27.2.14

27.02.2014

HOW TO SPOT A CULT – er, “MOVEMENT”.

There are a few sign that scream, “Cult!” It is wise to look out for them. What follows is a little guide:

Copious pictures displayed of the “founder” of the “movement”. If there are multiple portraits in frames of distinguished quality hung with small plaques engraved with the name of the “founder” and their birthdates.

A brass sculpture of the “founder’s” head. Brass is not a cheap commodity, and to have a sculpture of a head made is a sign of devotion. Whether this is a sign of a healthy state of mind remains to be seen.

Complete belief in the “founder’s” “sciences”. Nothing like a bit of complete belief in invented medicinal and spiritual dancing to show you’re disconnection from the outside world.

Appreciation of the “founder’s” poetry. If the “movement” features learning the “founder’s” poetry, even if it isn’t very good, then you’ve made a sighting.

Copious discussion and the holding of lectures on the topic of the “founder’s” ideas. At every opportunity if a talk is held of this sort then see through the “enlightenment”, please.

Birthday parties for the “founder” – many, many years after the “founder” has died. Personality cults feature birthday celebrations, but not the kind that involves fairy bread, passing around a parcel (does no one want to pay the postage?), and sitting on chairs when the CD player goes bung. These are parties for people who aren’t even there to enjoy them; parties for people who kicked the bucket in a time just out of living memory, but who are adored anyway – called by some “the great man”.

 

A BIRTHDAY BASH FOR OLD R. STEINER

Today would have been Rudolph Steiner’s 153rd birthday. At school today it is being celebrated with a series of lectures on his philosophy. There are lectures to be held on art, eurythmy, Steiner and computer technology (for a man who died in 1925, he must have been very ahead of his time), meditation, Heilpaedagogik (special education), Steiners Sozialimpuls (Steiner’s social impulse), and Naturwissenschaften (natural sciences). This is just a taste.

It is such a shame then that I won’t be attending so I can sit at the back and not understand much of what’s being said. Yes, I’m a bit krank – sick, not grumpy. So I’m having a day off: starting my holiday early, which was slated to start tomorrow. “The early bird…” – catches the tummy bug.

Another Steiner school in the region, I’m told, is having a sports day. This strikes me as good fortune – firstly, I’m not at that school; secondly, even if I was I’m sick, so wouldn’t be going anyway.

Well, “the great man” – as some say – isn’t around to enjoy the fanfare of the beginning of his 154th year, and I didn’t think it was anything to get out of bed for.

 

AN INTERNATIONALY RECOGNISED CHAP

Yesterday I was recognised in Freiburg – by a local.

“You are an Aussie, aren’t you?” he called out from across the street, while he was standing at a bus stop.

“Yes! Hello…”

“And, you’re from Orana School in Canberra, aren’t you?”

“Yes, that’s me.”

“Wow.”

“Wow.”

It was one of the exchange students from Germany who was in Australia last year or the year before that, I can’t remember which. We didn’t have a whole lot to do with each other, but probably said “hello” a few times. I couldn’t believe he remembered who I was.

Just shows I’m recognised everywhere I go. A bit ridiculous, if you ask me.

 

PENCILS

Rave reviews have been received for my discussion of the stationery delights here in Freiburg. I shall continue with a brief note – for the eternal internet record of history – of the pencils I “had to buy” yesterday.

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These Staedtler Noris HBs are supporting the economy here – they’re made in Germany, see. And they have erasers on the ends…

(Now it becomes apparent why the rate of commenting on this blog is so low and why it is referred to as a “dilapidated little” thing: I write about the pencils I buy, for goodness sakes.)

 

YOU CAN’T DO THAT AT HOME

“You can’t do this at home,” we said, as we hurried across the street in front of a tram so that we were on the right side to walk home from the middle of the city – in ten minutes.

Perhaps Walter Burley Griffin thought that the Canberrans of the future would be so enthralled with the little cottages in Ainslie they all lived in that they wouldn’t want to go out. He obviously didn’t realise that not all houses are designed with the eye in mind.

Here going into the city is as big a deal as Canberra, except it ain’t that far. You can walk, you can ride your bike, or you can get on a tram, blink, and be there. And then when you do arrive there are other people there who are looking up.

Garema Place in Canberra is the home of the archetype. Every time you’re walking through there are public servants holding take away cups of coffee to be seen, protestors against China in Tibet, the pious, charity workers, people asking you for two dollars – “because they need to get the bus”, and throngs of teenagers who can only walk five across – blocking the path with a success yet unmatched by the riot police.

But Freiburg im Breisgau’s different.

For the purpose of poetic skill, a similar list of archetypes would be good. Something catchy, vibrant and exciting. Something that will be remembered by my three readers. I can’t manage it, though.

The stereotype for this green city would of course be the bike riding, anti-nuclear, non-shaving, organic food eating, and market shopping people, who, as a matter of principle, wear natural fibres exclusively. It isn’t like this, though.

The Germans are good at talking and they’re also good at being individuals. Groups of teenagers, “hanging out”, don’t look monotonous – they all look like separate people. Everyone out and about looks distinct – within reason.

