Perhaps it begins rightly on a frozen Tuesday morning.
Bikeless, following the previous day’s abandonment to nature of my, on balance, trusty-enough hot pink-saddled steed in central Hamburg after failing to sell it to anybody, I board my usual number 14 HVV bus from Fleestedt, hoping to make it to Sinstorfer Kirchweg where I can pick up the 345 directly to Am Pavillon. Alas, the fates would not allow and I was trapped in an anxious crawl as the truth dawned incrementally that I’d be late on my penultimate day at IKG.
The last thing I wanted to do was phone the school. It would be an admission of defeat. Needlessly narrowing the possibility of a just-in-time appearance. Eventually I caved and broke the news of my tardy arrival. The receptionist of boundless pathos and empathy who took my call was one of two members of staff who gave me the warmest of hugs last Wednesday.
Luckily, I was only meant to be delivering one half of the lesson myself – I’d picked the 1935 Dylan Thomas poem, The hand that signed the paper – so it wasn’t a total disaster.
This paper theme continued in my last art lesson, where I struggled with origami. I then said goodbye to my 9. Klasse, who thanked me and asked me to say “frrrequent” again.
That night my mentor met me at the Ratsherrn brewery, Altes Mädchen on my suggestion.
Compensating for that morning’s mishap I arrived punctually. The place was heaving. No seats in sight. Massive. Noisy. I wanted to escape. But no. Stay with it, she’ll come soon. Breathe.
We sat at the bar. On my own I’d rather not. On my own I wouldn’t go to a bar. Well, at least not just to drink. If a band was on…
We talked of Leipzig, life, art and careers. There was something maybe a bit high stakes about the conversation; both of us knowing it would likely be the last real “chat”. Yet that catalysed as well as impeded and it probably stayed just those vital few steps back from the threshold of “oversharing”.
I’d liked to have talked longer, liked to have drunk more, but once again, and as I said previously, my time was cut off by reason of my relatively remote abode.
The Fleestedt running busses reduced in number through the week approaching midnight; my 14 stopped at Rustweg, two stops prior to the aforementioned. This made for a late-night couple of kilometres dash across snow-covered pavement to reach my flat, where I had to pack for tomorrow because I’d had to wait over an hour in the queue at the Bürgeramt to deregister that afternoon.
The next morning a deeply demoralising trudge to school where I had to lug my stuffed suitcase over a good layer of snow between bus stops ensued. I had my final meeting with the head teacher, who told me that the Leipzig dialect was “eine Katastrophe”, and then after distributing various gifts and having several heart-warming goodbye conversations I received a wee package myself – two books of German poetry (thanks guys).
As much as I enjoyed Hamburg, I was eager to get away. Perhaps if I had nicer accommodation or friendlier flatmates (i.e. ones who were willing to go beyond surface pleasantries) I would have stayed a couple of days longer. However, as it stood I had booked to leave that same afternoon on the Deutsche Bahn to Copenhagen.
Against the odds, I made it to Harburg on time but, perhaps predictably, my first connecting train was delayed, meaning I missed the most important one. Luckily the self-loathing part of my brain that was cursing me for being such an idiot also plays the role of the negative motivator of the practical part of my brain that wants to prove it wrong. So I set out for the ZOB (Zentraler Omnibusbahnhof) determined to make the 1530 Flixbus, which I was relieved to discover had a very similar journey time to the train.
After anxiously waiting in a slowly moving queue, I was finally taken at quarter past and following an embarrassing regurgitation of the contents of my rucksack to find the necessary passport, I held in my possession the all-important ticket.
Ah, I thought, “erwartet 1545”, as I read the display screen, at least I’ve got a bit of time to compose myself now before it arrives. 1600. 1615. 1630. Oh my god. 1645.
Finally all the cases are bundled on. I’m seated next to a guy from Kosovo whose headphones seem to let more sound out than actually reaches his ears (luckily his phone did eventually run out of charge). A very Danish-looking Dane who says he’s already been travelling for over 50 hours now from south America is doubtful we’ll make the ferry because of the delay. An older guy in the seat in front who’s from New Zealand, travelling through the old, tries to put things into perspective citing his 24-hour trip time over to Europe from the Antipodes. Great. And it’s minus seven with blizzards ahead.
Yet the common cause and the confinement bound us and after a scrupulous and lengthy border check, where one of our number, a German-speaking Syrian refugee on his way to pick up papers, and two others were detained by Danish police, we finally made it to Copenhagen at about 10.30pm.
Immediately I notice the difference on the local transport. The bus is pristinely clean after HVV’s gritty filth, its boarding system is very liberal after Hamburg’s strict etiquette and the journeys are all clocked electronically using chip cards tapped against glowing blue terminals throughout instead of the cursorily flashed paper passes of the Hansestadt. This check-in/check-out system is used across the whole country; both busses and trains.
I’ve gone Airbnb after vowing not to put myself through youth hostels again unnecessarily. Despite my more-than-two-hours delay, my host is exceedingly welcoming and gives me a plate of stew absolutely free!
I travel to Helsingør, or as readers of Hamlet might know it, Elsinore the next morning. Punishing temperatures persist. As the train pulls in the moat of Kronborg castle is frozen solid; gushing fountains disgorge a suspended cargo onto hard sheet surfaces. There are chunks of ice in the sea and boats are lodged into place. This all adds to the brutal isolation of the fortress where the action of Shakespeare’s Prince of Denmark takes place. One can just imagine the claustrophobic intensity of living in such an outwardly austere encampment.
To wrap up this blog post, which I feel is necessity because things are now moving quickly in my life, I saw some Viking longships in Roskilde, explored Copenhagen (its royal residencies and anarchist communes) and took a hop across the Øresund bridge to Sweden for a day. I then flew to Orkney for a brief visit where I met the Orcadian participants in the project I set up with my school in Hamburg and spent an afternoon in Egilsay, the site of St Magnus’s martyrdom. I sit typing this in Leipzig, where I arrived yesterday, after a balmy day of exploration. On Monday I start an orientation and language course before I begin my studies fully in April.