Sunday, 31 August 2008

20 Years On - Part 10 of Account of Travelling by Train Around West Germany and Austria

I think one reason for getting up so early was to miss the crowd trying to get breakfast. While I seemed to get on well with many people I met others were far more of a challenge. In particular I remember an Israeli woman who nagged me because I was not going to the Dachau concentration camp. I told her that having studied the Holocaust at 'O' Level, 'A' Level and as part of my degree programme, I wanted a break from it. She said that I had to have some sourness with all the sweetness of my holiday. I said that I did not come on holiday to be depressed and refused to speak with her any more. In general I came away from this holiday both irritated by Germans and Israelis, people from both nationalities seem to keep telling me I was doing things wrong and had no hope of ever getting them right. By the end of the holiday, I felt that not only did travelling reinforce prejudices but also created new ones and I swore off travelling again for fear I would end up a real bigot. Perhaps it is the difference of the British character to that of other nations that we try to be diplomatic and understanding but that does not shield us from people being very assertive about what we 'should' be doing.

I am glad that I did not go to Dachau despite the bullying. Given how churned up I get by discussion of any genocide, even individual stories from these events, I think I would have found it difficult to cope with seeing its presence for real. Sometimes you need the fuse in your system of being able to keep things a little at arm's length otherwise you freak out. Given my dalliance with suicide as it was, I doubt I could have coped. Going to a location like Dachau is something you need to think about a great deal and make the decision which is not going to do you harm. One can understand and oppose genocide without having to rub one's face in its traces.

I remember going to a strange art exhibition in the gallery at the Hofgarten which simply consisted of black and white photographs of different types of water towers. I actually came across a book of the photos for sale in a gallery in Köln the following year. You can see the photo I sneaked while inside the gallery in the collection below; I took it as I was amusedly incredulous that a gallery could show such things.

Wednesday 31st August 1988
Today I woke up early, showered and walked to the Nymphenburg Palace where I arrived at 08.00, an hour early. When they did open I walked around the house interior and then the very pleasant gardens and the four lodges - Amalienburg, Badenburg, Pagodenburg and Magdalenklause, having already seen the carriage/porcelain museum. I then walked back towards town taking the underground to the centre where I looked around the Frauernkirche and the München Stadt museum. I stopped for lunch before moving onto the Residenz and the Hof Garden and ending up in English Garden which was full of locals, many naked and also had a [traditional style Bavarian] band in a the pagoda. I had dinner and a litre of beer, then I walked back across town which took half-an-hour. I checked up on the train times for tomorrow, it looks likely that I will have to change at Salzburg. As the bureau de change is open from 06.00 (to 23.30) I will easily be able to get Austrian Schillings before I go. So far the plan is Wien, Nürnberg, Würzburg, Marburg, Kassel, Köln, Oostende, home or earlier if I run out of money.

Weather: Sunny and hot.
Roads and Ornamental Canal Leading to Nymphenburg Palace in München, August 1988

Front and One Wing of the Nymphenburg Palace, August 1988

View of Nymphenburg Palace Gardens, August 1988

View of Interior of One of the Lodges of the Nymphenburg Palace, August 1988

View of Ornamental Canal in Grounds of Nymphenburg Palace, August 1988

View of Another Lodge in the Grounds of the Nymphenburg Palace, August 1988

Doorway in the Residenz in München, August 1988

Folly in the Hofgarten in München, August 1988

Inside Art Gallery Close to Hofgarten in München, August 1988

Saturday, 30 August 2008

20 Years On - Part 9 of Account of Travelling by Train Around West Germany and Austria

Before re-reading this I had forgotten how much competition there was to get a youth hostel place in Munich. The rules in the Land (province) of Bavaria were stricter than in the other parts of West Germany. In most areas people of any age could stay in a youth hostel, in Bavaria you had to be under 26. In most areas you could bring your own bedding; in Munich you were compelled to hire it. The youth hostel was well used and the dormitories were huge compared to the rooms I had stayed in up until now, leading many visitors, unfairly to a prison camp. I think this was partly because most German youth hostels were luxurious compared to the bulk in the UK. I had no complaint.

I travelled from Freiburg-am-Breisgau to München on a train which was run by the East German Railway service (ironically still labelled 'Deutsches Reichsbahn' on the carriages, literally 'German Imperial Way', the pre-war name for the German railways) and all the instructions were in German, Russian, French and Italian, not English. The attendant who turned the beds (three on each side of a carriage up the wall) back to seats and wall panels, wore a very naval looking uniform, she appeared like a rating from the 19th century. Unsurprisingly for East German staff they were very surly and had no interest in speaking to a non-German. Another thing new to a young British man was sitting opposite women in sleeveless or short-sleeved tops who had not shaved under their armpits. When the German singer Nina had appeared on television in the UK with her Number 1 hit, '99 Red Balloons' (1983) her unshaved armpits had raised much discussion but to be exposed to it across a train carriage left me uncertain where to look. It is funny these social mores, I probably would have been less embarrassed if these women had been topless.

I remember being impressed by Steve the American who was from, I think, Kentucky, and had studying engineering had come to West Germany to practice his German as he felt it would assist him in his engineering career. I remember Mark the Australian walked around the streets of the city barefoot.

