Saturday, February 5, 2011

Tales of the road, part 7

February 2, 2011
En route to Berlin

A thick mist makes Amsterdam even more gray as I join quiet crowds in the early morning.

(Note: A tip for travelers - getting a cheap hotel in the Red Light District may seem like a fun idea, but makes sense only if fun takes priority over sleep. Even on a Tuesday night, when all the red light windows were closed, the party in the street carried on to 3am, punctuated by drunken howls and cascades of stoned laughter.)

After 12 days on the road I am so complacent in my train-catching skills I come close to missing my intercity train to Berlin, standing on the platform watching it pull in and watching people get on and then realizing I should be getting on, too, about a minute before it pulls away. I take it as a sign to remain humble.

The unremitting gray persists across Holland and I think back to the dark paintings from Van Gogh's "Potato Eaters" period that I viewed the day before, paintings set in places where there seems to be no light. Holland becomes Germany with just the faintest roll to the land, an occasional swell in the gray mist.

Across the aisle a man about 65 with a bristly black mustache below his shaved head wears tight black leather pants. I decide he is on his way to a reunion of former "Village People" tribute bands. In Osnabruck a chubby teenaged girl gets on carrying a 6 foot by 2 foot plastic rectangle and I spend miles trying to figure out what in the world it might be for and why she had to travel so far to get it. A stern-faced middle-aged woman walks purposefully on the platform wearing a hiker's backpack. The trackside graffiti is bland and monotonal. The visual verve of Amsterdam is far behind.

I doze and the cell phone conversation of the man behind me melds into my dreams.

Color, uninspired, but an effort, returns in Hannover. Miles of industrial sites and many cars. The graffiti looks more like tagging than art and Gothic cathedral spires have been replaced by TV towers with the VW logo. Two hours from Berlin it looks like a city in the American midwest. Hanover's parting shot: a hundred-foot long trackside tag says "This city licks my stinky cock," a statement that is both coarse and self-loathing.

The voice on the train announcing the stops keeps using the word "anschluss." To me, a word only associated with Hitler's annexation of Austria prior to the war. I realize the word must also mean "connection," which is why it keeps being said. Horrid, but not surprising, that I hear echoes of the Nazis as I approach Berlin.

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