Finally, finally, a chill in the air. Just into December, and the cold is finally starting to nip. Maybe next year it'll be off for the tropics, by contrast, but for now, the cold and the bleak half-light of a northern winter afternoon are 'correct'. I head off to more dead trees and bleaker platforms, to root in the ashes of empires as Europe treads on the brink of the abyss.
I additionally have this a little harder because my brother is along, and this is a lot less 'duo' and more 'escort quest'. We'll see if A-dam's toughened him up by the time we meet up, and there aren't really and real hardmodes in this, but still. I don't Tourleiter, and our personalities are more different than is often given credit. In all likelihood, this will be a hard education in "jibun ni mite, kite, kangaitte" -- but even at this it will be fun.
I nearly bailed on HK last year; feart, sick, and demotivated, but I bit the bullet and did it, and all those fears and uncertainties are now gone. Maybe this is a false dawn, and I don't have the opportunity to do this pro anymore, but I really feel like I'm back in stride. The hills of Prague will kill that right dead, but it's nice to be optimistic.
001. Cracking weathered concrete on the platform. Actually, this is out of line, I'm not going to Poland.
- Logan -
The thing that's uniquely annoying about American airports, relative to the rest of the world, is the incessant noise. Nowhere else beats up travelers with constantly blaring TVs and elevator music. I pack a mp3 player almost exclusively for this purpose, but the Christmas tunes in this bar are too damn loud to be overpowered, even on the highest volume. Get to fuck!
On the PA for the above: "Baby, It's Cold Outside". Appropriate.
002. Dusking skyline into the Financial District.
About two hours to kill, so enough time to check the sked and see that I have less time in A-dam than anticipated, but hit ground in Berlin earlier. I'm still not in Prague before dark, but it's better to get a more concrete sense of how things will go.
About an hour to go, and jamming-out aside, it's getting a little boring. Of course, at this time of year, you can't plan on short lines and relatively little security theater.
25 minutes delay, fuck off. Still got the two hours, but Schipol is a big airport, and I'll probably have to do security again.
There's something uniquely empty about the Mountain Goats' "Game Shows..." when interspersed with loudspeaker calls for passengers rattling around a half-empty airport as evening settles in. Tuning out the muzak does not replace the environment, but it does define distinct sides to things.
- off Newfoundland -
Fuckin Amis. Cheese in the salad, cheese on the pasta, and an extra minibrick of cheese for afters, just because. Instead of making food taste better an sich, we throw more goddamned cheese at it. Way to go.
- over the Dutch coast -
As cool as we have it with the Atlantic washing against our dooryards, it's still special to see the "rose-fingered dawn" coming up over the clouds, in the dead silence as the engines are spun down to reserve power for the final glide in. It's not why I do this, but it's a nice side benefit.
12/4 - Amsterdam
You get this to a certain degree with any densely populated area, but coming in to Amsterdam in the dark (like a 7:30 landing this time of year) is really cool. The geology doesn't really allow for skyscrapers, so you've got this infinite sea of Christmas lights, strewn flat across the ground. Really cool, and it reminded me of the good/bad old days of working in Dresden, where I'd not see the sun all week in the winter: in the fab by 8 and it's not up yet, out at 5 or 6 and it's gone.
Only one sec-check, and a mild one compared to the bollocking at Boston; it's another hour before gate open, and the flight won't leave for another hour and a half. Hurry up and wait...and my bro better hurry up, or I'm gonna lose my shit waiting.
- Berlin -
So he didn't show, and after a nervous hour in the air and some furious texts on the ground, shit got sorted. New plan, new place, seven hours wait.
003. Berlin bleakness.
004. The dying sun under concrete.
The approach to Tegel is wicked cool, apartment blocks unwinding like concrete serpents, the TV tower looming like it's built at the wrong scale, the plane tipping and flowing like you imagine the airlifters did. Not so fun to be going through the hood by Ku-Schu on the bus to the U-bahn and seeing jets come in scraping the roofs, but it's still real, and you can almost understand the suburban/Bild-driven initiative to save the place.
M underestimating his alarm capacity has given our plans a wee bend: by the time he gets in, the Czech border will be closed. So we're going to Dresden, we're gonna hike around Altstadt begging at the sides of the Pragerstrasse for a room (and WLAN), I'm gonna organize a hotel in Prague to replace the one we're gonna bust on, and tomorrow morning we have a 7AM date with the Elbtal. Medetashi medetashi.
In a way, this is good; M gets to see some amazing countryside across the Frisian plain, and then at least the experience of having been in Dresden. It's just stupid fucking expensive. And I? I get to spend too much money wrangling trains, peoplewatch a little in the Hbf, and catch up on writing.
005. Geometry after the rain.
006. Himmel über
007. Across the other way to the Bundestag.
This does avoid trying to get into deepest Žižkov in the dark, at a cost of almost no Prague days, but I'm worried about hoboing it up in Dresden, about what kind of hotel we're likely to fall back to, etc etc etc. This is why duoing is harder than soloing this shit: so much more can go wrong.
That said, technology is awesome. Absent cell phones, what the fuck would I do in this instance? The answer, of course, is "know khed's hotel and flight arrangements and give a call on landing in AMS", but this is far too social. Better to run up stupid bills texting.