Tuesday 30th August 1988
Today I woke up early and walked to the station along the quicker footpath route this time. I caught the train to Karlsruhe where I changed for a train to München. I stopped off in Karlsruhe where I bought some food. I arrived in München by 15.00. Then I walked to the youth hostel, already quite full. Within two hours, that one and the others, one affiliated and two non-affiliated were also full.

I met an Australian, Mark and we walked into the centre of town where we looked around some bookshops and at street-performers. Then we came back and I dried my washing at an excellent 24 hour laundrette. Then I cam back to have a beer. The youth hostel is rather rough. I am in a dormitory rooom which is rather smelly - forty people. There is quite a lot of complaint, but the town is decent. I went out again with Mark and an American, Steve, for some more drinks.

Weather: Sunny and warm.

View of the Schwarzwald Close to the Freiburg-am-Breisgau Youth Hostel, August 1988

Mural on Block of Flats in München, close to the Youth Hostel, August 1988

Friday, 29 August 2008

20 Years On - Part 8 of Account of Travelling by Train Around West Germany and Austria

When in my first year at university I had met a fourth year German language student (a British woman studying German as a subject; language degrees are four years rather than three as the students spend their third year in abroad) called Melissa and we had an ambivalent relationship. She used me at a party as a kind of shield against a very smarmy man called Tony and as a result I had my first real passionate kiss. However, as discussed before, I had no confidence in my abilities with women and did not know how to handle the situation. Melissa and her group of friends lived on the corridor in halls next to the one I lived on so they would often socialise with my friends as a group. I had not gone to university until I was almost 20, whereas most of my friends in my year were closer to 18, so in age I was not much younger than Melissa. She was a confusing character anyway, very flirtatious but then when you talked with her you realised she was very naive too and did not really realise what men expected from her given her flirtatious manner. Anyway, she had spent her year abroad in Freiburg-am-Breisgau in the South-West of West Germany and had mentioned she might be there in the Summer of 1988 and so I wandered around the town hoping that I would run into her and have some romantic encounter. It was wasted pining as when I met her at a party at her house in Herfordshire on the Saturday after I returned to the UK, it turned out she had never got to West Germany that year and instead had been in California. Anyway, she must be in her mid-40s now but I have not seen her for just under twenty years.

On the way to Freiburg-am-Breisgau in the Schwarzwald (Black Forest) I also remember meeting a strange young German man on the train who was obsessed with cows. He had a book of photographs of different breeds and travelled the country to see them. He spoke about slaughterhouses as one might concentration camps and he constantly extolled how beautiful cows were. The photograph with the bicycle by the tree was my attempt to replicate a similar arty poster I had of Oxford, but the light levels were really too low with all the rain to allow it to be successful.

Fabrikstraße means 'factory street'. The term 'yuppie' was very much in fad at the time and stemmed from the phrase 'young upwardly-mobile professionals' who seemed to be at the forefront of Thatcherite society. In Britain, München is better known as Munich, Wien as Vienna and Nürnberg as Nuremberg. In the end I did not get to Augsburg until the following Summer. At that time I returned to Freiburg-am-Breisgau too and found out that the rain on this visit had spared me the key problem of the youth hostel there, which is that it sits right next to a broad, shallow, fast moving stream and throughout the night (if the windows are open) you are kept awake by its noisy bubbling.

Monday 29th August 1988
Today I work early and caught the bus to the station. Then I caught the train to Freiburg. I looked around the cathedral and the old town, then wandered around a park in the foothills of the Schwarzwald. I walked through the rain to the youth hostel, through real yuppie areas of new houses and fancy schools, ironically called Fabrikstraße. At the youth hostel they did have [clothes] washing facilities but the dryer was out of order. I did the washing which was smelling terribly and also read "Newsweek" and "Time" lent to me by an American. I ate in the youth hostel for DM6,- and with no lunch saved me some cash. Tomorrow I think I will got to München probably via Karlsruhe. If there is no room I will go to Augsburg, and onto Wien and then back to Nürnberg.

Weather: Heavy rain, sunny and warm later.
Market Hall in Freiburg-am-Breisgau, August 1988

Decorated Doors in Freiburg-am-Breisgau, August 1988

Cobbled Street in Freiburg-am-Breisgau, August 1988

Note channels along road side to allow stream to flow through the city

Bicycle Leaning on Tree in Freiburg-am-Breisgau, August 1988

View across Freiburg-am-Breisgau from the Schwarzwald, August 1988

Thursday, 28 August 2008

20 Years On - Part 7 of Account of Travelling by Train Around West Germany and Austria

It is interesting how I refer in this entry to my 'day off' and I think the fact that I treated the trip like a job or perhaps like those coach tours, 'It's Tuesday so it must be Munich' added to my sense of stress. Though as I note here, some inter-railers felt a need to keep moving, having 'been there, done that'. I certainly covered a lot of the sights of each town, to some extent, as noted before, to pass the time as well as out of interest. Sundays are the worst as so much is closed, though I was to find that in West Germany museums would often be open that day and people would visit them after attending church. I went to a much larger cinema and as noted here, was the only person at that screen and they ran the whole movie just for me. I had seen 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being' in London some months before with a very pretentious friend who had forgotten his glasses (he was vain too) and so we had to sit on the very front row so that he could see it; finding it tedious I had slept through most of it.

