un peu comme Jean-Marc en attendant son Mathieu. Est-ce Nick, le jeune homme dont j'ai fait la connaissance la semaine avant mon départ, ou bien est-ce que j'attends Godot en fait?

I arrived back at Hartwig-Hesse-Str. at around 3:30, just enough time to change out of my damp clothes, check my email and then head back down on the U-bahn to meet Dörthe near the Jungfriedsteig station along the Alster. I had a difficult time choosing which exit from the station I should take, knowing that one, and only one of the many at this main transfer station came out at the very doorstep to Dörthe's office. I didn't choose correctly and I circled the general area hoping to encounter her office building but to no avail. Luckily I had my international cellphone and she rang me up wondering where I had gotten to. We agreed to meet in front of the Rathaus, the city hall, in a few minutes.

As I approached the city sqaure in front of the Rathaus, a truly beautiful building by the way, totallty reconstructed after the WWII (most of Hamburg was destroyed during the war), I got to see yet another very interesting German tradition. The square was set up for some kind of cultural event, with food and beer stands (the legal age to drink in Germany, by the by is 16). Whatever the main attraction would be later on that evening, the big show at the moment was a nice looking man being dressed as a girl and covered in make-up in a clownish style, not by a troupe of drag-queens (which would also not be surprising in Hamburg really), but by his friends and family, including his old grandma. They took some hay and spread it on the pavement infront of the Rathaus, and then some powder meant to look like snow. He was clearly quite drunk as he was red faced and had a hard time standing up or still. Next they put a plack around his neck which read: Hilfe, suche Jungfrau, Help, seeking a young woman. In Germany it's the tradition that on your 30th birthday, if you're an unmarried man, your friends and family will make you stand in front of the city or town hall for a dose of public humiliation. For young girls, Dörthe was telling me later in the U-bahn as we went for our supper, the tradition is to shine all the doorknobs in the village. These days, friends and family usually find and old door and fasten lots of rusty old doorknobs to it and bring the door to the birthday party. Being unmarried and over 30 herself, Dörthe did indeed suffer the shining of the doorknobs.

In a few minutes Dörthe caught me up and we rode the U-bahn to Hallerstraße where we got off and went to the Shalimar, and really great Indian restaurant. We ate our exceptionally good food and washed it down with Diebels Dark before heading back across town to Hartwig-Hesse-Str. and stopping at a bar a block from Dörthe's place called the Lichtenstein. This was a really cool place, I rarely use the word cool, but it fits here. The Lichtenstein was "our kind of place," we being youngish, professional and well-educated. Truth be told, Dörthe and I were near the upper end of age range, but there were a couple customers older than we. We enjoyed a couple pints and I was really in a good mood - the spices from the curries, the beer, the company of an old friend, and yes even the thick cigarette smoke were all enjoyable.

The night was wearing on, and Dörthe had to work in the morning, so we had to call it a night. When we got back to her place, I changed into my night clothes and put my smokey gear out on the balcony to air out. It was exciting tho to smell the nicotene breathed into the fibers of my clothes. It brought back fond memories of going out back in Binghamton, long smokey drunken and debaucherous evenings at Royal. Now that smoking in bars and restaurants is illegal in New York, I have to admit I'm quite content, but there times when nostalgia makes me forget how nice it is to be smoke-free.