Doner for late lunch, cap, and change for tour. To keep occupied, and keep from falling asleep. Pre-Rundfahrt pix:
008. New construction in perfect light.
009. Cool industrial storage cylinders on the north side of the Hbf.
010. TV-tower over older buildings and S-bahn.
011. Across Washingtonplatz to the Kanzleramt.
012. Moar Fernsehturm.
013. Not, maybe, my view of Berlin, but a view, regardless.
014. Ramparts on the floodplain.
015. Front of the Hbf.
In a Ku-damm stop:
016. Bellevue palace, residence of the German head of state, who cuts ribbons and pardons turkeys so the Kanzler can get on with running the country.
I took advantage of the break to move upstairs on the tour bus; better views or at least less-spotty windows. This is supposed to kill about 2 hours, so I might as well not look out of regular bus windows.
017. Ku-damm kitschmarkt view out the front of the bus.
The bus went on, as did the rain.
018. "Dancing Spaghetti" sculpture, actually symbolizing the four former occupation sectors.
019. Chamber music building by the philharmonic.
020. Matthiaskirche, again from the bus.
021. Public sculpture without comment; obviously somehow about love and conflict.
022. Along the back of Potsdamer Platz.
023. Unrestored Wall in place.
video 1: Along the wall. Add your own AggroBerlin-worthy gangsta lyrics.
video 1a: An easier version for doing just that, with the instrumental from Fler's "NDW 2005", at least until GEMA gets it taken down.
024. On the Gendarmemarkt.
025. A little different view by the side.
026. Bus stop over the Christmas market to the theater.
027. Weihnachtsmarkt at the Marienkirche.
028. Winter rain on Unter den Linden.
The guide's English is ok, but those who don't understand German missed a lot, among which were some hideous, hideous puns.
Back at the Hbf, just about 1700. Nachfassung:
029. Original Hummer limo in front of Madame Tussad's.
030. Side of the Brandenburger Tor.
031. Full view along the back side. I don't have a lot of touch points on Berlin at night, mostly because the sun never goes down in the summer. This is a cool side I haven't seen so much.
032. The Bundestag is all blow'd out, since the bus started moving right in the middle of the exposure.
"video" 2: Hideously wrong or hilariously appropriate shadow from a graphic on the front of a stall door in the Hbf men's room. This is a still from a video because the camera doesn't make shutter noises taking them; shutter noises in public bathrooms here, like anywhere else, are excellent ways to proc aggressive and suspicious police attention.
Two hours till warning text and platform. Maybe go get a beer now that I know I'm not perma-cut off at the cashomats, but I need to be alert and watch my cashflow.
I really have to hand it to Beck's. With their "Gold", they have made an American beer, something previously thought impossible for Germans. It's a new cap, but that was also the case for Skol last year, and Beck's doesn't have any hilarious Engyu on the bottle.
There's certainly less hops in it, though. This is like the anti-Jever, particularly since Jever is wicked awesome.
Germany remains Wicked True; hanging about, I've seen dudes in sweatshirts from Carnifex, Blind Guardian, and Dysentery. Ok, the last is kind of a plant, but the point stands.
One hour left, and up on the third level. The wind is a cold bastard, but the second level is getting a little deserted, and there's more traffic up here. Also, I eventually have to climb up to the uppermost deck and flag down an ICE, and "do it now so you're closer later" is the whole reason we're headed for the DD rather than cajoling a closet at the Meringer or Motel 1.
- a random siding in south Brandenburg -
So Dresden was a dumb idea. The train is stuck for the foreseeable. However...this is as cheap as cheap hotels get (see my mania for ferries), and we only need to be in Dresden by 7 AM. And if this isn't possible, we're not in Germany.
As far as positives go, this trip is not short on adventure. The challenge is to actually take on that adventure, rather than yearning hobbitlike for convenience. Running around in circles in the middle of the night sucks for the regular passengers, but us roving Amis have the liberty to rightly consider.
The right consideration, of course, was to stay in one of the many cheap hotels in Berlin and pick up the adventure in the morning, but the more predictable it is, the less adventurous it becomes by definition. I'm not adventurous enough to do homeless in Dresden for real, having lived there, but in a real pinch there is always Cafe Europa, and if there isn't, I know where the field office at least was, and that there aint many cops out that way. Meilen nach Meilen, Rumgang nach Rumgang.
10 gets 1 the Bionade on offer as Entschuldigungsgetränk aint even gratis....or they're only giving away weird flavors.
As soon as the situation clicked over to 'ridiculous', the mood improved noticeably. People smiling, laughing more, stress cleared, even exhaustion cleared. And what cleanses these debuffs? Adventure -- that and a potential 25% rebate.
Seriously, there's not a lot of problems with German trains. But going by mass transit rather than something you think you can directly control does kind of require that adventuring good spirit in any case. Homeless and gearless to Oslo, starving through Sweden, waiting with bated breath in this crisp Nicolas Eve night -- how silent! how still! -- you float on the waves of fate every day and in every way regardless, but here you can see the swells. At least we don't have to change bogies before we turn around....or was that "spoke too soon"?
Ingesamt hat diesen Tag uns beide zu viel gekostet, trotz des Rabattes. Deswegen isses aber nicht "Abenbillig" genannt.
The plan is to hit the DD at "stunde null" -- we'll see if our luck changes on the 5th, because the 4th has been pretty tough so far. Trotz den aktuellen Fahrtrichtung, eastbound and down.
More signs of civilization, but we're going far too fast to read station signs. In a way, of course, this is a good thing.
We thunder through a freightyard. The lights bounce ghosts of structures between the windows. I miss the IGl (wrong approach?) and we are are in Altstadt, skipping it. Wir erreichen Reiseziel Dresden Hauptbahnhof.
033. Christmas tree in the renovated station. No boards, no mud, almost no exposed ironwork -- where is Dresden Hbf and what have you done with it?