I also remember trying to set off from the youth hostel in the morning and finding it impossible to find a road that took me out of the residential area towards the centre of town and having wandered around in circles along these roads, I finally gave up and went and did what most of the people at the youth hostel did and took the bus. In the evening walking back to the youth hostel I meant three French also staying there. I spoke to them in French but they told me not to bother, they felt there was no point as they knew they could speak English better. At the youth hostel it turned out they could not speak German and this proved difficult when they too tried to find the promised laundry facilities which did not exist and consulted with the youth hostel staff but refused to let me translate what the staff member was saying to them only in German either into English or French.

Nordsee, literally 'North Sea' in English is a German fast food chain which sells fish-based food which is very good. My taste in movies was clearly not to a high standard in those days, though I guess if you are trying to follow a movie in a foreign language ('Rambo III' was dubbed into German for the English-speaking characters) it is best to stick to one with monosyllabic dialogue.

Sunday 28th August 1988
Today is my day off, though I thought it might be boring, I am glad of the rest especially as the weather is so much better today. Mark & Helen could not understand why I would want to stay in a town which I had already been to and seen all the sights of. Anyway I woke up and took the bus part of the way and walked the rest into town, then walked up a different route to the castle. I finished the postcards to Elizabeth and home which I started in Mainz, having already written to Edward and Bob & Denise from Koblenz. I also wrote to Alan, the two Davids, Jason, Rodrigo and Mark F. I then walked back down and had some delicious tea and cakes in an expensive cafe sitting out on the pedestrianized Hauptstraße. I then went straight to lunch and had a Turkish pizza. I then sat waiting for the cinema in Hauptstraße.

I went to see "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" which I understood most of having seen it before, I obviously slept through far less than I thought. I enjoyed it more than last time, I almost think it is better auf Deutsch. Oh yes, I was the only person in that cinema. Then I wandered around and had an ice cream - today must have been quite expensive but probably the best day so far.

I checked on my camera and found that it was on ASA1600 and so I rushed around retaking shots of the castle. One lighting streak branched touching both sides of the valley. I then went back into the town and decided to watch 'Rambo III' as the German would be easier. I ate at a Nordsee. Despite being fast food they are solely German. I keep having to balance up between spending lots because I am on holiday and saving so I can stay longer, though I have been here a week. Economise for a couple of days. "Rambo III" was not bad, I thought it was funny when they had subtitles in German for the characters speaking in Russian. Then I came home through the university campus.

Weather: Sunny, a couple of thunderstorms (great lightning), warm.
Views across Heidelberg, August 1988

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

20 Years On - Part 6 of Account of Travelling by Train Around West Germany and Austria

One of the problems of travelling around on one's own is filling in the gaps in the day. There seems to be constant periods of waiting for places to open or to be able to eat and you become adept at sleeping in as long as you can after breakfast until the cleaners come and stretching out time sitting in cafes or in parks waiting. I also went to the cinema a lot and felt like an escaped prisoner-of-war as that was a tactic they used in order to find somewhere to sleep. To keep my rucksack light, I had not packed any fiction books, just my European youth hostel and the Michelin guide to West Germany which I must have read cover-to-cover by the time I had finished the trip. I learnt from this mistake and was grateful on future trips for having packed good books despite the weight. I never make friends easily and find it difficult to strike up conversations. I do find that as shown here in Heidelberg, that I run into British people I have met before, earlier on the trip. They are always couples and sort of take me under their wing, something I know Victoria Wood has parodied in some of her stand-up comedy. It is always odd being the third of such a group. It happened again in Venice in 2003 but by then I was more skilled at getting away from them. I have no ideas why couples feel obliged to do this and Mark & Helen even referred to me as the 'bad penny' as if they felt I was a pain. Perhaps they thought I was following them. However, with inter-railing as with any tourism, there were almost set stops along the way so it was quite likely, especially if youth hostels were to be your accommodation (and not every town has one) that you would meet again. As I did short hops each day, only 1-2 hours on the train, I would also run into people cycling between the towns especially down the Rhine Valley, when they arrived in the evening.

I remember the waiter, who looked like the actor Julian Sands, in the restaurant that I had lunch in, being so concerned about looking very formal, despite it being a cheap place and keeping his gaze aloft when not serving that it was very hard to attract his attention to ask for anything. The 'Comic Strip Presents ...' was a Channel 4 series of odd comic stories performed by leading alternative comedians of the time. I think 'The Supergrass' was the only movie they made. Fortunately, it was being shown in a tiny cinema which was like someone's living room and unlike most foreign movies shown in West Germany was subtitled rather than dubbed so I could just listen to the English.

I also remember Heidelberg being the place where I realised that my university's travel agents had badly misinformed me. I had asked them whether it was worthwhile getting an international student identity card and they said only if I wanted to take flights, so as I was going by train there seemed to be no point. However, Mark & Helen each had one and I witnessed it allowing them to get into all the museums and kind of places I wanted to visit at a discount rate, so poor advice made my holiday more expensive.

