Adventure, General ramblings, Germany, Travel, Travel writing, Trips

Germany: Trip Two Part Two

I am rushing, preparing to leave for the Netherlands and remembered that I never finished my second post on Germany. So here we go…

Day two and two things booked in to do – my call for work at 1pm in central Düsseldorf and then a football match at 8pm in Leverkusen, a ‘city’ primarily known for being home to the pharma company Bayer, which founded the football team and owns the stadium. Working in patents seems to have impacted on my life in ways that I never really imagined: visiting Germany and the Netherlands, two key countries for patent litigation that I otherwise would not really have gone to, and whilst on holiday in Germany, visiting the local office of the firm I work for to take a call on patents in telecommunications and then visiting a city centred around pharmaceuticals.

Whilst waiting for my call, I pottered around Düsseldorf city and some of the gardens and parks, it’s very pretty. Paranoid that I’m going to be late to my call, lose my papers, break my phone and not have the dial-in details, I find a little coffee shop close to the office to sit and collect my essentials and my thoughts. The place roasts its own coffee, which was delicious and oddly served in a small glass jug for me to pour myself. It seemed as though I had everything I needed for my call, so I had my coffee and headed over to the office.

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The day before my flight, a colleague put me in contact with some people in the Düsseldorf office, one of which helped me to book a meeting room. She was too busy to say hallo in person in the end; I don’t judge her for not making the time to meet me, this random loser, who has a minion job and of her own volition, despite being on holiday, is going into a foreign office to do work. With that in mind, I can see how my presence does not really provide sufficient motivation for a person to reduce their billable hour output.

After my call, I walked to the station to get a train to Cologne, which apparently is on the way to Leverkusen and a very beautiful city. I realised that I’m much better at directions when I’m travelling alone, still not great, but better – as I don’t just rely on someone else to take me to places and have to actually concentrate on where I’m going.

Walking out of Cologne station you are immediately faced with this enormous, ornate gothic cathedral – a great start to the city! Inside, the Kölner Dom has the standard amazing architecture, smörgåsbord of stained glass windows, relentless iconography that I don’t know the significance of, and people are walking around appreciating architectonics that date back to the 13th century through the lenses of smart phones. After taking a few photos myself, I sit alone on a pew and reflect on the fact the I cannot even properly replace a brake pad on my bike, yet there have been and are individuals with the imaginative capacity and engineering competence to design and construct such a daedalean, brobdingnagian building.

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Leaving the dom, I make my way past the Museum Ludwig to the river, and again, the Rhine is ambling along at the same calming pace as it was the day before in Düsseldorf. I followed the river along to the chocolate museum, but once there I realised that I was not willing to spend €11 on the entry fee – I’ve been to Cadbury World twice and there’s only so many times you can watch the mass production of chocolate in action. So, after a quick perusal of the gift shop, I leave to explore more of the city.

Raining, raining, raining, it’s bloody raining and, as usual, I’m freezing. So I seek shelter in what appears from the outside to be a normal biersalon in the Heumarkt area. It’s not, it’s totally bizarre, every inch of wall and ceiling is covered in something old or faux vintage: 1920’s magazine clippings of machinery, illustrations of naked women, faded sepia weddings photos, landscapes, portraits, there’s an antediluvian chocolate dispenser (see, no need what so ever to have gone to the Schokoladenmuseum), and I’m sitting at a sewing table drinking a beer whilst a puppet trombonist plays jazz obnoxiously loud.

After a few hours of pottering around Cologne, I made my way by train to the BayArena in Leverkusen. It was so efficient, a shuttle bus was waiting outside the station to ship people to the stadium. I was initially skeptical about my ticket, as it was a seat in the away fans section. However, I actually lucked out, the seat was good – three rows from front and just to the right of goal. Plus, Schalke FC won 4:1, so I had a lucky escape from sitting with, what I imagine would have been, miserable Leverkusen fans. Schalke FC’s hardcore fans also electrified the atmosphere, with booming drums, jumping and chanting in unison and waving massive flags. Good game. Initially I wanted Leverkusen to win, but they had no attack and Schalke maintained a solid defence.

Once the game had ended, I jumped onto a seemingly non-descript shuttle bus that I presumed would take me directly back to the station I arrive at. The first stop was a train station, but I was too crammed into the centre of the bus to get out in time, and whilst standing dejectedly at the closely doors as the bus departed, I found out that it was in fact a completely different train station, which did not stop at Düsseldorf. However, a lovely old couple took pity on me, they were getting off at the next stop and kindly drove me to the correct station.