It’s society without undefined blobs of identity.

 

POSTCARDS

A few of those kind people who’ve sent me emails (and there aren’t many – you can join this special group) have asked me about my postcard status: Have they been sent? have you bought any yet? when are you going to write them? will I get one?

So here’s a status update:

The first batch of postcards has been bought. The stamps I have yet to buy. None have been written. So, stop camping out at the mail box, folks!

26.02.2014

FIRST TYPEWRITER FOR SALE HAS BEEN SEEN

It’s OK, folks. Take a deep breath and relax knowing that I’ve seen the first typewriter for sale here in Freiburg i.B., today: an early Corona 3.

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Pictured here in the window of an antique shop – hence the reflection of me.

It could have been mine for 128,- Euros, but you don’t go to Germany and buy an American typewriter, do you?

26.2.14

25.02.2014

ELOQUENT LATENESS

The English teacher here comes equipped with German punctuality. She doesn’t like it when people are late. This morning we walked in the door after the bell had gone. We were fixed with a stare that said, “Well, try talking your way out of this.” This was my chance – I could talk my way out of it.

“We do so apologise for the great inconvenience caused by our inconsiderate lateness, as a result of our morning time mismanagement and organisational incompetence,” I said.

I was asked to repeat myself slowly for the educational benefit of the class – I had done it: my apology had worked.

At the first break I was asked, in German now, whether that’s what we had to say in Australia if were were late to a class. “Of course it isn’t,” I meant – but whether that’s what I said in German I’m not quite sure.

“But,” the reply came (meaning my answer can’t have been too far off the mark), “it’s been made the apology we have to say if we’re late to class now.”

I do enjoy a spontaneous joke with legacy.

 

THE UNDEADLY WILDLIFE

Paths here don’t come with that fear known to every Australian. Anything that moves on a path Down Under could kill you. Here, I am yet to see something move.

Today, I’m pleased to report on this blog of meandering ideas and half thought out attempts to be funny, I saw a squirrel.

“What’s that?” I asked excitedly (so excitedly my hands were extracted out of the pockets of my coat, where they were nice and warm), looking for the appropriate German word, which, naturally, I didn’t know.

“It’s an Eichhörnchen,” I was told.

I thought it was fantastic. I was told drolly, though, that they were pretty common and nothing to worry about – they were certainly not likely to cause death.

Now I have an insight into why tourists fall over themselves to see a kangaroo in Australia. But only an insight – I still don’t understand the full extent of the hysteria.

Other than this it’s a big change from the Bush Capital. There aren’t lizards in the library here, and nor are there kangaroo lawn mowers in the morning. Not such a problem – we’re in the city here and there isn’t too much lawn to mow; the task could be completed with a Swiss Army knife – or the German equivalent, which is probably over-engineered.

24.2.14

23.02.2014

AND NOW WE’RE IN FRANCE – BUT YOU PROBABLY DIDN’T NOTICE

The crossing from Germany into France at Breisach across the Rhine is as exciting as crossing from New South Wales into Victoria across the Murray. A passport also seems to be a token piece of baggage – no one stops to look at it or check you are who you say you are; if you were a complete idiot you could probably chuck it into the water without any immediate effect, and without worrying you wouldn’t be able to go home.

The first, and only major difference, you notice is that the signs are in a different colour and a different language. Other than that: not very much to distinguish between the two countries – although France had a lot more roundabouts.

On the phone in the morning my parents were concerned I was still in my pyjamas.

“Well, you need to get ready to go to France,” they said.

“There’s no rush,” I said.

“But you’re going to France,” they said.

“It’s really just down the road,” I said.

When we go there it looked like Germany – that’s because it was Germany a few times. Yes, this was Alsace.

I have been told a story of a chap that was teaching somewhere in Alsace and in the course of his lifetime swapped between teaching in French and German a few times. But I don’t know the details – after all, I was told this story in German – so I can’t possibly say when or where this chap was around.

And because the world is perpetually time poor, I provide pictures for those too lazy to read:

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These photos come from Kayserberg in France and if you think it all looks mightily German, you’d be right. It was, and then it was again, and now it isn’t and, well, let’s just say it’s complicated.

And then we went on to Colmar and I had a crêpe, and saw a purple 2CV. And, after being briefly exposed to this Frenchishness we were back in Germany in time for afternoon tea.

So it was just down the road after all.

23.2.14

22.02.2014

SLEDDING IN THE BLACK FOREST

I have written on this blog in the time that I’ve been here that snow doesn’t do anything for the amateur photographer – it’s pretty boring to look at in photos. But when you’re there it’s much nicer.

Snow like sand at a beach that has had super glue stirred through it which hasn’t quite set yet. It’s solid for the first part of a footstep, but then it crunches a little and gives way just a bit. You don’t progress as far as you thought you would. It can be written as a “crunch”, but it sounds more like a “pop” – someone walking along compacted snow sounds like multiple potato guns being fired in the next room.

