The next morning we bid Andreas #2 farewell and return to the flat of Andreas #1.

By flat, I mean a kind of single-room studio which is overflowing with singers. All four chairs? Taken. The cot? Three people on it. The bed? Four people on it. Standing room? That's a bit cozy too. Mic, Eamond, and M.K. and in the kitchen area transmuting a mountain of veggies and eggs into the mother of all omelet mixtures. M.W. offers the authoratative voice on bacon and joins them; tasting it later, there can be no question that he's an expert with it. Everyone else is lounging and occasionally bursting into song.

As the day goes on little groups leave one by one to return to their various parts of the world, and there's a lot of napping. I've discovered that M.Eh, from Bremen, is a fiddler and so we exchange song titles in hopes of one day jamming together, along with stories of hitchhiking Scotland: as it turns out, we have both stayed with the treehouse people (i.e. they do exist)!

In the end, there are only a few of us left, and we go out to a Greek restaurant for lunch.

Ilya and I have different strategies for removing our forks from our napins. I prefer to keep my napkin rolled up to protect the knife and spoon from the injurious world, but also for aesthetic reasons, and therefore remove the fork by pulling it out by the tines with my mouth. She simply unwraps hers. She cracks her knuckles and there is a brief debate regarding whether art is a product of its transience and destruction or whether it can be appreciated as such outside of a fleeting temporal reference. The clock ticks down, and M.Eh and I, who both have to be at the train station at five, begin to get a little anxious. Then a lot anxious. It is decided that while everyone else finishes eating, Andreas will see us to the station.

Mic, who's distant-thunder-bass-rumbling has pervaded the weekend, gives me some parting words: calliptuous, cabbage, sophorous. Alas, having lived so long in Germany, words such as these do not immediately bubble to the surface until we're hurrying down the sidewalk: esurience, ellocution, idempotent.

We skidaddle down the street. The subway takes faaaaaar too long to come. And when it does, seems to go too slowly. On Facebook, Andreas had named the event a “half-improvised, half-organized” singing. He takes a moment to conjecture that it was perhaps 10% planned. But it's enough! We hit the main train station and all dash up the stairs. M.Eh makes it onto her train and Andreas and I give it a wave before shaking hands ourselves: it's been great.

Then I step outside the station's south egress into the blessedly cool night and wait for Andreas #3. In Germany there is a website that everyone knows where people offer to let you share a ride in their car in exchange for cash. Since everyone knows it, there are almost always people offering and accepting rides between most cities. And, since the trains are ridiculously expensive, there are strong incentives to keep using the system, but enough of a market that the prices don't inflate. Earlier in the day, I had compiled a list of maybe twenty people to call. But it wasn't necessary: Andreas #3 was the first person I called and he had room. He was asking only 27€ for the 4–5 hour ride to Berlin, versus 120€ for the train.

But there is a downside, whereas the German train system is built on a kind of atomic precision, not all Germans share this attribute. Fifteen minutes after our scheduled meeting, I get worried about our rendezvous. Not having a phone, I'd told Andreas #3 that he would probably recognize me because I look like Jesus (this led to an afternoon of Jesus-references, and breaking bread in the restaurant) and he'd told me that he was rather balding and would have a twenty-year-old Ford.

Logically, I know that with descriptions that good there's no way we can miss each other, but I end up borrowing someone's phone anyway… and it's okay. Another fifteen minutes and Andreas #3 is honking his horn at me. See? It's a perfect plan.

Marina is another passenger at the station. She turns out to be a student of Andreas #3. An hour into the trip we pick up Marvin, a chemical engineer escaping his small-village life by working with a firm in Berlin.

I was the first person Andreas #3 picked up, and we'd looked into the boot of his car with dismay. It was completely full and my backpack is big at this point. “Do not worry!”, Andreas #3 said with proud confidence, “There is always more room” And then he unpacked everything, put may backpack in, and rearranged things into a tightly-interlocking grid. It did all fit.

When Marina joined us with her two bags, the three of us peered down into the trunk with rain splattering on the pavement around us. There was not an iota of room, surely. “Do not worry!”, Andreas #3 said with a kind of glee, as he began shifting and relocating things. Sure enough, it all fit.

When Marvin joined us, I saw him looking doubtfully at his two bags. “Andreas is magic”, I said, as Andreas #3 rubbed his hands together with a manic smile, poked, prodded, and produced space where there had been none before.

At this point, I think his car must be a T.A.R.D.I.S. … Who knows what that makes him.

Andreas #3 explains that he bought his car for 200€ and fixed it up: it's old, but reliable. As he merges onto the Autobahn and accelerates to 140km/hr, I hope he's right. The car seems to be buffeted by the wind and the rain and I can't quite tell if the traffic is irregular, or if Andreas is an aggressive driver (he doesn't seem it), or if the car just has no cruise control. I doze, but can't quite get to sleep, the constant accelerations remind me too much of Alok Sharma, though the trip never feels unsafe.

In Berlin, Andreas #3 drives me directly to where I need to be, mere blocks from my final destination. So that's a distinct advantage!


I'd originally planned on staying with M.K., but she said that, sadly, she didn't have a lot of room or anything soft I could sleep on. She'd called a friend of hers, but they couldn't take me either. The assembled shape note singers had a pow-wow, Magda phoned her friend Baska, and the problem was taken care of.