Saturday 27th August 1988
Today I woke early and walked to the station where I changed some money and then caught the train. I again met Mark and his girlfriend Helen. He stayed in my room in Koblenz. We arrived in Heidelberg about 10.30. It was pouring with rain but we caught the bus to the youth hostel and although it did not open until 13.00 we were able to leave our things and return to town. I looked around the Jesuit museum, the old library and the student museum. By this time the rain had stopped and after lunch I went to the Palatine-Electorate museum (Kur-Pfalz), then walked up to the castle where I looked at the Great Vat and also the pharmaceutical museum. I returned to the town where I went to the cinema and saw 'The Supergrass', a Comic Strip Presents ... film. By the time it finished it was sunny and so I walked to the youth hostel which, despite the listing in the guide, has no [clothes] washing facilities, so I will have to wait until Freiburg on Monday to do my washing. I have decided to stay here tomorrow, walk around, write my postcards and see a couple of films.
Another thing I have noticed about Germans is they like museums and long guided tours. The art galleries, as in Köln, have tours spending ages on each painting, so each member of the party takes fold-up chairs. Oh yes, my room overlooks the Zoo and the bird cage area has so much noise. Mark has ended up in the same room as me again!
Weather: Heavy rain at first, sunny later.
Shots of Heidelberg Castle, August 1988

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

20 Years On - Part 5 of Account of Travelling by Train Around West Germany and Austria

Arriving in Mainz, I encountered a problem which I have subsequently run into in many places. For some reason in many German cities as well as in Prague, people seem to assume I am a local and ask me directions. When I was in Köln the year after this trip one young woman got angry with me because I could not tell her which bus to get on to travel to the Television Tower. In Prague people just started speaking to me in Czech, a language I found impossible. I wonder what makes people select a particular person to ask directions from. I would imagine, a tall young man wandering aimlessly, was not the prime person you would ask. In London and Oxford people were so frightened of my appearance that they would avoid sitting next to me on the underground or in the cinema, but clearly the impression I give to Central Europeans is very different from the one I give to the British. Anyway, this was the first of many occasions when I encountered this problem.

I had been in the city about three hours when a middle class, middle-aged woman pulled up in her car and asked me directions to 'Weisse Linie Strasse', i.e. White Line Street; I have wondered in subsequent years if she thought I was a drugs dealer. In three sentences I told her I did not know, that I was British and had only been in the city an hour. She hrumphed and threw up her hands as if it was all my fault. Ironically later in the town centre I met a German man also staying at the youth hostel who was with a local German woman who spoke no English. I asked them for directions to a burger restaurant (I was on a tight budget). The man said he could not tell me as he did not know, I asked him to ask the woman to tell me in German where it was (left, right, straight on, were things I had done in my class aged 13) but through him, she refused, saying there was no point saying anything to me in German as I would not understand it. Exasperated I stomped off and found a burger place in the next street busy with black American service personnel and their families. You have to remember that British, American and French forces were still stationed in West Germany at the time and Mainz was in the American zone. The black troops did not do the sunbathing holidays their white counterparts did and you would offer encounter them and their families on holiday in the historic German towns.
In Mainz I changed the film in my camera and forgot to check the ASA (nowadays known as ISO) setting which meant that many photographs came out badly exposed. From the fact that the pictures seemed over-exposed (i.e. too much light had been let on to them) I thought it was because the built-in exposure meter assumed I had a different, less sensitive (ASA100 rather than ASA200) kind of film in the camera. Reading these entries, I see in fact the opposite had happened and the camera was set to ASA1600 (a highly sensitive film, so less light is allowed in) rather than the ASA200 I was using, but perhaps the dial not put back properly had been pushed back and forth in my rucksack to different settings at different times. I only realised the problem when watching a movie in Heidelberg set in 1968 and one of the characters put in a new film and checked the ASA setting. It allowed me to correct the setting and so enable me to take decent photos of the rest of my trip, which is far better than what I did on holiday in 2004 which was to take 36 photographs without any film being in the camera at all. These days digital cameras eliminate such errors.

The other thing I noticed while travelling around is mentioned in this entry. Ice cream parlours and fountains seemed to be everywhere and what struck me as odd was that the fountains were turned on and people ate ice creams while it was pouring down with rain.

Friday 26th August 1988
Today I woke promptly, and after breakfast at which I talked with two English - Mark & Helen, then left the station. I walked down the front way [out of the castle] with the Brazilian who had stayed in our room. We met again at the station as he caught the same train. I was in Mainz by 10.30 and walked around the market and the Gutenberg Museum. I then walked to the youth hostel but it was closed until 17.15 so I went back into town, I was able to leave my things at the youth hostel. I looked around the Zitadelle Park and the cathedral. I also had lunch and sat reading a while. Then I was interviewed [in English] by two girls about problems of the young in Mainz. I went back and checked in at the youth hostel and sat around writing postcards, having earlier bought some stamps. I had to go out for my evening meal so did a lot of walking today. I was lucky in that the others in my room - two Germans and a Swiss - spoke only a little English so I was able to practice my German. One thing I have noticed is that Germans like ice creams and also fountains, you can find them everywhere.
Weather: Changeable, some sun, some rain.
Exiting Koblenz Youth Hostel, August 1988
Note Brazilian Traveller Passing through Gateway

