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

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