Thursday, November 03, 2016

The Hare with the red eyes; Arriving to Cologne; Bonn

November sadly came, and I closed up shop in my Brussels apartment.  I made my way on first to the Zoom Hotel to drop off the keys, then down to the metro and over to the Gare de Midi.  I got there way earlier than I needed, and killed time in the train station waiting to depart.  I finally boarded the train and was off out of Belgium.

As I went hurtling towards Germany, reading The Hare with the Amber Eyes, a story of art and loss by a Viennese Jewish family, and reading the chronicles of the Euphrassis flight from Vienna and everything they knew--as America goes seemingly hurtling towards Trump, I finally broke down and became the hare with the red eyes.  It becomes a little too hard to take sometimes.  I know I am getting more sentimental as I get older, but the weight of the days is becoming too much.

And there I was--crying, staring out the window of the train to hide the tears streaming down my face.  The hare with the red eyes.  The crying left me feeling hollow, with a small pit in my stomach like a netsuke.  I stared up into the distance and saw windmills, and felt comforted. Maybe it will all be ok.

The train sped across Belgium and on to Germany.  We passed forests in autumn colors and cities on turbid rivers with spires towering above.  About 30 minutes outside of Cologne, an announcement was made that there was a track issue ahead, and we would need to switch train at Durren prior to Cologne to take another train.  Everyone got up on the trains and started getting their things and collecting in the aisle.  Then the train conductor embarrassingly announced that the problem was fixed and the train would continue on to Cologne and Frankfurt.  And then 5 minutes later, after we had passed Durren, they again announced that the problem remained, and we would have to go back to Durren to catch another train.  We stopped in Harren, but they announced that those going to Cologne could catch the coming local train.  I waited 10 minutes then caught the local train into Cologne.

I arrived to Cologne with all my things, and had some time to kill before meeting up later with a host family whom I have been staying with for a few days.  I tried to find a left luggage depot, but there was only an automated system.  It was 4 euros for 2 hours, or 7 euros for 24 hours.  I needed four hours so I would need to pay the extra.  The automated system was confusing.  I put in 4 euros, and then it wouldn't take any money.  It closed on my luggage, and began storing it.  But I wanted additional time, so I tried to put my card back in to add time.  Except that simply gave me back my luggage and ate the 4 euros.  So I put another 4 euros in and decided I would just come back in 2 hours, and if I wanted to, would put in another 4 euros.

I wandered out of the train station to find the immense Cologne Cathedral.  Cologne is a Catholic part of Germany.  It is interesting, because the city, Germany's fourth largest, is one of the more open and tolerant cities in Germany.  Anyway, the towering cathedral was beautiful.  It has jagged spires and all sorts of gothic ribs.  I made my way inside into the haze of frankincense, and stared at the enormous stained glass windows.

I wandered around the city, which was essentially all closed for All Saints Day, and returned to grab my things.  It was then that I figured out that you deposit 4 euros initially, and if you don't get your stuff within 2 hours, then you pay the additional 3 euros when you get your things later.  So 4 euro stupidity tax on me.  The first of a coming few.

Anywho, I caught the tram to Sylvia and Hannes' house.  I had emailed Sylvia when I was leaving on the tram, but after waiting an hour at the tram stop and not seeing her, I realized I would need to take alternative measures.  I went into a kiosk to ask about a public phone, but the young man working there didn't know of any.  He kindly let me use his phone, and after a couple of tries I finally reached Sylvia.  She came over shortly on bike and took me to their home.

We chatted, in Spanish as she had lived in Guatemala and spoke Spanish a bit better than English.  Funny to switch from French to Spanish, and at first I was a little lost in languages.  I had a lovely evening with the family, and Slyvia prepared a delicious meal of turkey with a cream sauce, spatzle (noodles) and salad.  For dessert, we had some of the Belgian chocolates I brought as gift.

The next day, I headed over to Bonn, which was a destination point of my Germany trip.  I caught the tram over to the train station, and then hopped a local train that sped to Bonn, some 25 minutes away. The German countryside was beautiful and the ride was smooth and fast.  I arrived to the train station, and wandered through the old city of Bonn past statues of Beethoven--the city was his birthplace.  As the saying goes, "the greatest trick the Austrians ever pulled was convincing the world that Hitler was a German, and Beethoven was an Austrian."

It began to rain, so I pulled my hood over my head as I trudged past fall foliage to Adenauer Allee to find the Haus de Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, a fascinating and interactive museum on post-war Germany's history.  There were interesting displays on WWII, the occupation and division of Germany and the four zones--two states of Germany ("I like Germany so much, I want two of them...").  The museum chronicled in-depth the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) through the decades of division and later re-unification.  It was quite interesting and informative.

After a long visit to the museum, I wandered around the city's Path to Democracy of different landmarks related to Bonn as the West German capital, including the Bundesrat and Chancellor's residence.

I wandered down Brandt Allee and back up to the old part of the city to see Beethoven's home.  That museum was also quite interesting, chronicling the composer's life in Bonn and Vienna, as well as paintings and busts of Beethoven.  There was one statue that was quite remarkable, it was literally the face of Beethoven made from a life mask of the composer--so it was really him.

After the museum, I headed back to Cologne.  I bought a ticket for a train, but unfortunately got the wrong train to Cologne. I got an intercity train rather than the local train which I had a ticket for.  So my 7.70 euro ticket was worthless, and I had to buy another ticket for 11 euros.  It was too bad because I was in no rush whatsoever, and the local train I needed was just 5 minutes after the one I took.

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