Mainz Cathedral, August 1988

Fountain in Mainz, August 1988

Monday, 25 August 2008

20 Years On - Part 4 of Account of Travelling by Train Around West Germany and Austria

On reaching Koblenz for the first time (of three occasions) I stayed in a youth hostel which was part of a castle. The room I was allocated was underground literally cut into the cliff of the Rhine valley and looking out across the River Rhine to the monument to German unity (which I had visited on a school trip in 1983 but had entirely forgotten). I always thought the creatures on it looked more akin to South American iconography than anything German. Like many youth hostels it was a long walk from the town which lies down a steep climb and across the river. Self-conscious of my poor language skills and the pretty frosty reception I was receiving from Germans I avoided buses for fear of making a mistake, so walked everywhere. I was wearing basketball boots and by this stage realised I had bought the Matchstick brand ones that an American friend of mine had particularly warned against because they were so poor quality. My pair barely lasted my holiday. My feet are incredibly soft and it was only when I started cycling on holiday rather than walking places that my holidays were not a constant round of having to put on blister plasters, though even then I made the same mistake on a visit to Prague and Dresden in 2003 (and got bad flu too).

Note the Romanesque style church, a common style for churches in the Rhineland region, seen in the next posting in Mainz, but also present throughout Köln and other towns and cities of the region.

Thursday 25th August 1988
Today I woke up early and went to the station, there were loads of people at breakfast. I caught the 09.00 train and had a scenic trip down the Rhine Valley. I reached Koblenz by 10.50. I decided to walk across the town. I looked in the Middle Rhine museum and at the Eck-Monument to German unity. Then I walked along the bank, over to the other bank and up the steep hill to the Ehrenbreitstein Castle, which, surprisingly, contained the youth hostel. I sat around talking and then looked around the Land museum - an industrial museum for Rheinland-Pfalz Land. I had dinner in the youth hostel then sat around talking.

Weather: Some sun, some rain.
Ludwig Museum in Koblenz, August 1988

Parts of the Monument to German Unity in Koblenz, August 1988

Koblenz Youth Hostel Seen across River Rhine, August 1988

Romanesque Style Church in Koblenz, August 1988

Entrance to Koblenz Youth Hostel, August 1988

View from Room in Koblenz Youth Hostel Looking North-West, August 1988

View from Room in Koblenz Youth Hostel Looking South-West, August 1988

Note Monument to German Unity in the Foreground

Sunday, 24 August 2008

20 Years On - Part 3 of Account of Travelling by Train Around West Germany and Austria

I have been up the spires of Cologne Cathedral three times in my life and each time it has got easier. On this occasion I was fine while I was going up the spiral staircase of the tower, but then you come outside within the pierced spire and there is a metal staircase and I was so terrified that I could only take it step by step with my eyes closed. There is a one-way system up and down the spires so I could not turn back. I had not been so terrified since February 1981 when on a school trip in a very snowy Paris and three friends had decided to walk up the Eifel Tower but had run ahead leaving me to cling to the framework as I hauled myself to the second level (all that was open at that time of year) and then get a lift down. I should have got off at the first level but thought foolishly that I could catch them up. They were far less fearful with one jumping from landing to landing as they walked back down. The Wallfraf-Richartz-Ludwig museum has now been divided between two venues in the city, one is still in the location next to the cathedral where I visited it in 1988.

Wednesday 24th August 1988
Today I woke early and went on a whole day of sightseeing. I did the cathedral which was excellent and went right to the top, even though I was almost literally scared stiff. Then I went to the Romano-German museum which had exquisite Roman glass and jewellery. I looked in the Walraff-Richartz-Ludwig art gallery which had fascinating paintings. I had pasta for lunch in a Berni inn then walked miles to the Flora Park - looked at the tropical and cool houses, then to the Zoo which was disappointing but had a good aquarium, reptilium and insectrium. I walked back and slept with sore feet. I discussed politics with a German and popped out for a pizza before coming back to bed early.

Weather: Sunny at first, dull and rain later.
Köln Cathedral Seen through Riverside Gardens, August 1988

Entrance to Köln Cathedral, August 1988

View from Köln Cathedral, August 1988

Entrance to Köln Flora Park, August 1988

Parrots at Köln Zoo, August 1988

Saturday, 23 August 2008

20 Years On - Part 2 of Account of Travelling by Train Around West Germany and Austria

My first full day in West Germany and I managed to lose my hat. Years later I remembered I had untied it from my rucksack (I had gone for a dark blue metal framed one which was old fashioned even in 1988) when I stopped by a picnic table outside the youth hostel to take a photo of the hostel. It had come from the Perigord region of South-West France and was the style farmers wore there, similar to Australian military hats. I wonder what happened to it. I was to miss it in the sunnier days to come. A 'gyros' is a German equivalent of a doner kebab in Britain.

The picture of a tram stop might seem strange but in 1988 there were no serious tram services in the UK at all, only holiday ride ones, so seeing something like a tram station in the middle of the streets was rare for a Briton.

