First of the Germans

Trip Start Jan 31, 2010
Trip End Jul 21, 2010

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Rocky's Lilo

Flag of Germany  , Mecklenburg-West Pomerania,
Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Feels like I've barely closed my eyes and it’s morning

There is a strange hum coming from the bathroom. The shower feels like a small appliance, lights and buttons and switches all along the bottom. Instead of one large hot water service each tap has it’s own nearby, one in the kitchen and one below the shower. It takes about half an hour to fill and heat, so this whirring and hum is the preparation for showers and lovely hot water. The bathroom has no door, instead a sheer curtain to give some sort of naïve comfort and sound knowledge that no one will come in through the kitchen if they hear the water running. Nadine heads off to class, and we plan to have breakfast when she returns. Instead of sticking around in the house I take to the streets and try not to get lost. I was given directions to the food shops, so head for that first to get my bearings. From here I take backstreets in a small circle, looking for graffiti and wicked churches, finding some of the former and one of the latter, barely though as it is closed.

Nadine’s classes are broken up over the week with and hour or so here and there. Living five minutes from the university this isn’t really a problem, so she’s out and back again before I’m really aware. Over brunch we talk about travel and couch surfing. I am the second couch surfer to have ever stayed here, the first of which wasn’t really arranged through the website so may not count. It’s only recently that Nadine put her couch up for grabs on the website, but has found it really busy. There is a French pair staying for a few nights the day I leave, and more to follow. She has never couch surfed herself, but planned a trip throughout Europe and set up a few that were never used. In the end they bought a car to travel in filled with blankets and mattresses. The thought of offering her no place didn’t occur until the guy downstairs who owns the leather shop was seen doing it. He’s away for weeks at a time for work so lets couch surfers stay or rent the whole place out.

Looking out the window from the kitchen Nadine sighs. The landlord has a large space perfect for a garden and picnic area, but has locked the doors. Because of the risk of university student parties damaging it and turning it into more of a dump and health hazard no one has access to it but him. An so instead of the opportunity to have said garden and picnic area it looks overgrown with weeds, the lawn area – what we can see of it – in desperate need of a mow and trees about to fall over. Such a waste to have within sight and instead forced to grow your garden in pots around the home. It’s a great look but when something like that exists meters below it just isn’t fair.

It turns out my original assumptions were incorrect. I’d wanted to cook breakfast but was unsure what I could cook, as from the dinner bits let from last night it was largely devoid of meat and dairy. Nadine is not vegan; she simply surrounds herself with everyone who is. She has tried in the past but simply loves the taste of meat. There is one friend she has who will share a steak in secret at a party while the other chow down on lentils and salads, high fiving each other as they come away from their hiding.

Nadine’s friend Joanne is in hospital with a broken leg after drunken bike related injury, so we’re off to see her with a surprise treasure trove of goodies, so requested (alcoholic) other not. I bake cookies before we go to bring along – Honey, Kiwi Fruit and Ginger. No the best ever made – used more honey and water instead of golden syrup and less butter, but the taste worked out better than expected. Another Caroline shows up and we head out.

You can tell the hospital from the outside. No matter how they try to hide the building with gardens and modern architecture for window frames and spaces there is nothing more apparent than the sense f waiting. Many old and sick are outside having an exercise break, which looks to turn into a cigarette break more often than not, the first thing you see with looking in the windows are the back of the life support machines, all wires and lights and tubes.

Joanne is on the phone when we enter, surprised to see and excited, talking in German to the voice on the other ends. I expect the Hei and hang-up routine, but this is the wrong country for that.

As the German flies Joanna’s present feast is dumped out over the bed, including
- Rat Piss – warm milk and vodka in a thermos, a personal request
- Fruit salad
- Flowers
- A ruler to reach in under the plaster and scratch the ever-present itch
- Chocolate
- A new t-shirt
- Said Anzac cookies of awesome
- An Ipod full of music
- Deodorant

There are two patients to a room, the other of which is having some 'me time’ with a cigarette out in the garden. She hobbles back in, and we offer her a cookie. She has a taste, rolls it around in her mouth, swallows, and then takes the rest of it in one go. Swallowing she asks for the recipe, and in return we all get more chocolate. Heck yes cooking for trade. She also shows us a CD of Forgotten Chants. A man by the name of <I cannot remember> ventured out into the deepest darkest most isolated parts of the world to record traditional chants and songs before they a re lost under the weight of the western world. Some of these will never be performed again, and the booklet details different moments where tribes built huge carriers so they would not be seen as they performed, and other witchdoctors cursing those who listen and record and are not worthy of the sounds. Sounds freaking crazy.