Today I was once again in the Black Forest, and very close to its highest point. There’s a good walk up and then a warm lunch, followed by a very quick way to get down. It involves the wooden contraption you dragged behind you the whole way there: the sled.

The sled is a little thing. About 40 centimetres wide and 1 metre long, it doesn’t look very stable – but remarkably it is, which is verified by the fact I didn’t come off at all.

I’m told the snow was bad today and as a result the sleds didn’t travel particularly quickly. It was a struggle between going as quick as possible and the powdery upper layer of snow clogging up the runners and bringing the thing to a halt.

If a cracking pace can be sustained the light snow that is falling around you flicks into your face and clings to any fibrous surfaces – beanies, pants and scarves. Your boots – chief steering apparatus – are clog up with snow as you plant them down to direct yourself away from rocks, the edge of a cliff, barrier, walkers or any other form of impending death.

And you don’t believe I did any of this? Well, does the following picture of yours truly help you?

The author sitting on a sled in the snow

What? So you can’t see the sled, I grant you that. But do you really think I would be sitting in the snow and obtaining my very own personal wet arse?

 

FOOTBALL – i.e. SOCCER – WATCHING

Football, as they call it here, is a big deal. Every second person you talk to plays in a team, and there are impromptu matches springing up all over the place. There are countless teams and associations and everyone has an opinion on who’s the best. But a good Australian friend who is also here tells me there is one fundamental difference: they don’t really “get into it” when they’re watching it on the telly.

He told me they just don’t get excited. “When [the team I was going for1] scored a goal I got up and was screaming and carrying on. When the ref was being an arse I was up on my feet saying he was an effing moron. But they [the people here] were just sitting back and watching. When a goal was scored by our team they would just say, ‘That wasn’t bad’, and give a light clap,” he said.

I suppose they were looking at him with heads tilted to one side.

I wonder why this is. Perhaps people here are sensible?

 

1Not really caring what team anyone goes for I can’t remember who was playing. But if anyone asks, I have nothing against SC Freiburg, even though they’re currently 17th on the ladder, which isn’t that flash, and they lost this evening to some other team 4-2.

22.2.14

21.02.2014

IN PRAISE OF TRAIN STATIONS

A train station is a perfect picture of human life. It has all the components: There are people eating and drinking; people heading off in search of the WC; people meeting others for the first time, waiting for the train to Basel that’s running three minutes behind schedule; there are people saying good-bye and others who are kissing without worrying about people watching; there are others who are lost, bewildered and unsure of their surroundings; some, however, know exactly where they are and where they’re going – they do it every day in pattern that has become a part of them.

It is a picture of humanity in a world that strives to run on clock work, but never quite manages it. At a train station you can be a witness to human error, mechanical error and the emotional effect of all of this. It is a demonstration of the fact not every individual will fit into the system that has been prepared for him.

A train station is forever moving, and the buildings of it are probably secondary in a person’s perception. The building is the grater that the cheese constantly moves through, sliced and diced and pushed out in continues sliding motion.

Everyone has a purpose at a train station. My purpose was to provide the real image of an Australian, standing in front of a platform Australian tourism advert. There I was proving that we wouldn’t all look good on surfboards on the Sunshine Coast in swimmers. And I was especially there to prove that we don’t all have tans.

 

ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S REAR FRONT WINDOW

Jimmy Stewart, playing a character no one cares the name of, solved a murder from the discomfort of his wheelchair by looking through the window of an apartment opposite him and piecing together disjointed clues.

For the first time ever I’m in a similar position. Not that there’s a murder that has occurred across the street. It’s just that I can look in these windows and see what’s going on.

In one window there’s a very neat and tidy kitchen and small office space. In the evening, after a candle-lit dinner, the husband – or male partner, because one shouldn’t assume – spends about an hour in front of the computer, occasionally pulling his hair out. The wife – or female partner, because one shouldn’t assume – does the dishes, and heads off to another room. By 11 o’clock all the roller shutters are down and the lights are off. The only light that remains on is a small glowing, platonic solid thing that radiates orange behind a rectangular window above the front door.

It’s a daily pattern, which, if it’s broken, I will jump to the cinematic conclusion and find a link to blame on a murder I can solve from the comfort of a chair.

 

THE MEN IS MIGHTIER THAN THE SOUND, AND GERMANY HAS THE ARMOURY

Where Australia has a lot of Bics, Germany has fountain pens – cheap cheerful and readily available. Ink comes in all imaginable varieties. Parker pens are available here, too, but they’re no big deal – they don’t come in a box with a certificate. Ink cartridges are cheap, paper varieties are boundless and every concept of folder and document sleeve is available for one to buy.

It’s crazy.

There’s the highbrow market, too. With your 800 Euro fountain pens, but at the bottom end a bog standard Lamy Safari will set you back 17.50 Euro, and even cheaper and more cheerful writing implements can be bought, too. While a Lamy gel-roller ball only 5.50 Euro.

Pens here are decent. I have yet to see the 89 cent Bics I know from home.

It all is working to one major aim. To prove the point that in Germany they do things properly.

 

..and there goes the last tram – I can hear them with my window slightly open, as it is now – which means it’s very late and I should be in bed.