Tuesday 23rd August 1988
I woke up about 07.00, had breakfast then walked with Ian into town. We looked at the Rathaus and the Cathedral and walked around town before going onto the station. I went back to the hostel as I had lost my hat, but in vain. I caught the bus back to the station then the train to Köln-Deutz and quickly found the large hostel. I watched some television. This evening I wandered into town and was very impressed, there are numerous trendy art and bookshops; the cathedral is stunning. I went to an eight screen cinema and saw "Crocodile Dundee II" which was quite good. I had another gyros and a litre of beer. I met Steve and Dave, two English from the youth hostel, we walked around town and had a drink then came home. The reception here was similar, though the German people are very friendly at the [youth hostel] Reception they are cool and intolerant to people's attempts at German. They are warm to other Germans.

Weather: Sunny and warm.
Aachen Market, August 1988

Statues in Aachen, August 1988

Tram Stop in Deutz Area of Köln

Köln Cathedral Seen from East Bank of the Rhine, August 1988

Friday, 22 August 2008

20 Years On - Part 1 of Account of Travelling by Train Around West Germany and Austria

I have always been envious of people whose blogs cover their wonderful adventures travelling to places and are filled with great photographs of where they have visited. In my adult life there have been very few years when I have been on holiday, as any one who has read this blog this year will know, almost invariably, something goes wrong with my holidays. Of the two I tried this year, one ended after two days because my two companions could not cope with it and for the second for the whole trip (nowhere exotic, just to Bath in western England) I had the worst diahorrea I have ever had and spent large portions of the night on the toilet. A holiday to Corfu in 2003 led to me losing some hours of my life and my girlfriend dumping me immediately on our return. However, knowing that I had some interesting photographs of my trips of the past and because I have kept a diary since the start of 1978, I realised that in the place of being able to post my current exploits (with redundancy only three months away there is no chance of a holiday in 2009) I would dig up some of the trips of my younger years. In doing so, however, I have found that actually those holidays were blighted too. I have never had problems with 'little adventures' as I term them, when something out of the ordinary happens, but too often something more serious brings the holiday to a premature end. I am getting ahead of myself.

Today is the 20th anniversary of me embarking on my only ever Inter-rail holiday. Inter-rail tickets were a wonderful invention. Once you bought one you were free to travel over all of Europe by simply writing on the card where you were travelling from and to. They were available for all ages of people, though those for people under the age of 26 which was defined as the European student age (though in Britain at the time most people finished at 21, but our degrees were only 3 years compared to the 7 of many West German students and we did not have military service like many states), it was incredibly popular with young people. Most would leap across the continent and I met a number of people at Ostend (a Belgian port) whose next two stops were Munich (in southern West Germany) and then Istanbul (in Turkey). In 1988 I was studying History at university as an undergraduate and as part of the course I had to take a foreign language (very unusual for non-language degrees in those days) and preferring German history I opted for German a language I had only studied for one year at the age of 13. It was a mistake of course because I found it very hard and got only a 3rd for that minor, which brought down my overall degree mark. Anyway, that was in the future.

In the Summer of 1988, having worked in a frozen food warehouse and earnt some good money (I remember I got paid £3.90 per hour, compared to £1.50 per hour as a petrol pump attendant working in 1987), I bought my Inter-rail ticket with the intention of practising my German and visiting some of the places that I had studied in History at 'O' Level, 'A' Level and my degree of which I had completed the first year, so rather than hareing across Europe I decided to keep to West Germany and Austria. Of course, while the Cold War was coming to an end in 1988 it was not finished and I had been advised that if you wanted a career in the civil service as I was expecting to end up with, it was best not to go to Eastern Bloc countries, so I stayed away from East Germany. The other historical aspect to note was the West German currency of the time was the DM, the Deutschmark, which when I went was worth about 2.40DM:£1. I have no recollection of what the Austrian Schilling was worth, but I guess it was something like 18-22Sch.: £1, perhaps someone with a better memory can write in and correct me if I have got that wrong.

So, on this day 20 years ago I embarked on my first steps as an Inter-Railer to see what the open track and the cities of West Germany and Austria could offer. The ride into Aachen seemed to live up to my expectations and passing through a tunnel into West Germany I felt as if I was straight out of 'The Lady Vanishes' (1938 and 1979) or 'Night Train to Munich' (1940). Not mentioned in the diary entry below was, that walking the distance of about 3.5 Km from the station to the youth hostel on the edge of Aachen I glanced into an alley and saw two men dragging a struggling man away. Fearful that they had seen me I ran off and then encountered an elderly couple who offered me a lift to the youth hostel. I had been determined not to do something so dangerous as that, but was fearful of the two men and accepted it. Fortunately the couple who spoke perfect English proved to be as good as their word and dropped me at the youth hostel. However, I had no food and was loath to walk back into the town. Ian, mentioned in the account below gave me plain bread and I drank water from the sink. I kept his address for many years, as mentioned in a short story I wrote three years later, '15.51' which I must put on here sometime. I will leave the rest of the story to what I wrote in my diary at the time. Note, I started off badly going to the wrong docks at Dover so not getting the crossing I wanted delaying my trip from the start, though having an 'open' ticket I could go on the slower ferry but it meant I arrived in Aachen three hours later than intended.

