December 2nd, 2007

Starling

Auf der Reise

This is what I get for worying about how I seemed to be in one place for too long. I've just come back from a weekend with my Great Aunt in Stendal, 4 hours away by train, and by this time tommorrow, I shall be in Stockholm, Sweden. I get back to Eutin in time for school on Thursday, and once I've finished my lessons, it's back onto German trains to visit Holly in Thuringia for a weekend. If I'm still alive, I then have another full week of school, puncuated with visits to Lübeck, Kiel and Hamburg.

Thus, I am currently trying to get as much done online as possible, and all, for some reason, to Talking Heads playing on loop. Oh well, not everything has to make sense.

Alas, for I have much to update on! I know that if I leave it now, I'll never type it up, especially after Sweden, Nobou Uematsu, Erfurt, and Holly. So...the christmassy things I mentioned on Wednesday? They were bigger when I went into town on Wednesday, and I had more mulled wine with rum, and a Döner, just to be different. I was tempted to be extravagent due to having my bank card finally arrived (so, after only almost three months, I have a working German debit card), but in the end, I just bought some shopping and headed home.

I had trouble sleeping that night for some reason, and as such, I was a little late into school, which mattered because I was supposed to be teaching a lesson. I ended up missing about 20 minutes of the lesson, which I felt terrible about, but I did manage to give the LK a pretty good idea of British printed media, summed up perhaps by two contrasting articles from the Sun and the Times. One was about rising oil prices and their benefit for the environment as opposed to their harm to the economy, and the other was about a lesbian orgy in a village hall. How I loathe tabloids.

Thursday did get better, though. In the evening, all sorts of madness transpired in the town centre, which I was going to type up in excited detail until I had to hop on a train to Stendal instead. Basically, they finished getting the town centre set up for what they are calling 'Lichterstadt Eutin' (City of Lights, Eutin), and were all prepaed for the grand light-switch-on at 7pm. This meant we had a large ski slope, complete with real snow, the church with snowflakes raining down on it, the Brauhaus transformed into what looks like a giant liquorice allsort, and a disco playing various songs, with more than a few Eurovision numbers. NDR sent a news crew to cover the events, and I ended up in the background on the actual broadcast...taking photos of the news crew. I took photos of moreorless everything, including the angel walking around with a large gold banner, and the man dressed up as a night watchman complete with lantern, who is later transpired was the head of tourism and the man who does the lanternlight tours of Eutin. It was all very hyperactive, and the rain did not dampen anything. It also helped that I had two more glasses of Glühwein with rum...I am hopelessly addicted, it would seem.

That was a lot of fun, and was hard to leave. I did leave, though, and not all that late, so the fact I once again slept fitfully is a mystery to me. This meant that I ended up being late for everything on Friday, missing the wonderful train from Bad Kleinen direct to Stendal. I ended up having to change at Lübeck, Bad Kleinen (an hour's wait, but they did have coffee and an odd station building located in the middle of the lines) and Wittenberge (where I finally got to board the Berlin train two weeks before). I didn't get to see much, as it now gets dark at 4pm, so I only really got to see station after station. One of these stations was eventually Stendal, where I met my Great Aunt at long last, gave her her present (marzpian tea from Eutin and a cup with cat pictures and English feline words), and headed to her place for the evening meal.

It was strange being back there. I've spent a lot of time there, but never for too long, and always really spread out. My last visit was with the whole family between Christmas and New Year 2006, and since then, my Great Uncle died. The house is a lot quieter now. I'm so glad my aunt has her cats (they're not hers, but their owners don't care much for them, so the cats spend a lot of time with her). It's still the same house that was essentially a theatre of dreams to me when I visited with Oma and Opa eight years ago. One room still reminds me of my times sat in there playing Zelda and Yoshi's Island on the SNES, and Dragon Warrior on my GameBoy, then having to hurry down for dinner. The dinner is much the same as it was. I'm more used to the potato and cabbage now. There is still magic there...but it's faded. So much is different these days, the world has turned so much.

Saturday we spent on another recurring memory from Stendal. We headed the short distance to Tangermünde, the small town on the River Elbe that is a historical gem that is not swamped with tourists simply because it's in the middle of former East Germany (you can tell. Everything is very different from Eutin. Empty flats, closed factories, broken glass and grains of hope). We walked the windswept empty streets and I took photos and nothing else. We walked and talked. I always used to visit that town in April. Now I visit in December. A lot has changed. A small shop I used to love is now a small casino.

More meals, more reflections, more speaking to my Great Aunt in my mangled German. It's better than it used to be. She had an atlas from 1897, with Germany stretching to what is now Kaliningrad, with Taiwan part of the Japanese Empire. It made fascinating reading. I planned to go into the town centre and see their christmas market, but it was too dark too soon, so I just went to the station and checked times for my journey back. It rained on the way home, past overgrown goods yards. The old railway yard is now a car park. Things are changing, not all is rusting.

Sunday. Begins too early, with me in church already at 9:30 having showered and drank a lot of coffee with my aunt's fabulous homemade jam. Afterwards, I went for a walk, all throughout Stendal, turning the streets from memories into the reality of the town it is, and washing away the pastel colours into the sepia tones of the present. My feet were sore at the end of it. The town had been empty. Ghost town. And then, after a meal, all was packed again, and I marched back onto a train. Stendal slipped away, with allotments, and sad-looking memorials to socialism that pretend to be flats, crying on their own in the middle of an overgrown slab of concrete. Fields, flatness, a medieval landscape, and the familiar terrain of the journey to and from Stendal. I had to change three times, but each one was a quick change, so I was almost always mobile, listening to my music, gazing out of the window, at villages that seemed in danger of forgetting their own existance, and of lonely ravens over fields of soil and distance.

A long time later, back in Eutin. Whenever I return here, it's as if all else was a flight of fancy. Eutin is currently the Real, just as Englefield Green was last year. Oh, RHUL, how you seem like an alternate universe now, with your essays, coffee, magazines and South West Trains.
It was dark, and it was raining. I stopped for a Döner. I didn't feel like one, but it's their anniversary, and everything was on special offer. Then, more Glühwein with rum. It's warming. I remembered the castle had an event on. It turns out I caught the last half-hour of a four-day event, involving a christmas market with various things to eat and drink, the castle and surrounding trees lit up like frozen fireworks, and the castle itself transformed into a giant department store for christmassy clothes and furtiture, all at high prices. Local girls were dressed up as angels to help with the proceedings, which was sweet, even if I didn't see any of my students. I caught the tail-end of an organ concert, but the rain seeped into my backpack and may or may not have dampened some of my clothing.

Well, that was nowhere near good-enough for an update. I'd rather have something, even if is a waterfall of consciousness, than an empty gap in my journal where a memory should be. There's too much to say, and more importantly, too much to feel for an entry, even one like this, to be enough. How can I convey Stendal, its personal history for me, its actual history, and its current state trapped between the old east and the new all? What about Eutin, the nature of this town, the music and lights, the difference from the UK, and the opportunities taken and missed? What about my thoughts, reaching out across the landscape like German railway lines, always having to change when you least expect it, and finding themselves in a different country speaking a different language?

My thoughts are all over the place.
Just like me...
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