Getting off of the subway, I look around the station. There's a certain expression people have when they're expecting to meet someone, something about the eyes, and I see that with Baska. But we need to confirm, and so I whistle a quick catch. She laughs and tells me she's been whistling snippets of shape note at people for maybe ten minutes, and then fending them off when they get the wrong idea.

Her apartment's just around the corner, up on the fourth floor. Entering the building I am immediately taken in by the twelve or thirteen foot ceilings. I spend most of my time feeling uncomfortably close to ceilings, so this is something unexpected and beautiful. Baska's boyfriend has made some prawn-spinach pastry pouches and, as we heat these up, we talk.

Baska's a freelance artist of sorts, illustrating and doing puppet theatre. She mentions the large number of Turkish people living in the area, and I ask her if they're still viewed through as an immigrant-labour class. This leads to discussion of her work with the puppet theatre, trying to help immigrant children from often troubled backgrounds achieve fluency with a language that isn't used at home, to break cycles of segregation and poverty brought about by the lack of a common language. The issues and concerns she brings up remind me strongly of the Hmong and Somali situation in Minneapolis.

We also discuss briefly the apartment situation in Berlin, since it is one place I've considered moving. After the wall came down, relative depopulation and the availability of degraded housing infrastructure led to slow, but consistent development and rock-bottom housing prices. These sorts of low prices initially attracted immigrants and artistic types, and were a boon for Berlin natives. But now people from all of Europe are wanting to move to the city. Gesturing around the room, Baska tells me that the monthly rent of their apartment has gone up maybe 100–200€ in the three years they've lived there. It's a bubble of sorts, with prices creeping upwards and no way to stop it. And the rising prices change the demographics, driving people from away from Berlin as gentrification sweeps through. We touch on Switzerland, a country where this has happened so many times that it is now difficult for most people to think of living, or even traveling, there.

Before bed, we back-calculate that I should probably wake up at 6 and leave by 6:40.


It's therefore something of an issue when Baska knocks on the door saying, “Richard! You must get up! It is twenty-to!

In Germany, had purchased a cheap (2€) alarm clock from the Duk discount store. This eventually broke, and I spent the last month waking up gloriously late, seeing the town all alive, and walking on my own secret routes to work. But this was a problem when I got to Ireland, because I needed to wake up. So I walked all over Dublin until I found alarm clocks. These were of a similar style to the one I'd had in Germany. They had two little turny-knobs with arrows on the back. Now distrustful of this design, I bought two.

And now, this design has failed me again! I hurridly eat some muesli whilst Baska angelically makes me some peppermint tea. And then I skidaddle.

For some reason, I am mildly disorientated. On the way down, I miscount the floors and try to enter someone's apartment. Luckily, their door is locked. Outside, I go right and right again and follow the river towards the bridge, second-guess myself, rethink it, and continue on.

Crossing the bridge, I see the brightly-lit “U” of the subway entrance. But, down in the station, discover that it is the wrong station! I run back up all the stairs and try to ask (in German) a very large, slow-walking lady “Where is the train that goes around the city?” She grunts and keeps moving, I try again in English, “No speak English!”, she snaps. I pass her by. At the corner there is yet another large, lost-looking lady, who does not know where that train is. I cross the street to the petrol station where the attendant listens, repeats my question in broken English, and then points me towards the bridge: 200m.

As I jog along (no mean feat with the backpack as full as it is), I wonder if there's some kind of allegory here. The first two people I met seemed unhealthy, unemployed, and unknowledgeable. The last one the opposite. But I'm not convinced that there was a difference in knowledge, really. There is a set of trains which go around Berlin and guessing as to the location of that train in relation to where I was doesn't seem to difficult. Perhaps the only underlying and most important difference then was the effort put into the communications, and the resulting success. This echoes the conversation of the previous night, communication as a precursor to success in general.

I get to the station just milliseconds (I used my knowledge of physics to measure this) after the train pulls away. That's okay, I have time to take off my jacket and play “Sally Gardens” on my pennywhistle.

On the train, they don't announce the stops, so I'm reduced to a kind of nervous counting. When we arrive at Nord Meere, I jump off and again have to jog up a flight of stairs: there's an escalator coming down, but not up. At the top, I get pointed in the right direction and find the bus without too much trouble: there's a giant Hungarian flag on the side.

There's a team of three manning the bus. The girl explains that it costs extra to put a bag beneath the bus and that I should pay the driver. I take out a euro coin and she proferrs her clipboard and then very carefully, such that I can see the euro the whole time, walks it to the driver, who takes the euro off the clipboard.

Extortion? Corruption?

Inside, the seats are plush and recline a little. Each one has a little gold insignia. The side of the bus is plastered with sponsors: Adidas and Pappas Auto. A Hungarian helpfully explains that this may be the couch bus used by the Budapest's top foot ball team, being rented out to generate extra revenue to offset the rampent corruption in that organization.


Prague

Since then, we've passed through a very flat area of Germany and to Dresden, which was picturesque until you looked 180° the other way. We stopped in Prague not so long ago and it had the same feeling: a picturesque core surrounded by a kind of industrial plaque. But now we are wending through the Czech countryside and things are very pretty. Frequently the road will pass over bemisted river valleys which snake away into forested mountains. The road leaves something to be desired. It is made of concrete blocks which my seatmate tells me were laid for “strategic reasons” in the 70's.




Check if this is a private message just for Richard:


JEB - Saturday, December 29, 2012 at 21:37:07 (PST)
Thanks for parting with one of your Dublin alarm clocks--I used it every night on our trip and it never let me down. Really don't know how I could have managed without it!!