Sunday, 29 June 2008


And now I'm in Germany.

We caught an early bus to Germany, and I ran to the station with my one giant rolling piece of American Tourist luggage, having bought a small pink mobile for myself because that was the cheapest one they had, and wearing four layers of clothing so I didn't have to pack them, on no sleep because I had stayed up all night jetesoning clothes and blankets in order to keep under the weight limit.

I almost died of exhaustion lugging my overheating self through the hilly terrain of Exeter for the final time.

I left the way I arrived: exhausted, overpacked, and on a bus.

At Heathrow there was a baggage scale, and it turned out I was actually a few kilos over, so I just ended up carrying a lot of "reading material" with me onto the plane.

Even from the sky, Germany and England are uncannily similar. Where I am, at least, in the west of Germany, everything is flat, and it shows from the sky. As opposed to the random patchwork fields in England, Germany is a little more organized. It actually reminds me of the Midwest, and of Ohio, a lot.

The train system and the treatment of strangers reminds me of Switzerland, but less totalitarian (is it rude to make a joke in these parantheses? This is another such issue I've dealt with, when, if ever, it is right to mention the war).

Deciduous is a good word for Germany, Germany is very deciduous. Often people look at you as though they were frightened forest animals assessing whether you were vegetarian or not.

However, our hosts have been down right fantastic all around. I, for instance, live with a friend of mine and one of the actresses from Midsummer who plays Puck, in their flat which is one of the older buildings in Hildesheim, and filled with, as on of our hosts put it, "Hippies and Homosexuals." She said that like 5 times. There are fish painted o the wall and words like "We're just looking for ... the Everlasting Laugh." They know a bread maker who comes into town with organic bread, and then they actually sell his bread for him amongst their friends. So I'm living with organic bread dealers.

And intelligent ones at that. These guys speak English, German, Spanish, you name it, and there's very little in the way of "ownership," we all share our stuff, and I can't decide whether that's German hospitality or hippie hospitality.

One of our hosts took us shopping, and I was looking around for peanut butter - she was talking with a friend of hers she met in the isles, and I kept asking her if she knew where it was and searching, before I gave up and went away. And as I did, this friend of hers just looked at me and said, with very pronounced Rs, "Peanut Butter." "Thanks," I said, since that was the most effective comeback I could think of without breaking down and punching the guy, and walked away. Aparently my host took him up one side and down the other.

We were getting on the bus to head to our performance space for the first time, and of course our first tactic to buy our ticket was "Sprakenzie English?" because we were told everyone spoke English. But of course, really, they don't. So this bus driver didn't. Somehow, we told him we wanted two tickets to the Bahnhof, and somehow we got them. As we were walking away, he turned to the person next to us and said, sighing "auslanders!"

Our piece, sadly, pales in comparison to the other German Music/Theatre pieces. We essentially watched their production of Midsummer, with a cast of 60, taking place in the top floor of an abandoned warehouse, with costumes made from duct tape and designer clothing ... There was cross dressing, there was dancing - the Pucks were played less as a character and more as a 20-person force of nature, each with his or her own crazy thing (this one girl went around with an electric drill, drilling into the concrete pillars and the floor, while our host carried a megaphone with the chorus of "Sweet Dreams are Made of This" programmed into it and turned it on at random points). Oboron wore a leather jacket and gold hot pants, and he kept biting cashews and spitting them on the ground. He sat in a little wooden treehouse, and for the first part of the show he was covered by this big gold foil thing. Throughout the show, he would point to the pucks, who would make their individual noises depending on which one he pointed to. When it came time for him to send out the potion, the pucks all pulled out condoms and swung them around like morning stars. Helena (Hermia? The ugly one) carried around ice cream coronets that she was always unwrapping and eating onstage (and of course they were melted so they deliberately got everywhere), while Demetrius had a hanky he wiped Hermia with that he kept stored in his underwear, and pulled out to dab his head. There was a rave on more than one occasion, one orgy, and a chest full of fake (hopefully) semen that one of the lovers had, and his/her partner (I leave it gender ambiguous because by that point they were swapping genders right and left) took a big index-finger wipe of it and licked it off.

Germans. In their defence, I can't speak German, so of course all I remember is the startling visuals.

One fantastic thing about the production was how they did Bottom's Transformation. The mechanicals were these little narrator girls, who came in from time to time smiling and looking freaky (cause they didn't keep the mechanical scenes), and they had finger puppets and stuff. Anyway, after the Pucks were told to find some crazy thing for Titania to sleep with, these girls had a scene. They were singing a German lullabye, when the Pucks came in and, of course, turned it into a dance party. Then they lead one of the little girls away from the rest (FREAKY PEDOPHILIA style) and shoved this giant duct-tape stack of boxes on her, with a mouth hole where she could hold a megaphone. So essentially Bottom as an ass was this giant walking cardboard pole with cute girly shoes, and he could only take small steps, and couldn't see, and then Titania wakes up and fawns over him, and he keeps trying to get away but he's a pile of boxes, so he can't. It was great.

Sexual tension abounds in our experience, as well, as girls here from Exeter have been followed home at night more than once, and I myself was traveling with a group of girls and one other guy, and we were followed by two guys. We kept our normal pace and didn't allow them to think they'd scared us. After a little while, they started playing music on their phone. I asked my host what the number for the police was, and opened my phone, and they left us alone.

We also happened to have arrived on the week when Germany is in the finals for soccer. The second night we were here, they played Turkey. There are a significant amount of Turks living in Germany as German citizens too, so tensions were very high. I went out that night with the other people on the program, staying in well lit areas and having dinner. On the way back, though, I had to walk half an hour through the streets from their flat to mine, with one map clutched to my side so no one would see it. I made it back fine, but I was always worried about the soccer fanatics.

And I talked to some other British students here, and they felt the same way, I talked to German students here for Pete's sake, and they felt the same: seeing these footballers was frighteningly like rallying the troops. Germany has only been able to show its flag without being afraid since 2006, and I suppose there's a surge of nationalism right now, but still. I suppose I know my liberal arts degree has been put to good use: I was able to instantly identify the fear I was feeling as the same fear I had felt when I saw Rhinoceros, and chose how to deal with it with the kind of wisdom of that play in mind.

And I don't want to paint Germany as a bad place. I will want to go back. Hildesheim I think is a little xenophobic at times - I've mentioned how I get looks like I'm from Mars when I go most places, right?

But I recently had to be interviewed for an informational movie on Exeter, and in it they asked me about adjusting to England. And I said essentially, not in these words, that jerks are an international phenomenon, and you're going to get made fun of and harrassed and even attacked (first week of Ken-Ex it happened to Rob Galloway and Steve Bertozzi), but that when you interact with another culture and meet the people, that connection is worth whatever xenophobia you encoutner. And I'd say the same about Germany.

There is a beautiful, fairy tale quality to Germany, similar to England, that comes from that deciduous setting, and also the attitudes fo the people. It seems like, at least here in Hildesheim, there is a definite good and a definite bad, and people you meet are always looking out for the best way to tell the difference between the two, whether you're on the positive end of that or not.

Or maybe that's just an escapist way to rationalize the fact that I've been treated both amazingly and like crap.

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