21.2.14

20.02.2014

19.2.14

18.02.2014

Eight days can go very quickly. That was the last time I wrote something here, and I didn’t think it was that long ago.

I’m told that for the first time ever people are reading this dilapidated little blog. It reaffirms the fact that there’s no such as free speech as long as you know people are reading what you’re publishing – you wouldn’t dare write some things about them.

Anyway, knowing that an ethical dissertation on the merits, or lack of, of badmouthing people I know will lose readers, I move onwards and upwards to the tales of travel.

 

‘TOURISTICAL’ SIGHTSEEING IN TITISEE

On the weekend I was at a little, “touristical” place in the Black Forest called Titisee. The name is not derived from a half forgotten peep show, but from something to do with the fact it’s by a lake (which had a layer of ice on it when I was there), and the German word for lake is see.

Now, knowing that people are time poor and don’t like reading all that much, here are some pictures – the tool of choice for the lazy blogger:

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Everyone carries on about how marvellous snow is – and it is wonderful and idyllic – but it really doesn’t jazz up photography, does it?

So there was snow, proper snow, the real deal sort of stuff where it’s heaped in people’s drive ways and is mixed in with dirt on the sleepers of the railway tracks that run into the station. 

Titisee is a shortish train trip from Freiburg HBF and the line heads up into the Black Forest through small tunnels on the sides of mountains with bare rock faces. There are pine trees everywhere, and little creeks and just before the train pulls into the station you notice the snow, something no longer in the distance.

And all the while I was appreciating this first real experience of snow, I kept thinking one thing: Why didn’t I bring a bloody scarf?

 

“And now in other news…”

BLAST OFF

I only noticed it today. It’s been said the best place to hide something is above eye-level. This only works in the science faculty’s advantage.

Above the front bench, radiating out on the ceiling above its centre is a big, black blast mark.

Now I know it’s there its an ominous presence. A black thunder cloud making its cameo when the teacher gets cranky.

Perhaps it was the talk of the school for weeks. A teacher stuff up; or perhaps it was a lunchtime escapade – illicit of course. Sadly, there’s no commemorative plaque to explain.

Whatever the case, it doesn’t make me feel all that comfortable about the teacher who’s handling sulphuric acid and a Bunsen burner – at the same time, in one hand.

 

THINGS I SHOULD GET AROUND TO DOING

Postcards should be bought. I’ve bought a few, and even have the stamps to go with them, but I’ll buy a whole stack and sit down and write ‘em. People who’ve commented on this blog or accosted me before I left get first preference. Although, there are family considerations that have to made, too.

I should get a map so I know where I am in relation to things, even just in Freiburg. I’ve got the gist of my location in Germany thanks to my daily effort to decipher (not quite reading, yet) the weather report in the paper. Along with the TV guide it’s the only bit I can piece together enough to understand.

Get a German Grammar – a little book with all the secrets, explained in English.

Photos – should take more. Of people and things and places and whatever else. But I’m too busy looking at them myself to think about taking pictures. Besides, there was a study that proved people who don’t take pictures of exhibits in museums remember them more afterwards than those who do. But this won’t look good framed or in albums pulled out to cause the boredom of visitors after dinner…

11.2.14

10.02.2014

PUTTING TWO ‘O’s AND AN ‘L’ IN COPPER

Copper work presents a challenge to the “cool” conscious young man. It presents questions. These questions are not of, ‘How do I make this damn bowl round?’; or, ‘How can I get rid of this problematic lump?’; or even, ‘How do I get that massive ding out of the bowl since I dropped in on hard floor when it was red hot?’

No, the questions are more along the lines of, ‘How do I look cool using a hammer?’; ‘Do I look good holding this blowtorch?’; and, ‘Is the way that I lean on things – anvils, benches, extremely hot insulating bricks, stools – a good thing to do, huh ladies?’

But the main question that these concerned youths are asking themselves is, ‘How do I put the “cool” in “copper”?’ Then they realise that that was a pretty awful pun – because, mainly it doesn’t work at all as there isn’t “cool” in “copper” in the first place.

 

HALF AN HOUR IN A CAR = BLOODY AGES

In this city – where France can be viewed from the vantage point of certain hills and where Switzerland is something like 30kms away – people reckon 30 minutes in a car is a very long time. “It’s bloody ages,” I was told today, by someone who also revealed the first thing he did with his new English-German dictionary was look up our swear words.

Talk about instant gratification, folks. People here have no idea about distance. Real distance. No wonder people in Europe thought during the dark, middle and whatever else ages that the end of the earth would be reached in a few days.

 

MATHEMATIK

Prior to a lesson about “Popularmusik in Kontext”1 (Edith Piaf and others of a similar vintage from France), we had maths – maths that’s similar, but just not quite right. Alice in Wonderland-maths.

First off, the German word for perimeter – umfang – is also circumference. So when there are figures involving circles, circumferences and perimeters and a half-understood question wants you to find u (which isn’t hard, because u’re sitting there doing maths), then I have no choice: find both u and u and write both.