I have made it so that when you click through the photos for these postings appear the same size as they are in my photo album as putting them up to the scale which is common with digital cameras these days makes them very grainy. However, do this I have come to realise that I was a far worse photographer than I realised.

Monday 22nd August 1988

I woke up early and Dad took me to Dover. I went to the Eastern Docks which meant I was unable to catch the Jetfoil. However, the ferry went alright, I slept most of the way. [At Ostend] I picked up the 17.02 train and was in Aachen by 20.10. I walked towards the youth hostel and got a lift the rest of the way. I unpacked and talked with Ian an Englishman at St. Peter's, Oxford, studying German, looking for accommodation in Aachen. I had a shower then slept. The youth hostel is basic and quaint, typically German, the reception people's attitude is terse, possibly becase British are not the top people in Germany at the moment.

Weather: Dull, some sun, mild.

Aachen Youth Hostel, August 1988

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Mind Out! That Child Might Be Wearing An Ipod

When I was growing up there used to be a sign on the back of ice cream vans with a hand held up saying 'Mind Out! That Child May Be Deaf'. The implication was for speeding motorists that a child coming away from an ice cream van might not hear their engine and so be hit by them. In fact I do not think the child needed to be deaf to be put into this kind of risk. Generally too many people speed in residential areas and also children who have just got a treat are usually so focused on it that a meteorite could be crashing on to their school and they would not notice. There was a very good radio advertisement a couple of years back which outlined this principle. It played the sounds heard by a young child, an elderly person and then a teenager approaching a road. Of course those who you might think most at risk, the child and senior citizen were aware of the traffic, the teenager on their mobile phone walked right into it. This is why, if I could have found the basis for it I would have done one warning about the use of ipods and other MP3 players.

I know this problem has been around ever since they invented the personal stereo, as far back as the Walkman in 1980. People being cut off from the outside world (though often the people around them were very aware of what they were listening to) was a problem then. However, I think the reason why it has got worse is because the ear pieces now disappear entirely into the ear (rather than sit on the outside bedded on a piece of foam) and also that the person's sight is also occupied. With an ipod the user constantly seems to be tweaking with the settings or reading the tiny text on the screen and if they actually put their ipod away they pick up their mobile phone and start texting someone or flicking through photos on it. What you end up with is someone who is in a bubble in which their two main senses: sight and hearing are detached from everything around them. They are more cut off, I believe, than a deaf or blind person ever was.

I have encountered personal problems with this. My mother is going deaf, which is unsurprising, given that she is 70, but she has hearing aids and we make sure we speak slowly and clearly and look at her when we speak. For herself she takes care when she is out and about, knowing that she might get caught out by something approaching out of her line of sight that these days she might not hear. So, there is a working relationship between the (partially) deaf person, those around her and the environment through which she moves. Contrast this with the woman in my house who now seems to be plugged into her ipod from the moment she awakes. I can appreciate that rather than trying to interact with the world she might want to cut herself off from it. I have no problem with people disappearing into their music. This has been common even before music was recorded and grew in the 1970s when home hi-fis reached good quality and people would lounge back and wear those huge headphones. However, they were tied to a location and if they wanted anything they got up and found you. With the mobile technology, there is no indication if the person is plugged in or not. Unless they are listening to it so loud that you can hear it too, you have no indication of what volume they have it at. Consequently the woman in my house, who is in her mid-30s, bellows through the house like an elderly person would have done thirty years ago. You have to go up to her and tap her to get her attention as you would with a deaf person you wanted to have a sign language conversation with. In addition, being cut off so much makes her highly impatient. When she shouts out a request she cannot hear the response such as 'Coming', 'Just a moment' or 'I'm in the toilet' or whatever so she assumes no-one is responding to her request at all and just shouts more. Unlike with deafness she can switch this thing off so if a few minutes later you go to her and speak loudly, she goes 'No need to shout', again raising tensions in a house.

I am sure this is replicated across the world. I suppose it is more challenging dealing with a mature person as you somehow expect a teenager not to respond or not to hear you. With someone older you tend to think, that if they want to interract with you then they will make the effort to equip themselves to do that. We end up with one-sided conversations in which she asks me something and then does not hear or mis-hears the response. At best I can get her to remove one ear piece, but I find that incredibly rude because then I feel only part of her attention is on what I am saying, especially galling as it is generally when she is asking me to do something. The ipods are almost welded to people, and as with mobile phones, to suggest they might put them down or take them off or even turn them off seems like a personal offence as if you asked them to remove their underpants or bra. The 'other' world provided by these devices is clearly more vital than the current one they are physically in (and do not get me started on people receiving text messages or phone calls during meals).

