ARCHIVE: In Which our Hero gets Hopelessly Lost and Nearly Crushed: the Tale of November

Ach du meine Gute, where to start, where to start…buckle up for this one, my friends. I managed to get myself into some interesting situations this week.

…Well, first allow me to back up a bit to the week before last, right after the last blog post. I want to share a knock-knock joke one of my students told. Say it out loud.

„Knock knock.“
„Who’s there?“
„Little old lady.“
„Little old lady who?“
„Oh, I didn’t know you could yodel!“

Isn’t that the greatest thing? This girl is still learning English, and she was so excited to share that joke with us. It was spectacular. I really love this job.

…that’s all there really is to report regarding the week of the 11th-17th. This past week, however, gave me something to write about almost immediately. I got lost on Tuesday.

Lost? In Heidelberg? You must be joking, you think. How can you have gotten lost? You’ve lived there for three months. It’s a small city. You can take a bus anywhere you want. How much skill does it take to get LOST?

Do not underestimate my capacity for easily-avoidable situations, ye mere mortals. Here’s what happened:

I got a letter from the post office on the 9th telling me that a package addressed to me couldn’t be forwarded to my address because it lacked some sort of label or payment. I had to go to the Zollamt (customs office) and pick it up in person. I had two weeks to do it before the package would be shipped back to the sender.

Here’s the issue, though—much like in the US, official offices are only open at certain times a day, and never on weekends or holidays. As a student, I have this thing called “class” and another thing called an “internship”, both of which demand my time and provide me with but limited opportunity to go get a package, especially when that package is at an office in Pfaffengrund-Wieblingen (one S-Bahn stop or a lengthy bus ride away from the city center). So, I neglected to go until the 13th day, a Tuesday. I looked up the next S-Bahn to the stop I needed, printed out Google directions telling me how to get from the train stop to the office, and left after my morning practicum session. I figured I could get there, pick up the package, and get back to my room to relax before the office went on lunch break.

Nnnnope. I got to the train stop and was highly puzzled. I had never been in the area before, and the expanse of large industrial and storage houses and dinky office buildings offered me little in the way of orienting myself. My Google directions were vague and rather unhelpful. Interpreting them as best I could, I promptly started off in the wrong direction. Attempt number two started with asking directions from a man who had no idea where the customs office was, and I started out in the exact OPPOSITE direction. After twenty minutes, it was starting to sink in that I was definitely in the wrong neighborhood.

…no, seriously, I had walked long enough in that one direction to leave the construction area behind me and wander into a little suburban neighborhood. I spotted a mail man and ran to him, thinking he would surely know and maybe be able to give me clear instructions.

“Excuse me, I’m trying to find Dischingerstrasse.”
“Dischingerstrasse?! Why, that’s all the way in the other direction!”

…cool.

I turned around, taking his advice to walk past the bridge by the train stop and look for the street on my right. Well, this time I only walked for ten minutes in what once again was the wrong direction. I asked two people in a security stand where the hell I was supposed to be going. The woman gave me new instructions and I turned around again to go over the bridge and head left.

Let me tell you, friends, that I hope that woman never gives anyone directions ever again. She told me to keep walking, past a Bauhaus (the German Home Depot), past a cafe, and on and on and on…I did, trying to ignore that it was almost 11:30 and that I’d been at this for an hour already. As I kept walking, my stomach started to sink, and I referred back to my crumpled Google instructions. No, sir. This couldn’t be right. I’d been walking for almost a half hour at this point and was only now at the Bauhaus. The road I was on ended a crossroads, the name of which was not in my instructions.

I went into the Bauhaus and was relieved to find a customer service desk. I explained my lost-ness to a man at the desk, and although he had no idea where Dischingerstrasse was, he was able to look it up and print me out a map (why I didn’t do that in the first place is a Blödheit I won’t get over for a while). I decided to sit for a while in the little bistro in the Bauhaus, considering it was 11:55 and I was apparently no where near where I needed to be.

I had 2,80 to my name, and spent it on a small sandwich. I ate as slowly as I could, taking my time in the bistro to contemplate my new map and mentally figure out what the hell I had done to get so turned around. As I looked over the street names, I slowly stopped chewing and could only stare at the map helplessly—I was at least another 40-minute walk to where I had started, and even then couldn’t tell how to get to the little side street marked as Dischingerstrasse. My frustration and anger grew and my sandwich shrank, frustration and anger directed at myself for not having planned anything better.