And then – and then! – algebra here has a dot instead of an x for multiplication. (x – as in “find x” is still the same. Except they don’t write “find x”.) So you can’t just write a string of letters together and know that everyone will know what you mean. You have to put a dot between all of them. And this same dot replaces x in all other circumstances, too.

Plus, there’s a comma for a decimal point, and a space for thousands. That has also been doing my head in.

But at least it isn’t eurythmy, I suppose.

 

BUT NO CIGAR – FOR THEY HAVE CIGARETTES

I’m not in Cuba remember, so cigarettes are, of course, going to be more common. But I didn’t realise how common.

Being born in an age of anti-smoking campaigns and an acute lack of tobacco advertising, to see a country where this hasn’t really taken off yet is enlightening.

Marlboro’s wide, red, isosceles triangle is a common sight, and if you’d like a small cardboard box – perfect for holding sticks of chalk – with this triangle for your collection you can buy one at the nearest street corner vending machine. No wonder some kids come into class smelling like the twenty-year-old carpet from the house of a smoker. They don’t have to make fake shaving cuts to appear old enough to a shady shop keeper to buy the things.

The major poster advertising campaign here at the moment is for a cigarettes in purple and pink boxes, “For Ladies”. And today I saw an ad for a pack of smokes  for EU3.50 (about $AU 5.34). Insanity.

But it’s all OK, for a small message, without the graphic pictures we have in Australia, says, in no-nonsense German, “Smoking can cause death.” Well, at least they had the foresight to set in in bold.

 

 

1Well, I got that the music was popular. I just didn’t really understand the context.

10.2.14

09.02.2014

One of the first practical indications of ability in a language is menu reading capability. This is an indicator that you have enough grammar and enough food words to get by. This ability places you on a scale of language sophistication. Unfortunately, the scale is like a wobbly ladder: you’re liable to fall off.

But this is egal – a word that means “all the same” but sort of acts as a noun form of “who cares” in German – because I had the speciality today.

We were at a “simple” restaurant, that was how it was described to me, for a lunch. The restaurant is located on the edge of the Black Forest and is at the foot of a hill that has a ruin of a Snow Castle from something like 500 years ago. From this ruin at the top of the hill you can see France.

The speciality is called Maultaschen – translates, according to the boffins at Google, to ravioli, but this wasn’t the ravioli that I knew. This was a layered pasta and pesto-esque creation that was rich, think and extraordinarily filling.

There will be other opportunities, I hope, to have a proper German schnitzel.

The Black Forest at the moment has no leaves, except the ones on the ground, and the paths are muddy. Moss grows on most still, rarely disturbed surfaces, and has covered the entrance to an old silver mine. I was told camping is verboten, which I thought was a shame, because I can imagine that morning there would be something special: light breaking through the twiggy trees and barely hitting the cold, rotting leaves. It would be a juxtaposition of grotesqueness and beauty.

Later in the afternoon, I was told a story about economics – in German. This gentlemen was in Spain as a young chap and bought two bags full of matches. Proper matches. The old fashioned, strike ‘em on the sole of your boot kind. He sold them astronomically above cost and made some ridiculous profit. He then bought a Quartz watch that he told everyone about. It was then pinched. Moral: Don’t tell everyone about the spoils of your brilliant employment of economics.

This afternoon I read a few more pages of The Guardian Weekly – I like to make the joy of the printed English word last for as long as possible into the week – and had a bit of a snooze. Shame I can’t really still blame it on jetlag, not that I had much. Not sleeping on the plane was to my advantage, I think.

The weekend is drawing to a close now. Dinner will be light – we’ve been eating all day – and then it might be followed by a BBC World News bulletin on satellite television. Or, if a business programme is on, I’ll flick over to al Jazeera English. And then a bit of sleep. School can be put off for a few hours still.

I now have maths homework direct from Australia. I haven’t rushed into it, and will contemplate its beginning tomorrow afternoon. There are a few things I have to do hausaufgarben-wise, but that too can wait.

Already my eyelids are droopy because it feels like it is very late here – actually only 6.41pm – thanks to the early setting sun and the enveloping darkness, punctured only by the sodium-vapour glow of the streetlights, and the undefined, white and red shining of dynamo bike lamps.

9.2.14

08.02.2014

FOR WHOM DOES THE BELL TOLL?

Germany is a country that is known for its punctuality. The church bells here are punctual here. At 12 noon in the tower of the Freiburg Minster – known as the Cathedral of Our Lady – the bells go, but for whom exactly I was unsure. Not that it really mattered who got the honour of bells tolling for them, because up there in the tower watching them swing slowly and sound loudly was fantastic.

There is over 24,000 kilograms of bell up there, and the earliest dates from 1258; this bell still rings, too.

The steps up the tower were plentiful, and not very wide. Dread appeared in the eyes of everyone as it was realised an overtaking or a passing move had to be made. Double chins appeared as people pushed themselves into the walls, pushing their palms into any stable surface for stability.