The girls talk gossip in German, changing every now and again for my benefit. It’s a little like Staffan at choir practice; if they think it’s something I may appreciate they change languages, which is really nice. As Nadine and I are about to leave another friend comes in, and it turns out we’ll get o know them more tonight when we head out to the gig. Wicked, but enough of people. Tourist Time.

So I’ve decided carrying a massive book about a whole country when you only need the few pages relating to the city is a silly silly idea, so surgically removed the two pages that make up Rostock from the 700 that make up Germany, so much easier, I don’t even need a bag.

The walk this morning gave me a head start on the space around Dina’s place, it’s so much easier to get where you’re going if you have some idea. It’s like in the Labyrinth when Sarah bumps into the junk lady and they talk, eventually to the line "Well you can’t look where you’re going if you don’t know where you’re going." Now I need to look where I’m going. The bikes are back in force. Like Stockholm and Orebro, bike transportation is a big part of the city. Unlike Brosarp, the chances of being knocked over by a bicycle are greater than being hit by a car.

Passing through the shopping strips that make up Universitiplatz, I come across Fountain of Happiness (Brunner der Lebensfreude). The water jets are simple spikes into the air, but the sculpture amongst depicts different people and animals enjoying the water. It’s nearly warm enough to play in the fountain, some toddlers are toying with the idea, but their mums have already decided no. The sculptures include birds, people, frogs, a snake(?) and the cutest bronze warthog I have ever seen. Nothing like those crazy boars if Sweden, this one I could cuddle.

Off to one side street the guide book points out the Five gabled houses – what looks like a slightly ghetto apartment block with is said to be a modern take on the WWII residences. WWII indeed - the white, black, grey, flat surfaces and cold angles couldn’t be from anywhere else.

The grey sky falls over the platz, quickly giving the place a rather miserable vibe. It’s amazing how fast the mood changes. Finding the Stadtbiblioteck nearby, with it’s brown and black brick façade, I dash inside. But things appear no better, instead there is a muggy heat sticking to my jacket. It’s been a little like that in some house and buildings, especially on days when it’s not really that cold but they still want the air-conditioning on. And while the place may look rather impressive from the small façade, inside is very much a simple clean lines, made for books and reading and only reading library. Which is good if you’re wanting that, I was after some escape from the grey. I keep climbing the stairs – four floors, then fifth. I don’t know if I’m meant to be up here, but I get view of the street and even better one of the houses behind. There’s green shooting up everywhere, gardens are coming alive and grass is in need of mowing. The blue is slowly returning, I can see patches of it opening up. I climb out the window on the roof, feeling the suns warmth reflecting of the tin roof. I lie on my back, squinting into the sky, focusing on the blue patches. I think I sleep for about ten minutes and I don’t stay for much longer, but this little recharge is all I need.

Back outside the blue sky takes to the street, and you can see everyone’s mood change. The water fountain has movement, the shoppers move to the centre of the strip, everyone wakes up again.

Guess what? Rostock is under construction. They must have known I was coming, racing in the jackhammers and the all-covering dust clouds and the green plastic wrap and the temporary fencing. It’s like a small token of city life – and to be fair I suppose every city has at least something going on. What would the construction industry do if there was no work to be done?

The Marienkirche – the main church of Rostock – is surrounded on three sides by scaffolding and said green protective plastic wrap. It takes a few minutes to find the entrance, over wooden planks and through temporary corridors, but I’m glad I make it inside. The inside is huge, and absolutely full of light.

The huge organ takes up a whole wall, shirking the Medaker pipes into insignificance. Curving out and around the surrounding walls, it has the feeling of some organic shape wanting to keep growing up and out.

Opposite the entrance to the church stands a large wooden relief carving of Christ’s crucification and rising. The centrepiece is flanked by two sets of eight figures, who I at first assume are the apostles, which upon reflection doesn’t make sense. One of them however is missing, with no explanation as to why. With my apostle assumption it leads to the idea hat this I Judas, and he is absent from the crucifixion

Like many European churches, the floor is lined with gravestones of old. What’s strange about these is some appear to have been crossed out, thick lines cutting through the names to make them illegible. Maybe they stopped paying taxes and fell out with the church. Or they didn’t want to be associated with the church anymore. Or there’s a spelling mistake. Strange.