I tried to take deep breaths as I mentally cursed my own stupidity: I was in a Bauhaus in the middle of Pfaffengrund-Wieblingen, I had been wandering for almost two and a half hours, I had no money, no phone, no real clue where I was, and could feel my throat losing the battle to cold, grey weather and constant drizzle. The back of my mind begged to just go back to the train station and go home, maybe wake up extra early the next day to pick up the package before class or just give up and let it be sent back to the US. I shook off the doubts and headed into the parking lot, hoping to find someone who could call me a taxi. I had no cash, but maybe a driver would be able to take card, or be willing to take me to an ATM or something. The man I asked in the parking lot was a tad bewildered to be approached by a disheveled girl on the verge of tears asking him if he could call a cab. He apologized—he wasn’t from here and didn’t have any cab numbers. Maybe I could ask the service desk in the Bauhaus to call for me? I held up my hands helplessly, too done to recognize that as a good idea, and slowly turned around to trudge back the way I had come.

What’s that? A tram stop! Where does the tram go? Back to where I started! Stepping into the tram was a mild relief, and I tried to get myself back under control and refocus. I stepped off, intently studying the map, looking at my surroundings, turning around…and realized that I was still confused. I stared at the road I thought the map was telling me to take, not understanding why I would need to leave the industry and office sector behind and take a road hedge by green and the promise of countryside further down. I hesitated, and saw a taxi out of the corner of my eye. Hope sprang up in me as I flagged the driver down. A grandfatherly man with a fluff of white hair, glasses, and pink cheeks pulled over and lowered his window.

I hesitated, tried to speak, coughed instead (the cold had wriggled its way into me and brought illness with it in the past few hours) and rather pathetically asked him if he accepted credit card. I tried not to look at his dashboard, where I had already noticed there was no card scanner.

“Credit card?” he asked, nonplussed. “Why? Where do you need to go?”

“I’m trying to find Dischingerstrasse,” I said with a desperate tone to my voice. I held out my crumpled, damp map. “I just need to get to the customs office, but I’ve been wandering for hours and I’m lost and I don’t have any cash…”

“That’s not far,” he said, cutting off my rambling with a smile. “Get in.”
“But…all I have is a card…”
“Don’t worry about it.”

I got in, and he turned into another lane and chatted to strengthen my spirits. “Yeah, this street can be hard to find. Why do you need to go to Dischingerstrasse? Oh, a package? Where from? Really! My granddaughter studied in the States. She said they don’t really have a lot of public transportation…”

We turned right from the bridge—the only direction I hadn’t already tried—and right again down a side street. I could have kicked myself as I realized how very simple it should have been to find. We pulled up the customs office. The driver turned to me with a smile and said, “One million dollars,” before chuckling at the handful of coins I was offering him. He waved it away. “Bless you,” he said. “Say hello to your mama.” I was so ecstatic that I kissed his hand as I got out. He waved as he pulled away.

The rest of the excursion was drawn out but simple enough. I waited until their lunch hour was over to head into the office. They gave me my package, asked me to open it, gave me a receipt and let me go. I caught a train back into the city just as it was about to leave the station. I go back to my room at almost three in the afternoon, emailed the professor of my four p.m. class telling him I wouldn’t be coming, I was sick, and passed out for a long nap.

So bless YOU, grandfatherly taxi driver. Without you, I doubt I would’ve gotten it at all. You rock.

What a Tuesday. I had thought that, after that, the most exciting thing I would do for the rest of the week would be re-booking a flight over the phone in German (with mariachi waiting music). I was very wrong, but, then again, who expects the kind of adventure we had on Saturday?

My friend Anabelle—with whom I’ve been on adventures since the first night and our bus confusion, now that I think about it—loves the band Papa Roach. They’re an American ‚alternative metal‘ band. I don’t listen to them much myself. Too aggressive for my taste most of the time. But the band was playing in Saarbrücken, and she really wanted to go, but not alone. She had lived in Saarbrücken for a year as an exchange student before. Me, being the good friend I am, said I’d go with her. Why not?, I figured. I can see a new city with someone who knows it well and hey, the concert might be fun too. So we bought tickets and planned to catch an early train so we would get there in time to meet up with one of Anabelle’s friends before we went to the concert.

The day was interesting before we even got out of Heidelberg. In the train station, we had mild difficulty getting tickets from Homburg (not Hamburg, as the ticket lady corrected Anabelle’s pronunciation) to Saarbrücken (we could only ride to Homburg for free). Then, as we waited for our train, we were approached by a man who was apparently high on something. He had a mouth of ruined teeth and agitatedly rolled a cigarette as he talked to us non-stop in pretty good English. He refused to believe I was American and insisted upon seeing my passport. Anabelle interrupted the bizarre exchange by announcing that we had to catch our train. We escaped, shrugging our shoulders as we got to our platform.