But towers don’t just have a ton of good sounding metal, they also have a pretty impressive view, whose essence was not able to be captured by my amateur camera ability:

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The highest point of the tour is 116 metres up, and miraculously survived the World War II bombings, while most of the houses around it didn’t.

 

STATIONERY EXISTENCE

I finally got into a German stationery shop today. Three levels of bliss. The pretext was, of course, to buy some folders for school, but then there were typewriter ribbons and other paraphernalia to peruse, inks to look at, myriad papers to run a finger over. It was fantastic. And cheap! No export mark up suffered in Australia. I’ll be making a visit to this shop or one like it before I go, to stock up on supplies.

 

ACHTUNG!

I have received feedback to suggest that some readers thought I wrote two much about light switches in a previous post. I simply believe not enough is written about light switches. Perhaps a national identity is even caught up with the type of light switch employed by them. How much can one ascertain about a person from the the light switches they have in their house? What can you tell about a business from their light switches? You can calculate wealth and whether they are modern or old fashioned. The light switch is the world’s most touched business card.

I have also heard whispers about the Grammatik Polizei possibly deciding to mobilise against this dilapidated little blog. The grammar here is not wrong, it’s just avant garde.

And finally, a little chart to demonstrate the amount of time I’ve spent blogging versus the amount of time I’ve spent out and about, talking to people and generally living so far:

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6.2.14

05.02.2014

FREIBURG, Feb. 5. –

– CLOSE PROXIMITY

When school finished up at lunch time, I have the opportunity to see a bit of Freiburg by bike. Today I headed out and followed my nose – which, if you’re interested, felt like it might freeze – and, in classic Jasper Lindell Style, got a bit lost.

I am still struggling with the keeping to the right business that is required over here if you want to prevent yourself from being killed. My struggle prevents me from turning left. I make only right turns at the moment.

It was when I saw the milk factory that I realised. This was a local sort of a place. Not much distance to travel. Freiburg is a green city because it isn’t plagued by the Australian dream of owning one’s own house in a big suburb as far away from the city as possible. Here they’re doing it properly: everyone lives near everything. Bicycles are the order of the day. Schools are where the kids are. There are post offices on residential street corners, opposite banks. The milk factory is where the people are going to be pouring it on their cereal.

After a series of right turns I found myself in fairy tale land. The houses are straight from the engraving illustrations of leather bound collections of fairy tales. OK, so the young man wearing a US basketball cap smoking a cigarette ruins the image, but this doesn’t take away from another wonder: there are proper ducks here! Proper, real ducks. Yes, I have seen a duck before: a brown thing that goes about its boring business and has the tendency to inconveniently cross the road. Here, though, there are the good looking dugs, with the green heads and sizeable bodies. And I haven’t seen one cross a road yet! Yes, it’s the real thing.

Then I ended up at Freiburg Hauptbahnof – Freiburg Central Station – which was good, because this is the place where you can acquire for yourself a newspaper in English. I left with a smile on my face and today’s copy of The Guardian – the early edition that come from London that morning.

Following fairy tale land and the train station, I found myself at the tram stop called Pressehaus – English: Press House – and I wondered why it was called that as I struggled with a map (remember, I got lost). Then I looked up. That it explains it, I thought. A big white building with an illustrious sign, reading: Badische Zeitung. This is a newspaper that sells stack loads and has three sections a day in Berliner format – if I could read it it would make The Canberra Times look like a diminished shadow of its former self. The tram stop’s name was justified. The milk was near the people, and so was the paper.

And there are bikes everywhere here. Everyone’s riding them, without helmets, mind. But there are paths on the roads – every road. There are more bloody cyclists than people driving cars.

This environmental goodness is possible because there isn’t a cultural stigma of living right next to someone on a thin little street with a bakery that has been there for three hundred years. Making a city a “green” one isn’t just a matter of chucking money at it and providing bikes for all. You have to make sure the distance to go places is bike-able, too.

 

FROM RUSSIAN, VIA THE GERMAN (NOT WITH LOVE)

Have you ever tried learning Russian in German? I have. At times I wasn’t quite sure which language was being spoken.

The teacher looks like he has aged and his receded without his realising it. His eyes are those of an excited young university student; the rest of him is the older fellow who talks politics when visiting people for dinner. He his excited about his subject matter; his unwilling disciples are not.

The lesson was a solution of foreign words and I lacked the equipment to distil either substance to be able to refine it to the wine of understanding and knowledge.

At times the teacher looked like he was surprised why his students don’t hang on his every word. His lips pursed in determination: he is determined for a student who is not.

But it doesn’t really bother me. I haven’t learnt anything.

 

GEOLOGY – WHERE THE TEACHER IS AS STATIC AS THE ROCKS

The Geologie teacher looks like the actor they asked to play Norman Bates’s mother in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho before she died for the role.

She mightn’t be quite as old as the rocks which were discussed today, but she is as static. I have written somewhere that learning from teachers who are talking a language that is not your own requires the teacher to be expressive with their hand gestures. Bates’s mother was not expressive. She could quite easily be replaced with a tape recorder and a cardboard cut-out. We’d learn the same amount: nil.