Even more hazardous is when these people go out on the streets. In contrast to real deaf people, they seem to make no effort to compensate for their impaired senses by being more attentive to what is going on around them. I drive through a number of towns that have universities, some of them have two and if I spot any students on the pavement I slow up as they are likely to simply wander out, especially at traffic lights or crossings, assuming that everyone else is going to stop to let them pass like some sacred animal. I turned into a side road leading to a car park the other day and an ipod wearing student using their mobile was walking in the middle of this side road and was totally oblivious to me being behind them. I had to proceed at their slow walking pace until we reached the broader area of the car park (and where has this fashion for walking on the road rather than the pavement suddenly come from? Is it due to fear of being mugged on the pavement; ironically cyclists of all ages seem habitually to go on the pavement, as noted in 'The Guardian' a couple of weeks ago a woman was aghast at the suggestion she cycle on the road; how topsy-turvy is this country becoming). Even coming out of shops, you often find your way blocked by someone just standing there oblivious to anyone around them. If you dare touch them to ask them to move, well of course that brings down a wall of invective on you, so in the UK we hover in that ineffective hesitant way until the chance comes up and the person moves on. How can city centres function with this sort of behaviour.

As you know, I am the first to complain about bad driving. However, safe driving can only work if all users of the road and pavement do their best to be alert of what is going on around them. Many pedestrians are deliberately detaching themselves from the real world for one more removed. However important the next track on your playlist is or responding to that text, it is less important than preventing yourself becoming another road casualty. We will not even get on to the issues of politeness and not being an obstacle when around town, just think about keeping yourself and others alive.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Atlas of Imaginary Places 11: 'Tube Maps'

As previewed in the previous posting, this one is looking at alternate London Underground maps. I have featured some like 'The Great Bear' and the Gallifrey one in August 2007. This posting has some more including a more thorough German translation one rather than the semi-English/semi-German one I have shown before, though I like the counter-factual implications of that one.

This is the one that got me started, a postcard from the city of Bath in western England. Given that the city is over 2000 years old, it seems odd that they portray it in this modern way. This postcard makes it seem a lot larger than it actually is. It is a very picturesque place with Georgian architecture and extensive Roman remains. One could easily envisage a Bath Below given how much stuff is buried there going back so many centuries. Maybe Neil Gaiman will consider it.

City of Bath 'Underground' Map

I have removed this image as a result of a copyright challenge.

Having seen this, I wondered if other cities had done the same. There were a few from US cities but nothing which leapt out and instead I began encountering the underground map used in different ways. Before progressing, I will show the earliest version from Henry Beck in 1931 which actually shows how much it has progressed. The style today actually looks more 1960s with 1980s overtones than anything from the 1930s despite the emphasis on continuity.

London Underground Map by Henry Beck
This one was designed for a book called 'Transit Maps of the World' (2007) by Mike Oveden and gives some indications of airline links across the world.
To some extent it is rather like those maps which show contries by the magnitude of something that they are involved in such as consumption of electricity and you see that Spain and Portugal for example are portrayed about a third of the size of the whole of Africa and similarly the Middle East is extended, in both cases reflecting the amount of airline traffic iin comparison to the geographical sizes of these regions
London Underground Map in German
This is the promised one more properly rendering the stations into German. Though this then makes it appear more like just a tourist tool than the implications of a collaborationist regime in the style of 'SS-GB' or perhaps 'When William Came' suggested by the less thorough one I have shown before. I guess for all British people showing familiar things in German still has echoes because even the current generation often defines itself in reference to being opposed to anything German despite the fact that most grandparents were only children when the last war against Germany finished.
Now, I move away from the geographical to the intellectual. The London Underground styling is often used almost like a mindmap to illustrate in a somehow tangible way things which are really intangible. The simplest one I have found is this one which almost seems to be axes of taste in culture:
Understated Tube Mind-Map
This one is reminiscent of those maps that look like ones of fantasy worlds but in fact show groupings and developments on the internet. This one shows what are seen as current trends in global society and how they inter-relate to people. It has Chinese characters, which in itself can be seen as a trend, but may also hint at a source. It is interesting that whoever it came from is less imbued with the fantasy map background and clearly is more familiar with the portrayal of actual cities. Perhaps by adopting this style they felt it would gain more credibility than a fantasy-style map. Looking at it, it does not resemble the London Undeground map but one of the maps from other cities like the Paris Metro system or most likely a system in Beijing or Shanghai.
Trend Blend Urban Transport Style Map (2008)
The following one is similar but again focused purely on the internet and seems closer to the London Underground mapping. I do wonder if in 2008 that this style is seen as cool and serious compared to the fantasy world map style of the past few years that were used to illustrate such things.
Web Trend Map (2008)
Rather than go with one of the numerous music style maps which I know less about, though I may come back to them in the future, I was attracted to this one from the Royal Shakespeare Company. It is reminiscent of 'The Great Bear' and that might be indicated by the title they have adopted. It features Shakespeare characters and the mapping to some extent shows the relationships between them. I must say this is one of my favourites and it goes beyond the simply conceptual basis. I also like the little icons next to some of the 'stations' too. I would love it if the underground stations were labelled by Shakespeare characters. Given that the main point of access for millions of people each year to poetry is simply by the Poems On The Underground scheme which started in 1986 (it means poems are put up in advertising slots in underground train carriages), then why should not more of their journey be influenced by literature?
Greater Shakespeare Underground Map
This final one is just a comic one, substituting various foods ('grub' is an old UK slang term for food) for the underground stations. I do wonder why Transport For London went after the Geoff Marshall one and not this one which in my mind could appear more insulting, though in fact I feel they are all delightful and bring attention and respect to the London Underground system and its iconography.
Undergrub Map