Day 3, I wander around Düsseldorf town. Walking through Carlsplatz food market I realise, one: that asparagus is incredibly popular here, it’s everywhere in so many different sizes – who knew, and two: that at that moment, I wished that I was travelling with someone else, with whom I could choose a greedy selection of different and delicious charcuterie and cheese, and just sit in the sun and gorge the afternoon away.

My meanderings took me to St Maximus’ church, in my self-imposed sad solitary state, I lit a little candle and just sat and thought, as I watched the flame flicker amongst the sea of quivering orange lights. The church was beautiful, open and light, and I seemed to have timed my visit well, as soon after I arrived, there was a public organ performance.

Once the music had ended, I went to the Film Museum, to try to inject some pop culture knowledge into my life. However, it was mainly in German so I had no clue what was being explained, but there were lots of exhibits and it was still interesting.
In my quest for culture, I walked along the river, through a fairground, to the Museum Kunstpalast. I’d never heard of Cranach before, but the exhibition on him was really good. From walking around the rest of the museum, I realised that the current instagram #foodporn obsession is nothing new, it is a continuation of the human fixation on and celebration of food. It’s just a modern take on the still life painting, see Peter Aertsen’s A Meat Stall with the Holy Family Giving Alms (1551) or Willem Kalf’s oil paintings of glass goblets and peaches or of vases next to partially sliced melons, with apples shrouded in leaves – it’s all as artificially arranged as photos on smart phones. The key difference seems to be the disparity in skill between understanding form and lighting and representing reality through paint, and angling a phone and selecting filters to contort the shape and enhance the colour of a digital photo. However, one is something very few people have the skills to execute and is static, you have to be in the museum to see the painting, whereas the other is much more fluid and inclusive, it enables a wider audience to express themselves and their interests, and to connect and share ideas with millions of people. Who’s to say which one is better.

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After a sufficient dose of kultur I walked back along the Rhine, taking a detour across a bridge to see the city from over the water. Back in the Altstadt, I go in search of food. When travelling alone, you have to think strategically about meal times – for me, when there is no one you know to look at and talk to, it’s somewhere that has something going on or people walking by to provide a focal point. Alternatively, take a book and sit wherever.

I should have brought my novel, I went for people watching over food quality, and had the most unimpressive currywurst; my first and my last. Tasteless chopped sausage dusted in curry power and smothered in a vaguely tomato tasting sauce, what is the point?
Back at hostel, my dorm mates had changed – it was now a group of older, slightly shifty looking men and when I entered the room, one was sitting at edge of my bed rolling a joint. It made me feel quite vulnerable; no one at home really knows where I am, there’s no receptionist or staff on night duty at the hostel, and the door to the room has an electric code, so even if something bad did happen, no one outside could come in to help. Safe to say, I sufficiently scared myself and barely slept. However, when the guys did come in, they did so quietly and respectfully – shows that you should not judge people, I supposed.

On my last day I uploaded photos onto instagram over breakfast – I have become that person, the one sitting alone inside ignoring others around them, sharing pictures with strangers rather than living life and making more memories. I suppose I’m doing the same thing now writing this.

Checking out of the hostel, I had one mission to complete before my flight, to buy my sister some chocolate from the Lindt shop. It was closed, as were the majority of other shops (it was Sunday after all). But still, one job. There’s a marathon on, people are lining the streets cheering, there’s bands spotted along random corners jamming – the atmosphere is great and, finally, the weather is nice; and I weave with my wheelie between spectators and runners as I make my way to the bus stop, to get back to the airport.

As I sit on the terrace in the sun at Weeze Airport and reflect on my trip. I conclude between sips of beer that city breaks are intense and tiring – so much walking and seeing shit just to keep busy, to make the most of the trip. Oh well, I’ll just have to book a long holiday to recuperate.

Adventure, General ramblings, Germany, Travel, Travel writing, Trips

Trip Two Day One: Düsseldorf, Germany

This time last week, I was pottering around Düsseldorf on my second #atripamonth adventure, I’m a bit late in writing about it, but it already feels like forever ago.

