So it’s been a couple days since you all last “saw” me and a whole week and a bit since I settled down in the ‘Heim. Since then I’ve worn out the soles of my feet and seen a good little chunk of Germany… and gotten through a lot of the boring paper work that comes with moving to the country even for a few months.
This adventure was planned out before I even left Australia in haste but with careful consideration. I like to approach these things methodically and slowly, first working out where the destination is, how to get there, how to sleep, eat and live there and how to return. Thankfully, Deutsche Bahn and their high-speed ICE trains are life-savers. If it hadn’t been for the breakneck, god-forsake, thunderbolt speed of these monsters and the general effectiveness of German public transport, I would never have been able to cross the country, alone, on my first few days after arrival, to a music festival in Hamburg.
All in all, since Saturday I have travelled probably close to 100km on foot, through cities and suburbs, and over 1000km by train, bus and taxi. That ain’t too bad for my first attempt at self-guided travel, issit?
But that comes later. Like I said, I like to be methodical in these things. Sure, I’d like to throw in some poetry and wit in the mix, but right now I’m just aiming to put my adventures down on “paper” before I have some more!
Mannheim – Tower, flowers, döner
Despite its grey and grating industrial areas, almost mechanical grid-patterned streets and welting weather, Mannheim is really quite beautiful in a lot of areas. I mean, I shouldn’t have expected anything less, really. As I told some of my room-mates today, it’s quite something coming from Australia, only colonised by Europeans two hundred years ago, to ancient Europe where statues, grandiose buildings and historical parks are around every corner. It’s like stepping into a steam-punk fantasy world.
Mannheim’s Wasserturm (Water Tower) is its main attraction and mascot. Surrounded by a lovely field of green, beds of bright flowers and flowing fountains, the Wasserturm and the area immediately around it are a relaxing, organic heart in the centre of a electric city. Of course, as any good new arrival should, I spent a long time just walking around, taking pictures.
The great thing about Mannheim (and Germany in general) is that everything seems to be fairly close together. After coming from Australia, where you can travel for hundreds of kilometres and see little and less, to be able to walk across a city and see a site on every street is amazing and also a little overwhelming.
After my trip to Wasserturm, I took the big main road down from it towards Luisenpark, another green heart of the city. I have one thing to say about Luisenpark on a sunny day: Woah.
Six euro admission is a bit steep, but eh, it was definitely worth it in the end. I spent a good few hours just wandering, daydreaming and taking even more touristy photos. Everywhere in Luisenpark are little mini-attractions; a small zoo, a Chinese tea house, a gondola lake upon which sits an amphitheater and countless other little bits. I’m sure if you’ve heard about this park you will have read all about how good it is already, so I won’t harp too much on that. I also saw my first Squirrel in over a decade! It’s just a shame the first thing I thought of was “oh shit, rabies.”
After that I walked back to the city (not really more than 15 minutes away) along the river which, although a little grimy in parts, still felt like a distinctly Mannheimer place. Definitely something to experience.
The city centre itself is full of everything you’ll ever need (even Games Workshop!) though, unlike Adelaide, everything is spread out and spattered everywhere. There is no real “shopping district” or “restaurant district” or even “club district”. Pole dancing studios sit next to Döner shops and they sit next to Prada stores. It makes finding things a bit of a chore, but it is kind of refreshing. You get to see a bit of everything no matter where you walk.
There’s also dolls, sculptures and decorations everywhere. Every front yard in the suburbs seems to have some small, miniature artwork in it. I love that part! I also love the street art, the huge, apartment block sized patterns and colours. Even some of the graffiti (and there is a LOT of graffiti) really adds to the personality of the city.
I’m sure there’s more to say about the city, but if I continued on this post would never end! I’ll let some of these photos do the talking for me.
There and Back Again
The centre of Germany is quite nice to ride a train through, especially at high-speed. It’s green, lush, dotted with small hamlets and wind farms. However, after ten hours, things do get a little “samey”.
Despite that though, this little trip by train really gave me a deeper understanding of the country. So far, Germany seems to have three sides to its personality: The eco-friendly, progressive, green – the classical, the ancient, the proud – the dirty, industrial, brutally efficient. All three mix together and art and culture comes from places within each “personality”. The young artists and rebels of the country live in the industrial, but also the progressive, while it seems that the older generations much prefer the green and the classical.
Anyway, where the hell was I? Oh yeah, the train ride. The trains, even second class, are magnificent. Just be sure to make sure you have a seat reservation for busy routes or you’ll end up sitting in between carriages for a few hours. Still, it beats Adelaide metro, that’s for damn sure. I still have to experience inter-city and night trains, but so far, the ICE trains have been a blast.
Of course, props to their cousin, the Bus, for being so efficient and generally comfortable. Just wish tickets where cheaper everywhere.
So the main reason I went to Hamburg this weekend was to attend the last day of MS Dockville, a mid-sized festival of music and art that featured some of my all time favourite artists; Little Dragon, Dan Deacon, Caribou… the list goes on. Even the artists I’d never heard of or listened to blew me away! Alles Farben played an absolutely bangin’ set and Jose Gonzalez finished off the night with his beautiful Swedish singer/songwriter stylings.