4.2.14

03.02.2014

FREIBURG, Feb. 3. – When all you can understand is a smattering of unconjugated verbs and a few very common nouns, there is a lot to be noticed in a class of people talking in a way that has limited meaning to you. They say one’s language controls one’s thought process, but obviously it has no bearing on a person’s personality. There are the same sort of people here as there are at home.
The teachers also fit into archetypes, but one stood out today. The eurythmy teacher looked like a middle aged actor who, in his youth, had played Hamlet. Since then he had never come back out of character. He just needed a skull to carry around and ask questions of; he already had the puffy shirt organised.
This afternoon I was asked if we said “Holy Shit” a lot in Australia. I said that it wasn’t an uncommon expression. It was the same fellow who I rode home on my bike. Someone pinched his, so he rode on the back of mine. We nearly got ourselves killed – no one’s wearing helmets in Germany it seems – but we made it to his street sort of in one piece. He did get some practice of saying that not uncommon English phrase during our journey, though.

3.2.14

02.02.2014

STICKING TO THE RIGHT AND OBSERVING SUBTLE DIFFERENCES

FREIBURG, Feb. 2 – The first thing I thought flying into Frankfurt, when the cars became visible and the streets were no longer just beams of orange light, was, “They’re driving on the wrong side.”
There is nothing fundamentally different with the way people live over here, but they don’t have the pure aversion I do to sticking to the right on a piece of bitumen. There haven’t been any breakfasts at 1 o’clock in the morning either.

The differences might be small, but they’re striking. There is cigarette advertising here, none of this behind the counter, no one can look at the packets approach I know from Australia. Having bread for breakfast here is perfectly OK; you don’t have to toast the living daylights out of every yeast product before you smother it with something.

The light switches here are huge. The switch itself is about four centimetres by four, set in a square about five-and-a-half by five-and-a-half. They’re much easier to find on a wall than Australia’s pathetic little things.

The sun rises here at a time I haven’t been awake for yet, but it starts to set about five. Freiburg is fairly flat, but Jorin and I headed up a small mountain to have a look at Freiburg. Und es war sehr schön. And it’s cold, very cold. Although everyone here seems to think it is comfortably cold.
And my German, I’m told, is not as bad as I thought it was. Although, I reckon it is still pretty woeful, but I, as far as I know, haven’t greatly offended anyone. The lack of offending will continue tomorrow, I hope, as I’m off to school.

2.2.14

01.02.2014

Now I’m on a plane, heading over cities further away from home than I’ve ever been, there really is no popping back home for a cup of tea. However, the whole plane travel bit is dreary – but we’re treated to flashes of beauty out the windows along the way

SOMEWHERE OVER THE MIDDLE EAST, Feb. 1 – Movies never really give you any sense of the time involved in getting places. There are the archetypal shots of young people being driven places looking out their car backseat window with the reflection of the trees glinting on the glass in a tangerine glow of the afternoon sunset. As far as getting people to the flicks is concerned, driving off into a sunset is the sort of stuff that is required.

International air travel is not like that. Only a fool of a traveller would measure time in minutes. Perhaps one could be excused for using hours. I have began to prefer to measure time in the number of movies viewed on the flickering screen on the back of the seat of the person in front of you. It’s a bit like having eyes in the back of your head, except the eyes aren’t yours: they’re someone else’s viewing the entertainment the back of your head has to offer; one can also measure time in the number of times the air hostesses brings around a cup of juice – although this has to be fairly regular as they’re piddly little cups.

And travel isn’t this glorious thing worth dreaming of, either. It’s a lot of waiting around. The travel business – international air carriers, cruise companies and coach tour establishments – would not survive if humanity suddenly lost all of its optimism. To travel, it seems, one has to be optimistic that the next five hours and sixteen minutes won’t actually take that long. But optimism isn’t such a good thing that it disposes of the need for fact.

Mum and Dad sent me off and the rather underwhelming gate at Sydney this morning. It looks no more exciting, grand or enticing than the service door that the morning’s bread, milk and newspapers were wheeled out of. (I was yet to know about the extensive duty free shopping, colourful posters and general lack of ugly people in display photographs beyond that point.) Then, heading up to the departure gate, I spotted Mum on the other side of a glass wall having coffee. Dad, so I’m told, was off getting something – or lost, or both. A bit more waving and then off I went, carrying a coat over my arm and an important kit bag of very, very important (borderline useless, as Dad’d say) stuff.

An older couple spotted my coat at Sydney airport earlier today – or this collection of disjointed hours that has to be called today for my purposes – and asked where I was off to. They worked out I wouldn’t be stopping in Singapore with a holiday with half a sheep’s worth of wool. I told them “the go” – the three months in Freiburg – and they had big smiles on their faces. The woman said, “We’re going to India, but I think you’ll have more fun.” “I wouldn’t say that,” I said. These were the first people I had enjoyed telling my plans to. I’ve told so many people recently that I would like it if everyone I came across just knew what I was up to. Heading off the plane she stopped me again with a wink and said, smiles lines deep around her mouth, “Good luck.”