Our train was packed with soccer fans heading to Kaiserslautern for a game. Most of the ride was uneventful, until we started pulling into the Kaiserslautern station and another train ran parallel to us…a train full of soccer fans from the opposing team. Suddenly everyone was running to the windows to return the shouts and waves and gestures. It was highly amusing.

After Kaiserslautern the train was nearly empty. We changed trains in Homburg and met Susie, Anabelle’s friend from her exchange year and a friendly girl, at the Saarbrücken station. To kill time we investigated the mall and walked around the castle, a half-old, half-new construction that had been renovated after the second world war. The tour of Saarbrücken was brief. It’s a small city, and we hit the notable points within an hour and a half. We were successful in our hunt for cheap food and enjoyed the warmth of a Chinese restaurant before parting ways with Susie and heading to stand in line at the concert.

Two bands played before Papa Roach. The first, LA Madness, were greeted politely as they rocked to a few songs and tossed a t-shirt into the crowd. Things started to get a bit…pushy…as the second group, an up-and-coming band from England called Glamour of the Kill, took the stage. The lead singer commanded to crowd to rev it up, which they did. One man pushed and shoved his way to the front, right next to me, and every time he jumped or flailed I had to beware of his flying elbows. He sang along to every word. While I admired his fervent dedication to the spirit of metal, his repeated attempts to spark a mosh pit grew tiresome very quickly. On his third attempt, he made the mistake of pushing a muscly guy with gauged ears, who, fed up, promptly turned around and knocked the guy on his ass. The would-be-mosher tried to leap to his feet to hit back, but the gauged-eared defender of the peace held him firmly away until a security guard leapt the railing and dragged the flailer away. People simply moved forward to fill his space. The band played on…and not long thereafter, the leader singer called for a ‚wall of death‘ to form in the middle.

Do you know what a wall of death is, dear reader? Allow me to enlighten you. It is when, at concerts such as this, the crowd parts to form two sides of people, staring at each other, waiting for the energy to build and to be set free at the command of the performer. So, at the British punk’s word, the two sides charged each other and crashed together in the middle, creating a flailing jumping mob of humans. Anabelle held me tight against the tide of rushing people. It was her grip that saved me from being pulled along.

And that was only the opening act.

After the Brits were done, there was a lull in the excitement as techs set up for Papa Roach. As soon as the fluorescent lights dimmed again, though, the crowd surged forward in an eager attempt to get closer to the stage and the sweat of their idols. I fought against being crushed, pushed to and fro, and knocked down. Again, it was Anabelle who grabbed me and pulled me forward to a safer spot by the railing. My arms were still trapped against my sides, but I manged to head bang to the best of my ability and bounce along with the crown as Papa Roach roared and played their torrentous music. Part of the way through the show, a young man was invited up on stage with his girlfriend. He propsed to her, right there, on stage, and she said yes. They were both 18. Well, it was a proposal to remember and I wish them the best…at the time, though, I was still trying not to get swept away as Papa Roach ended to concert with one of their more famous songs.

When it was all done, my watch said 10 o’clock. Not too late, right? I didn’t protest when Anabelle wanted to go wait by the tour bus in hopes of meeting the band members. We hung out in the dark and cold with a girl from the Netherlands until about 11:15, when I requested we retreat somewhere warm for a while. We did, going around the corner to the cafe Susie works in. It was a small but comfortable place with candles burning on each table and simple walls. We stayed for a while until we could feel our toes again, and somewhat asininely headed back to the bus. Now we waited until 12:30 before the cold got the better of us and drove us back to the cafe again, where Susie was wonderful and provided us coffee and hot chocolate on the house.

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Anabelle and I in the cafe at 1:30 am.

Anabelle’s former host sister, whom she had told to call sometime after midnight, called and told us she was by the club where the band had played. We said goodbye to Susie and left again to meet Wai Thera, a lithe and stylish girl with a passion for dancing. By now, it was nearing 2 am, but to not break Anabelle’s heart, we walked past the tour bus one last time.

Behold, the guitarist was there! Anabelle got an autograph and a hug, and, right as we were about to leave, the lead singer appeared. Anabelle’s night was made.

…it was, of course, still bloody cold. The three of us found warmth in a McDonald’s until the store closed and kicked us out. We made our way back to the train station with the intention of staying in the waiting room until our train home at 5:15 am. The strong stench of piss promptly drove us out again, and we found that the McDonald’s across from the train station was still open. We sat and talked and tried not to lose our minds completely…although I came close when I tried to oder a sweet tea and was informed that none was served in German McDonald’s. Wai found my distress hysterical.

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Panic! in the McDonald’s at 2:30 am!