Around the back of the altar on the far right, seen with it’s very baroque figures in carved wood caught in striking poses, sits Rostock’s astrological clock. Two circle pieces, one atop the other, move in correspondence with one another. The two has the astrological star signs – Scorpio, Aquarius, etc. - in a middle circle, descriptions of what to be doing with the crops in an inner circle, and carvings I’m unaware of in an outer one. This, complete with it’s pendulum piece mad up of different sized circles, tells the people when they should be doing what. When Is a good time to sow seeds, eat the crops, roughly what time the sun will rise and which face of the moon shall be shown (full, new, half, etc.) The one below also has said astrological signs, but this time includes the months of the year, the years between two very big numbers and a list of names. So if the hand points to September 15, 1993, the name Steven may appear (perhaps, I didn’t find my name and I’m sure as hell not going to remember Steven’s) this is Steven’s naming day. Whether all people born on this day were called Steven or it’s just the lucky ones who found out about the clock later on I’m not sure, but I’ve heard it’s another reason to drink.

The Rathaus, a building I will soon learn is in many of the larger German cities, sits at the end of the strip. And for the record, it’s not red, it’s pink the face is topped by some strange baroque/gothic spires. It looks like it was added after the building’s completion with little care as to whether it suited. Maybe they didn’t expect people to look up. The old school Gabled houses are opposite, sitting behind what is left of the fresh fruit market. Two tents remain with fruit, one of which holds watermelon. I can see from across the street it’s not good, but it’s getting better. Sunshine can’t come soon enough. Between these two buildings is a water fountain with four figures all doing something with water. While the artist intended it to be Neptune and his sons, local belief apparently has this as the four elements, which I cannot see making sense in a water fountain, how would fire work?

My head is feeling like I should be sleeping more or something, so the walk along the old wall is relaxing for a little, then tedious when full of kids with bicycles and kites and tennis

I try to shake it off with a stop in the Culture Museum, but this turns out to be one of the driest exhibitions I’ve come across, and so my head’s not really in it. And it’s one of those cases where everything is in German and I’m wishing I understood the language – the words I can pick out are very few and even further between.

I listen to my body and nap likes it’s hot.

I wake to the doorbell about 8. Connie and Hannan are downstairs to take me out. One of Rostock's nightlife attractions is a club called Stubnitz – an old fish trawler that has been converted into a bar with two floors and stage below. It spends most of its time in Amsterdam or Copenhagen, but is of Rostock origin so comes home every once in a while for a few weeks. Apparently Connie says it will be traveling to Africa in a few years, the crew running the boat and nights all living on the ship.

We sticker along the way, the sun still rather high in the sky. Of course we’re going to be early, but this is the perfect excuse to head to a beer garden/brewery/food hall and sample the local produce. While the beer is not the super local – a brand called Rostocker – it is German beer, and it is good. The place has a slightly clichéd feel to it, a little touristesque, but I don’t hear any English from the surrounding tables so it may just be me.

We get a light and a dark amongst us, me preferring the dark, so we switch while Hannan is away talking to her boyfriend. Living in Austria at the moment, they talk every night. With Hannan gone I can ask the obvious question – how hard is it to be a vegan I a country that is known for it’s bratwurst? Easier than you think, I’m told. It was hard at first but more and more shops and foods are showing up in Rostock to provide for the community, which is surprisingly big here. And yes she knows about Nadine’s secret meat eating at parties.

The windsurfers are not out in the water. Instead they each have an oversized skateboard and have closed off the car park to play. The wind coming off the water is strong and cold, sending them flying across the concrete.

The place is amazing. Some of the scrap metal from the ship has been turned into crazy creatures that stand above us in the beer garden or cling to the walls inside. It’s like being in an Aliens film with the lights and smoke machine – freaking unreal. Sadly it’s a very quiet night; I’m told the place was packed the night before. Oh well.

The first band is a wicked Dutch two-piece made of rums guitars that sounds like everything and a wall of rhythmic noise. The guitarist is a nice guy and buys me a beer, as he can’t really drink, they have to drive 2000km to the next show. Suck balls.

The crew on the ship are wicked – those that we meet. Andrais is the cook, Maria works the bar and Casper works where ever. Their entire life is the ship for eight months. They dock in a city but will still keep to the ship for living. I suppose if you live in the place to be you don’t need to worry about moving too much.

The second band are very different from the first – I don’t want to say commercial as their songs were cool but in terms of comparison that’s what they are. One wicked point to note is the Dresden Dolls cover Kiss Me Mister, of which I think I was the only person to know.

On the walk home walk home we try to find peanut butter and syrup for pancakes tomorrow, to no avail. There is a strange emergency rations shop open in the front of someone’s house, selling mainly coffee and sugary goods and alcohol, but no syrup. But by Joe there will be pancakes!
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