I’ve been awake for twenty hours and fifty minutes. It has been an everlasting afternoon. It’s what would happen if Willy Wonka was able to mould time with the aid of some orange-faced little men into some magic creation of perfect Sunday afternoons. But there’s always a limit to perfection.

The first leg of the flight – an early morning departure from Sydney that arrived in Singapore around lunch time, but more like late afternoon Sydney time – was easily occupied. Between a breakfast that came in containers and a tray that looked like they belonged in a tessellation puzzle and a lunch on an identical tray, I read the papers: The Weekend Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald, The International New York Times, The Financial Times, and The Guardian Weekly. My travelling companions – there are five of us heading to Germany – thought it was a complete waste of time; I thought it was the perfect Saturday morning.

The second leg of the flight – Singapore to Frankfurt – has started to drag a little. Two hours of telly shows and two films in and there are still five hours to go of cruising at 30,000 feet in outside air temperatures of around -58C. It’s getting a little boring, so I’ve taken to observing the people around me.

Some people are up and down all the time: they’re going for little walks and heading to the loo, which whirlpools in the opposite direction to the one I’ve grown up with because we’ve crossed the equator. There’s one woman who’s been standing up for about an hour now reading a book. Perhaps she has a back problem and can’t sit down for a long time?

I finally got to watch Kill Your Darlings, a film about a murder and the dawn Beat Generation writers of America. I tried to go and see it at the flicks, but the kind people cancelled the session on me and the three other people who wanted to see it. Perhaps it came across as a niche film, but I thought it was good, perhaps because I fit into the niche? The second film I watched was The Fifth Estate about Mr Julian Assange and WikiLeaks and The Guardian – with Peter Capaldi as editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger – and the other media “partners”. If you ask WikiLeaks they’ll tell you in no uncertain terms that it’s a whole pack of lies, but it’s a good, entertaining story. That killed a darling four hours I had lying around.

I’ve given up on the viewing delights now and I found the music. Categorised in the New Releases was the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album. Which was certainly a new release: about fifty years ago. So their smooth harmonies are coming through the tinny Mylar speaker cones of my Singapore Airlines complimentary headphones.

As I write we’re travelling over a snowy plane with scarring dark ridges. On the horizon is a dusting of yellow-orange-purple haze with bisects the view out the window into the light blue of sky and the broken white below. It looks solid and stable. Unmoving, it looks eternal, but in reality it is liable – there are the steaks of elements dashing through it under the band of orange. We’ve come to what looks like a coast, but I’m not sure that’s what it is. It looks like the outline of land on a white treasure map: almost archetypal in its form. This high up we’re cursed to not being able to fully appreciate it, I suppose. There is no sign of life as we know it, but the landscape doesn’t look dead. Barren isn’t the word. A wasteland would be an inappropriate description. It looks like it – the land – is living down there: a moving, existing, developing, evolving entity. If it looked dead I’d tell you, but I don’t think any land looks dead. A perfect white tile looks dead; a jagged landscape does not.

Singapore airport feels like a distant memory already now. It genuinely could have been Australia – except for the different font the text on the road signs was set in and the trees. All the signage was in English and the airport didn’t feel foreign, it just felt big. Frankfurt, I’m hoping, with a dash of the necessity in travel: optimism, will be foreign-feeling. Otherwise, what was the point of coming?

At the moment – trying to keep the mind active and me asleep – I’ve begun to work out how many people are asleep by seeing if the amount of non-glowing screens, sans movies, music and games, corresponds to the snoring. Which brings me to a side note: sleeping on a plane isn’t glorious or dignified. There’s the snoring, the open mouths, the necks crooked at funny angles and, in some rarer cases, the rolling heads. The cabin’s fairly sparsely populated on this flight, so a lot of people have their feet up and are trying to lie down – capturing the “essence”, if not the material existence, of Business and First Class.

The light on the end of the wing is like an everlasting spark. A distant sun coming with us.

My screen has just issued a flash: “Time to FRA: 04:07.” Might be time to see if there are any more films here worth watching... but now I can see a city. “When I was very small I would sometimes dream of a city, which was strange because I didn’t know what a city was.” – John Wyndham’s novel The Chrysalids opens something like that and what I can see now is one of the ways I imagine a city without knowing what one is: a smattering of orange lights, distant on a living surface well below one’s vantage point. I don’t know what city it is, and it isn’t very big – beautiful things don’t always have to have to have names attached. Instinctively I reach out to touch the lights, but my hand meets the cold glass of the window, on the outside of which ice crystals have formed.

Another city passes by as the orange haze outlines the harsh jagged points of a mountain range I can’t name on the other side of the plane now. Sure, you need optimism to put up with the tedium of travel, but sometimes you treated to a dash of beauty as a reward.

The sun sets and darkness envelops our pressurised tin tube. Below us the golden-orange lights of the cities make them look like the conductor patterns on earthed integrated circuits. People move like current, but do they all look for the shortest route?

 


I’m writing these posts on the way to, in and coming home from Freiburg, Germany. I appreciate your comments below and your emails: jasperlindell@gmx.com