Just to note from the start, instead of learning from my previous trip and actually organising a schedule of things to see and do, so that I don’t end up drinking wine from a plastic bottle on a park bench in the middle of nowhere, all that I managed to secure ahead of my trip was a meeting room at the local office of the company I work for to take a conference call on Friday. I know, I really need to reassess my priorities in life. But I’d heard many times from sometimes reputable sources, that Germany has good beer, so if nothing else materialised except my Friday call, “Ein Bier, bitte!” could be the theme of my trip.

With that in mind, I arrived at Luton Airport and for the first time, rather than ordering my standard soya latte no foam and a sad, soggy sandwich, I sat on my own and had a drink at the airport – I thought it appropriate to start my trip as so mean to go on, drinking beer alone.

What strikes me first from the flight is that Germany is so very close. Secondly, hovering above, that it is beautiful. The fields a pretty patchwork of different shades of green and yellow, neatly sectioned and interlaced with rows of trees, the rectilinear sequence intermittently interrupted by a secluded lake outlined by more trees and sometimes populated by a couple of small boats.

I arrive at Weeze Airport, which, due to my lack of preparation beforehand, I soon find out is not really close to Düsseldorf or in fact to anything, but rather kind of in the vicinity of several German and Dutch cities. For example, it’s near to Eindhoven, where I’m going at the end of May, so maybe I should have gone there too whilst in town and then booked my next trip to somewhere a bit further afield instead – I didn’t and I haven’t. Oddly, cigar samples were being handed out at the airport, I think being so accustomed to UK advertising laws, I found this particularly strange.

Waiting, waiting, waiting and there’s nothing to do, not even a little duty-free to peruse perfumes that I have no intention of purchasing. Despite being an aerial gateway to the Rhineland, shuttle buses to Düsseldorf from Weeze were relatively infrequent. Not only that, they were quite expensive – €15, which, when you take into consideration the £50 return flight budget I’ve set for my trips, £12.71 for a shitty shuttle is practically exorbitant, relatively speaking at least.

I finally get to my hostel, obviously getting lost from the station several times en route (despite using Googlemaps); it’s modern and clean and has a strict no sleeping bag policy, is that normal? Who knows… What it does mean is that every guest, unless they happen to bring their own bed cover, pillowcase and sheet, needs to rent them. The guy at reception is nice and gives me some recommendations of things to do and I decide to book a ticket to a Bundesliga football match (Leverkusen v Schalke) for the next day, which is apparently really close and easy to get to.

It’s quite late when I arrive, so after booking my football ticket I go out in search of something to eat. Instead of doing right; right from the hostel to get to the centre, I just do a solitary right and ended up by the harbour and Rhine Tower/Space Needle-thing. The sun was setting and the orange and dark blue sky interlaced with clouds and ribbons of pink contrasted beautifully with the spidery silhouettes of the cropped plane trees. The trees lined the pathway from the tower to, what I later learn is, the Parliament building. Trying to make my way to the Altstadt (Old Town), I followed the river as it ambled and flowed at a tranquil, calming pace.

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I manage to make it to the Altstadt, which is buzzing with a cacophony of chatter and different music radiating from the vast selection of busy bars, outside of which benches and people spilt out along the streets. How does it often seem to be that when you go away, it’s hard to find ‘local food’? In search of a traditional German meal, I walk past so many Spanish and Italian restaurants (which I’d be more than content with to eat at in the U.K) until I eventually stumble across a place affectionately called, Schweine Janes. Despite the place probably specialising in pork-related goods and having a fantastic sizzling, rotisserie display in the front window, I opt for schnitzel, which was dry, boring and apparently not even German (it’s Austria). Total fail. But at least the beer was good and washed away some of the disappointment and food envy I had as I sat watching the rotisserie turn and crackle, whilst I begrudgingly ate my shitty schnitzel.

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After my disappointing first supper, I wandered back through the streets and along the Königsallee, past so many stores I’ll never be able to afford to shop in, and pretty soon made it back to the hostel. After settling into my bunk bed, trying not to wake the other five people in the dorm who I presume to be asleep, some guy in the bunk opposite gets out of bed, not to pee, but to pray. I am relatively unfamiliar with Muslim religious practices, so found it strange and intriguing to have a random guy inaudibly mumbling whilst repeatedly standing, bowing, then sitting next to my bed. It felt like it was too intimate a moment to observe as an outsider, but when we are both staying in a hostel, where privacy is as unobtainable as the Chanel bags I walked past earlier, what can either of us do but try to pretend the other, in that moment, is not there.