At approximately four am, Wai gave up and gave us hugs goodbye as she went to catch a taxi home. I hoped our adventure was over, but, of course, a few more things had to happen before the 24 hours was up.

At about 4:30 am, a pack of wild drunken boys appeared! Anabelle was saying something to me, but I wasn’t listening as my eyes were glued to a situation developing across from us; one of the boys was pestering a pair of women. Despite them telling him they weren’t interested and the very distinct ‚fuck off“ attitude they were emanating, he wouldn’t take a hint. Anabelle noticed the change in my face. I started to stand, the only thought in my sleep-deprived brain telling me “get that fucking idiot.” Anabelle, never one to be afraid or to take any shit, stood and intervened before I could, getting between the guy and the women and asking him to knock it off. The guy’s friend came over and tried to apologize for the drunk one’s behaviour. Anabelle called me over to help talk it out.

By now, the situation had been diffused, but the second guy wanted to talk to us. “Why did you stand up and say something when no one else did? Is it an American thing?” We chatted for a while until Drunky tried to come back and talk to Anabelle, and by then we needed to get to our train anyway.

The ride from Saarbrücken to Homburg was peaceful, and we changed onto what I had thought was the right train home. Unfortunately, it was an EC, a faster, nicer train that we can’t ride with just our Semester Tickets. The conductor we talked to was nice, but not quite nice enough to let us stay on the train. We got off at a little station in the middle of nowhere and waited for about a half hour in the empty ghost hallways for the next Regional Train to Mannheim.

Shortly before the train arrived, we met three Americans. Two were seeing off their friend (you gotta love somebody to come to the train station at 6:30 in the morning with them), who needed to get to Mannheim and then to Frankfurt to catch her flight. We told her to just stick with us, as she wasn’t entirely sure how to get from one to the other. Instead of sleeping, as we’d hoped to do, we spent the two-hour train ride in pleasant conversation. Her name was Ashley and she was only a year ahead of me. She studied musical theatre in Scotland…and had a friend named Mariah.

It was one last funny detail to bring the marathon day to a close. We switched trains in Mannheim, Ashley headed for Frankfurt and Anabelle and I back to Heidelberg and our beds. I made it back to my room shortly before 9 am and promptly crashed. I slept until 4 pm and it was glorious.

So that was the Adventure of Saarbrücken. Next up? THANKSGIVING!

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Photos including Tessa, Carmen, and I and more of Charles and I being silly.

Our program threw us a dinner at a nice restaurant, complete with turkey and stuffing and sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie. Tessa and Lizzy serenaded us, and the German friend I invited, Carmen, enjoyed herself. There was much cheer, and it really was a lovely night.
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Lizzy and Tessa as they started to play and Tessa, our mentor Herr Schork and I (we’re singing in the funny one).

Between then and now, not much out of the ordinary has happened (thank god). I went on a school-organized trip to Stuttgart and Esslingen last Saturday. Katie, Kate, Charles, Clark, Veronica and Lauren from AJY were on the same trip, so we stayed together in an AJY pack. We shuffled along with the guided tour of Stuttgart before pondering the art in the museum and running through the Weihnachtsmarkt. In Esslingen, we accidentally-on-purpose ditched the tour. Kate and I had had to pee and most of the others waited for us. By the time we got out, the tour had vanished. To our credit, we did try to find them by going into the closest church, expecting they would be there. They were not. Veronica and Lauren texted from a different church, bewailing that they were trapped in the pews and listening to a lecture. We told them where we were in the Weihnachtsmarkt, and they joined us as soon as they got out. We didn’t try to find the tour again.

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After getting back to HD at 7 pm, I messaged a professor from McDaniel who was visiting her family near HD. We made hasty plans and I got on a train to another little station in the middle of nowhere. She and her father gave me tea and cough drops and cough syrup that tasted like tough love. I’m glad I got to hang out with her for a little bit.

And thus we come to this current week. We all wished our friend Rie a safe trip home and pitched in to get her a gift, as the circumstances of her leaving before the end of the semester are sad ones indeed. I look forward to teaching more and more each week, especially now that my students are finishing the chapter and will soon be starting to read a very good book, ‚The Absolutely True Diaries of a Part-Time Indian,‘ from Sherman Alexie. I’m so excited to go through it with them. I saw Catching Fire in English at a Theatre in Mannheim with Anabelle, Tessa, Katie, Kate, and Karolina. Sitting next to Tessa was a riot—she hadn’t read the book, and her reactions were wonderful. Of course it wouldn’t be a trip anywhere without something odd happening, and this time it was a random man who asked Kate if he could take a picture of her toes. Why? “I collect pictures of toes.”

….but of course.

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