Tuesday, July 10, 2007

99 Luftballons

Hanging out with Simon and Pasqual was a lot of fun. Not only had my back started to clear up (which allowed me to stop being a cranky tit), but I had touched on the Switzerland I thought I had missed. On the night I got in, we went out for beers over the border in Konstanz*. We met up with a few of their friends at a bar where a hens night and a stag party of no relation to one another had collided on the next table. At one point, the bride came over to us selling the bric-a-brac contents of a wheel barrow, supposedly to raise money for the wedding. She pulled out a small bowler hat shaped Easter egg and asked me what the English was for it. Jokingly I said that it was known as a “butt plug” in English, and thinking I was being truthful, she started explaining to her friends what the English term for what this foiled covered chocolate thing was. The other, more fluent English speakers and I giggled like schoolgirls for the next half an hour at the misunderstanding and eventual setting straight I caused the bride to be.

*Crossing borders to get cheaper booze is nothing new to me on the trip. I acquired four stamps for every time Mizik and I ventured from Hungary into Slovakia to drink their cheaper booze. Here on the Swiss/German border that splits Konstanz and Kreuzlingen into two separate towns, the border security varies depending on where you cross. On the banks of Lake Konstanz, the world’s only “Art Border” exists, where there are no guards (plenty of cameras though), and the border is marked by a series of avant-garde statues that reminded me a bit of the water Toriis in Japan. Another border crossing involved a small blocked to traffic road, right next to the train line. There was a disused office and a places where guards would have stood. Again, no police but a few cameras. I was to later discover that on the other side of the train tracks, the border between Germany and Switzerland is marked by a wooden fence, which has a hole in it big enough to step through, guarded loosely by a bramble of blackberry bushes. I will have to live many lives and eat many berries to find one that tastes better than one I found there. When I told the guys about it, they said I was lucky that the inconspicuous bright green border patrol van hadn’t been there, or I would have probably spent the night in jail. The other crossing, the one near to the kebab shop, was the only one you could drive your car through. This one is patrolled by guards, but at 8pm they barricade the road and knock off for the day. This allows anyone on foot or bike to pass through freely, with a voluntary tax declaration form to fill in. Not sure which way it works, but at some point you either get money given back or taken away from you depending on which country you are leaving / entering.

I caught the ferry from Romanshorn (S) to Friedrichshafen (G), where the Zeppelin museum is. Nice little town with the museum and associated airport being a pretty cool place to spend an afternoon. They had a scale recreation of part of the Hindenburg, with a fairly extensive history of the Zepplein and the people and techniques involved with constructing them. Did you know that Zeppelin himself wasn't responsible for designing the airship, and was actually a rich count who lived in the nearby hills, occasionally pumping money into ideas that caught his interest? As for a place to visit as a tourist, I would say it was something you would go out of your way to visit, but if you were in the Bodensee area, it should be added to the list. Try to avoid spending the first 20 minutes swearing loudly at the audio guide, only to realise it is working and that you not reading the signs properly.

Walking around any history museum in Germany, I've noticed that they have an interesting approach to some of their darker past, leaving me with a weird, unable to be described feeling. This weird feeling is exaggerated by the English/American audio guide voice (with the English bloke sounding rather like Peter Jones from another guide), who comments on everything around you. I find the way history is represented differently depending on the outcomes of political decisions and social guidance, and most importantly who is defeated or victorious in times of war. Like that random friend you bring to a wake who gets drunk and knocks over the coffin, Germany has always felt bad about the whole Hitler thing. Did you know it is compulsory for all high school students to watch Schindler's List?

Anyhoo.. I caught a bus to Meersburg and then caught another ferry (apparently a woman has moved closer to the port because she has fallen in love with the boat – don’t ask), back to Konstanz. What I didn’t realise was that the ferry docks on the other side of a peninsular, which I walked around thinking that the city centre would appear “any minute now” for about 2 hours. But the walk itself was a pleasant one that I would recommend any visitor to this part of the world to do voluntarily. I did spy an elderly couple sunbathing nude on a chained off part of the beach. I took this as being odd, but German until two blokes walked out from behind a hedge fence completely starkers. “Hullo”… “Errr.. Hi”. I blush and walk around the corner, finding a FKK sign hanging proudly among the bushes.

This brings me to a point about taking photos of scantly clad people. In Monaco, I felt weird about photographing the beach area, as there were a number of girls there sunbathing topless. Yes I like boobs, but I'm not there taking pervy shots (that's what 'arty' photography is for), and just want to capture what I see. So when I walked past the opening in the hedge wall and saw about 40 nudies doing their thing, I really wanted to take a picture. But for the spectacle rather than the t&a. I didn't take the shot, but want to know from other photographers how I would take a candid shot of such a scene without appearing to be some kind of degenerate.

I got back and Simon took me to a kebab stand situated about 10 meters in Germany from the Swiss border. Apparently this place is cheaper and better tasting that the Swiss equivalent just metres up the road. Next day, I caught the ferry from Romashorn to Friedrichshafen again, then took the train from Friedrichshafen to Ravensburg. I got into town and killed time by chatting with an Irish guy who had moved to Germany for a girlfriend, broke up and now lives here as a relationship refugee. Nice bloke, who, whether by design or accident, works in the local Irish pub. Then I walked over to a nearby pub where I met up with Inga, my new host for the next few days. She sat me down, plonked a beer in front of me and asked me if I was hungry.

Sometimes I feel like Herbert Morrison and want to start shouting “Oh the Hospitality”.

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