Though I did have a lot of downtime, and no friends to hang out with, I was never really bored. There was so much to see; small DJ booths, bards, art and clothing stalls and even a comic book van (one of the best things I’ve ever seen, though you could definitely find the books inside for much cheaper elsewhere).
I did end up meeting a couple of Australians, funnily enough. Just another example of weird Universal matchmaking. I was drinking a beer in the shade and was joined by one of the members of Botany Bay band “Parcels” and his Japanese friend. We talked a bit about rad music, like Funkadelic, Amon Tobin and the various acts at the festival. I invited them to come see Dan Deacon with me, which I’m happy to say they seemed like they enjoyed.
It’s great to meet all these interesting English speaking people while I’m still getting used to German. Still, I’d definitely like to meet more German speakers, because I know from experience one of the best ways to learn a language and get involved in the culture is to meet the locals.
Dan Deacon, the main reason I ended up at Dockville, was fucking awesome. Definitely worth the trip to and from the city. His music, wacky and fun and hard hitting, was great to dance to and definitely loosened me up and got me interacting with the crowd. Dan Deacon was a hilarious performer, definitely seems like I guy I could hang out with. He encouraged a “Wall of Life” (Like a Wall of Death, but with hi-fives instead of moshing) and a synchronized dance battle (that I had to escape from because it was to one of my favourite songs, “When I Was Done Dying” and I couldn’t focus on the dance while that was playing).
Another highlight of the festival was trying Handbrot from Handbrotzeit. Probably one of the only European things I ate on the day, it was a warm bun, full of cheese, mushrooms and covered in cream. Far out, man. Far out.
After leaving the festival, alone and in the middle of the night (but without feeling particularly threatened or in danger or anything), I decided to forget the bus and splash out on a taxi… holy shit though, I wasn’t expecting the driver to cut-loose at 160km an hour in an 80 zone.
“We all love Torque, and some of us have taken it straight over the high side from time to time – and there is always Pain in that… But there is also Fun, the deadly element, and Fun is what you get when you screw this monster on. BOOM! Instant take-off, no screeching or squawking around like a fool with your teeth clamping down on our tongue and your mind completely empty of everything but fear…. Whacko! Bashed on the concrete bottom, flesh ripped off, a Sausage Creature with no teeth, fucked-up for the rest of its life.”
– Hunter S. Thompson
After escaping the death ride, I found the budget hotel room quite nice. Obviously, I payed waaaaaayyyyyy too much for the weekend, but I thought I’d live comfortably for my first few days in Germany. Is that too much to ask? Will I regret it later? Forget about it.
Alive, I explored the city the next day, from the central shopping district, to the Rathaus, through the Planten und Blomen park, up to the Hipster district around Marktstraße and then to the dock district to visit my nerdy dream-land.
Unfortunately, I didn’t count on all the art galleries in Germany being closed on Mondays, but the rest of the city was beautiful enough to feed me my daily aesthetic quota. The small hippy commune on the way to Marktstraße was an amazing little find. Hamburg is beautiful, diverse and full of incredible stores, sites and history. The dock areas are incredibly charming in an industrial-chic kind of way.
And that brings me, of course, to Miniatur Wunterland: der größten Modelleisenbahn der Welt! I’ve always loved working in miniatures and the like, but I’ve never been fond of train sets or anything like that. Even so, Miniatur Wunterland really is a wunterland like I’ve never seen. Although it was crowded, noisy and almost exhausting to try and see everything (the amount of tiny, plastic people and buildings that must have been put together for the exhibits must be truly astronomical).
Miniatur wunterland blew my freaking mind. For someone who loves miniatures, walking into this building was like meeting a celebrity. I didn’t get a signature, obviously (buildings can’t do that, you fools), but I did get some hastily snapped candid shots. Please, magazine people, come at me with your best offers.
I finished the trip off with a rather too-long wait in the Hauptbahnhof and immediate surroundings. The station itself is grossly packed and difficult to navigate without being aware of those around you. If there was anywhere in Germany I’ve been yet with pickpockets, this would have been it. Never-the-less, I escaped with everything intact and enjoyed the fast ride back with a brand new art magazine (never heard of Elephant before, but damn, it’s good), good music and the most golden sunset I have ever seen.
This small trip, the first of hopefully many, has left me feeling a lot more capable and confident then when I first arrived, or left Adelaide. Knowing I have it in me to plan and execute something like that alone, even if it was just a small weekend thang has definitely made me feel a lot better about coming to Europe in the first place.
Before this, to be quite honest, I would have never, ever done anything like this. I don’t know what’s changed in my brain, but a switch has definitely gone off. Instead of thinking “nah, too much effort” I now think “yes, I can and should do that”. Maybe it’s FOMO, maybe its newfound confidence but either way, I’m feelin’ fine.
Definitely going to be heading out again this weekend, probably to the near by and beautiful city of Heidelberg. In fact, fuck it. I have a semester ticket now (a great buy for any students arriving in Mannheim or the RNV area, btw), so I could spend the whole weekend migrating around the countryside. Wouldn’t that be grand.
Hopefully I’ll see Hamburg again before I leave (or, of course, after I return!), but in the mean-time, Berlin, Paris, Bern, Zurich, Prague, the Black Forest, Berchtesgaden and Amsterdam are all calling.
Still haven’t bought a bike though. That is my one regret ;(((
Bis bald und guten abend, leute!